§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words,
"But humbly regrets that Your Majesty's Speech does not mention the urgent necessity of stimulating the food production of the country at the present time, nor the equally urgent necessity of 110 presenting to Parliament, at the earliest possible date, proposals embodying a complete agricultural policy which, by giving to the farmer permanent security for his legitimate profit, and to the labourer fair wages, good housing, and satisfactory conditions of life, and by recognising, and where necessary enforcing, the duty of good cultivation owed to the State by all owners and occupiers of agricultural land, will guarantee to the nation the fullest development of its agricultural resources."
May I first, by leave of the House, say that the similar Amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Camborne Division of Cornwall (Mr. Acland) appears on the Paper by a mistake of mine, and he asked me to mention that fact? The Amendment which I propose is one framed by a Committee representing all the different parties in this House. During the last hour we have heard a good deal of the possibility of controversial questions being brought before the House. In helping to form this Committee, one of my chief objects was, if possible, to lift the whole question of agricultural policy out of the realm of party politics. On that Committee there are members of the Unionist party, the Liberal party, the Labour party, and the Nationalist party, and this Amendment will be seconded to-day by a member of the Nationalist party. The Amendment falls into two different parts, one raising questions as to the present needs and difficulties and the other the whole question of permanent policy in regard to agriculture as affecting the present needs and difficulties, as affecting the question of the demobilisation of the soldiers, and, finally, as affecting the question of reconstruction after the War. The Amendment is one in which it is attempted, as far as possible, to incorporate the chief elements of a sound national policy and also to draw attention at the commencement to the present condition of affairs.
I propose, first, to say a few words, but not very much, on the present situation. As we all know, the difficulties of agriculturists in the country at the present time are absolutely appalling. The chief of them is lack of labour, particularly in Great Britain. We know that in existing circumstances large areas of arable land which ought to have been under the plough last autumn have not been under it. We know that unless a very large increment of 111 labour is found from somewhere immediately, next harvest much arable land will be growing nothing but weeds. We know that many herds of milking cows are being sold because farmers cannot find milkers. We know that many teams of horses are standing idle in the stables because there are no men to take them out. That is the type of affairs that in greater or less degree is characteristic of the whole agricultural industry of the country. Late last night a friend of mine rang me up on the telephone, begging assistance with this appeal. He said:I have a herd of ninety Jersey milking cows. I have only one man; all the rest, are gone, and their place is taken by women. The one man is the stockman and absolutely essential. I cannot go on without him. The military insist upon his being called up.I am not going to enter into the question whether the demand for more men for the Army must not be met. All I say is that the result of it is that the present position of labour is one that is critical beyond the possibility of exaggeration. I had put into my hand this morning a resolution of the Manchester and District Co-operative Society of Farmers, representing some 500 Lancashire and Cheshire farmers. They passed this resolution last week:That this meeting of Lancashire and Cheshire arable and dairy farmers view with very great concern the recent action of the military authorities in calling to the Colours further skilled men from their already depleted farm staff's, and would point out many amble and stock farms in these highly productive districts are absolutely denuded of skilled men. They further wish to emphasise the fact that if this serious position of affairs is not immediately remedied it will ultimately end in disastrous results to the food supply of the nation.That is typical of the position in regard to labour. We hear many people talking to-day glibly of the difficulty of increasing in 1917 the yield of our crops over the yield of 1916. In the present circumstances that sort of talk is chimerical. So far as we can see, we shall certainly fall below the yield of 1916, and, unless we take the strongest possible measures, far below it. I do not want to go into the numbers of those who have been taken, but in my belief we want something like 200,000 more efficient workers at the earliest possible moment. I take the "efficient workers" simply as a unit, not that efficient workers are available. We want in inefficient workers, which are the only ones we can get, numbers equivalent to 200,000 efficient workers. Women are coming forward well, and I hope will come forward better; but women are not, on the average, worth more 112 than 60 per cent, of men; and in the main operations of farming there is much work they cannot do at, all. Therefore the numbers we have to get somehow are tremendous, in existing circumstances, if anything big is to be done in agriculture; and still very large if our only aim is to keep up the level of output rather than let it go down. Mr. Neville Chamberlain in his speech on Tuesday gave two extremely satisfactory promises. He said:I should like to say one word to the farmer. The farmers have had rather a rough time of late. To some of them it has seemed that they are being harried almost beyond endurance. I hope I am not going to harry them any more. On the contrary, I think there is very little doubt that I shall be able to give them considerable help as soon as I can get my volunteers, both men and women, organised. In the meantime I will give them two assurances—and I hope they will have better luck than some other assurances that have been given. First, we will not knowingly take away people engaged on the land and put them in other occupations; and, secondly, we will not even move people who are engaged in agriculture from one place to another without the assent and approval of the President of the Board of Agriculture or his local agricultural representative.Those two promises are very valuable. They mean that he intends to help and that ho intends to avoid causing further trouble. But I want to call the attention of the House particularly to one aspect of this question. Mr. Chamberlain is going to try to bring to agriculture large numbers, both of men and women, to add to the amount of labour. Ninety per cent, of that new labour will be untrained. From the gardeners, gamekeepers, estate agents' men, golf men, and others who have been leading a country life, he will be able, I hope, to get a substantial number of men with some degree, I will not say of agricultural, but of rural experience, who will be a good type of men, but the great bulk of the other men and practically all the women will be untrained. The other sources of labour which are being offered at present are also nearly all untrained. A small number of the German prisoners and a very small number of the interned aliens may be trained, but the great bulk of them and all the remainder of the C3 men who may be available are untrained. In cider to make the most of these men, there is one cardinal fact that we must face. You must have men to teach them. It is absolutely essential. They cannot learn farm work otherwise. The number of skilled men still left on the farms is very small, and therefore I say most urgently that every man with agricultural skill and experience who can possibly be spared ought to be made available, not merely for his own work but in order that he may train this 113 new large body of untrained men and women. I think we cannot attach too much importance to that.
There is a practical suggestion which I want to urge upon the consideration of the Cabinet as much as possible. In the Home service Army in this country, that is to say the men in the classes which are not regarded as fit for going to France to the lighting line, there is a very substantial number of men with agricultural experience. As an example, many of the Yeomanry regiments contain a large percentage of men with agricultural experience. They are still in England. There are many units of other types, such as the Infantry and Artillery, where there are also men with agricultural experience. There is one way in which those men could be made available for agriculture without, as it seems to me, really taking away from their effective value for military purposes. They are wanted ex hypothesi for the defence of this country, that is against the possibility, which is, I believe, very remote, of a German raid. That is their purpose. If these men were collected in Agricultural battalions, on the same principle as the Transport Workers' battalions, their place being taken in their original units by other men, and these new units or battalions transferred to suitable agricultural centres from which the men could be sent out to sub-centres throughout the county or counties as the case may be, they could always be available to be called up, by telephone through the local post offices, at 24 hours' notice, to their depot. If that is possible I cannot believe that the military drawbacks of taking that course can be such as to outweigh the enormous advantage of having those men available for training the untrained men in agriculture. Those men have all had their military training. Most of them have been with the Colours for two years, and they know all they have got to know; and the most that can be wanted for military purposes, as it seems to me, is from time to time to call them to the Colours for a short period to freshen them up in their military work. I put that suggestion very strongly before the Cabinet because it seems to me to be essentially a Cabinet matter. We have to take risks of some sort, and it seems to me that as that is the only source left for skilled agricultural labour, it ought to be taken unless the balance of risk is, in the judgment of the Cabinet, overwhelmingly against it.
114 Under existing circumstances, I think the tiling that is most bothering the farming community next after labour is the question of fertilisers and feeding stuffs, and to some extent machinery. When the New Ministries Bill was in this House, I moved an Amendment on Report that the duties of food production should be kept for the Board of Agriculture and not given to the Food Controller. The Amendment was withdrawn because we were assured by the President of the Board of Agriculture that those duties would be left entirely to him. I do not want to discuss the question at all as to what is being done. I merely want to draw attention again to the importance of the whole policy of the supply and prices of those three farmers' requirements being really controlled by the President of the Board of Agriculture; and I feel sure that Lord Devonport appreciates that necessity fully. But the complaints which are coming forward from farmers all over the country as to their difficulties, particularly in regard to feeding stuffs, are tremendous. The 500 Lancashire and Cheshire farmers to whom I referred just now passed another resolution to this effect, at their annual meeting, and it is the same all over the country. It is in the highest degree important that the farmers of the country should know where they are at the earliest possible moment in regard to supplies and prices, and that is all the more so because of the history of what has taken place in regard to the prices of the things they sell. The prices of the things they sell were, I believe, necessarily fixed. I do not quarrel with it. It is a great drawback and a great upset, involving all sorts of unexpected difficulties, but I accept its necessity. But it was done before the prices of the things the farmer had to buy were dealt with, and the natural result is extreme unrest, and I urge the importance of getting that matter dealt with as early as possible.
That is all I desire to say on the question of the present position except one word about prices. Let us hope that the system of fixed prices will be carried out to its complete results at the earliest possible moment, so that the farmers may know where they are. I take one instance: a letter written a few days ago by a firm of corn chandlers and grain merchants at King's Lynn. I am not for the moment taking the part of the merchants—I only refer to their position 115 because it is to the merchants that the farmers sell. Listen to this letter:On Thursday, 18th January, an officer came to our offices at King's Lynn, and asked us what stock of oats we had. We told him, and at the same time asked whether the Government proposed to buy them or whether they were going to requisition them. He replied that he thought the Government were going to buy. Meantime we told him what stocks we had, and that we were prepared to do anything in reason. On Tuesday, 23rd, the same officer came again and asked if we still had the oats, which we had He then said, we shall give you 45s. per quarter of 320 lbs. for them, to which we replied that we could not possibly take this price as the oats cost us much more. He then said I am very sorry, but I shall have to requisition the oats, and in due course he sent in a requisitioning notice commandeering 450 quarters at King's Lynn and 250 quarters at Wisbech. Now we are, and have been doing, a perfectly legitimate business in all English grain, and in no case have we been speculating or holding anything back, and we think it is exceedingly unfair and un-English to suddenly come to any firm and commandeer stuff without notice at considerably less money than cost. This applies not only to us but to many other merchants in the United Kingdom. Had the Government come upon our markets and said to the various firms, We require oats, and shall be prepared to take what stocks you have over at cost price plus expenses, and from now the price will be 45s. per 320 lbs., one would have then known what to do. These oats cost us as follows—450 quarters, King's Lynn, cost 51s. 6d., 250 quarters, Wisbech, cost 51s.The point I make is that that sort of work is going on all over the country, and it is upsetting everybody. No one knows where he is. Take the case of seed potatoes. The grower is not allowed to have more than £12, but there is no limit on the merchant's price. He goes and sells them for £18. The grower feels sore. The farmers of the country are an extraordinarily patriotic lot of men. They are doing their very best under most difficult circumstances, but the result of not knowing where they are or what they have to look forward to is causing the gravest unrest, with the further result of our not getting out of the land nearly as much as might be got.
That brings me to the question of permanent policy, the second part of my Amendment. There are two points where that hinges directly upon our present difficulties—what we might perhaps call our "present discontents." One is the question of the farmers knowing where they are, and being able to look forward with a reasonable degree of certainty to the future. Till they do, you cannot expect to get the best work out of them. The second question is as to the labourers. Labourers have been leaving the farms in the neighbourhood of munition works and camps for the better wages that they have been offered. Mr. Chamberlain's new plan of having a minimum wage of 25s., which offer is to be made to agricul- 116 ture, though he says he will not take the men away from agriculture, will, in those districts where the wages are less than 25s.—and there are still some of them—I feel certain cause new unrest amongst agricultural labourers. They are told they will not be taken under Mr. Chamberlain's scheme, but the fact of the 25s. offer will cause them to look about and leave the fanners if they can. These two points, the farmers' security and the unrest among the labourers, seem to me of themselves, and without other reasons, to necessitate dealing with two of the important planks of permanent agricultural policy, namely, the necessity of the State giving to the farming industry such security of reasonable profits as will lead the farmers to get the best out of their land and enable them to employ their men at proper wages, and to employ an extra number of men at the proper wages; and, secondly, the necessity, or at any rate, the very great desirability, of introducing minimum wage legislation, and creating district wage boards throughout the country with a national minimum of 25s. You cannot do either of those two things without the other. You cannot impose upon the farmers the obligation of paying minimum wages unless at the same time you protect the farmer from the sort of ruin that came upon him in the eighties and nineties through the ruinously low prices of those times. Conversely, the nation would not tolerate giving the farmer protection in that way, unless at the same time they made the lot of the labourer satisfactory. Indeed, I am convinced that it is not possible in justice, or on sound lines of policy, to do even those two things together, unless you do a third. I think you must lay down in this Parliament, by legislation, the duty incumbent upon and attaching to the ownership and occupation of land of developing the land in the national interests.
§ Mr. SCOTT
At any rate you have converted me! Taking these three things as co-relative and interdependent parts of one policy, I want to say a few words. I am dealing for the moment with the present discontent. Suppose you say to the farmer, "We know this business of fixing prices is a great nuisance. We fully 117 recognise it. We know it is most upsetting. We know it prevents you doing your business with any knowledge of where you are going to stand, but we want you to lump it during the War, and make the best of it during the War, because after the War we are going to give you a guaranteed minimum price for wheat and oats, which will protect you from ruin and enable you to know for the future, for a term of years, that you can put working capital into the land and know that you will get your money back." I say, "for a term of years." I do not believe that anything less than ten years will be satisfactory. If you do that I believe you will restore confidence amongst the farmers in this country in a way that will produce astonishment everywhere.
§ Mr. SCOTT
We are dealing with national requirements. I am putting it on national grounds. If you take that system of guarantees, or a comparable system, not at a high figure, but, for instance, taking wheat at 42s., or thereabouts after the War, and oats at 23s., or thereabouts after the War, I think it will very likely turn out that the nation will never have to pay one penny, because world prices will very likely rule above that level. On the other hand you secure the farmer from the fear that is always in his mind when he is asked to invest capital in new arable land. That policy, I believe, would be of great assistance in its two component parts, in regard to both the farmers and the labourers, at the present moment, and I submit that legislation embodying that policy ought to be introduced at the earliest possible date, not merely because we want to get maximum production at the present time, but because of the soldiers who are going to return at the end of the War. On demobilisation there will be some 4,000,000 men who have learned what life in the open air is, who have broken from their old habits of indoor occupation; and many of them will want an open-air life for the rest of their lives. If we take a total of 10 per cent., I do not think we should be over-stating the probability. That gives us 400,000. Supposing one-half of that number prefer to emigrate to the Dominions, that still leaves a large number available here at home. But those men will not come to the land of this country 118 unless the attractions of the life are good enough to attract them. It seems to me an obvious platitude, almost, that if you are going to ask these men to take up life on the land here in the old country after the War, you must be in a position at the lime of demobilisation to make them a firm offer. You cannot make them a firm offer unless you have introduced and passed the legislation which will make the lot of the agricultural labourer a satisfactory one. He must be sure of good wages. He must be sure of good housing. He must be sure of a reasonable village life. He must be sure of the possibilities of advancement up the agricultural ladder, through the allotment and the small holding, and he should have the prospect, as the reward of energy, industry, and skill, of rising to the position, possibly in the end, of a big farmer. That prospect must certainly be there as a possibility if you are going to get soldiers in large numbers to take up life on the land.
We cannot expect to find small holdings at once in this old settled country of ours for a very large number of returning soldiers. Perhaps 5,000. The Report of the Departmental Committee estimated a total of 10,000–5,000 on Government colonies and 5,000 dealt with by the county councils. The Government in the meantime has taken the view that 300 was the maximum. They have provided by their colonies for 300. I think that if we take the limit of 5,000 at the end of the War as available small holdings, that is an outside figure. All the rest, if they are to take up life on the land, in the first instance must start as agricultural labourers. Are these soldiers, after talking as many of them have in the trenches with their brothers from the Dominions, from Canada and Australia, find hearing the tales of those El Dorados, likely to take up life on the land in this country, unless conditions are made good and attractive? Of course they will not. For that reason, if you want to get those men here we must pass legislation in time. I said, "If you want to get them here." Is there any hon. Member who will say no? Is it not obvious that it is essential in the true interests of this country that we should increase agricultural production very largely, both on the grounds of military defence and on the grounds of finding employment for a larger rural population. Are we not all agreed that the well-being of the country is greatly promoted if its 119 agricultural community is living in prosperity, and, consequently, in good health? The vitality of the race greatly depends on the existence in this country of a big, flourishing, healthy, and, I say happy, agricultural population.
At the end of the War this country will be presented with an opportunity that in all its history it has never had before. Many of us for years and years have been wanting to get men back on the land, but there were no means of drawing them. We shall have at the end of the War a vast number of men anxious to adopt an open-air life. For God's sake seize the opportunity, and do not let it pass. If we are not to let the opportunity pass, the legislation must be introduced in time. What do I mean by "in time"? The War may go on until 1918. From the agricultural point of view it is our duly to take steps to increase our production for that eventuality, but the War may, and we all hope it will, end in the summer of 1917. If we pass the necessary legislation—guarantees for the farmers, minimum wage legislation, housing legislation, development of land legislation, reclamation of waste land legislation, new industries, the sugar beet industry, the potato industry—if we are going to do these things, as we ought to do, in order to be ready for demobilisation, is there any time to lose before the necessary legislation is introduced in this House? We are now in February. These Bills ought to be passed by May, so that the Departments who would have the duty of making preparations as a result of the Bills being passed, may get on with their plans. Take the question of housing. Before the War there were some 100,000 of agricultural cottages too few. No cottages have been built during the War. The normal number of new cottages wanted per year to meet wastage and new demands is something like 50,000. After the War 200,000 or 300,000 cottages will be wanted, and some provision will have to be made for them. I hope that the House to-day will record its unanimous opinion—I do not mean in the Division Lobby, because I do not want to press this to a Division against the Government; I am trying to help the Government—that this is a question which ought to be tackled strongly and at once. I have covered most of the ground that I wanted to deal with, but I should like to read the recommendations at the end of the 120 Minority Report, for which the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. G. H. Roberts), Mr. Edward Strutt, and myself were responsible. Those recommendations were in the following terms:We recognise that the majority of farmers would be content to be left alone, but the recommendations we make are based on consideration of the national interests. Our views may be summarised as follows:—If you are going to seize that opportunity of bringing men on the land, you must put the farmers in a position to employ the men. To do that there are two main avenues open. One is putting under the plough the less good grass land, of which some 4,000.000 acres have gone down from arable to grass, within the last forty years. The second is to reclaim a great deal of the waste land of the country. Reclamation is to-day a business proposition, for the first time in this country, though it has been a business proposition for many years in Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and Germany.
- (1) That it is essential for the national welfare and for the future development of British agriculture to bring back to the land as many as possible of the agricultural labourers who have left it, and to attract to the same occupation a substantial number of ex-service men who have not hitherto had any agricultural experience.
- (2) That we shall not achieve either of these objects unless important changes are made in the pre-war conditions both of the farming industry and of the agricultural labourer's life on the land.
- (3) That the measures necessary to secure these changes should be introduced and passed into law at the earliest possible moment, so as to retain in this country the ex-service men who desire occupation on the land.
- (4) That if advantage is not taken of the impending release of millions of able-bodied and energetic young men from the Forces and munition factories to secure a great reinforcement of our farm workers and rural population, a unique opportunity of increasing the Nation's strength both for peace and war will have been lost."
§ Mr. SCOTT
I am glad to be corrected again by the hon. Member. I do hope that the House will take a broad view of this question, and recognise that here there is no inherent necessity of any party dispute at all. The proposal which I make is the considered proposal of a group of all parties in this House, and it is put forward for that purpose as an agreed proposal.
§ Mr. HAYDEN
I beg to second the Amendment.
It will not surprise Members of any party that a Motion such as that which has just been proposed attracts attention, sympathy and support from the Members who sit upon these benches. For many years—in fact, since the foundation of our 121 party—the chief plank in our programme of a social and economic character related to a settlement of the Irish land question. The Irish land question has been described by responsible Members of every British party which has been connected with the government of Ireland as the worst and most deplorable system on the face of the earth. It has resulted in the depopulation of Ireland, and throughout our campaign upon the land question we have over and over again warned successive Governments of these countries that in times of peril for the country, and for the Empire, it would be found that the system, which the Government had encouraged in Ireland, would result in weakness for the country and for the Empire. It has so resulted. For the population of Ireland—a thing for which this system was directly responsible—has been reduced by more than one-half-during a period in which the population of this country has increased by 100 per cent. The people have been driven off the good land. We have been endeavouring by our programme to bring the Government to that which is described in the Resolution as a recognition of the duty of good cultivation of the land. Good cultivation could not exist when second-rate and third-rate land was given over to permanent pasture.
In Ireland we have established now certain Government authorities—the Estates Commissioners, the Congested Districts Boards and others, for the purpose of promoting that good cultivation which is described in the Resolution. When the War began we warned the Government that it should proceed rapidly with the work, which was then in hand, of bringing the people back once more to the land. Our warnings were unheeded and it was not until last month that the Government of Ireland made any proposal of any kind for the better development of the land and for making it available for the production of more food. A proposal was then made, in a panicky way, to break up a certain amount of the grass lands of Ireland. It was made in the month of January, since when the country has been covered with snow, and penalties are to be inflicted on people if they have not the work done by the 25th March. Everybody who knows anything about land knows that preparations for the spring work should commence long before January. What was to prevent the Government from taking action at least last October? There was nothing new in the seriousness and gravity of the situation in January, as compared 122 with the situation in October. Then the Government proceeded to fix prices for certain articles and to fix them for one year. What inducement is there to any farmer to break up his grass land, for the price that is fixed for one year, and one year only? At the very least provision should be made for the shortest rotation of crops in regard to the fixing of prices.
But all of us in Ireland were anxious to help the Government in this tillage proposal, and so adverse indeed was the Government to permitting any assistance being given to it that actually the Defence of the Realm Act was almost being-invoked, and was invoked, against one of the principal newspapers in Ireland, because it gave a little premature information in regard to the tillage proposals of the Government. That is characteristic of the methods under which our country is governed. Here is a scheme being promoted by the Government, and, in order to give the people some little warning with regard to it, one of our newspapers, with considerable and creditable enterprise, was able to inform the country, a few days before the Government intended, of the nature of the proposals, and the Defence of the Realm Act was about being invoked, and to a certain extent was invoked, and the editor was threatened with pains and penalties. Now a labour difficulty exists in Ireland, very much exists, and a wages difficulty also exists. In England there is a great dearth of agricultural labourers, but there is also a great dearth in Ireland. It is the result of many circumstances, but is chiefly the result of the land system, which has existed in the country for several generations under the encouragement of the Government. The numbers who have joined the Army have added to the depletion. Upon this point I may be permitted to mention, as showing the extent of the dearth of agricultural labour in Ireland, that recently, in a speech in Dublin, Sir Bryan Mahon, Commander of the Forces in Ireland, said that the agricultural labourers of Ireland had joined the Army to the last man.
The Irish party, through a Committee, made various recommendations in regard to labour and wages some time ago. The hon. Member who moved this Motion advocated the establishment of districts wages boards, consisting of farmers and labourers, for the purpose of settling the wages question in the various localities. That is one of the recommendations 123 which we made and sent to the Members of the Government, but no notice was taken of it, and nothing was done. A general order has been made for the tillage of 10 per cent. of each individual holding in Ireland. It does not apply to occupiers of land of less than £10 valuation. I have not the figures at the moment, but the vast bulk of the occupiers of land in Ireland have holdings under £10 valuation, and there is quite a small percentage over £10 valuation—until one comes to the very high valuations. We find it difficult to realise how under this 10 per cent, scheme the big grazing ranches of the country can be tilled- This is not the way to go about it. The hon. Member who made this proposition seemed to be much more anxious for a permanent reform than for a temporary one. So are we. It is only upon the basis of a permanent settlement, which can be stretched out for a temporary emergency, that anything of real value can be achieved. We are anxious for a really permanent settlement, but this scheme of the Government, so far as we can see, is absolutely worthless as a contribution towards a permanent settlement, and of very little value as a temporary expedient.
There are districts where there are vast grazing ranches, the owners and occupiers of which know nothing practically about tillage. The whole tradition of tillage is gone from them, labourers are not around them, and they are averse to the proposal and will not throw themselves whole-heartedly into the work. Plow can they be dealt with cinder this scheme except by prosecution? You cannot have universal prosecution, and especially universal prosecution of the men who have been receiving the support, financial and physical, of the Government of this country, against the people, for some generations past. Many of these ranches are in the hands of what in Ireland are called middlemen. The Congested Districts Board has been dealing with some of these estates on which there are ranches. The Board has had considerable powers conferred upon it as the landlord of such estates for the period they are in its possession. Amongst those powers is that of resumption of possession of holdings, large or small, in the hands of the tenants. The Board was exercising those powers on a considerable scale and with great advan- 124 tage in regard to grazing ranches in the hands of middlemen. But recently—I am sure under pressure from the Treasury, because it is hard to believe that it could have been done voluntarily by members of the Board—it passed a resolution that all this work of resumption should be suspended for a couple of years, suspended at the very period when its powers should have been put in force more actively than ever. We wish to associate ourselves in every possible way with all that this resolution contains. We believe that the position in Ireland presents many aspects that are peculiar to that country and that do not exist in this country. Therefore we mean to take the earliest opportunity open to us to have a special Debate upon the Irish proposal and the Irish scheme.
We wish to associate ourselves wholly and fully with those members of all parties in this country who wish lo face the settlement of the land question in Great Britain and Ireland as one of practical and urgent importance. In the meantime, I would ask the Chief Secretary to turn over a new leaf by doing what was not usually done by his predecessors, and that is to pay some regard to Irish opinion as expressed by representatives of Ireland, who, at least, may be credited with a little more knowledge of their own country, its requirements and its aspirations, than any of the officials, whether they be Irish or British, who are acting under him. If he had done this even since he came into office this scheme recently outlined for Ireland would, in very many important and essential respects, be different, and would be equally different in its results; for our scheme would result in producing much more food for our own people and for exportation to this country, and it is not a purely Irish question nor is it a purely British question. I submit that Ireland is the producing country, and that England, or Great Britain, on the whole is the consuming country, and the interests of both are bound up in a proper and permanent settlement of this Irish land question. Under present circumstances it is impossible to make a temporary scheme really useful and productive, and the only method by which proper advantage can be taken of the resources of Ireland for the existing emergency is by proceeding upon lines which will produce really beneficial and permanent results.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I was obliged to the hon. and learned Member who moved this Amendment for making it clear that it was 125 by mistake that he put down a similar Amendment in my name. I had no desire that my name should be put down opposite to an Amendment to the Address, for the reason that it had been decided by ex-Ministers not to move any Amendments to the Address, and also because I have had the honour of working with the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, and I very much hope that efforts will be extended to whole-time work, an object in which I shall be delighted to assist him if I can. Naturally, being in that position, I do not wish to criticise at all. I, however, venture to think of what kind of criticism might have come from this bench if some of the things which have been going on in regard to agricultural questions in the last two months had happened when the late Government was in power. It is a rather tempting subject to pursue, but I will not pursue; it, and will draw attention myself purely to such matters as I think may be really helpful. First of all, with regard to the second part of the Amendment, the calling for an early presentation of a complete agricultural policy, I want to say that I believe all classes who are connected in any way with land—indeed, I believe, the whole population of the country—realise that we have to start, after the War, a new epoch altogether in regard to national effort to use the land of this country to the best advantage. Farmers and landowners alike have not hitherto been asked to regard it as part of their duty to the nation to make the best use of the land which they occupy or hold, and, therefore, it is not altogether their own fault that in many cases they have not done so.
But there is no doubt, quite apart from our positions and opinions, and quite apart from whether we are connected with land or not, that we have to realise in future—I think every class of society has to do so—a far higher standard of practical patriotism than has been for some time before the country. It is upon that necessity, the necessity of the land being used for its utmost production, whether for food or, in other districts, for timber, that rest the two principles which the lion, and learned Member has expressed in regard to his Amendment, the principle of a complete policy, of securing the most possible from the land, and of the farmer making the utmost use of his land, if it can be shown him, as a whole, that its use is likely to 126 pay him; and, clearly, if you are going to do that in regard to the farmer, it is absolutely necessary that, for social as well as for agricultural reasons, a proper wage should be guaranteed to the men who actually do the work on the farm. I quite agree with what the Mover said, that the adoption of a policy of that kind in this Session of Parliament is very important. It is not a thing, however, that can be rushed in a day, or a week, or a month; it necessitates a real change, so to speak, in the position of the nation towards the land. I know the last President of the Board of Agriculture had considerable hopes that a policy of that kind might be brought forward during this Session, and I feel certain that the present President will do his best in that direction. It may be that the Government is expecting expert advice in the matter, for full consideration, and that it will not be able to give any promise as to the date of bringing forward a policy at the present time.
But meanwhile, of course, the President of the Board of Agriculture recognises better than anyone that there is great unrest and great disturbance among the farming community. One cannot possibly exaggerate that, and every Member knows the importance of something like certainty as to what the position is going to be, and however bad it might be, I believe that farmers are willing to face greater difficulties just as the whole of the rest of the nation may have to face difficulties and hardships. At the same time, farmers want to know what the position will really be, and I believe that they, like everybody else, are prepared to make an effort. The first point is that of labour, and I would like to put questions to which I trust that my right hon. Friend will be able to give answers, in order to make the position of the farmer, if not an assured one, at least a more certain one, for that is what is really wanted. First of all, then, must we assume that the 30,000 men are to be taken from agriculture, and, if so, how is that being arranged? Can it be arranged that only those men shall be taken who can best be spared? Is it possible for the advisers and experts of the Board of Agriculture to have some sort of say as to what men shall be taken in each county? If they should have any say, at any rate it might be that in some cases they could prevent the men on whom the whole of the work of a farm depends from being taken, 127 as otherwise might be possible. That is a question to which farmers very much want an answer.
Secondly, if it is decided that a certain number of men are to be taken, is that all? May farmers hope, unless there is some change in the national position, owing to a turn for the worse in the War—which we all, of course, hope will not happen—may farmers hope that, unless there is some real turn for the worse, that the 30,000 men will be the last 30,000 to be taken, until the seed has been put in the ground and has been harvested? Thirdly, with regard to labour. Can the President of the Board of Agriculture say anything about substitutes? Hopes were held out that there would be substitutes of the C3 Class. We are not quite certain whether that is still the position. There is, of course, the point that the hon. and learned Member raised as to whether it might not be possible to obtain from Home-defence troops a certain number of men who have previous agricultural experience. The President, I am sure, like everybody else in the House, recognises that a wholly unskilled man is no proper substitute for a skilled man. We are not quite certain that the military authorities recognise that, and we should like to know whether they do or not and what they can do to help the situation. I should like to say this: I do think the question of the use that should be made of that Home Defence Force is a question for the Cabinet rather than even for the very eminent soldier, Lord French, to decide off his own bat. He has said, no doubt, that he is responsible for preventing raids, and that therefore he must keep his men together and cannot allow them to be taken into agricultural battalions or anything of that kind. I think the agricultural community would be happier on that matter if they knew that that was the decision of the Cabinet as well as the decision of Lord French.
Then with regard to prices. The remark of the Leader of the House last night has, I think, in some quarters at any rate, put that matter back into some difficulty and obscurity. I do not think all farmers will realise whether with regard to cereals, for instance, they are to be taken at the prices now named whatever the world-price may be, simply the commandeering price at which the farmer will have to surrender his cereals, or 128 whether the prices named are the minima below which the prices will not be allowed to go but above which they may go, the Government, of course, retaining the right to take the crop, if it so decides, at not less than the price that has been fixed. Similarly there is some doubt as to the prices that have been fixed for potatoes. There is a difference between the prices fixed for this season's potatoes and next season's potatoes. We do not know quite what the difference is. We know it is an extremely difficult thing to fix prices ahead for a season when you cannot at all tell what the weather will be or what the crop will be or what the costs of other things which the farmer has to find will be. Very likely it was necessary to fix the price of potatoes for next season, but I believe it would lead to a great increase in the feeling of security if it could be explained exactly what the price is because of that point as to its being a maximum which the Leader of the House seemed to make yesterday. There is some doubt still also about the fertilising position, which I know is a matter of extreme difficulty to deal with. The farmers, of course, would like to know whether the price which they have hitherto regarded as rather a favourable one for sulphate of ammonia is to be continued for the whole of the make and is not only to apply to 60 per cent, of the make as was the arrangement a little while ago. I hope that it will apply to the whole of the make, and if an arrangement of that kind can be made the chairman of the Supply of Fertilisers Committee will have deserved very well indeed of the agricultural community.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of FOOD CONTROL (Captain Charles Bathurst)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he means that there should be no export whatever of sulphate of ammonia?
§ Mr. ACLAND
I know the export is being stopped, but what I really mean is this, to the full amount which farmers will require it and that they should be encouraged to use it by the fact that the present price should apply. I hope it will be possible to arrange that. It is a thing which farmers ought to be very grateful for if it is possible to arrange it now. The position with regard to other fertilisers is very much exercising farmers. I believe that everything possible is being done by the Supply of Fertilisers Committee and the right hon. Gentleman, 129 but of course the sooner the farmers know the sort and proportion of superphosphates there will be available compared with the amount that was available last year, and the sooner they know whether the same amount or a less amount of basic slag and what sort and quality it will be the better, they will know what is possible for them in the way of food production in the coming spring. There is then the question of feeding stuffs which has been already touched upon. People are a little in doubt as to what department that matter falls into and whether it is possible to keep the prices down. It is a matter that is concerning farmers very much indeed. They see around them a tendency to fix prices at which the articles they produce are to be but not very much tendency to fix prices at which articles they consume are to be. It is a matter of intense difficulty, hut the sooner a statement can be made about it the better for farmers. I have heard that the price of offals has been reduced. If so, that is a thing which ought to be of very great assistance to a great class of farmers who use wheat offals, but we should like to know if we can, if that has been arranged, how and whether it was necessary to increase the price of flour and of the loaf, as has recently been done, in order to decrease the price of offals to the farmers. The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned several times a scheme for helping farmers to get hold of new implements. There was an arrangement come to with the Ministry of Munitions for increasing the output of agricultural implements. That is another question exercising farmers' minds, and if anything can be said about it we shall be very grateful. A set if questions which were asked yesterday were referred to as the catechism, and if they were a catechism, perhaps the questions I have asked to-day are a "longer catechism," but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and the House generally will agree with me that you cannot expect the farming community to tackle its job in the spring, however difficult it is, without knowing where they are in these and other matters. I feel perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman when he comes to reply will do his very best to make farmers certain on these points. The farmer wants to lay his plans ahead; he wants to do his best. He wants to know to some extent what profit he is likely to make, but he is much more concerned 130 about certainty than about maximum profits. If he is certain of the position, however bad that position may be, he will do his best, but unless be knows to some extent where he is going to be in regard to these matters of labour, fertilisers, foodstuffs, implements, and so on, he cannot lay his plans ahead so as to produce the maximum supply of food which is so essential to the country at a time like this.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
I do not propose to take up any portion of the time of the House in discussing those large permanent, or would-be permanent, reforms which were referred to in the speech of great interest of my hon. and learned Friend. I think almost every Member of the House will feel that there are certain matters which are germane to this Amendment which are concerned with events that are happening every day and in which this House, I am sure, will agree we should have further assurances from the Government and would be glad if the Government would give more definite direction than it has been up to the present able to do on these matters of importance. Everybody knows that agriculturists of all kinds are not only perturbed at the uncertainty of their future, but are in no little difficulty as to what they are able to do at a certain time. This Amendment refers to the stimulation of food products. That, of course, depends primarily on the amount of human labour that can be put into the land. The problem of man-power as it affects agriculture is the greatest problem of this question. Whatever legislation you make, whatever prices you fix, whatever guarantees you offer, they are not of supreme value compared to the certainty that there shall be an adequate supply of labour, and that those engaged in cultivating the land shall know that that adequate supply is there. There must be many Members of this House who, in the course of their discharge of their duties in the country, have to sit on tribunals and to try and carry out that most difficult of duties of saying in case after case whether a man ought to be kept on the land or kept in carrying out contracts for the Government or our Allies, or sent to join the Army. That duty can only be carried out properly if the Government of the country has clearly made up its mind as to the principles on which the tribunals ought to act.
131 With regard to agriculturists, we all expected last autumn that there would be very definite directions in the course of the winter. I was a member of an appeal tribunal which has put back agricultural cases deliberately for months awaiting the distinct and clear guidance of the Government with regard to the spring and to the year in which we now are. It is not the fault of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board or of any individual that such definite directions have not yet been received. It comes about, one must feel, because heads of Government Departments, quite legitimately, are jealous for the proper carrying out of that Department of the national duty which is entrusted to them. One can well understand the ardour of the War Office in getting as many persons as possible to serve in the Army and the zeal of the right hon. Gentleman below me in trying to preserve for agriculture as many persons as possible, and particularly those who are trained in it. It cannot be too widely recognised that agriculture is a scientific industry and that the agricultural labourer has his own technical knowledge and common sense which cannot easily be supplied by any casual substitute, with an entirely different tradition of labour behind him.
That being so, I only want respectfully to point out to the Government that all of us, and it applies to every Member of the House who is trying his best to help the Government in this most difficult time, would be more able to be of use if the Government as a whole gave a decided and clear guidance on this balance of occupations and this balance of man-power. It is not only a question of agriculture. Something is bound to be said here in the next few days as to the difficulties of certain trades. I am living in a town where the artisans and the employers of labour are urged by one Department to fulfil rapidly contracts for the Government and for the Allies, and are urged by another Government Department to send away men of military age to the Army at once. The ancient difficult problem of serving two masters has now become the not less easy problem of serving several masters, all of whom have the same ultimate aim, but whose identity of method has not yet been disclosed to the country, and is not clear to those who have the duty of sitting on tribunals put upon them.
132 I hope I am not going too far in stating that I hope this matter of harmonising the claims and objects of the Board of Agriculture, the Board of Trade, and the War Office will be taken up by the Prime Minister himself. There is no English subject who has had as much power as the Prime Minister now has since the days of Lord Chatham. What we want throughout the country to know is not what this-office or that board wish, but what the Government, balancing the claims and knowing the equally imperative character of the different needs of the nation, has itself as a Government made up its mind should be done, and I do hope that my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government will devote his superb talents for conciliation and for harmonising different points of view to this problem. It ought to be quite clear what proportion of men are indispensable, and are to be taken as indispensable, for the cultivation of the soil, and equally clear what proportion of men are necessary for certain trades, which are really war trades, as well as what proportion of men, or to what extent men should, in view of all these other considerations, be brought into the Army. There will always be ample for tribunals to do in applying these directions to individual cases. That will well take up the time of hundreds and thousands of His Majesty's subjects who have local knowledge, and, I am sure, are trying to exercise a fair and impartial judgment. But, in order for the best effect, and not to waste man-power particularly, in order to maintain that cultivation of the soil which was never more necessary or so necessary as now, what is wanted is the direct, considered, wide-seeing leadership for which I have ventured to appeal. I do not desire to go into other matters now, but, from the experience of many weeks and months past, I desire on this, the first opportunity in this Session, to say what I have tried to say in previous Sessions, and to ask for this guidance; and I am confident, whatever decision the Government, as a Government, comes to, even if it be a decision—as, of course, it will be—with which many persons privately disagree, whatever it hi it will be carried out most loyally by all those who have to make these decisions work in detail, and I hope particularly that it may lead to the end of the divergent judgments and suggestions which are very naturally made by different Departments, and will lead to a proper balancing of 133 the two supreme requirements, the conduct of the War and the maintenance of our economic safety at home.
§ Major WEIGALL
If the House will allow me, I will confine my remarks to the first two lines of the Amendment. Although I agree with every word of the Amendment, I feel that the supreme obligation on all of us now is to bring the War to a successful conclusion, and I am firmly convinced, too, that to-day food and finance are as important as men and munitions. Any criticisms I offer I know my right hon. Friend will agree are only offered in a helpful spirit. He and the Government, with all the knowledge that they inevitably possess, have agreed now on an immediate and definite policy for the stimulation of food production in the country. They have a policy, and they have a personnel. I am happier, I am bound to say, about the policy than I am about the personnel. I understand the policy is that in every county area you have a local committee, who are, I hope, not to farm but to stimulate and coordinate the efforts of the farmers within their area. I do not know how far a connecting link has been provided or is to be provided between the county area and the directing authority of the Board of Agriculture. I remember some few weeks ago worrying my right hon. Friend with a suggestion that there should be a co-ordinating link between the county war agricultural committees and the Board—call them inspectors, commissioners, or whatever you will—but I feel it is important, otherwise you will not get co-ordination, nor will you get continuity of treatment, nor will you get uniformity of action.
It was my privilege for a considerable number of years to endeavour to hold the balance between landlord and tenant on a considerable acreage of agricultural land in this country, and my experience there convinced me of this, that the farmer as a class only desires to do his duty, and in the crisis which we are now passing through I am sure he is animated by none but the best motives. However, anyone who has had experience of looking after agricultural estates realises that the farmer as a class has always had, what no other section of the community has had, a landlord to go to in times of stress and strain. I think that to a certain extent— I do not go so far as to say that it has submerged his individuality nor that it has sapped his energy—it has given him a dif- 134 ferent outlook from that of the average man in any industry or occupation who has not had for years another individual to fall back on in times of stress and strain. I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree with me that with the fertile soil that you have now got in patriotic effort on every side you can get county war agricultural committees so to co-ordinate effort, and stimulate and inspire enthusiasm, that you really put the individual farmer into this sort of position: You say to him, "You are merely one of a battalion; you do not risk your life; you are not asked to go into the Army, but you are asked to become one of a battalion of food producers. You will take your orders from your own people in your own county, but they have to be implicitly obeyed, and we rely on you to enrol yourself in the country's service." I cannot help feeling that if that sort of attitude is adopted to the individual farmer, even with all the unrest and difficulty that he is now going through, if that sort of spirit can be inspired in him, I feel that, at any rate, we can improve the productivity of the land under cultivation.
On that point let me also say that when I hear so much of the breaking up of grass land, the improvement of poor land, I am always brought back to the land I now farm, which tells me that for the last year its productivity for corn production has been 50 per cent, less than it was the previous year, owing to what is often forgotten—a very wet season and very heavy land. You cannot, when you are talking of the productivity of the arable land of this country, lump the whole thing into one. There is no country in the world that has got so great a variety of soil, of climate, and of customs. That leads me to the labour difficulty. If substitution is difficult in any other industry, it is ten times more difficult in the agriculture industry. Our customs in the different counties are so different that a man, even if he is a skilled agriculturist drawn from one county and put into another, would be quite helpless. I agree with the general lines of the policy of the right hon. Gentleman, but I do ask him to be extremely careful in the personnel that he employs in co-ordinating the efforts of county war agricultural committees. It is too early to expect him to be able to give us any adequate review of their efforts. I gather that all they have been able to do up to now is to acquire a certain amount of extremely valuable information for him to act upon, but I ask and urges that when 135 that information is at his disposal he should ensure co-ordination and uniformity of action in a way that will commend itself to the individual farmer. You are not going to get food production in this country stimulated unless you use the individual local knowledge, energy, and enthusiasm of the farmer in his own part of the world.
It seems to me that there are four main requirements, and before I deal with them may I just say one word on the chance the farmer has now got for improving himself? In my experience, when I was younger and more hot-headed possibly than I am now, I endeavoured, hot-foot from an agricultural, scientific education, to inspire and enthuse the average farmer with the advantages of education. He has never had such a chance as he has got to-day with these county war agricultural committees, if they are properly constituted, in showing him the enormous practical advantage of education. If he will only read a portion of that excellent address made by Mr. Middleton on the difference between production in Germany and production in England he will see that it is to a very large extent due to really scientific education. I may be right or I may be wrong, but I am firmly convinced that education is really not a theoretical thing at all, but an extremely practical thing, if you will only look at it from the point of view of stimulating the faculties. If the farmer of the country can only be shown that by gingering up his own faculties he will the much more be able to ginger up the produce of the land, it will carry us very, very far in our efforts to increase food production. I have not had an opportunity for nearly three years of addressing this House, but I have seen the enormous advantage of education in the Army. You have seen men who came from the office stool and from every sort of occupation, who from their physique and from their whole outlook on life might be considered the very worst material from the soldiers' point of view, absolutely transformed, not only physically but mentally. I want to see the same sort of thing as the result of the efforts of the County War Agricultural Committees amongst the farming community.
There are four main requirements that these committees should set themselves to give to the farmers. The first is that of labour, which has already been dealt with by my right hon. Friend beside me. I am 136 afraid—though I have no right, of course, to speak in any sort of way for the War Office—that from what I know in my own appointment, which is an administrative and fairly wide one, that the difficulty is here the same that we have often in the Army from the administrative point of view—that is to replace men with women. I cannot see quite how the thing is to be met, because the whole Army is not made up simply of Class A men. In order to make a man physically fit to be a soldier he has got to have a certain amount of administrative work carried out by other than those in category A. Most of these we hope now will replace the women. I make that statement because I cannot see how the suggestion of the Mover that C3 or B 2 men can be employed on the land. As to finality in the labour question, that appears to me to be really the crux of the whole question. The farmer at present never knows from one month to another where he is, because the Department of the Adjutant-General has never been able to say, "For six months ahead that is what we want. We have got to have so many men, and you are going to be left with so many, and you will have to make the most and the best of it." If you had put the agricultural community into that position, I am perfectly sure they would have been only too ready to make the most and the best of it. But to be told one month that they were to have so many men, and then to commence to take 30,000 away does not tend to give certainty to the position. Let us get finality, at any rate for six months. If we can get that it will help us enormously.
A distinguished Member of the Labour party in this House asked me yesterday if it was not the fact that the real shortage of labour in the agricultural world was only due to the fact that we were putting more land under cultivation. He said that quite seriously. He said, "I have had nothing whatever to do with agriculture, and I do not know about it, but I am seriously told that what I have stated is the fact." To answer that query I am going to speak for my own county of Lincolnshire. For thirty years prior to 1013, 50,000 acres of arable land were, I do not say out of cultivation, but were not growing corn, and 5,100 of the available population which were in 1873 employed in Lincolnshire on agricultural land had been taken off. That appears to me to be an absolute answer to that Labour Member. I will not deal with the question of the fertiliser, which has 137 already been adequately spoken to, but I should like my right hon. Friend, if it is consistent with the public advantage, to make such a statement, to assure the agricultural community that there is to-day a stock in the country of cotton seed and linseed sufficient to maintain the requirements of agriculturists up to 1st May. I am given to understand that that is not so, and it is partly due to the fact that the matter is not entirely in my right hon. Friend's hands. Obviously linseed and cotton seed cake are merely the by-products of oil, which include the Ministry of Munitions from the point of view of glycerine, and includes the Food Controller from the point of view of margarine. Agriculturists to-day are crying out because they have to pay £19 or £20 per ton for cake. In justice to the man who has to sell that cake, I do not know whether they ever stop to think how much he has to pay in increased tonnage for this seed from India and Egypt. If you are going to give the agriculturist his cake at pre-war prices, it means that every margarine consumer or glycerine consumer—that is the Ministry of Munitions—has got to pay the difference. I only mention these two facts in order that my right hon. Friend may realise that I see the difficulty, and I only ask from the agriculturist's point of view, first, whether it is or is not a fact that there is a sufficient store of manufactured cake, or seed, on the high seas to ensure it at any price—keeping the price out of the argument altogether—to ensure agriculturists a security in the supply of these stuffs?
The first requirement is the security, over a certain period, of a minimum price to the farmer for his produce. I have never heard yet any real answer to the argument as to why you cannot get it. If you give him a fixed price for one year it appears to me that you inevitably land yourselves into a hopeless muddle, because you come up against forces, namely, those of supply and demand, which neither you nor any other human being can control, especially in dealing with an industry that is already controlled. An hon. Friend, I may say a loquacious member of the Board, interjected the remark, "If you are going to give this to agriculturists, why not to everybody else?" The answer, of course, is that the agriculturist is the one individual who has to get his living out of an industry which is already under a supreme control, a far greater control than any Government, namely, that of the 138 seasons. This puts him into an entirely different category. In conclusion, let me say that I am happy to think that after all the years of effort of my right hon. Friend opposite trying to impress upon this country how important was this industry, that, although it has taken a very high price—the price of a European war—that we have at last the people of this country understanding that they cannot successfully carry on a war without giving every sort of help and assistance to the one industry that really matters, namely, agriculture.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Prothero)
The House will realise that the work to which I have been called is a work of unexampled difficulty. I am also surrounded by very many impediments. However hon. Members may differ from me, I am sure I have the sympathies of the House. The Mover of this Amendment drew attention to a very large question, and he was followed on the same lines by the Seconder of the Amendment. I cannot think that when a Committee is sitting, specially appointed to deal with this subject, a Committee consisting of some of the best-known agriculturists of the day, a Committee which has been sitting for many months now and which is composed of members drawn from the whole of the United Kingdom, that until we have had that Committee's Report before us we should venture to enlarge upon the very big questions which have been raised by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment. I believe that the Report of that Committee is approaching completion, and when it comes will be the time to deal with questions of that larger policy.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
The House is aware of what we have been doing and are doing to stimulate production in 1917, and it is to that aspect of the case to which, with hon. Members' permission, I will devote myself. The Board of Agriculture, the Scottish Board, and the Irish Board have no power, no machinery, to fix any prices. I hope the House will remember that. We met and agreed to recommend certain points to the Food Controller. I know it has been stated that I fixed various prices—for instance, for the potato crop of 1916. 139 That is quite inaccurate. I had neither voice nor any other form of influence in fixing these prices.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
When I became President I at once thought that I must make great changes in the Board of Agriculture. Let me tell you what the duties of the English Board of Agriculture were like. The Board was mainly concerned in administering certain agricultural legislation—laws relating to rural districts, such as the Small Holdings Act. There was not in the Board any branch whatever dealing either with labour or with food production. I thought it necessary at once to start a branch of the Board to deal with food production, and that branch is under the guidance of Mr. Middleton, whose great abilities are well known. Then the question of labour and machinery was continually coming up before us, and I had to create a branch to deal with labour and with machinery. Let me add that the Minister of Munitions is, so to speak, the ironmonger for the Agricultural Department. What we want in the form of tractors, and so on, we apply to the Minister of Munitions for; and the same remark applies to implements such as ploughs and other machines. Then there are other points. We wanted to get as many women as we could to work, and so we had created a branch to deal with women, and all over the country we are now actively trying to obtain recruits from those women who have some sort of experience of rural life and agriculture to come forward and help. Where we get women who have not had experience, but who are able to devote their whole time, and are physically capable of doing it, we are getting them trained as rapidly as possible in certain schools.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
The wages will be fixed by the War Agricultural Committees. That is the present regulation. Probably, however, they will be fixed, if I may say so, by the Director of National Service; but for the present it is the local rate. Now, it is quite obvious that getting machinery by itself will do very little good. We have, therefore, to make 140 arrangements for the manning of the machines, for the repair of the machines, and for the oil and lubricants required. I am glad to say that, mainly through the supply of the Transport Service, we have obtained the men to drive the motors, and the motor repairs will be carried out in the repairing shops of the Motor Supply Service, and they will also supply from their depots the necessary petrol, paraffin and lubricants. We have already acquired in England thirty-two tractors which are in the way of being used. We have ordered, and they will be coming from now onwards, very rapidly I hope, some 230 more, and we have also got another large older in sight, so that probably before the middle of March we shall have some 260 motors at work in the country.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
These are all American motors, because we thought, where there were English machines made, it was advisable that private firms who could acquire them should get them.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
That is the organisation, so far as we are concerned at the centre; but we set up at once, as the hon. and gallant Member for the Horncastle Division of Lincolnshire (Captain Weigall) said to-day, War Agriculture Committees, and we have the promise of assistance of those War Agriculture Committees, who are mainly composed of practical farmers in each county. They have at their disposal the assistance of the Surveyors' Institution, the Land Agents' Society, and the Tenant Right Valuers' Association. All those bodies have loyally come forward to co-operate in every possible way with the War Agriculture Committees, and those Committees have so organised themselves that they get right down to the very smallest area, the group of two or three parishes. They are organised in 141 sub-committees. The first thing we called upon them to do was this: We asked them to make a survey of what land in their particular county was under cultivation, or imperfectly cultivated, and was available for the 1917 harvest, and we told them at the same time to mark down whatever land they thought might in certain circumstances be brought subsequently into cultivation for the 1918 harvest. The two points are kept wide apart: What can you do for 1917? What can you do for 1918? Then they were expressly told that they were to concentrate all their efforts on making the utmost of the land already brought under the plough. They were told that their time was limited, their labour was limited, and their capital was limited, and therefore it was upon those areas that they should, in the first place, concentrate all their efforts. They were also told that where there was some rough grass which had tumbled down and was incapable of being improved as grass, if their labour strength allowed them they should take that into consideration also. Of course, I am fully aware of the danger of ploughing up grass land so late in the season. It is not part of my programme at all.
The War Agriculture Committees have thrown themselves into this work with real enthusiasm. I have had the most complete support. They work very hard, and they work under very great difficulties. Railway fares, for instance, have been put up 50 per cent., and petrol is very hard to get and very expensive. Yet these men have really triumphed over their difficulties. I believe that when the time comes, the War Agricultural Committees, with the small Executive Committee, who really, after the first few meetings, do the practical business, will be invaluable in carrying out any measures for stimulating production in this country. They are practical men, knowing the local wants, knowing the land, knowing the people on the land, and they are the best means of cultivating the soil. To run a measure of this kind from Whitehall would be simply folly, and doomed to failure from the first. That, in a rough skeleton, is the machinery that we have created. I think I ought to say that I do not think it could have been created without the most loyal cooperation of the Department over which I preside. I think that we have worked practically the whole day, every day since about the 10th of Decem- 142 ber, and the amount of organisation which the machinery required in starting has been very great. Once started, it is very simple, and its simplicity will, I hope, be really a valuable thing.
Many questions have been asked about various points of importance. One is as to the number of men who are withdrawn under this new Army Order. I will give you the actual figure, and the story which led up to it. The War Office had a very large number of men who had been refused certificates of exemption by the tribunals. I am giving you the exact legal position. They were allowed to remain on the land on leave. It was originally intended that those men should perform the autumn operations of tilling. We all know what a miserable season it was, and I am afraid a great many men were unable to do the work for which they were engaged. There were these men on leave. Well, the War Office decided that some of them should be called up. At the present moment 6,800 have been called up. I think there is a great deal of misconception in country districts about calling up. You have to have a man brought up before a medical board, and a number of men who are not going to be called to the Colours have been brought before the medical boards. That accounts for a good deal of the disturbance. There have been 6,800 men called up out of the 30,000 which the War Office expects to get. The plan by which we and the War Office hope to get these men is this: They send to the Board of Agriculture the number of men which they expect the country to raise. They ask us to make our quota of what we think is the best way to get the proportion of the county contributions. Then the agricultural representative and the War Office representative go through the list and choose the men who can be taken with the least possible damage to the industry. Of course, when you have to choose between two such conflicting claims as the increase of food production and the increase of our military forces abroad, and when you have to do it when both of them want the men at the same time, it is difficult to arrive at any satisfactory compromise. I should like to say that I believe the War Office has always endeavoured to do its best for agriculture consistent with the duty of getting the men. That is so of headquarters, whatever may have been the result elsewhere. Supposing you had 30,000 men called up. The next step is, have you got the substitutes to replace them, and 143 efficient substitutes? The fact is that the War Office gives us man for man, but the quality varies. A considerable proportion of these will be men who have had agricultural experience. [An HON. MEMBER: "Piano tuners!"] I think we ought to mention that we have secured for agriculture all the German prisoners who are skilled in agriculture, as well as the interned aliens who are skilled in agriculture, and from my experience of what German prisoners can do they are very skilled and very successful workers.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I think they are paid the current wages, but I am not sure. Besides this, we hope to get a very large addition to the number of women on the land. We hope that we may get some 50,000 or 60,000 women in addition to those we have already, and that would mean, on the calculation given this evening, an equivalent of 35,000 men. Assume that you get those women and the German prisoners and that you get a certain proportion of soldiers who are fairly efficient, you do not even then replace the 30,000 skilled men. Nothing will replace them; but you do put into the hands of the farmer the material out of which, if only he can have his non-commissioned officers left, he can train and discipline a new agricultural army. Give him the material, however unpromising, and I agree that it is possible for that training and discipline to be given, and that the farmer would prepare as unpleasant a surprise for our German enemy as our civilian army prepared out of what looked to the soldier equally unpromising material. I was asked what the area of land likely to be left unploughed would be if no sufficient supply of labour was obtained, but I am afraid that I cannot give any definite figure upon that point. I believe, when we get the surveys in, that we shall have the material showing what the farmer could do with adequate labour in 1917, and what he could do, given adequate labour, in 1918, and if the House is interested, when I get those returns and have time to sift them, I shall be very glad to give them to the House.
144 Then comes what is most important: the difficult question of prices. I should like once more to reiterate that the Board of Agriculture, neither in England, nor in Scotland or Ireland, fixed the price. In the old days it was done by the Board of Trade and sometimes by the Board of Agriculture, but now it is done by the Food Controller. As to the prices that have been fixed for the crop of 1916 potatoes I am not responsible. The distinction between my function and that of the Food Controller is this: When the produce is once raised he deals with it and with distribution, handling, and prices I have nothing to do. As to the price fixed for potatoes, that has met with my approval, and with the approval, let me add, of the Irish Board and the Scottish Board, because these prices are United Kingdom prices and they prevail in every one of the three kingdoms. With regard to potatoes, there is no price at all fixed either for the early varieties of 1917 or for the second early varieties, but for the main crop of 1917 there is a minimum price which works out at £6 a ton. That is the position as to potatoes.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
No. I have been asked a question about seed potatoes, but I am afraid that I must ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Food Controller to deal with that part of the subject, because it is not in my province.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I do not think he would. [An HON. MEMBER: "Better not."] I know that is the fear largely held in agricultural circles. Now I come to the prices fixed for cereals. These have been fixed on these principles: The Government contract with the farmer to grow all the oats and all the wheat he can at a fixed contract price. It is a familiar practice among farmers to grow certain crops at a contract price. They grow large quantities of potatoes at contract prices, and mustard, for instance, at contract prices. The price is 38s. 6d. in the case of oats and 60s. in the case of wheat. May I put to the House one point that has been very much overlooked in the 60s. for wheat? I am sure the hon. Member for Horncastle (Captain Weigall) will follow what I am going to say with his great agricultural 145 knowledge. The price applies only practically to wheat that is already in the ground, which was sown when the farmer had the labour and when the Gazette average price was anything about 2s. above 60s. As for the spring sown wheat, we all know that that is a gamble in this country. If you offered the farmer a big price for wheat he would go in for spring wheat, when he ought to go in for something else, and when we ought to go in for either barley or oats he would try the spring wheat, and the War Agricultural Committee were told by me in my letter to them that a full crop of either barley or oats is better than half a crop of wheat. That is one of the points, and I think that if these fierce winds are proved to have damaged the wheat materially so that it will not come up, then we shall take other steps to deal with that crop. It is obvious it would be simply disastrous to allow a crop that has already been sown and prepared for to die away without being mended, and no doubt we should take steps to mend those crops if I may intrude on the House with a bit of technical information. It is not a very expensive thing to do, because you have got your land that has been ploughed and manured, and all you have to do is to harrow it and drill in a new crop.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
Oats or barley. Of course, we may be criticised for having fixed certain prices, and I confess, if we were left without any Food Controller, it is probable that fixing a minimum price and leaving the farmer to the play of the market might get us more, but the Food Controller dominates the position, and I may remind the House that his appointment was welcomed on both sides of the House when it was foreshadowed by the President of the Board of Trade in October last. He is there to regulate prices in the interests mainly of the consumer as against other persons who are going to exploit him. That is what he is there for, and if you fix a minimum price, say 50s. for wheat, and the farmer has a bumper crop, what is to prevent the Food Controller—nay ought he not to do it— from fixing a price closely approximating to that minimum price? He ought, in the position which he holds, to do so.
The Mover of this Amendment told us a story of the seizure of oats by the War Office. I do not think he quite told the 146 whole of the story, because the price at which the oats are seized is not the only money that the person who held the oats gets. He goes before the Defence of the Realm Mortgage Commission, and he gets something, at all events, to make good the loss which he has himself sustained. Anyhow, it is extraordinarily annoying to a farmer and to a dealer that produce should be requisitioned on one farm and not on another. A man on one farm has to sell his produce at the War Office price, supplemented, perhaps, by the Commission, but still at the War Office price, whilst his next door neighbour sells at the-highest market price he can get. Another advantage therefore of this fixed purchase price is that the War Office cannot requisition below it, neither can the Food Dictator touch it, because he has himself fixed it. It gives him, what my right hon. Friend told us was so imperative, absolute security and certainty of his price, and if the War Office were to take it they would have to pay that price. There is another advantage. If the Government takes the whole of the crop under this contract, it forms an asset against which the Government can advance money to the farmer. It can give him credit against the crop. Anybody who knows anything about farming knows that the reason why one farm is poorly tilled is very often because the man has got no cash; he has never had an opportunity of getting it. This is a question which the Government are considering, and you cannot do it without having a fixed contract price. We have made in times past an appeal, for instance, to India, to Australia, and indeed to Canada, to send us their wheat at a lower price than they would get in the world's market, because we are their own kith and kin, and they have does so. Last year, I believe, an approach was made to Canada. It was made too late, and they did not come into the proposal, but two very prominent Canadian farmers told me this. They said, "We should" object to taking less than the market price so long as the British farmer sticks to his price and takes all the war profits which ho can get."
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I cannot tell you offhand. India, it was, I think, 25s., the up-country price. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) asked me some questions about 147 foodstuffs and fertilisers. Both those subjects are in the hands of the Food Controller and not of myself.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
Do the heads of these various Departments which have so much in common ever meet together for the purpose of hammering out a common policy?
§ Mr. PROTHERO
Oh, often. There is one very good reason why these subjects should be in the hands of the Food Controller which will strike the House at once. I have no control over the Irish Board of Agriculture or over the Scottish Board of Agriculture, and what I might do in England they might not do in those countries. You must for these things have united power. That, I think, is the fair answer to the right hon. Gentleman's questions. The hon. Member for Horn-castle asked me whether there was enough feeding stuff in this country. That is a question which again I must refer to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Food Controller; it is not within my province. I think, in my own mind, and I have thought it for many months past, that it is very possible we may have to ration animals. It is only my individual opinion, but I think it might be necessary. We are in the fortunate position that we have never in the whole record of our agricultural history had such a head of livestock in the country as we have to-day. It is quite well that we should utilise that, and it is also advisable, in my opinion, that we should not sacrifice too much of our human food to the animals, of which we have this very large number. I hope that I have at all events covered the main body of the questions which were put to me, and I hope the House will rest assured that everything we can do will be done to meet this terrible difficulty of labour. I do not disguise from myself that labour is the difficulty, but I hope, if we can carry out with the War Office this process of taking men away from where they are least wanted, we shall be able to mitigate their loss to agriculture whilst taking the men that the War Office require. I went down to Maidstone only a few days ago and I had the unfortunate experience of a tenant farmer being in the chair, a most admirable speaker, who spoke for half-an-hour, and he put with deadly precision every point that could be made by the farmer and 148 then turned and called upon me to speak. It was a very awkward position, but I am bound to say that before the meeting ended they were unanimously resolved that they would do their very utmost to raise every pound of produce that they could from the land. I have found, wherever I have had to tell this story, of the demands for labour for military purposes, that they have most loyally responded. They have never once failed to resolve that they would go on doing their very hardest, and I am convinced that the farmers of this country will leave no stone unturned and spare no effort to increase the produce of the country.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
The issues raised by this Amendment are probably among the gravest that have to be considered by this House. I do not know that even in this House—I feel quite certain that outside it is not—it is yet sufficiently realised how grave is this problem of food production and food consumption. I only had an instance this morning. In some gardens near this House a lady took a loaf of bread to feed the sea-gulls. I do not think that lady could have realised that there was a danger that food might become perilously scarce in this country. We have now had thirty months of war. At the commencement you might have been able to overcome any mistake, but a mistake to-day would be absolutely fatal. I speak, not as a member of the late Government or of the present Government, but as one who has criticised both, and I say that the action of the late Government and of this Government with regard to food, material and shipping would almost make one believe that there was an inexhaustible supply of ships and of food in the country. What are the consequences to-day? Prices are soaring, and there is scarcity menacing the country. My right hon. Friend, for whom I have personally the greatest possible admiration, has spoken of the measures he proposes to take. I am glad that there is an agricultural policy, but I must say it has not struck me that it is a particularly strong and forcible one up till now, even from the speech of my right hon. Friend. He has told us that there have been 260,000 tractors provided in March, but that is no good for oats this year. The land ought to have been ploughed before now if oats are to be grown for the year 1917. I hope that this is not a question of "too late" once more. My right hon. Friend also 149 says that German prisoners are to be employed. How many are there at present at the disposal of agriculturists in the country? I do not know whether he can give me that information. I should be glad to have it.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am glad to get that information. I listened with very much interest to the right hon. Gentleman's admission that the prices issued for potatoes were not fixed by him, but by the Food Controller. What I wish to urge in this connection is that in regard to these matters the Food Controller and the Minister for Agriculture must work harmoniously together. There is no way out of it. The Minister for Agriculture stated that he had neither voice nor influence in fixing potato prices. But all these things are matters of production. If you fix a low minimum price you will have a lessened production, and therefore I say the Minister is interested in production, and surely should have some voice in fixing prices. I do not want to criticise. I do not put it any higher than that, but I ask my right hon. Friend in all seriousness what has been the result of the measures the late Government has taken in increasing the home-grown food supplies of this country? Have their frantic appeals made through the Press by writers in both parties produced more food? My right hon. Friend knows, and he stated with the greatest possible clearness in this House on the 20th December last, that labour is the crux of the whole problem. It is the crux, and I shall have a word or two more to say about that presently.
My right hon. Friend talks about training men. He said the farmer would have the non-commissioned officer—presumably the skilled labourer of to-day—who will train the others to handle the pitchfork or garden fork. But, again, that will be too late. You cannot train men for agriculture in a month or two, and I venture to assert that all these flourishes in the Press, all these speeches that are made in the country, all this talk about ploughing up parks, counts for very little with the man who knows something about agriculture, as I have the good fortune to do. I shall be interested in the experiment of ploughing up Richmond Park. There is one thing about it, and that is, the 150 right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works will not have much trouble about their harvest. The House of Commons will not be sitting when that comes, and may be he will be able to take down some of his colleagues to gather in that harvest—there are a good many of them now to help him. Everyone knows perfectly well there was far too little labour employed on the land before the War. I take it that something like 40 per cent, of the skilled labour has been taken by the Army to-day. It was 30 per cent, a year ago and many men have gone since. Is it reasonable to suppose that with that 30 per cent, or 40 per cent, loss in skilled labour you can produce the same amount of food as you produced when that skilled labour was available?
It is true high prices have reigned. Farmers have never had such prices since the Napoleonic Wars, and yet there are 112,000 acres of bare fallow more than a year ago and 260,000 acres less under wheat. These are hard facts. We are told that women will come on to the land. Every farmer would welcome women to help him. But they must be supplementary. They cannot do the hard basic work—the ploughing, tilling, and harvesting. You tell us we are going to get 60,000 of these women. I saw an advertisement in the papers this morning, according to which 30,000 women are filling shells. Do you think that they are going to undertake farming in preference to filling shells? There is one thing that women can do, not only as well, but very much better than men, and that is milking cows. But you cannot get women milkers to-day. In the munition works there are free Saturday afternoons and evenings, and free Sundays, but unfortunately in this country we have never yet got a cow that does not require to be milked fourteen times a week, and there is no off-Saturday evening or Sunday for the milker. Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe he is going to get these 60,000 women for agriculture?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I doubt very much if these women will come forward in the number he wants. I have seen women who have come forward in a great access of enthusiasm, but they have soon left the 151 work. Agricultural work is not the most easy or the most pleasant work in the world. When you see ladies riding on loads of hay, that is one side of the picture; but going out in a field of turnips on a frosty morning is another side. Take, again, the question of milk and milk production. My right hon. Friend is interested in milk production, but he is not interested apparently in fixing the prices of feeding stuffs—of the stuffs with which cattle must be fed. This seems to be a very curious arrangement. I am not blaming my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I am not interested in the prices of milk, and I am not interested in fixing the prices. That, again, is a matter for the Food Controller.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am speaking from the point of view of the ordinary simple farmer. I have to get my feeding stuffs, and it does not matter to me whether the prices are fixed by the Food Controller or by the Minister for Agriculture. I assure my right hon. Friend I have the greatest respect for him. I would not say a word derogatory to him. But the price of feeding stuffs has more than doubled since the War began. I am not looking at one side of the question; I am looking at the whole question of food production in this country, and if it were necessary in helping the successful prosecution of this War that the whole of the land of the country should go out of cultivation I for one would vote for it.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
You want to get the biggest prices for the farmer's produce, while he is to pay the lowest prices for feeding stuffs.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
That is not my argument at all. I am trying to put my views before the country as to how we can best increase our food production, and I want my hon. Friend to understand that before you fix the price of food you must produce it. That is the first essential of the day. I would like to ask the Under-Secretary for the Food Controller's Department why they do not fix the prices of feeding stuffs? We farmers have to pay to-day £21 for linseed cake when before the War the cost was ten guineas per ton. Through the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer British manufacturers, I understand, have a monopoly of the feeding kernels obtained from West Africa, and they are making more profit on feeding stuffs while 152 the prices of milk and other commodities, which have to come out of the pockets of the poorest part of the population, have increased enormously. I am glad to see there is one Gentleman present who really can say something as to the increase in the productiveness of land, and that is the representative of the War Office. That Department has not been represented this afternoon. Of course I know its representatives have been in the building, but the War Office is really the chief sinner in this respect. They have taken far too-many men from the land. I make no bones about it. And more than that, if they are to be allowed to continue as in the past, they will bring about the bankruptcy of the whole country through lack of food.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a member of the War Committee. He is always asking for man-power, but is he sure that when he withdraws men from the land and puts them into the Army he is actually strengthening the food resources of the country? Take my own parish; it is a very small one. Two young fellows have been taken for the Army and have been sent to India. From there, I presume, they will go to Mesopotamia, and I do earnestly urge upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer that these young fellows would be doing far more good by ploughing up land in Devonshire than in trying to recapture Kut el Amara. Again, there is an enormous number of men being used for Home defence. Why are these men needed for Home defence? I do not propose to develop this argument, but I must say I have never been able to understand why so many men capable of working on the land should be kept in these Islands for what is called Home defence. Surely the Navy, after two and a half years [Interruption]. I think it is a very apposite argument—I say that the men must be used to the best advantage in this great War.
We are told we are to have substitutes provided for the men thus taken. Will anybody guarantee that these substitutes will stay with the farmer, or that they know anything about farming? I have given my experience of these matters before when illustrating this question of the bad utilisation of Army men. There was an old farmer, a man eighty-three years of age, who came to me just before Christmas to complain that his son had been taken. This man had actually got 153 seventy loads of mangolds waiting to be dealt with, and he had not tilled one single acre of wheat, although he had had 30 acres in the previous year; yet his son, he complained, was being employed near Plymouth as a clerk. It is the War Office with whom we want to deal. The right hon. Gentleman went to the root of the matter when he said:Labour is the crux of the whole question.I have always been rather afraid that my right hon. Friend is not quite strong enough to deal with the War Office. He has written a most beautiful book. I read it only a few days ago. It is a beautiful book of saintly character. But we do not want a saint to deal with the War Office; we want rather a sinner—some would say, by preference, a female sinner. Lord Derby has told us that there were 60,000 men left to agriculture. I think the right hon. Gentleman told us that he had taken only 6,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "6,800!"] We want a little certainty in this matter. Are you going to take the balance of the 30,000? I do not ask these questions in order to make any party point. Uncertainty kills all enterprise. You cannot expect any man to plant or till crops if he has not a reasonable opportunity of being able to harvest them, therefore I ask the Government to tell us what they are going to do? I am not going to blame them. I know it is a matter of very nice adjustment, but let us know, when Lord Derby talks about the 60,000 men being left for agriculture, whether he means to take them up within the next two or three months? That is the vital point upon which we want information. These are 60,000 skilled men, and they will do more than all the advertising appeals, all the War Committee, and all the eye-wash put together. You have to get back to the actual facts of cultivation. My right hon. Friend made a great point about the War Committees. The Agricultural War Committees have done and are doing admirable work with the material at their command. I have a letter here from a very active member of the War Agricultural Committee of Devonshire. I asked him, because I rather expected that a Debate like this would come on, what the Agricultural Committee was doing in Devonshire. It is as patriotic, as well-intentioned, and as earnest as any War Committee. This is what he said in a letter dated 6th February:The War Agricultural Committee of this county will, I fear, accomplish very little, first, on account of 154 the absurdly small assistance the Board of Agriculture are in a position to render to the farmer. Of meetings there are plenty, with appointments of committees, but in these days the walls of Jericho do not fall down by marching round them.He might have used a more agricultural metaphor by saying that plants do not spring up by walking round fields or placing advertisements on walls. The conclusion at which this gentleman arrives is a serious one. He is one of the most practical farmers in the county, and he happens to be the agricultural representative for the county of Devon, so that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise him. I asked him what amount of corn had been tilled in Devonshire, and he says:There is less wheat sown round here to-day than I ever remember, and from verbal representations, I believe, that is the case generally in the county Whether in the spring the acreage of corn will be made up is problematical.These are facts which are known to the Germans as well as to ourselves. If one wants to get information, it seems as if one has to go to the German newspapers for it. The Germans know this. They are striking to-day at our weakest spot by means of submarines, and are trying to cut off our food supplies. I put it to the Government that the measures adumbrated this afternoon are all of them admirable, but, I am sorry to say, they are inadequate to deal with the serious situation in which the country now finds itself.
§ Sir WILLIAM PEARCE
Only of second-rate importance to the supply of men on the land is the supply of fertilisers, and the position with regard to them today is so difficult and precarious that perhaps I may be allowed to give the facts. In providing fertilisers for farmers, the Food Controller has to square with the Minister of Munitions, in the same way that the Minister for Agriculture has to square with the War Office over the provision of men. There is not sufficient of any of the staple fertilisers to fufil all that is required both by the Minister of Munitions and the Food Controller. The object of my few remarks this afternoon is to plead the necessity of co-ordination and that the whole situation should be most carefully reviewed by both Ministers concerned. The three great fertilisers used in this country are sulphate of ammonia, superphosphate of lime and nitrate of soda. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about slag?"] Slag is not used to the same degree as the other three. Sulphate of ammonia in ordinary times is produced in this country to the extent of, 155 roughly, 400,000 tons. It is only converted in sulphate for the sake of convenience, because in that condition it is more easily handled and is best applied to the land. Sulphate of ammonia is really valuabe as a fertiliser, for the ammonia which it contains. Unfortunately, ammonia is now required in enormous quantities by the Minister of Munitions. Enormous quantities of ammonia are required for the manufacture of high explosives, and the Minister of Munitions can use very nearly the whole of the supply of ammonia in this country for the making of explosives. There is a danger, therefore, unless the situation is very carefully considered, of a very small supply of sulphate of ammonia being available for agriculture. This, again, is complicated by the fact that there has always been an export to many of our Colonies, like the West Indies, for instance, where sulphate of ammonia is absolutely necessary for the cultivation of sugar, and they could come forward and put on the British Government a great deal of pressure in order to still have their quota of sulphate of ammonia. If, therefore, the Food Controller and the Minister of Agriculture do not take very careful steps, and consult with the Minister of Munitions, there is a danger of getting very little sulphate of ammonia for the use of agriculture in this country.
Let me take the case of superphosphate. The whole of the raw material comes from abroad, and has to be treated with sulphuric acid. Sulphuric acid has been in such demand for munitions that the Minister of Munitions has been obliged to reduce the manufacture of superphosphate by at least 50 per cent. in this country, because he wants the sulphuric acid for other purposes. That, again, is a factor that requires very careful co-ordination or the supply of fertilisers may be seriously cut off. Take the case of nitrate of soda. The ordinary consumption of nitrate of soda for agricultural purposes in this country was about 50,000 tons before the War—that was, roughly, one-third of the nitrate of soda imported into this country. To-day the requirements for explosives are three or four times as much as the whole of the nitrate of soda that used to be imported into this country in peace time, and, again, I suggest that there is great danger there, owing to the necessities of the Minister of Munitions, of very little nitrate of soda going to agriculture for 156 the purpose of fertilisers. These are the three principal fertilisers in this country. Everybody will agree that it is quite impossible to obtain good cultivation of land, such as this Amendment desires, unless there is an ample supply of fertilisers. I am not casting blame or reproach upon either of the Ministers concerned, but I feel it my duty to give these few simple facts, in order to show the danger of agriculture being left not only without labour, but without fertilisers.
I should like to say a word or two as to the way in which Germany has surmounted this position. I am not at all sure that it is not one of the greatest achievements of the German intellect during the War. If they had not been able to get a supply of nitrate other than nitrate of soda, which until comparatively a few years ago was the only supply in Germany, the War would have been stopped in the first year. You have only to cut a country off nowadays from its supply of nitric acid, which is made from nitrate of soda, and the whole of your manufacture of explosives and high explosive propellants is immediately shut down. Germany had to face the position that unless she were able to fix the atmospheric nitrate—that is, nitrate from the air—she was in sight of being obliged to stop the War. Fortunately for Germany, in the year prior to the War, one of the big German chemical companies installed a plant by which the nitrogen of the air was fixed, and they were in a position to turn out about a hundred thousand tons of sulphate of ammonia. They immediately saw the necessity of expanding this plant. My information to-day—I am sure I am accurate—is that Germany is making the whole of her high explosives for propellants from the nitrogen of the air, and is within measurable distance of providing the whole of her fertilisers from the same source. It really is a wonderful achievement. Germany to-day from the nitrogen of the air is producing for war and for agricultural uses what is equivalent to more than a million tons per year of nitrate of soda. This is the result of a good many years of experience and experiment, because in the early days it was not considered a commercial proposition to obtain nitrogen from air without a natural power like water power, but Germany has solved the problem by using cheap coal and recovering by-products, and to-day she has shown 157 the world a new departure which is going to make nitrate of soda a back number and is going to vitally affect the price of all ammoniacal and fertilising materials in the future. I know the Government has not entirely lost sight of this and a Committee has been sitting, whose report may soon arrive, but I have taken the opportunity to bring to the notice of the House what I believe is really a fundamental, change in the agricultural position.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I think the question of food supplies and prices is one of very great importance indeed. The Mover of the Amendment raised certain very wide issues opening up agricultural policy in its wider aspects. I do not wish to go very much into that, but I think it is necessary, if we are to understand in the least the moral of the present situation in regard to food prices and the supplies of home-grown food in this country, to emphasise that the situation is largely due to years of past neglect, before the War came, and that in point of fact we have been burdened with a very bad system of land tenure which has discouraged good, enlightened and scientific agriculture, and in many cases has penalised farmers in their industry. I believe the situation is largely due to the fact that we are now paying the penalty for the oppression and the degradation of the rural labourer for many years. He had no prospects and he had no security. It was not thought necessary that he should have a decent house to live in. You had the labourers getting 14s. a week and a damp cottage in some districts, where their children were badly brought up, badly educated and badly clad, and the result is that the most adventurous labourers left the countryside and went to other lands beyond the sea, or came crowding inside our own large industrial centres, and we had over these years depopulation of the rural districts, and we have had in the glens of Scotland the small crofters driven out in some cases to make room for deer forests.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
There is not a Scotsman who would not say it is true, because it is part of the history of Scotland that it has taken place. Therefore to-day, when the country is in the grip of the War, these wrong things have to be paid for, and they are now being brought home to the country, and they ought to be brought 158 home in such a way that we ought to determine that the same thing will never happen again, and it is from that point of view that I welcome the speech made, I believe, from the standpoint of the national interest itself by the Mover of the Amendment, in order that he might emphasise the real facts and drive home what the situation really is. If the labourers were driven away before the War, we find that 30 per cent, or 40 per cent, of them have been taken since the War came. In that way there is bound to be a falling-off in the food supply. I believe even before the War the position was that we were dependent for four-fifths of our food supplies upon outside sources. A great amount of that could be grown at home if we had a proper system of land tenure and ownership. But have we learned that lesson even at the present time? I sometimes doubt it. I see things happening at this moment which make one very doubtful indeed as to whether the lesson in regard to food supplies is being thoroughly learned. After two and a half years of war I see announced in certain newspapers fox meets where fox-hunting is still practised, where packs of hounds are kept, where food has to be found for those hounds, and where, indeed, foxes in certain districts are raiding poultry yards and destroying large quantities of very valuable food; and I believe that is not only a positive but a negative evil as well. It is not only what the foxes destroy, but what they discourage the farmer from producing, because in some districts the farmers will not keep large quantities of poultry if they are going to be raided by foxes. How do we regard that even at this moment? I saw a case the other day of a Wiltshire farmer. He had been told in ever so many speeches, on ever so many platforms and in ever so many newspapers, that it was a patriotic duty at this moment to produce as much foodstuffs as possible. He was producing hens, chickens, and eggs, and his poultry yards-were being raided each night by a fox. He and his carter between them killed the fox, and they were dragged before the magistrates at Andover and fined £5. That is a piece of incredible folly at the present time.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
The charge was the destruction of the fox. The facts have 159 been reproduced in the newspapers. They are not in dispute. [Interruption.] I am prepared to give the name of the farmer. He was fined £3 and the carter £2 for the poisoning of a fox. It is not only in regard to foxes, but to game generally, that a great deal of valuable foodstuff is being destroyed at present. Complaint was made the other day at the Carnarvonshire County Council that pheasants, made hungry by the present weather, were destroying potatoes. I am not an expert in regard to the food of pheasants, like the Prime Minister, but one small farmer complained that sixteen sacks of potatoes had been destroyed by the depredations of these pheasants; and only the other day there was a deputation from Scotland which waited upon the Secretary of State for Scotland, representing the National Farmers' Union, and Mr. A. P. McDougal, of Milngarvie, stated that a large proportion of the landlords had not granted permission to farmers to kill ground game. He argued that such powers should be vested in them under the Defence of the Realm Act. With regard to deer, he said that within twelve miles of Glasgow farmers were complaining bitterly of the damage being done by deer to growing crops. These farmers were supplying the people of Glasgow, and since that was happening so near the city they could imagine what it would be like in the Highlands. Another speaker said that as many of the deer forests had not been shot over for some years the deer were increasing in number, and in their search for food were driving the sheep from the pasture lands. These are facts which ought to be brought to the attention of the Boards of Agriculture for England and for Scotland. It is time, indeed, if we are going into this question of food supplies, that these matters should be looked into. I suggest also that a system of land ownership and tenure which allows that and encourages it is indefensible, especially in the light of a great War like the present. There is no doubt at all about the hardships and the rise in the price of foodstuffs which are being created, and they are being very severely felt by some of the poorest people in this country. Although there is a great deal being said about the need for sacrifice, it very often happens that the people who speak most about the need for sacrifice have their neighbours in mind rather than themselves, and there is 160 far too much sacrifice along these lines. Then this fact came out the other day. I do not know whether it has been investigated, but it has been very widely reported in the Press that the military at Rye have appropriated a cornfield of 40 acres, so that both the harvest and the seeds will be lost.
At the very moment when many poor people are finding it difficult to get as much as a pound of sugar, we still see advertised very expensive chocolates. I received a price list the other day from a firm in Regent Street, who offered me forty-nine different flavours and varieties of highly expensive chocolates, all intended to gratify luxurious palates, and the first on the list, of which an illustration was given, was a box of mixed chocolates, made of sugar, and the price was 50s., or, if you bought it specially tied with red silk ribbon, 52s. 6d. That sort of thing ought to be made absolutely impossible. Whilst there is need for sacrifice, the sacrifice ought to begin at the right end. Some of the poorest people would be far more impressed by what is written in newspapers and said on platforms if they did not see rings advertised by jewellers at £200 a time, and all sorts of extravagant things displayed in one way or the other. I do not think we are going to get very far in this matter of providing extra food supplies merely by feverish efforts to establish every man on his own potato patch. It is the duty of the Government to take, far more than it seems to me has yet been done, a big, all-round view of the needs of the country, and to reconcile the competing claims of the agricultural districts, as well as the naval and military needs. In this matter there has been far too much newspaper clamour, and Governments have been far too apt to be stampeded by it. I think it is also true that the military tribunals have worked in a most unequal way in different districts with most unequal results. We were always being told when the Military Service Acts were under discussion that Conscription was going to give equality. So far as the different counties are concerned, Conscription has not given equality. In some districts you have practically everyone sent in, and you have had large farmers sometimes conscripting small holders, and in other districts you have had those sitting on the tribunals looking well after at least their own requirements. 161 If one may take an example of how the matter works out sometimes in regard to the tribunals themselves, an estimate has been made that £10,000,000 worth of food in this country is destroyed by rats every year. [An HON. MEMBER: "Question!"] At any rate the estimate has been made, and certainly anybody who knows anything about railway sidings, railway stores and docks knows that an enormous quantity of food is destroyed by rats. It is a fact that three expert rat-catchers employed by a large firm, which destroyed 400,000 rats every year, have been called up. All the other skilled men employed by the firm have been called to the Army, and the firm applied for exemption for these three expert rat-catchers as being indispensable, and in order that they might train the unskilled men. In every case the men were refused exemption both by the local tribunal and by the Appeal Tribunal. That does not seem to me to be wise economy in regard to the food supply. It seems to me to be very bad economy in regard to the food supply. One may well ask, especially after a statement that has been made, how far the Government Departments, the many Government Departments, the increasing Government Departments, are really working together in these matters. One might almost imagine hearing one of the heads of these Departments genially saying that he has no responsibility at all, because he never seems to come into contact with other Departments. One might imagine that the heads of these Departments are wandering stars which have no relation to each ether. I do not think that is a very wise arrangement. It is a great pity. When you have the War Office, the Food Controller, the Board of Agriculture, and the other Departments vitally concerned, there ought to be the closest organic working in the best interests of industry and agriculture as a whole and the food supply of the country as a whole. One would also imagine that the Prime Minister would be the link between them, holding all the Departments together, but apparently, so far as the House of Commons is concerned, the Prime Minister is rather to be the missing link than to be the link itself.
The Minister of Agriculture stated that when the announcement was made in the newspapers that 30,000 men were to be called to the Army it came upon him as a staggering blow. It came upon the Minister of Agriculture as a staggering blow that 30,000 162 men were to be called to the Army by Lord Derby! Surely we have a right to ask whether there was any consultation between the War Office and the Board of Agriculture. Was this staggering blow-inflicted upon the Minister of Agriculture without consultation? We have a representative of the War Office present and we shall be able to ascertain. Food is a munition of war in war-time quite as much as anything else. In running down the food supply you can inflict a real hardship upon the nation. I believe that there is greater need than ever for home-grown supplies and for the utmost being brought out of the land. That necessity is made all the more plain by the new submarine warfare, especially when you see to-day in the newspapers that in two days twenty-seven ships have been sunk. I believe that the land of this country could, in fact, feed the people of this country— certainly in regard to one or two basic things, I believe that with the best kind of scientific agriculture that to a very large extent this country could be made independent of outside supplies. But the men more and more are being taken away. Increasing numbers of labourers are being taken away, and in return the War Office is offering to the farmers as substitutes men who are in the C3 Class, many of whom have never seen the land. Apparently it is believed by the War Office that anybody simply by going down to the land can become an expert agricultural labourer straight away. Although I was brought up in the country and in close touch with the land I do not profess to be an expert on agriculture or land, but I do know this, that agricultural work is skilled employment, that it is not learned in six months, and that therefore many of these substitutes will be absolutely useless for a very long time. If they have got to be trained, how are they going to be trained? They are going to be trained by taking skilled men from their jobs in order to train them. During that time it would be far better to allow the skilled labourer to go on with his own work and to do his own job, than to take him off his own job in order to train somebody else who cannot be expected to do as well inside that time.
Many things have been said to-day in regard to the farmers and in regard to the wrongs of the farmers. I want to see a fair bargain struck so far as the farmers fire concerned; but, on the other hand, I do not think the farmers have any right to 163 exploit the present situation to the fullest possible extent in their own interest. When the War came the price of British-grown wheat was about 32s. a quarter. The price of British-grown wheat is now changing hands in certain districts at 80s., and more than 80s. It is no good saying that the costs of production have gone up. Of course they have gone up, but they have not gone up to anything like the extent as would make up the very large margin between 30s. and 80s. a quarter. Therefore, whoever is to undertake the duty of dealing with this question, I maintain that it ought to be done by skilled and expert people, whether by means of the Food Controller or by means of the Board of Agriculture. I would say this to whoever may take the matter in hand, that not only should the interests of the farmers be considered but the interests of the ordinary public should be considered at the same time, and wherever there is need the poorest people ought to be properly protected. There is no good farmer who would not subscribe to that doctrine. There is no good farmer who would say that the price of potatoes, wheat and other foodstuffs generally ought to be allowed to rise to any point because it is increasingly difficult to bring outside supplies of food into the country. These matters ought to be very closely and carefully investigated.
The President of the Board of Agriculture has told us in a recent speech that this country has become a beleaguered city. If that is true, we ought to be adopting all kinds of changes and remedies in order to grapple with the situation, not only in regard to the production of food but in regard to the proper distribution and consumption of food. A statement has been made that there is going to be set up in the country a system of voluntary rations. It seems to me that there is a great deal of difference between conscription when it is the conscription of life or the conscription of labour, and the tender regard that we pay to the matter when it becomes a question of property or a question of land. There is no trouble in the least about the conscription of life, but we are told that we must not discourage the farmer, that the farmer will be discouraged if he is not able to get the last penny in regard to the crops that he can raise. I think that that fact is sinking deep into many minds, and that people are feeling that you treat wealth and loans 164 upon money far more tenderly than you apply some of your principles in regard to life itself and labour itself. That fact is bound to come home to many minds. I think there ought to be an arrangement whereby the farmers ought to be paid justly for the work they do, and they ought to pay their labourers justly for the work they do. At the same time, it ought not to be possible for people to take advantage of the needs of the nation in order to force up prices to any possible extent. I do not believe that any system of voluntary rations will secure very far-reaching results, because what will happen will be that the people who are prepared to share and share alike—and that ought to be the principle obtaining in a beleaguered city— will be willing to fall into the arrangement, but the greedy people will not be prepared to fall into it. I believe there are about 20 per cent, of the people in this country who are more or less honestly trying to act upon the recommendations of Lord Devonport, but 80 per cent, are paying no attention to those recommendations at all. Therefore, something more will have to be done.
Let us take one article of food—sugar. That is becoming a matter of very great urgency among many working people at the present time. They cannot get sugar. It is a very unfair way of distributing sugar to attach a monetary test, and to say that a person must buy 3s. or 4s. worth of other goods before they can buy sugar. I heard the other day of the case of an old age pensioner, an old woman over seventy years of age, who gets 8s. or 9s. a week, all told, and she went into a shop to buy ¼ lb. of sugar. She was told that if she bought 4s. worth of other things she would get a chance of buying a ¼ lb. of sugar. I believe that is an unjust arrangement. The problem of sugar ought to be made a matter more or less of arithmetic calculation. Find out how much sugar is available, how many people there are in, the country, and divide the sugar in proportion to the needs of the families, whether they be rich or poor. Treat rich and poor alike, and do not apply monetary tests, so that one can get more than another. There is no one of any strength of character, in any class, who would not subscribe to that doctrine and who would not say that it is an absolutely fair doctrine. These are matters which ought to be dealt with from the Government Bench when the time comes. I would suggest to the Food Controller that it would be a 165 good thing if he would call to his aid, far more than he has done, the great cooperative societies in this country, who deal with so many millions of working people. There is no belligerent country in Europe to-day, except in this country, no Government at war, that has not had the wisdom to call in to their aid the cooperative societies. That is true of Russia, France, Belgium, Germany and Austria. They have all made full use of these great working-class associations, who know the needs of the working people so well. If that were done here it would be found that they have got the machinery by which they could, without the idea of making profit, without the idea of exploiting anybody, supply the needs of twenty millions of working people in this country, if the Government and the Food Controller would act with them in this matter. It is a matter of very great importance that that should be done.
I do not want to go into the wider question that was opened up in the very able speech of the Mover of the Resolution, but I do say that many of the labourers when they come back again will not be willing to return to the old stamp of life they lived before the War. They will not be willing to go back to 14s. a week, and to end their days in the workhouse as so many of them do, and be treated as paupers and die to fill up paupers' graves. Therefore, the sooner the Government takes up the big question of economic reconstruction in regard to the land itself, the better. The land ought to be the treasure house of this country. The land ought to be regarded as a great, vast, national possession, as a great, vast, national estate, and the Government ought to look upon it and to treat it from the standpoint of the public good, without regard to the vested interests involved. That is one of the matters which are vital if we are going to build up a greater and a better England for the future, and I am quite sure that it ought not to be treated as a matter of party obligation. Party politics, if they are merely party politics, are apt to be called sometimes, and are very properly called, an uncomplimentary name. There is too much party intrigue and personal intrigue, but in so far as people even at this moment will leave aside this question of party and approach the matter from the standpoint of the country itself, and bring their honest opinions to boar upon it, however 166 great the difficulty, I believe that the real welfare of the country will be substantially advanced.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
We have heard a good deal of the production of wheat. It seems to me that it is the duty of everyone through the length and breadth of the country to do everything he can to bring the land under cultivation, and though the last speaker may not agree with me, I do not think it is the best means of developing land to go to farmers and tell them that their prices are going to be cut down to a very much lower rate than the natural world-prices of the market, unless you are going to show farmers that you are not going to ask them to risk their capital in this new venture of greater cultivation by guaranteeing that, at any rate for some years, they will not lose by employing that fresh capital. The question is all part of that great question of reconstruction. I associate myself most heartily with the last speaker in saying that in any such proposals for the development of agriculture you must give security so that the wages of those employed in agricultural pursuits will be of a proper standard. When we found that the price of the coming crop of wheat was 60s. a quarter, everybody will agree that that is a fair price. What we do not realise is the fact that the land has been getting more and more foul owing to the removal of skilled labour and the lack of fertilisers and the price of fertilisers, and the result is that the yield per acre is in no way comparable with the yield per acre when the price was 32s. per quarter. In exactly the same way, in endeavouring to produce greater quantities of wheat or potatoes, or anything else, if we are going to fix prices, though we need not fix anything like present war prices for the days to come, yet we want those to whom we are appealing to risk their capital for the further advancement of agriculture to feel, that they will have fair play for five or, at any rate, for the next ten years. I believe that that is the thing for which farmers at present are looking. We want farmers to call to their assistance any labour which they can possibly find. We want them to welcome women, even if they know nothing about agriculture. But we cannot expect them to take en unskilled labour and to run these great risks unless they feel that there is some security for them in the work which we are asking them to do.
167 I have put down an Amendment which deals specially with the sugar production and sugar manufacture in this country. I do not know whether it is merely a question for the President of the Board of Agriculture or for the Food Controller. Perhaps the representative of the Food Controller (Captain Bathurst) will be able to give me an answer on this point. Owing to our belief in the past that war need no longer be considered in this country, we had become absolutely dependent upon Germany and Austria for the great bulk of our sugar supply. I cannot help thinking that we should be making a very grave mistake if, in considering any question of reconstruction in the future, we did not take into account the fact that sugar, like wheat, has become one of our first lines of defence. I hope that we may hear from the Government before long that they intend to do something in this respect, because this is a question which does not brook delay. We are hoping, as we have heard to-day, that there is a very large number of soldiers who will desire to settle on the land after the War. If that is to be successful we have got to give them the same security as I have mentioned in the case of the farmer, and I can conceive of no better way of stimulating agriculture after the War than by stimulating this great industry of sugar production in this country. Any of us who have had the privilege of living for any length of time in France are aware of the great industry carried on by all the small peasants of France. You see the enormous amount of sugar which is being grown and you sea the factories all over the place, though I believe that they are not the most economical way of dealing with the industry, and that you should have large factories. But you do see this great industry, and you see what we have felt the want of in this country so much, a natural balance of agriculture and manufacture and the interchange between them going on at this very moment to a very large extent in France.
There are one or two ways of dealing with this question. If the Government can see their way to tell those who are likely to be interested in this matter, so as to encourage them to grow sugar, that the Brussels Sugar Convention will be from this moment a dead letter, then all is very largely plain sailing. And if the Government can also tell agriculturists that they are determined to see that sugar growers in this country should have a fair chance 168 of establishing themselves, then I think that they will find a very ready response. I believe that I am right in saying that the Brussels Sugar Convention has been practically a dead letter owing to the action of Germany and Austria, who are parties to the Convention. Prior to the War we had an undertaking by which it was necessary to give six months' notice if we desired to cease to be parties to that Convention. If there is any doubt upon this matter now, I hope that His Majesty's Government will take the earliest opportunity of stating definitely that the Convention is a dead letter, or, if they cannot do that, of giving immediately six months' notice so that this hampering restriction will no longer exist at the end of the War. The hon. Gentleman who is at present representing the Food Controller is one of those who, I am sure, is taking a very great interest in this and many other agricultural pursuits. I would like him to consider that, prior to the War, we received in this country something like 2,000,000 tons of sugar annually, of which, I believe, about one and a half million tons came from Germany and Austria. It is perfectly clear that unless we are prepared to take proper measures for the development of this industry we shall again find ourselves flooded out of this market after the War by those who are our enemies at the present moment.
I must confess that I have very serious fears on this subject, owing to the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the late Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer of the late Government supported the retention of the expert adviser of the Sugar Committee at that time, who was a gentleman named Mr. Julius J. Runge. I asked him whether this gentleman was an Englishman or a German, and he almost indignantly told us that he was an Englishman. I find that a gentleman of that precise name was naturalised at a certain date. Of course, I accept the fact, as we were told then, that this could not be the gentleman. Nevertheless this expert adviser, who had even then great powers put into his hands, who was at that time the only sugar expert on the Sugar Commission, has a father who is a naturalised German, who was also his partner in the business: a partner who is a naturalised Austrian, an uncle, a naturalised German, who is in the same business and at the present time is in Hamburg, no doubt in the Consular Service or something of that kind for this 169 country, and who, notwithstanding that, has nine sons fighting for Germany against this country. It alarmed me, therefore, when I saw this expert in charge of the Sugar Commission with partners who were Germans and Austrians, and a German father and an uncle with nine sons fighting against us. That was the expert who was advising the Sugar Commission, and I think it only right that it should be stated that those who were called in to assist him, who were regarded as sugar experts, were all of them interested in one way or another in this great trade which had been carried on between Germany and this country.
I believe that the whole of this country will desire to see that this great trade, which we have been giving gratuitously to Germany and Austria before the War, placing practically all our orders for sugar with them, shall cease. We know that there is going to be a tremendous amount of labour thrown on the labour market after the War, and one of the ways in which that can be dealt with will be by encouraging the sugar industry, but this will not be done unless the Government is determined to see that this essential industry shall be given fair treatment in this country. I am not going at length into any of the methods by which the Government might give such assistance, but if they find it possible to come down to this House and say straight off that they are determined to place a substantial duty on enemy sugar after the War, the least they can do, it seems to me, is to guarantee interest or to give other assistance to those who are prepared to build factories and to prepare for the end of the War. Otherwise we are faced with a fatal hiatus between the conclusion of peace and the time when this great industry can be started. What we want to do is to absorb all the labour which we can in this direction, even if we start in dealing with these things on an unusual course and advance in an unusual manner in order to restart other industries and start fresh ones in our midst.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise that in supporting this Amendment I have no wish whatever to criticise His Majesty's Government. I regret the speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Moulton (Mr. G. Lambert). It seems to me that it was hardly fair, hardly playing the game, to come down to this House on the second day of the Session and suggest that the Govern- 170 ment has been too late in its agricultural policy. I think that it was an ungenerous criticism. I hope the House will realise the enormous difficulties which exist owing to the fatal hesitation and the lack of appreciation of the seriousness of the situation in the days gone by. Criticism against the late two Governments on the question of food production is fair, but it is our duty to give the present Government at least a couple of months in order that they can see how to repair the tremendous errors of the past. I hope that the whole country will give to the President of the Board of Agriculture that support of which his character in the past has proved him worthy, and I am perfectly certain that they will find that he is able to do good work for agriculture if only he has the support of the House.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I agree entirely with what has been said as to the desirability of giving the President of the Board of Agriculture every possible support in the difficult task which has been placed upon him. At the same time I do not think that anyone who has listened to this long Debate, as I have done, on the question of food production can be without very serious misgivings as to the way in which this question even now is being managed by the Government. No one denies the seriousness of the situation. Since the War started the price of the loaf has doubled, and we are threatened, as has been pointed out in the "Times," with a famine in potatoes. Anyone who goes into the country can see that the land, which was never cultivated up to its full capacity, is now getting in some places into an almost derelict condition. You may find the farmers making large profits, I admit, but, at the same time, they are in a state of the utmost dissatisfaction, because they know they are not doing the job properly, and that they cannot do it properly under present conditions. It is in a situation like that that you have the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, whose ability and character we all admire, coming down to the House and saying, as regards the main part of the question of the cultivation of the land, that he is practically powerless. It is quite true that he is doing something, so far as the work of supplying motor tractors and promoting the use of motor power is concerned; but there are three great difficulties, of which these two are the chief-firstly, the want 171 of labour, and, secondly, the want of fertilisers and feeding stuffs at reasonable prices. There is also the difficulty that the prices of the things the farmer wants can rise almost unlimitedly. On these three questions the President of the Board of Agriculture came down to the House and stated that he was practically powerless to take any action whatever. As regards labour, the farmer was already in a state bordering on despair at the end of last year. Some of their best men were taken away without any rule or system— taken away in a sporadic or unsatisfactory sort of way. It was almost the question of a toss-up what men the tribunal would leave them and what men would be taken. On the top of all that, however, they were assured by the Government that no further men would be taken from agriculture.
Suddenly, like a coup d'état, within twenty-four hours, wholly without warning, you have the War Office stating that they are going to take 30,000 more men from agriculture. Then the President of the Board of Agriculture, the man who ought to be chiefly concerned, on a public platform stated that it came to him as a staggering blow, and to the farmers whom he addressed it also came as a staggering blow. Surely that is not a very satisfactory way of carrying on the government of the country. It does not reassure the people who are engaged in agriculture when labour is to be taken from the land without any consultation whatever with the Departments chiefly concerned; otherwise it could not be a staggering blow to the right hon. Gentleman. I remember I was in a village which is entirely engaged in agriculture at the time this staggering blow was struck, and I well recollect the despair that came upon one or two farmers who had already been depleted of their labour. I remember one case, which I will give. It was that of a small holding occupied by a tenant of my own, a woman. The holding consisted of 6 acres of land. Sometime ago, at the beginning of the War, she had lost a son whom she employed to help her with her market garden. She had a nephew with her, whose services she retained, and he was practically the same as an only son to her. Her husband who started the market garden had died; and it depended entirely upon this nephew, who is about twenty-five years of age, to supervise the garden and to sell the produce as profitably as he could. They carried on a very good 172 business in this way. On representations which were made to the tribunal this young man was given exemption until 1st January, and after that he was told that he could have no further exemption, but that under the promise of the Board of Agriculture he would not be taken. He is now being taken, and it is the actual fact that the woman cannot take her produce to market and cannot cultivate the land which is now in a derelict condition. I came forward with an offer of assistance, but the result is that the country is practically deprived of some of the food now so necessary, and which this land could have supplied.
Then in a village which I know there is another case, that of a, farmer of the name of Mead, and who farms something like 300 acres. He has a lot of milching cows, and he and his wife, with a boy to help him, carry on the farm. The farmer had already lost a great many men, when they also took his only remaining carter, leaving himself and his wife and one man to run the farm, with the result that the land is not being cultivated. That is one of many instances I could give, and that are occurring again and again, to show the sort of absurd way the land is being treated by the Government. Of 30,000 men, 6,800 have at present been taken, but 30,000 is the total number wanted. These men really would not make much difference to the military situation, yet you are practically disorganising agriculture. It is said that substitutes are to be provided, but the Leader of the House came down yesterday and said that obviously the substitutes cannot be provided yet, because there had been no time; and, perhaps, they will never be provided at all. That is how I understood the speech of the Leader of the House to mean yesterday, I say that is neither a fair nor a reasonable way of carrying on the government of the country. It is absurd to take men in this rough and ready fashion. Of course there is always the answer that these men ought to have got exemption from the tribunal. I do not know how many hon. Members have been before the tribunals. It has been my unfortunate lot to go before them on six or eight occasions, to plead for the exemption of men employed on many farms or sometimes to help the farmers to state their case. I can imagine no more absurd way of ascertaining what is the right kind of labour on a farm than the method adopted by the tribunals. On the tribunal you get an old retired gentleman, 173 with no practical knowledge of agriculture whatever, and a retired soldier, and every time they sit they will deal with forty or fifty cases brought before them. They become such experts at polishing off these cases that they deal with each in two or three minutes. A rough and ready calculation is made, and the thing is decided.
The farmers who are there are not like experts going before this sort of tribunal, and generally they are rather tongue-tied, so that the thing is practically decided by the chairman, the clerk, who is a solicitor, and the military representative, these three dealing with each case in a rough and ready fashion. The result is that the farmer, who before the War had been employing men above the military age, being a sort of unprogressive farmer, is supplied with labour, but the farmer who was doing excellent work before the War, and who had a large proportion of men of military age, find that there has been no sort of regard taken to the real requirements of his farm, and he is left with a bare number of men, who are not sufficient to meet his requirements. The result is, certainly in the district which I know, that no one will contend that the land is being cultivated to anything near the standard it reached before the War, and it will be still further short of the standard that would have been reached if there had been proper organisation. I come to the question of fertilisers. I am very glad to know that although apparently the President of the Board of Agriculture has no voice in this matter, yet the Food Controller has a voice in it, and the Food Controller is represented by so great an expert in agriculture as my hon. Friend on the Front Bench (Captain Bathurst), and therefore I feel more hopeful in saying something on this, very important subject than I did in approaching the question of labour, in regard to which I feel we are entirely in the hands of the War Office. With regard to fertilisers, I think my hon. Friend will agree with me that if at this time of day steps could be taken to see that this spring sufficient slag, sulphate of ammonia, and superphosphates were put into the land, it might give some results. I am aware that slag should be put in before Christmas, but I think if it is done now, and sulphate of ammonia and superphosphates are used immediately, results would be obtained, though I agree it would be better had it been done before Christmas, 174 though the effect of putting in slag will continue. I, however, will leave the question of slag alone.
As regards sulphate of ammonia, especially, there is no doubt whatever that if there is a sufficient application of it as top dressing for wheat crops in the spring, and when you are planting the roots, it would make an enormous difference in the crops. I want to know what steps the Government are taking, in the first place, to supply those fertilisers to the farmers at reasonable prices; and in the second place, and this is almost as important, to see that they are applied, and, if necessary, take compulsory measures to that end, the price, of course, to be returned from the crop. Such a scheme may very well make an enormous difference to the food supply. We have heard a great deal about motor tractors. The President of the Board was fairly reassuring on the point. No motor tractors have come to our neighbourhood at present, and I do not know whether they are going to come. It is clear that if this question of the food supply, which seems to me the most vital and urgent question, is properly tackled that it ought to be done with some unity of control. We have one Department pulling one way and another pulling another way. We have the War Office coming down and saying, "Within twenty-four hours we must have another 30,000 men." I say that that is an absurd way of carrying on the affairs of the country. Whatever one may say about the late Government, there was at any rate something in having even nominal Cabinet responsibility, which was better than the sort of way in which the Departments are pulling each in different directions at the present time. Therefore, I do hope that we may even yet have an assurance that those who are primarily responsible for the cultivation of the land will still have some better treatment than that which they have had in the last few months.
§ Colonel MEYSEY-THOMPSON
The point which farmers have put to me very strongly is this, fix a minimum price, guarantee that, do not bother them with all sorts of details, and they will produce all the food that this country requires. If you do not do that, the food will not be produced. I have listened to a great many statements, but I am afraid some people lose sight of the forest 175 because of the trees. The whole point is to get food produced in this country and it does not matter if we pay a little more. Let me give one instance of the effect of a liberal price. Last year there was a question of the price to be fixed for hay. I advised very strongly that a liberal price should be fixed, and it was eventually placed at £5 10s. at the farm and £6 delivered. The result was, combined with the fact that it was a very favourable season for growing hay, that an enormous quantity of hay was produced in the country. I know that I myself, in order to help the supply for Army horses and in other ways, grew 100 tons more than I did in the ordinary way. It involved a great effort to get it in, but we managed to do it. I believe we were blamed for having induced the Board of Agriculture to pay high prices, because it was said they could buy much cheaper. It was in consequence of the price offered, partially, that so many farmers made great efforts to get hay in at much expense. This winter we are passing through has been an exceptionally hard one, and if it had not been for the enormous quantity of hay in the country goodness knows what would have happened to the live stock. That is one of the advantages of being a little liberal to the farmer. If the Government now will offer a substantial minimum price and leave the price above that to take care of itself, and supply and demand will protect the public quite sufficiently, then I think they will be helping in food production. The Food Controller could also help in the matter of fertilisers. I think, too, that there might be a great deal of help in the very great question of labour by freeing boys of twelve years and over from school for the half-day. I would much rather that children should have enough to eat with half-schooling, than that they should have whole schooling and only half enough to eat. I beg the Food Controller to come more nearly into touch with the President of the Board of Agriculture. I was shocked to hear of the contention which has taken place between them. I would urge upon them that they should act together whatever they do. Let them offer a minimum price and stick to it, or they will only have themselves to blame if we are very short of food before the end of this season.
§ Mr. LUNDON
Whatever may be said as to the success or otherwise of this food production scheme, I think the House and 176 the country are to be congratulated on the fact that the responsibility for the discharge of the very onerous duty which attaches to the scheme has fallen into good hands. The President of the Board of Agriculture is a man eminently fitted for his position. He has practical knowledge and experience of the great questions of agriculture. He has associated with him an hon. Gentleman whose career in this House has been one long effort to safeguard the interest of agriculture in every way, and in saying that I refer to the hon. Gentleman who now sits on the Ministerial Bench (Captain C. Bathurst). The President of the Board of Agriculture, eminent agriculturist though he is thought it well to gather round him, as far as the application of this scheme to England is concerned, all the great agriculturists of this country. He sought the aid and co-operation of what are known as the local war committees in each county, and by so doing ensured that as far as possible the energies of the people of this country will be thrown into the work of carrying the scheme into success. The reason why I have referred to the action of the President in asking the local committees to come and help them is this, that the position as applied to Ireland is entirely different. In Ireland we have got at the head of the food production scheme five or six Government officials who have never had any practical experience of farming, and who have never taken the smallest opportunity of consulting the agriculturists in our counties.
Immediately after the food production scheme was thought of a Committee of the Irish Parliamentary Party was formed, and suggestions were offered by them to the then Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, and I am sorry to say that, with very few exceptions, all our suggestions were turned down, and suggestions were adopted at the instigation of people who knew nothing whatever of agriculture, and nothing of the arrangements and wants of people in Ireland. The first suggestion which we offered was that the Committee which was to take charge of the question of food production in Ireland, should be a Committee of experienced men who would command the sympathy and approval of the people. That suggestion was turned down, and, instead of having men of practical experience in charge of this great scheme, we have the Chief Secretary for Ireland, the Vice-President of the Depart- 177 ment of Agriculture, and representatives of four Government Departments in Dublin, and not one of the six can tell a turnip from a mangold. Is it any wonder that a scheme which we all had hoped would be successful is doomed to failure in Ireland? Only a few months ago the President of the Board of Agriculture said, "If I were to run this measure from Whitehall it would be doomed to failure." All I have to say is that if the measure would be doomed to failure because it was run from Whitehall, when it was in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, we can have very little hope for its success when run from Dublin Castle by gentlemen who have no practical experience in the work of Irish farming.
One of the first points laid down by the Irish Food Production Committee was that 10 per cent, of the arable land should be tilled, and the farmer, who had already done his duty to the State by himself, would have to till an additional 10 per cent, of the arable land. That meant that a farmer with fifty acres who had already done five would have to till 10 per cent, of the remaining forty-five acres, whereas a grazier of 200, or 300, or 500, or even 1,000 acres would only be compelled to till 10 per cent., and, as far as I can gather, the great bulk of them are applying for exemption from the scheme altogether, and we have very little hope that the Committee which has charge of the question will deal with a strong hand against these exemptions. The man who has already done his duty by the State on the question of food production has no right to be penalised until the man who has not done his duty, but has devastated Ireland of her people, has done his share. The great bulk of the graziers are wealthy men, who can afford to buy machinery and to pay labour, and I think the effect of asking a tenant farmer who has already put in many instances not 10 per cent., but 15 and 20 per cent, of his land under tillage, to turn up 10 per cent, additional, is only to put a penalty on a man who has done his duty and to allow those who have never done anything in the interests of the Empire and of Ireland to go scot-free. Therefore I would like to say to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary that one of the chief causes for the unpopularity of the tillage scheme in certain portions of Ireland is the fact that this additional 10 per cent, has been imposed on the man 178 who has already done his duty. If that Clause were taken away the great bulk of the Irish farmers, large or small, would throw their full energy into the scheme, and I am satisfied that it would be a far greater success than if the right hon. Gentleman adheres to the policy which has been laid down by himself and those responsible with him.
Then, again, we have the question of allotments for the poor people in the towns and villages. All over Ireland urban and rural councils and corporations have applied to the owners of large grazing tracts, and with the exception of a very few instances these owners have not complied with their requests. The councils have asked for allotments at a nominal rent to enable the poor in the towns and villages to prevent starvation from reaching their homes, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to see that compulsory powers are granted to the corporations and urban and rural areas in order that they may acquire this land, if the local rancher refuses to do his duty by the State. Then another point is the question of the distribution of seeds and of manures. Arrangements have been made for the distribution of seeds and of manures to the poor people who are occupants of union cottages, but I fail to see why an ordinary labourer or a town worker is not as much entitled to the same loan for the purpose of purchasing seeds and manures as the occupant of a labourer's cottage, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to see that such people are inserted in the conditions which have been laid down by the Local Government Board. I would like also to impress upon him that the various local bodies, in the South of Ireland particularly, are anxious that the repayment by the labourer of the instalments in connection with the purchase of these seeds and manures should be extended over a period, not of one year only, but of three or five years, because the price of the seeds is undoubtedly very high and the prices of manures are just as high, and it would be a great burden on the shoulders of the poor man if he had to pay back in one year. If this scheme is to be a success at all in Ireland it can be so only by the co-operation of labour, and by the payment of labour, and by a just wage being given to the working man, and by the working man when he has got his just wage giving a good day's work.
179 We who formed the Committee on behalf of the party to which I belong suggested to the right hon. Gentleman that representatives of the two parties should be brought together and that an impartial arbitrator should be appointed to preside at the meetings and arrange the differences which may come between the two parties, and I have not the faintest doubt that if he announced to-morrow that he was going to appoint half a dozen arbitrators to go into every county of Ireland with the representatives of the farmers on the one hand and of the labourers on the other, a satisfactory settlement of the labour question would be reached before this day fortnight. The great bulk of the farmers are as anxious to do their duty by their working men as anybody else, and all they want is a lead, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, speaking for some of the public representatives in the county from which I come and on behalf of the great bulk of the farmers, if he will appoint impartial arbitrators and summon conferences of these two parties at an early date he will have done a good day's work in the interests of Ireland and in the interests of the poor, and particularly in the interests of the scheme we are all anxious to see carried through to a success. There is another question which is of very great importance, and that is the question of machinery. I know of six different people who ordered within the last week six motor tractors, and who found it an absolute impossibility for them to be acquired, and I hope and trust that the right hon. Gentleman will see that in the order which has been placed by the President of the English Department of Agriculture for the purchase of motor tractors and other agricultural implements Ireland will get her just share. I should also like to say that various farmers in my Constituency have grumbled because of the extraordinary prices to which machinery has gone, compared with last year. What is known is the drill plough, which every farmer has been purchasing, has gone up from £4 5s. to £6 10s., and something ought to be done to prevent the exploitation of these machines by their manufacturers.
The only other thing I should like to say is that in my district in the South of Ireland I gather that the larger graziers have applied for exemption from this Order. Some of them have told me to my face that as their land is known as finish 180 ing land they will not be compelled to fall in with the scheme which has been promoted by the Government. Whether the land be pasture land or finishing land, the question to my mind is should the bullock live or should the poor man live? The day has gone by when the poor man would starve while the bullock lived. If the right lion. Gentleman will take my advice on this matter it would be to give no exemption of any kind to the large grazing men. Then as to the dairy farmer class. Their position is entirely different from the one to which I have referred. There is no food more essential to the upkeep of the people than milk, butter, and cheese. In Ireland there are only two or three counties which go in largely for the dairying industry, and I see that in those particular counties certain exemptions have been granted to those who are taking part in that industry. Last year, so far as I can gather, and I have it from information supplied by the Department of Agriculture itself, the Department felt greatly alarmed at the export of milch cows from Ireland. The addition of 10 per cent, to the farmer will mean that for every 5 acres which the farmer will be compelled to till he will have to sell off three milch cows. In my own county for every 5 acres you compel the farmer to till, in addition to what he is already doing, you will have something like close on 30,000 milch cows exported— and from one particular county alone.
Limerick is one of the greatest cattle-raising counties in Ireland. The calves of the Limerick farmers are purchased by the farmers of Meath, West Meath, and other fattening counties, and to enforce the 10 per cent, additional upon them, although it may seem an act of justice in the eyes of the Food Production Committee, will be an act of injustice to the ordinary farmer by tending to increase the export of milch cows, and by decreasing the output of butter and milk. The dairy farmer is just as essential to the wants and needs of the community, and of the Empire, as most, and he ought to get special exemption as against the rancher or against the man who is feeding bullocks and sheep. All I say is that no farmer in Ireland, dairy farmer, rancher, or whatever he is, ought to be exempt from the Order, and that every farmer should be compelled to till sufficient land to supply food for himself, his family, and his cattle. One regulation which the right hon. Gentleman should strictly enforce is that no farmer 181 should be allowed to go into any public market during the coming season and buy potatoes or vegetables over the heads of the people of that particular town or village. I know persons in the county of Limerick who farm 100 or 150 acres, and who, Saturday after Saturday, have gone into the markets of Tipperary and Limerick and have purchased loads of potatoes over the heads of the poor people of those towns. Whether they are dairy farmers or ranchers, the penalty should be imposed upon them to till sufficient land at least to meet their own requirements. They should not be allowed to go into the towns and villages and, by this action, inflict a penalty upon the poor people, who have no means of supporting themselves except by living from hand to mouth on the miserable pittance allowed by those who employ them.
We in Ireland are as anxious as is the right hon. Gentleman to promote food production. It is to our own interest so to do, because, though very few are old enough to remember '47 and '48 we have read about those years. God forbid such days should ever come again!The possibility of that will be warded off by everyone of us putting our hands to the plough and doing our best to make the food production scheme the success that it deserves to be. If the right hon. Gentleman would take the ordinary agriculturist who is represented on the various county councils and public bodies in Ireland more into his confidence and allow his representatives to draft certain schemes which will be presented to him I am satisfied that the work of the right hon. Gentleman will be superior and more successful. The recent conference in Dublin, to which the twenty-two Irish counties sent representatives— gentlemen representing the agricultural committees and so on—is a case in point. It was called by the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture. Every one of the representatives went there full of the idea that he was going to be asked to make suggestions, that the Vice-President was going to ask for his co-operation in carrying the scheme to a successful issue. On entering the room the first regulation notified to the representative was that laid down by the Vice-President to the effect that no member of the conference was to raise any question about the tillage of grazing ranches, and in the second place that the question of the extra 10 per cent, was not to be raised. Many men 182 came away from that meeting absolutely disgusted. I can read to the right hon. Gentleman what one of those present said when he came back to his own county. That gentleman is a member of the other House. He said, "That an invitation to a meeting such as that, summoned by the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture, was an absolute insult. Their views were not listened to. All they had to do was to sit down and hear speeches by officials belonging to the Departments." That is not the way to go about anything in Ireland. If you want to get the Irishman to do anything you have to coax him and to say to him, "You know how to do this thing," whether he can do it or not.
All concerned are anxious to do their duty in their own interests as well as in the interests of the country. They have no fear of putting anything into the ground. The only question is how to get it out. They say they will get it out if the Government will give them adequate security that machinery will be forthcoming. Another guarantee should be given that a decent day's wage will be given for a decent day's work. Thus the danger and difficulty connected with getting the crop out of the ground will be overcome. I hope that the 10 per cent, additional tillage will not be enforced on the man who has done his duty, but will be dropped. I know some cases last year of men who had laid down the extra tillage, and the oats and wheat were absolutely rotten because of the bad harvest. Who knows that the coming season will not be as bad as the last one? My last words to the right hon. Gentleman are these: That he should drop his Clause, take the Irish farmers more into his confidence than has been done heretofore, and fix a standard minimum wage, and he will have success to a large extent. If it is not so, I am afraid it will be because the words of the President of the English Department of Agriculture apply when he said, "If I have to run the English scheme from Whitehall I am satisfied that it is doomed to failure." If the right hon. Gentleman will not take the Irish agriculturist into his confidence, I can only say that a scheme from Dublin Castle will be foredoomed to failure, just as the English scheme will be if it is run from Whitehall.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
The hon. Member who moved this Amendment divided it into two parts. In one he dealt with the needs of the present, and in the other he dealt with the need for making provision 183 for the future. I should not have intervened but for the latter part of his argument. But before dealing with it, I should like to say that I can quite understand many hon. Members will perhaps feel a certain amount of irritation in making forecasts as regards the future, when there is so much evidence that all our thoughts should be devoted to an urgent present. To my mind, I think our thoughts should almost entirely be given to those men who are confronting death, to see what can be done to save them, and to the many millions in this country who, we are told, are likely before long to be confronted with famine itself. All I would say with regard to the present, from what we have heard to-day, is that what appeals to my mind most is that we never seem to get the actual facts of the controversy laid before us. We never know—at least, from my own point of view, I never find myself able to judge—what are the possibilities and what are the dangers of the present. We are told that we are a beleaguered city, and then we are told that essential men are being withdrawn from the land. That, on the face of it, seems an absurdity, and detrimental to our whole military and national position. At the same time as we are told that every ounce of food has to be safeguarded, we see vast quantities of grain being turned to the purpose of the manufacture of intoxicants, and, again, we see men writing from country districts, and asking, "How can we believe these alarmist reports of the need for the production of every grain possible from the soil, and the need for labour, when we see the farmers hunting, when we see food being given to hounds, when we see pheasants eating crops and rabbits devastating the crops?"
Everywhere, despite Ministerial statements, or together with Ministerial statements, is evidence that if danger is ahead, we are taking no adequate and proper steps to meet it. If that danger exists, I do not think the people are being justly or honestly treated in the matter, because if starvation does confront the people, I think short work would be made of all these methods, and very much more drastic ones would be asserted. The hon. Member for Hands-worth (Colonel Meysey-Thompson) said that a farmer told him that, given a minimum price and no maximum price fixed, he would produce all the food that the country requires. It seems to be an extra- 184 ordinary statement that the farmer should be granted a right of security of high prices, and full right to plunder the country in its hour of need, when circumstances prevent the natural importation bringing down prices to a certain competitive level. Given this right to plunder the community, then, the farmer will produce all that the community needs, but otherwise he will let the community starve. That recalls to mind what the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division (Mr. Anderson) mentioned to-day—how differently the worker is treated from those who have vested interests to maintain. When the workers withdrew their labour, or threatened to withdraw it, again and again we have heard the expression: "They ought to be put up against a wall and shot." If that is a thing which is virtually treasonable, no less treasonable is it for a farmer who can produce food to withdraw his hand from production at this time.
§ Colonel MEYSEY-THOMPSON
I really think the hon. Member is misrepresenting me. The point I wanted to make was that unless the farmer was guaranteed a fair price lie could not reasonably be expected to incur the risk of growing extra crops, under existing conditions.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
There, again, it raises the difference of the procedure as regards the farmer, the landowner, and the individual. You compel a man with a good business, or a worker with a good wage, to fight and risk his life for a shilling a day, and you have not had any bowels of compassion for him and his material interest. But the farmer seems to be placed in an entirely different position, and if the urgency exists, danger is ahead, and starvation and famine threaten this country, the question of the high profits of the farmer should go by the board, and steps should be taken to compel the full production from the soil. I would not deal with the forecast as regards what is to be done in the future, made by the hon. Member who moved this Amendment, except for the fact that again and again those proposals with regard to the future are being brought before this House, and as a rule Members, feeling that they are matters for the future, let them very largely go by the board. But I do think the time has come when some criticism should be passed upon these proposals which, more or less, receive a sanction. The hon. Member, in pointing out the future which is in store for us in having to provide 185 employment for great numbers of disbanded men by increasing the production of the soil, suggested the way in which that should be achieved. He suggested, in the first place, that a farmer should receive a minimum price for what he produces—I presume for wheat. A minimum price is no good for the farmer unless it is above the normal price ruling in a competitive and free trade market. Therefore, the proposal which is brought forward by the hon. Member is for the benefit of the farmer, and that, for the benefit of one section of the community, the whole community should be compelled to pay higher prices for the essentials of existence than they otherwise would. That immediately raises a vast and complicated issue. It raises the whole question of whether we should live under Protection or under Free Trade conditions.
But let the hon. Member not for one moment think that other producers are going to permit the farmer to remain in a privileged position, and that, if the community is to be plundered, it is only to be plundered by the farmer. We have already seen tentative steps being put out to secure a privileged position for other sections of industry. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Labour has told us that he was a full Free Trader, but now he is a wise man and he is going to demand in the future that which is for the benefit of the workers he particularly represents—those engaged in the steel industry. And so as soon as you begin to hold out a special profit to one section of the producers, you will very soon find all will be grabbing and making their demand for a share of the plunder that is going. Therefore, the price will rise in all directions. Consequently, everything the farmer will have to buy will rise in price. The steel-workers will get their tariff, and the price of steel will go up. The price of every farm implement that is used will also go up, and soon the farmer will find he is no better able to pay a higher wage than he could before he was placed in a position of robbing the community now that he is robbed himself. There is a great fallacy underlying the proposal of the hon. Member who moved this Amendment that needs to be pointed out. He proposed that a minimum price should be fixed, and a special profit given to the farmer, because otherwise the farmer could not afford to pay a decent rate of wage for his labour. The policy I involved in that argument is that a low 186 wage is an economic wage, and that low wages mean cheap production. On the contrary, low wages mean high cost of production. It is because you pay agricultural labourers starvation wages that they cannot work at their highest capacity; they have not the requisite physical condition, and are unable to work efficiently machinery which requires skill. It is also well known that in the low-wage counties you find some of the most inefficient workers in the Empire. You get the best agricultural workers in Canada and Australia, where they pay the labourers not 13s. or 14s. a week, but 30s. and £2 a week, and there machinery largely takes the place of manual labour. You must sweep away the idea that it is necessary to have a high price to enable the farmer to pay the agricultural labourer a decent wage. The hon. Member opposite went a step further. Having secured a high price for the farmer, and having fixed a minimum1 for the agricultural labourer, he suggested that it was also essential to secure that the landowner should regard his land as a trust for the community, and see that it was utilised properly. He only suggested that it would be a very fine thing to secure, but he did not propose any method to accomplish it.
If you compel the owner to utilise his land to the full everything else would follow. The agricultural labourer would secure without State intervention a decent or an adequate wage. The rate of wages is fixed by the demand for labour and not by the profits of the farmer or the value of the land. The lowest wages are paid on the most productive land and the highest wages on the lowest productive land. Where you have a great demand set up by mines, steel works, or industries requiring manual labour there you will find the rate of wages comparatively high in the adjoining agricultural districts. If, on the other hand, you go into Oxfordshire or Dorsetshire, where no great industries exist, there the rate of wages paid to the agricultural labourer reaches its lowest. It is a question of setting up a demand for his labour in order that he can secure his own price. Is there no better way of doing this than adopting the bureaucratic machinery and methods suggested by the Amendment? Is there no way of compelling the full use of the land? I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should turn his attention to the resolution passed at the recent Labour Conference held at Manchester, which I believe has 187 raised the highest hopes of the Government and of a patriotic nation. This is the resolution:This conference, recognising that the huge national expenditure, caused by the War, has to be met by increased taxation, declares that those who claim the ownership of the land of the country should he required to make a special contribution towards its defence. It therefore calls upon the Government to impose a direct tax on land values in the next Budget, and, to enable this to be done, to use the powers conferred by the Defence of the Realm Act to compel all owners of land to furnish an immediate declaration of the present value, extent, and character of all land in their possession. This conference affirms that such a tax, in addition to providing a large amount of revenue, would open up the land to the people, increase the production of home-grown food, and this materially reduce the prevailing high cost of living, tend to raise wages, and lessen the evil of unemployment which threatens on the close of the War.9.0 P.M.
That seems to me to be a much more efficacious and simple method of arriving at the desires of the Mover of this Amendment. By the taxation of land values, by levying a substantial tax upon its true value whether it is used or not, or however it may be used, would undoubtedly compel the landowner to put the land to its fullest possible use. You would thus compel him to employ labour, and in this way you would put the agricultural labourer in the position of getting a just wage. It is only by compelling every owner of land in this country to utilise his land to the utmost that you will set up that demand, and this would absorb those hundreds and thousands of men who will be desirous of living upon the soil when they are disbanded from the Army. The hon. Member who moved this Resolution reminded us that those who had been before attached to the soil would not go back to the conditions which existed before the War, They would not go back to the low wage system or the slums or the bad housing accommodation, and I believe he is quite right. I have heard many soldiers talk. I do not talk to them in railway carriages about what is happening at the front, because I do not think it is right, but I listen to them and the thing that strikes me most is the fact that these men are coming back in a revolutionary frame of mind as regards the future. I do not talk to them upon military questions, but I did ask one of them, "Do you expect this to be a better country in the future?" and he replied, "Yes, it is going to be a better country, because we are going to tell those who own it that we are prepared to fight in this country against bad conditions just as we have 188 fought against the Germans." That is the spirit of the men who are coming back. They are going to demand better conditions. The hon. Member opposite said they were largely inspired with these thoughts, because they had met their fellow-Colonials, who had told them what an Eldorado the Colonies provided for workers on the land, and that is so. The wages paid in the Colonies are probably double, and the conditions are better, but in what Colony is the price fixed for the farmer? In what Colony has it been found necessary to provide a minimum rate of wage for the agricultural labourer?
As regards the price of produce in Australia, the price is fixed by Mark Lane, and he gets that price less the freightage, and so does the Canadian. In regard to the produce from Australia, Canada, or New Zealand the export price means the British price less the cost of carriage. I believe you can get £1 per acre for the straw of a crop here, but in Australia it is simply burned and no profit is got from it at all. It is not, therefore, a question at all of the rent paid for the land. In these Colonies, in Australia and New Zealand, I which in particular I know, the higher | wage is simply due to the demand set up by compelling the landowner by force of taxation to utilise his land. A short time ago you hailed the Prime Minister of Australia in this country as a great prophet and as a great director of the future economics of this country. We were told that we must have a tariff, and that we must have this and that. He did not tell us, however, how he became the Prime Minister of Australia. It was simply because lie went to the country on a straight out-and-out policy of taxation of land values for the purpose of breaking the monopoly value in the soil. A repetition of one such speech as he made in that campaign—speeches which put Lime-house into the shade—would probably have resulted in his being led out by those who desired to keep him here. That, to my mind, should be full confirmation in experience and practice of what I have been saying, that the process and method to be adopted for securing all that the hon. Member desires is the simple process of taxation. It is a very simple process, and, though hon. Members may laugh, they are going to hear much more of it in this House in the future than they have done in the past. When such Resolutions as this are brought forward, it surprises me more than anything else to hear hon. 189 Members talk as if we are going to live in a world conditioned as that was two and a half years ago. They seem to forget that every day that passes means the ending of the land system of this country. Every day that passes means millions added to the National Debt.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
Yes, many shillings on the Income Tax. If the War is carried on for another year you are going to have to raise in interest and Sinking Fund an extra £300,000,000 a year. You will have many more widows in the land and many more disabled when you have had your great offensive, and the million casualties which are, I believe, being prepared for. You will probably, as the result of the War, have to raise £600,000,000 a year instead of £200,000,000. Where are you going to get it from? How are you going to meet a National Debt of £5,000,000,000 or £6,000,000,000? You can only do it by bringing the assets of the country, the land, coal, and iron into the balance sheet. If you are not going to do so, if instead you are going to try and put that vast taxation, or any substantial part of it, on to the backs of the workers, the National Debt is going to be repudiated by people leaving this country and not remaining to bear such an infamous burden. What proposition are you going to put forward unless you take the value of the land and the national assets of this country? Are you going to say to the millions of men who have left their homes or who have been torn unwillingly from them to go and risk their lives and fight for a shilling a day—are you going to say to them, when they return, "This is your work. Whilst you were away we had to borrow £5,000,000,000. We were blackmailed by the financiers of this country so that we could no longer get money or credit on a national security of 3 per cent., but had to pay 5¼ per cent., and in consequence there is an interest payment of £300,000,000 or £400,000,000 per year. Now you men from the trenches must go back to your toil and work so many months in the year to pay your share of the debt that was created whilst you were risking all for one shilling a day." Do you think that they are going to accept that proposition? Not at all. The only way in which you can raise this vast revenue without taxing industries is to tax the communal value given by all the people to the land. By 190 the natural process of taxation accruing from this War you will arrive at all those results which the hon. Member who moved this Amendment seeks to achieve, but will never achieve by setting up a vast bureaucratic machinery and by imposing a method the result of which would be to raise the cost of living to the whole community.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
This has been a field-day for the landed interest, and I am glad that at the close there has been an opportunity to say a few words on a solution of the problem which everyone regards as extremely difficult, and a solution which is radically different from that put forward by the Amendment at present before the House. That Amendment has two sides to it, One deals with the question of the arrangements to be made for satisfactory agricultural development after the War, and the other side deals with the immediate matters which have to be taken in hand at the present moment in order to get over the prospective food shortage in the country. Those two problems are really very different. The question of the agricultural arrangements of this country after the War is one that has got to be thought out very carefully, whereas immediate measures have got to be taken in order to meet the stringency facing us within the next few months. I shall deal with the second of these problems first. What ought to be done immediately, and what apparently is the Government proposing to do? We had to-day the first speech from the President of the Board of Agriculture, to which I have had the pleasure of listening. I cannot say that I carried away any illuminating idea as to what the Government are proposing to do immediately in order to make things better. It seems to me that his particular Department was somewhat out of touch with the other Departments and was spending its time fighting the Food Controller and the War Office, rather than getting on with the question of the food production of the country.
I never heard more clearly stated—it will necessarily come more and more before the House as the days of this Government go on—the result of the absence of Cabinet control. We had to-day from a Minister sitting on the Front Bench a direct attack upon two other Departments of the Government. It was an attack such as we have never listened to before since the time of Sir John Gorst. It was an attack which really requires answering, not by any 191 opposition in this House, but by the other Departments. Apparently the President of the Board of Agriculture regards himself, I dare say quite rightly under the new ideas of government, as the exponent of the views of the landed interests in the country. His object is to get as big prices for the farmers as possible, and he regards it, quite frankly, as the business of the Food Controller to get as small prices as possible for the consumer. It is a case of "Pull devil, pull baker," and both sides are attacking the War Office in order to obtain from it more labour so as to provide more foodstuffs. Now that is a policy which seems to me to be lacking in political acumen. We shall never get on in that way. It is impossible for two Departments to be squabbling as to who shall fix prices, and whether they shall be minimum or maximum prices. We must have real co-operation between the Food Controller and the Board of Agriculture. I would ask the President of the Board of Agriculture to appreciate the fact that we, in this House, represent all interests—the interests of consumers as a whole—and, in spite of the speeches delivered to-day, speeches which have been mostly, and naturally, in favour of protection for the landed interest and in favour of bigger prices for the farmers, I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to consider those speeches as indicative of the wishes or main ideas of the people of this country.
The people want their food cheap; they do not want to pay enormous prices to the farmer or to bolster up the landed interest of this country. Take the Amendment as originally moved by the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott). The hon. Gentleman stated quite clearly that what he wants is a fixed price of 42s. for wheat for ten years, and he expressed his belief that if that end were secured it would increase the amount of land under cultivation in this country and develop the agricultural industry. Surely my hon. Friends must realise that, while we are anxious to do everything possible to encourage food production, yet when they seriously put forward that solution as something which must really benefit the country as a whole, they are under a lamentable delusion. I do not suggest that they put it forward in their own interests; no doubt they really believe that to fix high prices for wheat for a period of years is the best way of encour- 192 aging the agricultural industry. But what must be the result of guaranteeing high prices to farmers over a long period of years? Obviously it must result in the rents of land going up, by reason of the increased profits made by the farmers. If you secure a series of good years for the farmers of this country it is inevitable, certainly, as tenancies fall in, that the rents charged for the land will go up and that the benefit of the fixing of prices will go, not into the pockets of the farmers and still less into the pockets of the consumer, but ultimately into the pocket of the landlords. I do not think that is a disputable point; the only point which may possibly be disputable is that it takes a series of years before the benefits go into the landlord's pocket. We are told that they do not go immediately to the landlords, who are so unselfish that they do not rack-rent their tenants, but prefer to leave people on the land till they die, and it is only when the tenancy falls in that rents will rise. It may be they are not more desirous of putting money from the consumers' pockets into the pockets of the tenant farmer or in time into the landlords' pockets, but however that may be, we have no right, as representing the whole of the people, to tax the people for the benefit of either tenant farmer or landlord.
After a few years of real agricultural prosperity enjoyed and guaranteed in this way the land will fetch tremendously high prices. Even now agricultural land sells at far bigger prices than before the War; the rate of interest on money has probably doubled, compared with what it was two and a half years ago, and yet the actual selling value of agricultural land has gone up in spite of the increased cost of raising the capital sum required for buying the land. Here hon. Members have a practical object-lesson before their eyes of the result of these high prices for agricultural produce—prices which benefit nobody in the country, but make it more difficult to live and make it more difficult for manufacturers to produce, because these high prices, after all, are a tax on the whole community and only go into the pockets of the few. When one hears speeches of this character, made with the practically unanimous assent of tins House, speeches suggesting the fixing of prices on wheat as it is supplied to the consumer in order to benefit the agricultural industry—when one hears proposals of that sort made in a House where there is presumably a Liberal majority with almost silent assent, it 193 is quite time that some of us, however disagreeable the task may be, should put forward views on the other side of the question.
I want to point out one other inconsistency that has run all through the speeches and which it is necessary to clear out of the way before we can see what will really increase home production at the present time. We have had speech after speech from the President of the Board of Agriculture, as well as from Members on both sides of the House, urging that the prices fixed by the Food Controller for foodstuffs should be minimum prices, and the prices fixed for the feeding stuffs and for the fertilisers which farmers use should be maximum prices. They put forward a very admirable argument as to why it was undesirable, in view of the law of supply and demand, to fix maximum prices for the foodstuffs grown by the farmer, and they said that if prices are too low foodstuffs would not be grown, and consequently the food-producing power of the country is bound to decrease. I have nothing to complain of in an argument like that. But how can you account for the inconsistency of Member after Member, who, after advancing this argument, has not continued his speech and urged that maximum prices should be fixed for fertilisers and feeding stuffs? Is it not obvious that to both the fertilisers and the wheat produced with its aid the same law must apply? If you put an extra price on fertilisers and feeding stuffs it makes it unprofitable to produce foodstuffs, and therefore you will have an insufficient supply of food grown. What is sauce for the goose surely is sauce for the gander. If a maximum price is fixed for wheat it should also be fixed for fertilisers, and if a minimum price is good for wheat it is also good for fertilisers. There seems to be lamentable confusion at the Board of Agriculture between maximum and minimum prices. We were told there was to be a maximum price for potatoes; then twenty-four hours later we were told that that was a mistake, and that it was to be a minimum price; and, still later, we have been told that the prices are to vary according to the crop and the class of the potato. That is merely introducing confusion into people's minds, and you are going away from the law of supply and demand.
Instead of the natural law, you are getting the artificial laws of the bureau- 194 cracy which change from day to day, and which are passed according to the pressure which different interests in the country are able to put upon the Departments, and which result, in the long run, in a general disorganisation of the agriculture of this country. I listened with much interest to what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Christ-church (Brigadier-General Croft), who argued with perfect clearness from his point, of view that we had to find work for the returned soldiers and to make ourselves independent of Germany, and that this could be done by protecting the sugar industry. He suggested that if the Government would definitely make up their mind to encourage the growing of beet sugar in this country we should have an industry which would absorb an enormous amount of labour and give us plenty of sugar, at a price. It was obvious from his argument that the price was to be a high one. How can you approve of the logic of a man who argues for the starting of a new industry, like the production of sugar, in this country, when at the same time you are by that proposal putting a burden on the people of this country which will make it more difficult for them to remain here, which will make the cost of labour higher, and which will make the cost of other forms of production in this country more expensive than ac the present time? It is so easy to bring forward special cases and demonstrate the enormous advantage it would be to one industry, either sugar-growing or agriculture, by making some change, by getting tins beneficent State, of which we have; seen a good deal during the last two years, to bolster up one industry at the expense of the rest of the nation. I do not pretend that during war-time it is not absolutely necessary that the State should interfere in some sort of way with the laws of supply and demand, but for goodness sake let us take care that that interference is as little as possible, and for the period of the War only, and do not let us use the War as an excuse for introducing a system which affects the whole of the country.
All the arguments I have heard to-night in favour of labour for agriculture seem to mo equally unsound. You have no doubt an enormous demand for labour in agriculture at the present time. The demand is hopelessly in excess of what is offered. We were told by the President of the Board of Agriculture to-day that he was arranging for 60,000 women to go on the 195 land. I ventured to interrupt and ask him what pay he was proposing to give them. He answered me very courteously, and said that the pay was a matter which would be settled locally between the War Agricultural Committee in counsel with the farmers and the women. I suppose he means the women at the head of the organisation, such as Mrs. Tennant. He also said that, of course, later on the price might be fixed by Mr. Neville Chamberlain. Is it conceivable that hon. Members of this House, sitting on the Government Bench, and representing the Board of Agriculture in this House, should not know that the only proper way to meet an increased demand for labour is to put up the price of that labour? Here he is demanding 60,000 women. He will be lucky if he gets them. The first thing every woman who is going to work on the land will ask is, "What are the wages?" and she will receive the answer, "I do not know; they will be fixed locally." To start with, these women know that the wages of an agricultural labourer are very low, and that the work is very hard; yet, here you are asking people to go on the land without telling them what they are going to get, and without offering a wage sufficiently high to attract them in that particular business. In the old days we heard from the hon. and gallant Member for the Horn-castle Division (Major Weigall) how the population in Lincolnshire had diminished during the last twenty years. I think he said that 6,700 men have gone. Why have they gone? Surely everybody knows it is because the pay of an agricultural labourer is not sufficiently attractive to overcome the greater attractions of labour in the towns, coupled with higher wages and greater comforts.
If the agricultural interest in this country is simply going to complain that their labour has left them, and does not at the same time rectify that by raising wages, they are simply asking for disaster. The hon. Member who proposed this Amendment did refer to that. He came forward with his scheme for giving a minimum wage in agriculture which should be fixed by this beneficent deity, the State. The State is to say what the agricultural labourer is to get, the State is to say what the farmer is to get for his wheat, and the State is to say what the man who supplies the farmer with raw material is to get for them. The only 196 thing I did not hear in that speech was that the State was to say what rent the farmer was to pay. I do not say that that was done of malice prepense. Apparently, the ordinary rules of political economy have been forgotten. Hon. Members whot have put forward these proposals did not think that there were political economists who would remind them of those rules. I am glad to say there are some political economists who will remind them of the laws of supply and demand, which will go on, however all-seeing and all-wise the bureaucracy may be. I listened to the delightful speech from the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division (Mr. Anderson), who is the finest exponent in this House of the Socialist doctrine. He said he wanted the co-ordination of all the Government Departments controlling all the industry of the country. Then he said everything would be right. He then went on to point out, with gross inconsistency, how the bureaucracy had mismanaged things. He spoke of an all-wise man who managed things at the top, but did not tell us who he was to be. He did not say that the people were to be picked because they had brains. After all, the present Government has not been picked out because they had political standing, but because they were supposed to be the best men for the job. Even with these men what do you expect from greater interference by the State than you have at present? Is it fixed prices? They may be necessary during the course of a War to forestall gambling in the food of the people, but for goodness sake let us have as little State interference as possible. If you want to keep down the prices of feeding stuffs and fertilisers, lot the State have the manufacture of them, and let the State produce more cheaply than other people, but do not limit the amount imported into this country and limit the price and thereby starve the people. I do not say a word against the landed interest or hon. Members who have spoken in this House, but when they ask for cheap labour for their farms, minimum prices for their products and maximum prices for all that they use, they are, although they may not know it, acting in the interests of one class, the landlord class, and, to a secondary extent, in the interests of the tenant-farmer class, and they ask for those things at the expense of the rest of the community.
Let me pass on to what the Government are proposing at the present time. The 197 President of the Board of Agriculture, oblivious of the fact that this House, even during my short stay in it, has passed Act after Act for doing all those things he wants to do now—Small Holdings Acts, Allotments Acts, Compulsory Purchase Acts—oblivious of all that legislation, he proposes to go on in the same old way. He will not force the landlords to use his land, but he will lead the tenant up to him and induce them to give the men work on the land. It is a kindly offer enough, but it does not work. We have a few small holdings in this country, but nothing much to boast about. He proposes with this crisis before us to carry on the same old game—Plus ca change, plus c'est la même chose.I despair of any action in this country that will meet the crisis we shall have to face in a few months. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the War Committees in each county were to make a report as to the land which was not being properly used at the present time or which was not being used at all and to send it in to headquarters. I have been told over and over again, not by the President of the Board of Agriculture, because I do not think I remember ever having heard him speak on the subject, but by Members who are present to-night, that there is no unutilised land in the country, and that it is all being put to its best use. We are now asked to ask the War Emergency Committees to make reports on their counties. I can conceive of their making a report on the county of Staffordshire. It would take them months, and when they have made it and sent it in what is the Board going to do about it? They have no powers to take and use the land. The Government did, under the Defence of the Realm Act, take powers to acquire suburban building lands in order to allow anyone who wanted land to get on to it. They gave these powers to the local authorities throughout the country. We have heard not one single word from the Government to-night about how that experiment is getting on. I want to know what is being done in the country and why we have not heard about that as a possible means of increasing the food supply. All we have heard is the scheme of finding out what land is under use and what labour you have got, and then this Agricultural War Committee in each county adjusting the amount of labour and developing this and that particular patch, going round, I sup- 198 pose, charging expenses and increasing the food of the country by.01 per cent.
What are you doing to allow people who are engaged now in munitions or any other industries to employ their evenings or part time, or their families or children, on a little plot of land somewhere near their home? Not a word to-night. The only scheme is for dealing in a centralised manner, through the War Agriculture Committees, with pieces of land in a thoroughly bureaucratic Board of Agriculture way. The idea of throwing open the land to the people, land which is not used and cannot be used while the War is on because the building trade is dead, and letting anyone who wants to cultivate a quarter of an acre have a quarter of an acre to cultivate, has died out since it was proposed two months ago. I am told in the whole of London there are only 3,000 allotments at present allotted out to people to work. That does not suit bureaucracy. They cannot allow freedom. They cannot allow anyone to go on pieces of land which no one else is using. They must have machinery. They must have reference to the Board and all the complications which are so dear to the heart of bureaucrats, and so effective in obstructing the real production of food or any good work in the country anywhere. After all, what does it matter if a tenth of an acre of building land is wasted? What are the schools of this country doing? I know there is a big demand by farmers to have half-time school children for their farms for five shilings a week, but what are you doing comparable with what Germany is doing in this matter? In Germany all the school children are working on school gardens. I am asking the President of the Board of Education on Tuesday what steps he is taking to start school gardens.
I know the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Bathurst) has had this in hand for years, and, in fact, he made me keen on the subject myself. He took it up from the point of view of the admirable education it gave the children. There are a few county schools where they have small garden of, perhaps, a quarter of an acre. An excellent thing, but why have we not made this quarter of an acre into five acres and put all the children on in the afternoon—cut down the lessons and put them on to it? It is an admirable education. Do not turn the children over to the profiteers to make money out of, but 199 let them produce food in their gardens for their own families as they do in Germany. I am told that round Berlin they are producing enough food in the children's gardens to keep 200,000 families going. If we had anything like a Board of Education to push these things, which understood that school gardens are not only educational but also invaluable at present to supplement the ration food of the people, we should have something being done on these lines. I want to know what circular has been sent out, what gardens we have at present, and will the Government take steps to develop this idea of school gardens and to compulsorily acquire the land? The Act we passed at the end of last Session for the compulsory acquirement of land, backed as it was by the Board of Agriculture, goes back to the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act of 1846, and you cannot do anything with it. If that is so, for God's sake let us have a simpler Act, so that the Government may be able to get hold of land if only for school gardens, if only to allow the children who are much better employed than in the schoolroom to get something for their families to try to eke out the evil days which are in front of us. I felt all through the speech of the President of the Board of Agriculture progressively how absolutely hopeless our position was in the hands of these bureaucrats. I do not believe you will get any very marked increased production of food in this country on these lines, and while that sort of obscurantism prevails.
It seems to mo that it is the duty of the Government of the country and of Members of Parliament to observe and to face the fact that we cannot get any very large increase at present, and to lay violent hands upon the shipping of this country and try to get more ships back from military purposes, and so secure our reserve of rations by reducing the amount of shipping wasted or used perhaps unnecessarily in transporting troops and supplies for long distances. It is a question which will come more and more before the public. The ships used for bringing our food will get fewer and fewer. The demand for the return of these ships from the Admiralty and the War Office will become more and more insistent, and I urge upon the Government to consider very seriously whether the crisis of this War will not come from the starvation of this country, and whether 200 they ought not to take drastic steps to curtail our military liabilities in order to have a last trench in reserve for the feeding of the people of this country. Even now the arguments used by my hon. Friend (Mr. Outhwaite) might be applied in this-country. We have seen the effect which has been produced by the increased Income Tax. It has gone up to such an extent that it is forcing people to break up big estates and sell off their land and allow tenant farmers to purchase it. There is far more use of the land for productive purposes than there was. I do not allude merely to the cutting up to parks. Every farmer, if he could get labour, would keep far more land under cultivation now than he did before, and if prices are maintained after the War we shall certainly see a large increase of cultivation. Could not that be hastened enormously if, instead of putting an Income Tax which falls with crushing severity on a man who uses his land well, and which is practically a flea-bite to the man who does not use his land, we substitute for an iniquitous tax like that, without putting an additional burden upon the landed interest, a fair tax raising the same amount of money, which would not penalise the good landlord, but which would put the burden properly upon the bad landlord. Take, for instance, the case of the man who allows his land to go out of use and lets the property go down. That man as the property goes down becomes less and less rated. What about the good landlord? I might refer to the case of the Duke of Bedford, for whom the President of the Board of Agriculture used to work. The landlord who makes two blades of grass grow where one grew before, who develops his land, who improves his property, and who does everything he can to help his tenants, because he gets a higher rate has to pay a higher Income Tax, while the bad landlord, who starves his land and consequently gets a lower rent, pays a lower Income Tax. To me that does not seem just, and it does not seem just to the ordinary man who strikes the proposition for the first time. Surely it would be much better that these men, whether they use their land well or use it badly, should be asked to contribute pari passu. They should contribute on the same basis. I hope I have made that clear. It is the kernel of the whole thing. It is not a question of raising more money from the landed interest, but a question of so adjusting the burden upon the landed 201 interest that it would fall more heavily upon the bad landlord who does not produce and less heavily upon the good land-land who does produce. I have always been denounced because I advocate this plan, but I am always confident that if I can get five minutes' talk with any landlord they will agree with me. These principles can be applied to-day just as they could be applied at the end of the War. They could be applied to-day by an adjustment of Schedule A of the Income Tax, so as to raise the same amount of money by placing the tax upon the value of the land whether it is used or not, whether it is well used or badly used, and not upon the actual use to which the landlord puts it. Upon those lines we can get extra food production. Upon the bureaucratic lines laid down by the President of the Board of Agriculture we shall get nothing but disappointment.
§ Captain BATHURST
May I crave the indulgence of the House in addressing it for the first time from this bench? I claim it all the more because I am afraid there may be an impression in the minds of some hon. Members that something in the nature of overlapping or lack of co-operation exists between the Department presided over with such skill and efficiency by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Prothero) and that of my Noble Friend the Food Controller. I can find no fault with the general tone of the speeches which have been made with regard to the Amendment this afternoon. Of course, I recognise that public opinion upon food questions is in a restless condition, and no doubt it finds expression to some extent in the speeches of some hon. Members. Of that I do not complain, but I do suggest that it is unreasonable to suppose that during the seven or eight weeks in which my right hon. Friend has presided over the Board of Agriculture, and in which Lord Devon-port has carried out his duties as Food Controller, in the middle of winter, and in face of every sort of handicap presented by war conditions, that the whole agricultural condition can be remedied, and the present and future food supply of the country safeguarded against all possible developments. I suggest that that would be an unreasonable standpoint to take up, and I feel quite certain that no right hon. Gentleman sitting on the bench opposite would venture to expect us to do that under the conditions which at present prevail. I would like to assure the House that, whatever may have been said this afternoon as 202 to any lack of activity on the part of either of the Departments which have passed under criticism, the relations between the Food Controller and his Department on the one hand, and the Board of Agriculture on the other, are of the friendliest character. So far from there being any misunderstanding or lack of co-operation, or overlapping, I can say, on behalf of both Departments, that we are working in the most cordial co-operation, and that no matter of any serious importance is decided by either Department affecting the home-grown food of this country except after the most careful and friendliest consultation.
The aim of the Food Controller, as I understand it, is to secure an adequate supply of essential foodstuffs, so far as war conditions permit, in as large a quantity as possible, at a price within the reach of the food consumers of this country, and especially of the poorest of the food consumers. Of course, with the increased dependence upon our own national resources he recognises, and must necessarily recognise, the importance of assenting to such prices for home-grown produce as will stimulate the home production of food. I designedly use the word "assenting" because his function, so far as agricultural processes are concerned, does not go beyond the task of assenting to the decisions which are come to or the suggestions which are made by the three agricultural Departments which deal with the actual processes of agriculture in the various parts of the country. The Food Controller acts in all these matters as the executive authority, but he in no way fixes or even emphasises his own views as regards the price to be offered for homegrown produce. What lie does, and what he will continue to do, is to use every effort to secure the public against exploitation and against anything in the nature of undue profiteering in articles of food after they leave the farms in this country and before they pass into domestic consumption. In order to make perfectly clear to the House that the Food Controller in no way trenches—nor, indeed, intends to trench—upon the legitimate authority of either the Board of Agriculture or any of the other Departments of agriculture, I may say that he has repeatedly begged my right hon. Friend to take over the whole work connected with fertilisers, foodstuffs, and machinery, and he and I would be very glad if the right hon. Gentleman could see 203 his way to take over those Departments, but he has pointed out in reply that his Department is not equipped for this purpose, that he has not at present the same drastic powers which have been conferred upon the Food Controller by Act of Parliament, and further, that he cannot compare the views of the three Departments of Agriculture in the same way and to the same extent as the Food Controller is able to do, by detaching himself from all three.
In these circumstances there are certain matters connected with the home production of food which do come at present, at any rate, under the control of my Noble Friend. In passing, I may indicate the basis upon which the Food Controller does his work. That basis is laid down by the Defence of the Realm Regulations with respect to any question which may arise as between private citizens and the Government and which comes to be referred to that arbitration tribunal, which was formerly known as the Duke Commission. That basis is, in estimating the value of a commodity, the cost of its production, plus a reasonable profit, a reasonable profit to the producer and to those through his hands it is necessary that it should pass for the purposes of distribution. Further, in this connection, I would suggest to the House that there are two peace time truisms which are war-time fallacies. The first of them is that a person who has money is entitled to spend it as he likes. One certain result of that is, when there are limited supplies of essential commodities, that he spends his money to the detriment of those who are less fortunate than himself. The other is that the market price of an article is necessarily a fair price to give for it. That would be perfectly true in normal conditions, where there was a free play of economic forces, what is called generally the law of supply and demand, but war conditions so entirely upset economic forces themselves, war conditions present such exceptional opportunities for the speculator and the profiteer that if the Food Controller deals with scant sympathy with those who seek to exploit the food consumer on the strength of the law of supply and demand I am sure that he will receive the full support, not merely of this House but of the public all over the country.
There are two particular branches of industry, concerned with food production in this country, with which the Food Controller has to do. There are, in fact, three; 204 but as regards agricultural machinery, with the assent of the President of the Board of Agriculture the latter is left in the hands of the Ministry of Munitions, with Mr. F. S. Edge, a gentleman who is well known as an expert authority upon motor machinery, to advise the Ministry of Munitions and to act there as the representative of the Food Controller and the Board of Agriculture. But the two main branches of industry to which I am about to refer are those connected with the output of foodstuff and fertilisers. It has often been suggested in this House—and I myself when in a less responsible position have certainly supported the view— that it is not right to control or fix the prices of home-grown produce unless there is power to control or fix the price of the raw materials of that produce. We entirely accept that position, with this one word of caution, that we do not want unduly to interfere with any industry in this country where there is not even the appearance of profiteering, and where our interference would probably result in an increase of the price of that raw material rather than a decrease. As regards feeding stuffs, there are three main feeding stuffs employed in the production of moat on the one hand and milk on the other. I only mention those three, because if those are dealt with effectively they are sufficient to influence the prices of all other similar commodities, thereby regulating, possibly unnecessarily, the control of those other commodities.
§ Captain BATHURST
Those commodities are, first of all, maize. With regard to maize, it has lately passed under the control of the Wheat Commission, and there is every reason to believe that maize will be more readily available, and, we hope, cheaper to the agricultural community than it has been in the recent past.
§ Mr. FLAVIN
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will answer this question. Maize was taken over last week. Is he aware that since that time millers in Ireland have actually raised the price of Indian meal on the consumer? That is the case all over Ireland.
§ Captain BATHURST
I was not aware of that fact. If the hon. Gentleman will bring actual facts to the notice of the Ministry of Food——
§ Mr. FLAVIN
I have just made a statement publicly on a subject of which I have personal knowledge, being myself in the trade.
§ Captain BATHURST
It is common knowledge to Members of this House that maize is not used exclusively now as an animal food. First of all, it is being in-corporated, and will be more largely incorporated, as maize flour in our ordinary domestic loaf of bread by blending it with ordinary wheaten flour. That is an additional drain upon our supply. In addition, and more particularly, it is being used for other purposes which I need not detail in connection with the prosecution of the War, and not as a foodstuff in that respect at all. At any rate, the drain upon the maize supply is very considerable, and of course the whole of the maize is brought to this country from overseas, which adds an element of risk as regards its availability in this country. The second commodity, or rather group of commodities, to which I desire to refer ere cattle cakes, which for the ordinary British farmer are mainly cotton cake and linseed cake. There are also such preparations or commodities as palm nut kernel cake, and other cakes which are not in very great request amongst British agriculturists. The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Captain Weigall) said these cattle cakes are the by-products of the seed and oil crushing industry, and they depend for the raw material upon certain nuts and seeds which are grown in tropical countries. To get these nuts or seeds to this country we require shipping tonnage, and every effort is being made at the present time that the shipping tonnage shall be rendered as large as possible to bring these goods to this country for conversion, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman pointed out, into such commodities as margarine on the one hand, and, on the other, oil for munition purposes, cattle cake, and other commodities. The third is the use of milling offals which are used for the making of pig meat, and also for feeding cattle and other stock. The available milling offals, bran, pollard, and so on, and the like, is necessarily affected by the decision to obtain a larger extract for bread from the cereal growths—in other words, to embody in the domestic loaf a larger part of what has been used previously as animal food. But, in spite of that, the cost both of milling offals and of cattle cake has been considerably re- 206 duced during the last few days, or during the last week at any rate. As regards the price of flour, it has necessarily risen to the price of milling offals, but the Food Controller, I may say at once, is in no way responsible for the frequent increase in the price of bread. If there is any appearance on the part of the millers to put up the price of flour in order to bring down the price of milling offals, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that the Food Controller will intervene and exercise his very drastic powers.
§ Mr. FLAVIN
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the price of flour has been, raised, and that milling offals cannot be obtained at any price, and that there has been no reduction in milling offals in Ireland?
§ Captain BATHURST
It is perfectly open to the hon. Gentleman to bring forward any Irish grievance to the notice of the Controller of Food, and it will be investigated with the same sympathy as in similar cases that have been brought to our notice from other parts of the United Kingdom. I want to assure the House that, although no substantial decrease in the price of those feeding stuffs has yet been brought about, we have every confidence, unless there is some unforeseen development, that the raw material of these productions, which are largely from overseas, will be a substantial decrease in the early future in these raw materials of milk and meat production. As regards fertilisers, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Camborne Division, and I think the late Prime Minister in yesterday's Debate also, asked whether the price of necessary fertilisers was being fixed in the same way as the price of food. There are three important fertilisers which are important to the farmer, and are available at the present time in this country. The first is sulphate of ammonia, the second basic slag, and the other superphosphate of lime. In the case of sulphate of ammonia the price was fixed to the extent of 60 per cent. of the total output of this fertiliser, assuming that the farmers were prepared to use it; say £15 10s.—about eight months ago—in the course of last year. That is the 207 price to-day, and it applies not to 60 per cent, of the whole Output from sulphate of ammonia works, so far as it can be absorbed by home producers. There is only one exception I want to make, and that is this: The demands on the part of France particularly, and some of our other Allies, for this fertiliser are very great and very insistent, and we do not want to refuse those demands if we can spare a certain proportion of the supplies of this fertiliser for the Allies requiring it. After all, we are more or less pooling our food resources and other resources, and it is all to the advantage of this country if there is an increase of food production in France rather than a period of reduction in consequence of the non-availability of essential fertilisers.
At any rate, the claims of home producers are the first concern in the case of this and of other fertilisers. I am sorry to say that a very large proportion of the total output of sulphate of ammonia is in fact going abroad at the present time under existing licences that have been granted for this export some two or three months ago. When those licences expire they will not be renewed, and so far as the Ministry of Food is concerned an embargo has been placed upon the export of all fertilisers from this country, and so, as these licences are worked off there will be a larger supply for home requirements. As regards basic slag, unfortunately there has been an accumulation to some extent of stocks, and there has been difficulty in obtaining railway facilities, and more especially there has been great difficulty in obtaining trucks and waterproof sheets to get rid of this accumulation of stocks. A special appeal has been made to the Railway Executive Committee, and I understand that they are prepared to assist us in rendering available for use in commerce such stocks as remain at the works. With regard to superphosphate supplies the position is a much more difficult one, for two reasons. First of all, the raw material comes in the form of rock phosphates from North African ports, and it is difficult to get the necessary shipping tonnage to obtain supplies of this rock. But the Shipping Controller has just rendered available this month shipping to bring 25,000 tons, to be followed, if possible, by 50,000 tons during two successive months for the purpose of manufacturing superphosphates. The other difficulty is the fact that hitherto 208 superphosphate has not been made without the use of sulphuric acid, and the claims of the Ministry of Munitions in the matter of sulphuric acid must have priority and absorb a very large proportion of the whole output. Various substitutes have been suggested for sulphuric acid—none of them very satisfactory, but still worthy of notice in times like these. One of them—what is called nitre cake—a by-product of nitric acid, which is being tested as a substitute for sulphuric acid in converting phosphate rock into superphosphate, and we have reason to believe that a certain quantity of nitre cake superphosphate will be available as a substitute, although not of anything like the same manurial value as the article for which it will be a substitute. In the case of all of those works there is also insufficient labour. Labour was unfortunately allowed to drift away from those works into the Army and into munition factories, and it is very difficult either to get them back or to make good the deficiency from other sources. But I approached Mr. Neville Chamberlain yesterday on this subject, and he was extremely sympathetic and is making a special effort to find the necessary labour for properly equipping these fertilising factories.
I turn to potatoes, which has been a very difficult and delicate topic to the Ministry of Food during the last few weeks. So far as potatoes are concerned, I want to assure the House that until the time when potatoes become an article of commerce purchaseable as food by the people of the country they are regarded, as indeed all other agricultural produce is regarded, as a matter mainly for the decision of the President of the Board of Agriculture and his colleagues of the two I other Agricultural Departments and not for the Food Controller. In assenting to the food prices for 1917 the Food Controller simply has given his imprimatur to the proposals of the three Agricultural Departments. As regards the prices fixed For the crop of 1916, which are £8 to the grower, to be raised to £9 in the months of March and April, and to £10 in the months of May and June, the Food Controller has had much more to say, and for the best of reasons, because it is his duty to see that the people are not exploited as regards the price of so essential a commodity. The price of £8 has been a good deal criticised, but may I inform the House 209 that, after the most careful investigation, we find that the average cost of producing potatoes last year was no more than from £4 10s. to £5 a ton, and the actual price at which potatoes have been sold by producers in the four previous years amounted to no more than £4. I simply mention this to give some sort of idea as to the cost of producing potatoes both before and during the War. Unfortunately, there was a very difficult lifting season last autumn, and that difficulty of rendering potatoes available for the, British market presented some opportunities to the potato speculator, and the Food Controller has stepped into the position—I frankly admit somewhat late in the day—and has had to make the best of the position that he could, and what he has endeavoured to do is to safeguard a fair value to the potato producer, while also safeguarding the public against being exploited in the price that they have to pay.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
Is it all the fault of the speculator? Have not farmers brought potatoes into the markets and charged these prices?
§ Captain BATHURST
I am not going to suggest for one instant that the farmer has in every case himself been guiltless of holding up potatoes, but I do suggest that in the case of potatoes which, unfortunately, pass very often through several hands between the producer and the consumer in a season like that of last autumn the temptation to the speculator was very exceptional. However that may be, after allowing a sufficient time for the trade to adjust itself and to provide the public, if it would, with potatoes at a reasonable price, the Food Controller had eventually to step in and fix the price to the consumer because there was clearly an evidence that the price of potatoes was being still further advanced to the detriment of the consumer. The same thing, unfortunately, has been happening with regard to seed potatoes. After the most careful inquiries as to what was the fair price to pay the producer for the seed potatoes— and they come, as you know, largely from Scotland, where, unfortunately, there has been an exceptional amount of potato disease this last season—it was decided that a fair price to pay would be £12 for the best varieties, graded down to a carefully-considered category to something like £7 or £8. Lord Harcourt was amongst those who complained through the Press of having to pay a very high price for his 210 potatoes. It is perfectly obvious that a certain, number of people have been taking advantage of the undoubted scarcity of potatoes and of the fact that a price has been fixed for the producer in order to raise the price as against the farmer who would have to buy seed potatoes for the current year's crop, and under these circumstances it has been decided, after consultation with the three Departments of Agriculture, to fix definitely the price of seed potatoes to what I may call the consumer.
§ Captain BATHURST
It depends who is meant by the dealer. As has been pointed out, there may be a succession of dealers. If you mean the ultimate retailer, or ultimate purchaser, yes. I have avoided the use of the word consumer, because I am not referring particularly to table potatoes, but rather to potatoes in a commercial sense. Another course was considered—to attempt to fix the price not merely to the producer, but to the ultimate consumer, such as the middlemen interests. That would only have magnified our difficulties, and ultimately it was considered as an undesirable course to adopt. I think I have replied to most of the questions addressed to this bench since my right hon. Friend spoke.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
Will the hon. Gentleman reply to my question about fixing the rents? They are fixing everything else in the Cabinet. Do they propose to fix rents?
§ Captain BATHURST
Because rents, as a whole, are not amongst the various costs of living which have been raised in this country.
§ Captain BATHURST
The hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division touched 211 upon a subject to which I should like to refer, that of hunting. He suggested that it was improper to give food fit for human consumption to hounds. I think he also said horses—certainly hounds. He further suggested that drastic action should be taken to exterminate foxes.
§ Captain BATHURST
Because they might interfere with the poultry. With regard to hunting I should like to say that the War Office have more than once practically admitted—and the late Lord Kitchener in no wise disguised his opinion upon this subject—that they should not have found remounts for the British Army in 1914 and 1915 but for hunting in this country. As regards the consumption of food by hounds and the danger of destruction by foxes, I am glad to be able to tell the House that to-day there has been a meeting of masters of foxhounds, who, on their own initiative, have decided to reduce substantially the number of days of hunting in, I believe, every hunting county throughout England and Wales. They are quite prepared to slaughter a very large proportion of the total number of hounds, many of them of very great value, of pedigree value, in order to avoid any suggestion that food in any large quantities is being fed to hounds that ought to be kept for human beings. As a matter of fact, the food Bill for this purpose is exiguous. Nevertheless, the masters of hounds have taken a patriotic attitude upon this matter. I do not think there will be any necessity, as indeed there is no desire, for the Food Controller to interfere. In respect to foxes, I should imagine that nothing goes to the heart of the fox hunter more than to be asked to shoot a fox. Not only, however, are masters of hounds themselves doing it in some cases, but they are advocating it to members of their hunts in order to prevent the destruction of poultry and garden stuff as a result of there being a surplus of foxes in the country. They have recognised the abnormal conditions prevailing in the country, and I am bound to say, to all appearances, they are taking up a reasonably patriotic attitude in the matter.
Reference was made by the same hon. Gentleman to chocolates. I think he suggested that he had either seen or bought a box of chocolates costing 52s., if you allowed for the bit of red ribbon tied 212 round it. If that has taken place during the last two or three days the only possible excuse for it is that the vendor of the box of chocolate is trying to get rid of his stock during the short period that has been allowed to him to do so. It has already been decreed by the Food Controller that no chocolates shall be sold—even the best—at more than 4s. a pound, so the gentleman who has been trying to sell a box—and, as my right hon. Friend beside me says, one box and the ribbon have got to be thrown in at that price——
§ Captain BATHURST
I do not remember the date, but it is during the current month. I think I am right in saying in the course of the next few days.
§ Captain BATHURST
In a matter of this character there is some latitude given to the owner of the stock to get rid of his stock, but that does not operate as regards any freshly manufactured stock, and I Believe I am right in saying the Order is in existence at the present time as regards all new stock. The same hon. Gentleman, touched upon that very difficult subject, upon which I am not going to embark this evening, and that is the question of compulsory rations. I have no doubt the matter will be subsequently raised in this House, and I shall be quite prepared when the time comes to explain the attitude of the Controller on the-subject of compulsory rations. The hon. Member also asked us to call in aid co-operative societies. We are doing, so. We are in close touch with the co-operative distributive movement. They have given us an enormous amount of help, and we are very grateful for that assistance, of which we shall continue to make use. Another hon. Member referred to derelict agricultural land. He seemed to be unaware that my right hon. Friend has already decided under the scheme to take drastic action as regards all derelict or uncultivated agricultural land which can be brought into effective cultivation this year. Not only has the Board taken full powers to insist upon its cultivation, but, if necessary, to take it out of the hands of the occupier or the owner, or both, and carry on its cultivation through the medium of the war agricultural committees.
I think I have answered all those questions which may be deemed to be addressed 213 in any sense to the Department which I am serving, and I hope with a reasonable amount, of satisfaction to this House. But I do want to remind the House that this is an entirely new Department, brought into existence under absolutely abnormal conditions, with absolutely no precedents to follow, and if occasionally mistakes are made we are not going to be ashamed of them. A man who cannot make mistakes cannot make anything, and we are not going to indulge in that obstinate form of strength—if it can be called strength—which shows itself in declining to alter our decisions in the event of it being proved to our satisfaction that those decisions are wrong.
§ Mr. P. WHITE
I listened with great interest to-day to the speech of the President of the Board of Agriculture. He told us that the prices which had been fixed were United Kingdom prices, but may I point out that there is no analogy whatever between the wages paid in England and Scotland and those paid in Ireland, and my one anxiety is that the poor labourers in Ireland, who exist now on a miserable wage, may be reduced to absolute want in the near future. What provision have the Government made to equalise the standard of living between the two peoples? The Irish party, foreseeing the want that might arise during the coming summer, appointed a Committee which reported, and that party endorsed their report, which was submitted to the Press and to every section of the community in Ireland, and it was approved of. What did the Chief Secretary do? He ignored that report, and called to his aid the heads of Departments in Dublin to draw up a counter scheme. What has been done may have far-reaching effects on the fate and fortunes of this country. I ask the right hon. Gentleman is he prepared to govern Ireland with the consent and assistance of the Irish people, or is he determined to continue governing Ireland by bureaucratic methods? If he adopts the latter course and wants poverty and famine to stalk the land, the responsibility and moral guilt must be on the Chief Secretary himself and his Government. The schemes and suggestions made by the Government experts have been simply ridiculed by the people. The scheme put 214 forward by the Irish party had nothing revolutionary in it. It was simple, and the points upon which it differed were these: The scheme suggested the calling in of expert assistance from the Irish Departments; it advocated common pasturage, the compulsory acquisition of land by district councils for the purpose of growing corn; and it advocated a three years' guarantee of minimum prices.
People might imagine that there is something revolutionary in those doctrines. There is nothing of the kind. Common pasturage and compulsory powers to local authorities are embodied in the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908. They originated first in 1888, and I think they were brought forward first in this House by the Conservative party. They were afterwards amended and improved upon by consent of both parties. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer told this House that nothing could be so beneficial to the country as the planting of people in rural areas. If that was good for England why was it not good for Ireland? The process of that Act was considered rather too slow, and in 1908 Allotment Commissioners were appointed in order where county councils were not acting quickly enough they could act over their heads, acquire the land, and distribute it to the people. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, Will he apply the provisions of that beneficent Act to Ireland? It would go far in many cases to relieve want Will he pass it now as an emergency measure to enable the people to till the soil? If wages in Ireland are lower than in England and Scotland, the purchasing powers of the people is consequently less, and the only way to equalise matters is to give the working people land to cultivate food for themselves. The right hon. Gentleman placed this matter in the hands of the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture, and he, following the example of the right hon. Gentleman, called to his aid, not men who could speak for the people, but men who had little or no experience of land. One of them was His Majesty's Lieutenant for the county of Meath, a man who sat on the Land Committee representing the landlords of Ireland. He is one of the landowners in the county of Meath, and he holds no representative position whatever. Sixty years ago there were 100,000 people more in the county of Meath than to-day, yet the few that remain cannot get access to the land. There 215 are many men in that county with man-power and horse-power, ready to cultivate land for themselves, and yet they cannot acquire it. It is a monstrous state of things, and no wonder the British Government in Ireland is detested. This member of the Advisory Committee declared that the land would not be fit for tillage, and it would not, therefore, be desirable to break it up. A more absurd, preposterous, and nauseating doctrine was never promulgated. Two acres of the land under tillage would keep two families from hunger through the winter. And how absurd to suggest, as this official of the Government had done, that the land was better untilised for store cattle than in growing corn for the people? There are many people in Ireland anxious to till land if it can be provided for them. But have any steps been taken to provide? The only hope of labouring men in the country is to be allowed to co-operate and combine together in taking land to till, because they find with the present high prices of food that it is impossible for them to live on their present wages. Reference has been made by some of the speakers to the hardship of compelling people who already till a quantity of land to till 10 per cent. more. It only requires a little knowledge to know that when a man has a holding of twenty or twenty-five acres and apportions so much for arable and so much for pasture, and if you suddenly call upon him to increase the amount under tillage you upset his whole scheme. We have been told that the land in county Meath is too good to be broken up for tillage. Let me say there is no land too good for tillage, and if land in the county, now let at £4 per acre, were broken up it would soon be fit for growing wheat. Will the right hon. Gentleman try and realise this? Will he take people who know into his confidence? Will he, as he could without injustice to anybody, take steps which would relieve the country from the apprehension that famine may i stalk the land in the coming winter? The Lord Lieutenant gave a public promise of allotment in the Phoenix Park, but that has been overruled by some Government Department. Why have the Government allowed that? It is a monstrous thing.
Before I sit down I will beg the right hon. Gentleman to consider this question of grass lands. The member of the Advisory Committee to whom I have referred 216 has declared that 75 per cent, of the land in Meath is unfit for tillage. But the land is good. It is good because it was tilled in the past by working men, who ploughed and manured it before the obliterating hand of the landlord swept them off it. Will the right hon. Gentleman make provision that where labourers co-operate together to take land the local authority shall have power to take land compulsorily? Let the right lion. Gentleman act at once; let him do something, let me act in concert with the people or your scheme will be a failure. It rests with this country whether the relations with Ireland shall be good or bad. If this occasion is let pass, if history repeats itself and hunger again stalks the land next autumn in consequence of your inaction now, what a terrible comment it will be on British rule in Ireland if Irish people have again to appeal to their kinsmen in America to save them from want and hunger.
§ Major HUNT
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Food Control Department told us that he wanted the farmers to grow the greatest possible amount of food produce that they could. The information I have received from a great many farmers is that by adopting these maximum prices for one year the Department is doing the very thing that will prevent farmers from producing as much as they can. I hear that all over the country, and certainly all over Shropshire. What farmers want is a minimum price for, at all events, five years. You will have to give that if you want them to produce as much as they can. In view of the submarine danger, you ought to do all you can to bring about that result. The Food Controller apparently rules the Board of Agriculture. The President of the Board of Agriculture said in the House this evening that he would have liked to give the farmers a minimum price for a certain number of years, if he could have had his way. If the matter is dealt with in the way that is proposed, it will be a serious thing indeed for the country, and we are likely to be short of food. Take the case of wheat. The Food Controller, by fixing a maximum price, is not going to make the food any cheaper for the working people, because, although he is only giving the farmers 50s. or 60s. a quarter according to the sort of wheat, he is still going to sell that wheat to the millers on the basis of the price of wheat coming from abroad. 217 In that way the Government is going to take 10s. to 20s. out of the farmers, while the working people are not going to get any benefit at all out of it. There has been a certain amount of objection to this principle; of guaranteeing the farmer a minimum amount for five years, but surely you can avoid either the farmers or the landlords getting too much profit. You can place the farmers in the same position as the shipowners by taking extra profits, and I should say it would be quite fair in the case of a national emergency like this to say to the landlords, "Until these five years have passed the rent of no land shall be raised, whether the tenant stays on or does not. My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. L. Scott) suggested that the minimum wage of the adult agricultural worker should be 25s. I think that is absolutely sound, and I do not see how you can get the greatest production in any other way than by giving the farmer a guaranteed minimum price for at least five years. I dare say ten would be better, but after that it could be reconsidered. Our great object now ought to be at all events to sweep everything else aside so long as you are fair to the different classes of people who have to do with the land and do everything we can to get the most out of the land. Farmers have been very hard hit in a great many ways. They have had to pay very high prices for a great many things which are necessary, and they have had great difficulties with labour, so that the idea of the hon. Member (Mr. Outhwaite) that the farmers are going to plunder the country would, I think, not in the least be true and it would be really merely giving the farmers a fair chance of making a fair profit.
Anything above a fair profit the Government would take as excess profits, and I hope, as my hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Bathurst) said, these regulations might be changed. They will not stick to this maximum price, in view of the fact that I think he will find that all over the country it is the wish of the farmers that they should have a minimum price for a certain number of years. I dare say hon. Gentlemen from Ireland are of the same opinion, and after these five years you would see the result of the farmers doing their very best, as I am sure they would, if they saw their way clear and knew how things were going to be. At present they really do not know exactly where they are. I do not understand about potatoes, but it seems 218 to me to be perfectly clear about wheat and oats. I have heard a great many farmers say they would not grow potatoes under the conditions laid down by the Government because they could not possibly afford to do it, but I think since that, time the conditions have been made rather more favourable. I hope now we have got an agriculturist at the head of the Board of Agriculture he will not allow himself to be put upon by the Food Controller. It seems to me that under the conditions as we have heard them to-day the Food Controller says to the Minister for Agriculture, "You have just got to grow as much as ever you can and as quickly as ever you can, and I am going to settle what you are going to be paid for it." You cannot coerce the farmers, because there are too many of them. You must give them fair conditions and ask them to do their best. They are very patriotic. I honestly believe that that is the best solution of the problem how to grow the largest amount of food as quickly as possible. It must be grown at once. The time is very short. The frost has considerably interfered with ploughing. Every encouragement should be given to the farmers to do the very best with the land, especially with the land that is already ploughed. I hope my hon. Friend will report to the Minister of Agriculture. I have tried to do so, but I was not very successful, because the Minister of Agriculture said ho was under the thumb of the Food Controller.
§ Mr. FLAVIN
I was very much interested in the able speech of the hon. Member (Captain Bathurst), and especially in two or three parts of it of which I have some knowledge. He referred to the great supplies of slag that are lying idle at many slag works in this country, and said that owing to lack of railway facilities it had been impossible to get the slag away. He hoped that the railway companies would make arrangements for the removal of the slag. Perhaps lie is not aware that the slag season, so far as Ireland is concerned, is practically over. It is distributed in December and January, and not later than February. Although there has been, according to the hon. Gentleman's statement, a great accumulation of slag in this country, it will probably be a surprise to him that the price of slag this season in Ireland has increased by 25 per cent. over last year's price. A really good grade of slag which is worth distributing, and worth the farmer's while to buy-ought to contain 219 at least 24, 28, or 30 per cent, of soluble phosphates. Slag containing 30 per cent, of soluble phosphates delivered in county Kerry cannot be sold under £5 or £5 10s. a ton. That is an enormous increase. It is no excuse for the lion. Gentleman to say to me or to any Irish Member that there has been a large accumulation of slag in this country and that owing to no facilities being given by the railway companies the slag, which is essential for the grass on the low lands, and which has great manurial qualities for roots, turnips, and mangolds, has increased in price and been very hard to get. I heard the hon. Gentleman refer to one of the other great constituents necessary for agriculture, and that is superphosphates. Perhaps he is not aware that a great many manufacturers will not supply that to their agents, but they will supply the complete grass manures. I suppose they are using it in the interests of the large landlords or the graziers, in order to use the complete grass manure for the better growing grass. Superphosphate itself, which is used largely for tillage land, for the growing, of potatoes, turnips, and mangolds, cannot be got from a great many of the manufacturers in Ireland.
Indian corn, like wheat, is now controlled by the Government. Indian corn was only taken over within the last fortnight. Wheat was taken over four or six weeks ago. The price of Indian meal, which is the great article produced from Indian corn in Ireland, and is used mainly for cattle and pig feeding, though it was used in the old days almost entirely for human food, has increased by from 8s. to 12s. a ton, and the wholesale price of Indian meal is over £18 per ton at the present moment in Ireland. What is the good of the Government or the Food Controller, or a Commission, taking over the control of the raw material if the manufacturer is at liberty to increase to any extent he likes the price of every article which he manufactures, either for food or otherwise? Flour has also increased by from 1s. to 2s. a sack in the last six weeks, notwithstanding that the flour is deteriorated in quality, under the new Regulations issued by the Food Controller, under which you can have in that flour more offals, more pollard, more bran, and that you can in the process of milling reduce the amount of wheat by adding up to 5 per cent, of Indian corn, or rice, or barley. Indian corn and barley are con- 220 siderably cheaper than wheat. So we have the extraordinary result that, with a deteriorated quality of bread and flour, the prices of bread and flour are still going up. The hon. Gentleman says that the offals have been reduced. It is news to me and to the farmers of Ireland. I hope that it is true.
It is also an extraordinary thing that the offals of wheat, which were produced through the old process of milling last August, September, and November, in Ireland, could be bought for £10, £11, and £12 a ton. Does the hon. Gentleman know, does the Chief Secretary for Ireland know, the prices of milling offals in Ireland to-day? It is not so much the price as the difficulty of getting them. The cheapest quality of red bran, which is one of the offals required in Ireland, is sold to-day at 16s. a cwt. The hon. Gentleman suggested that there were two substitutes, in order to meet the lack of these offals. Anyone who knows anything of farming in Ireland knows that offals are the very things required for feeding cattle and pigs in Ireland. Bran is an absolute essential for cows in the calving process—good white bran. Pollard and Indian meal are absolutely essential for feeding pigs, and it is impossible to buy these to-day. White bran is 15s. a cwt. The hon. Gentleman suggests that, in order to make up for pollard and bran farmers should use cotton cake and linseed cake—articles which, in my opinion, are no better for feeding, and are, at least, 25 per cent, dearer. Linseed cake meal, free on board at Liverpool is £18 a ton and decorticated cotton cake is £19 a ton, and these things are thus considerably dearer than the offals which the Irish farmer loses. I turn now to other matters. I understand that the Food Controller has not yet taken any step in connection with food generally. We in Ireland consider tea as a food for the poor people. It is one of the principal items of food with the poorest of the people in Ireland. It is an extraordinary thing, though nevertheless true, that the poorer the people in Ireland the better the quality of the tea they buy. If the hon. Gentleman is not aware of that fact, the Food Controller, who is an expert in the tea trade, knows, and I draw his attention to the fact that within the last week, although there is no scarcity of tea, speculators in the market, the profiteers, have put up the price of tea by 2d. a lb. 221 The Excise authorities in Ireland will not allow publicans to take whisky out of bond, but whisky is not a food and tea is; and in this country the wholesale profiteers have run up the price of bread by 2d. a lb. They are men of large capital, and some of those firms last year forestalled the Budget by thousands and hundreds of thousands of pounds. I submit to the Food Controller, an expert in the tea trade, that tea, which is a food, ought to be protected.
I wish to call attention to the question of tillage, in regard to which there is a good deal of feeling in Ireland. I tell the Chief Secretary that his tillage scheme will be very largely a failure owing to there being no compulsory powers whatever contained therein. When his tillage scheme was introduced local committees were appointed, and those committees communicated with the occupying tenants of the land as tenants or landlord. I know, of my own knowledge, that in Tralee and other districts the local committees practically ceased to exist because they could not get land at a reasonable price. I can give a case which will illuminate and illustrate my argument. In the centre of the small village of Ardfert, of perhaps ten inhabitants, there is in existence 275 acres of land, which thirty or forty years ago the ancestor of the present owner cleared of the small tenants and converted into a ranch. The father of the present occupier, Mr. Crosbie, was undoubtedly a man of broad and generous views, and sold the estate to the tenants under the Land Act of 1903. Provision was made by which the landlord could keep the main land, and could borrow from public funds at 2¾ per cent., becoming the ordinary tenant himself. The present Mr. Crosbie, non-resident as tenant purchaser, has possession of 275 acres of land on which not a single blade of oats or of grain has been grown since the War began. The local people appealed to me, and I know the situation, having lived amongst them. I do not want to injure Mr. Crosbie, but I submit that he has no right to stand between the people and the safety of the Empire or between them and their avoidance of starvation. This 275 acres are in his possession, and there he is as tenant purchaser with perhaps £15,000 borrowed at 2¾ per cent. Probably he has that money belonging to the people invested in gilt-edged securities at 5 per cent. What action did we take. This land 222 was advertised for sale for grazing purposes about a month ago, and about a fortnight before the sale the local people came to me as their Member and begged and implored me to appeal to this man to do something to have food produced in the district, and I then sent to Mr. Crosbie the following telegram:—Representative deputation from all classes in Ardfert and district waited on me to-day requesting you to authorise Mr. Murphy, the auctioneer, to let your lands in and around Ardfert for tillage purposes and not for grazing. People badly off for food and employment scarce. You will do a humane act for them, and I believe suffer no financial loss. I implore you to accede to the request of the people.Nobody could object to that telegram. It was open, it was sincere and straightforward. We did not want to injure Mr. Crosbie or cause him the loss of one penny. Mr. Crosbie is a non-resident. His father employed a number of labourers. This young gentleman, who is supposed to be indulging in the moneylending business—I hope he is not—lives in Glasgow. About two days afterwards I had the following reply to my telegram from Mr. Crosbie:
§ "Wednesday, 3rd January.
§ My dear Sir,—Your telegram has been forwarded to me. I think you will agree with me that the people of Ardfert show very little discretion or consideration in raising a question affecting my lands at the present time. As you and they are aware this matter is one requiring careful thought and investigation. If it had been raised when I was last in residence at Ardfert it would have had my full consideration. I therefore cannot comply with the desire you express, and should you, on their behalf, go into the subject with me for the year 1918 I will be happy to meet you as a matter of mutual convenience."
Wait and see. There is an example of an Irish landlord as a tenant purchaser! That letter speaks for itself, and to it I sent the following reply, to which I received no answer:
Your letter most unsympathetic, there being, I am informed, no land under tillage or land for grazing. Those conditions leave me no alternative but to carry out the wishes of the people and to demand from the Government and Parliament general compulsory powers for tillage to feed the hungry, give employment, and help to save the Nation in its struggle for existence.
The worst feature of the whole situation I have not dealt with yet, and that is that in a circle around this ranch, within an area of two or two and a half miles there are 214 families, comprising 1,100 human beings. I am not now speaking of information I have received, and what I am telling is not a story. I am relating facts within my own personal knowledge which I have investigated. Of those 214 families, 120 have holdings under five acres. Over 100 of these families, comprising over 600 people, have not land on which they could grow a stalk of potatoes.
The bulk of those people live in the vicinity of this farm, and a great many of them are sons or grandsons of the men whom the present Mr. Crosbie's grandfather evicted out of these lands. They feel keenly on the question, and so do I. I am convinced—and I believe most Englishmen are convinced, although they probably will not say it—that the situation in Ireland and in Great Britain, before three months are at an end, will be very serious as far as food is concerned, and you are to-day attempting in a very small way to do what we have endeavoured to do for the last twenty years and what your predecessors before you have imprisoned many Irish Members of Parliament for advocating, namely, taking over of the grazing ranches and dividing them amongst the people. Even to-day you will not accede to their request. This that I have mentioned is only one of the ranches in my Constituency; there are two or three others which I do not hold the right lion. Gentleman responsible for, but his predecessor, and I have been tired of asking questions here day after day and week after week, where the Congested Districts Board have compulsory powers and where there are three or four hundred acres of untenanted land and the landlord his treated the Congested Districts Board with contempt, and would not even reply to their requests as to whether they would sell out or not, and the Board, as far as North Kerry is concerned, have taken no compulsory powers against these grazing ranches, which are in the centre of large, uneconomic holdings.
§ There are hundreds of families with poverty staring them in the face because I believe—I hope I am wrong—the threat of the Germans to blockade this country will be to a large extent successful, for we know what their power is. Ireland will have to suffer as well as England, and it will be a crying shame and a disgrace to us Irish Members if we neglect to do our duty; and as long as we do our duty on the floor of the House and throw our responsibilities on you, you leave us no alternative except to go to these people and tell them to go in and take compulsory possession of the land and till it and save themselves.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Duke)
I am afraid that the speech to which the House has just listened is the kind of speech which is not calculated to help the country in the 224 present emergency of increasing the food supply in Ireland. I do not ignore in any degree the misfortunes of the situation with regard to Irish land arising out of past errors, the effects of which survive and are likely to survive; but every man who is familiar with the history of Irish land and the legislation relating to Irish land, and who is also acquainted in any degree with the practical problems of agriculture, knows that the surest way to prevent an increase of the yield of food in Ireland at the present time would be to involve Ireland in the throes and controversies of the land question which occupied so much of the time of Irishmen and were such a fruitful cause of discord in past years. Now what does the hon. Member who spoke last say? He selects one conspicuous instance of an area of grazing land which remains in the hands of a former proprietor of an estate as the result of the amelioratory processes of the land legislation of recent years. He makes it a reproach to the Government and a condemnation of the efforts which are at present being made to increase the yield of food in Ireland that the Government do not step aside from their object and introduce a new scheme of land legislation which shall produce a new general redistribution of Irish land. The thing which is to be dealt with is in front of us. It is to be dealt with by tillage this spring, by ploughing as soon as the frost is out of the land. If you are to wait upon a course of land legislation which is in any degree to resemble the land legislation of past times, there is not the remotest hope of any tillage of this land by lawful and peaceable processes for the coming harvest. That is the difficulty of the situation. The present Government has no more responsibility for the difficulties of the Irish land situation and the woes of the landless population of Ireland than the hon. Members themselves.
§ Mr. FLAVIN
Would it not be just as easy for the Government, or the Irish Department, to insist that a landlord or a tenant who has a large tract of grazing land in his possession, with no agriculture in any shape or form, shall till 50 per cent, of the land? If he cannot till it himself let him give it to poor people to do it. I am not asking the right hon. Gentleman to bring up the land question.
§ Mr. DUKE
The question which had to be faced by the Government in the present emergency was the surest method 225 of increasing the yield of food from the land of Ireland I say emphatically that the surest method of preventing that increase would have been to embark upon an enterprise such as the Government are reproached for not having embarked upon in the series of speeches to-night. What has been done I can state in a very short time. There is in Ireland something like, it is calculated, a million of acres of what is called second-class pasture land, fitted for, and producing its best yield under tillage, and producing a less satisfactory yield for grazing purposes. The object of the Government in the scheme which was resolved upon was to bring as much of that land into cultivation as could by a reasonable pressure upon the resources of the country be brought under cultivation. There is a maximum amount of arable land in regard to which you could say to the ordinary occupier, "You must, if you are tilling less than 40 per cent., till an additional 10 per cent." That was considered to be within the capacity of every occupier of arable land either by his own exertions, or by the help of those whom he could call in from the neighbourhood. That, it was felt, might reasonably be insisted upon. That is the basis of the scheme. That is an addition of ten per cent, to the food-yielding land amongst the arable land of Ireland. In a general way it has been accepted as a practical thing.
§ Mr. LUNDON
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman state what is the definition of "arable land"?
§ Mr. DUKE
I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows. He is merely asking me a conundrum. The definition of arable land is in the Compulsory Tillage Regulations. If he will recall it to his mind he will see it is perfectly clear. Ten per cent, was deemed to be the proportion of tillage to which the ordinary occupier would be equal. It is complained that there are men who were tilling ten per cent., but were required to till an extra ten per cent. The man who has the appliances for tilling is undoubtedly much better off for increased tillage than the man who has no appliances. Reproach is made against the system that it does not break up what is called the ranches. I do not dare even to discuss that question. On the one hand it is said to be a most high-handed proceeding on the part of the Government to require the owners and occupiers of this 226 grassland to till any part of it. On the other hand it is said that it is a dereliction of duty on the part of the Government not to require them to till the whole of it. The course which was resolved upon on the advice of Irish agricultural experts——
§ Mr. DUKE
The course which was resolved upon was that the owners of these lands—many of them the owners and occupiers of hundreds of acres, who had no labour, no machinery, no experience in tillage, and no settled means of tillage—should be put in the same position as other people in the country. Hon. Members referred to the fact that near these grazing lands were some of the congested districts of Ireland. It is said that people have been excluded by eviction in past times from those very lands. The lands have got to be tilled in the proportion which is directed by the Order. In a general way the occupier of what is called a ranch has got to find a tenth of it for tillage, and to till it. He very likely will not be able to do it himself. Hon. Members assure the House there are large numbers of willing cultivators at hand. If that is the case, so far as the Government are concerned, all the powers in the Order will be utilised to secure that that proportion of those lands shall be placed under cultivation. [An HON. MEMBER: "What Order"?] Hon. Members have seen the Compulsory Tillage Regulations. They are much more stringent and drastic than anything which has been imposed in this country upon the occupiers of grazing land. The position at the present time is that if the rated occupier of one of these areas of land is found by 1st March not to have taken any steps which show his intention to cultivate his land in accordance with the Order, there is power in the Department of Agriculture to enlist the aid of the local authority to find persons who can cultivate that land. That is an extent to which, outside a time of war, nobody would have dreamed of going, but the Government has gone to that length, and I submit the Government is unjustly reproached when it is charged with having done an injustice to the Irish people in not having gone further, and that the scheme of compulsory tillage is hindered, and not helped, when these controversial questions are raised.
With regard to other matters of detail raised by the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Lundon)—who, I am glad to see, has 227 come safely through a recent time of trouble—the hon. Member for South Roscommon, and the hon. Member for North Meath, they are questions of detail with regard to the administration of the scheme. I cannot promise that the elements of the scheme will be revised. That would be the destruction of the scheme. The time for which this tillage is needed is the present time. It is delayed only by the frost. But, as to matters like the supply of seed, the supply of machinery, and those other questions of detail to which hon. Members referred, those are within the competence of two of the Departments in Ireland—the Department of Agriculture with regard to cases generally, and the Local Government Board with regard to allotments, and every effort has been made, and will be made, to supply all the assistance that can be supplied to the cultivators of these holdings.
One hon. Member asked me with regard to the machinery whether the same steps which had been taken in England were being taken with regard to Ireland. I believe that the proportion of motor implements secured for Ireland is more than the proportion secured for England. At any rate I can say that the Director of Transport made most earnest representations with respect to implements which were awaiting importation into this country, and I hope that implements of that kind upon a considerable scale will be available for the purposes of cultivation. Speaking generally, I think this tillage scheme has been received by the people of Ireland as an effort to do something to prevent hunger and trouble in the coming year. The Roman Catholic Bishops of Ireland, who show a constant care for the material as well as the moral well-being of their flocks, considered this matter, and recommended that everything practicable should be done to bring the scheme to a success. In spite of criticism, which I gladly recognise as helpful, and in spite of complaints, the information I have satisfies me that the farmers of Ireland, the small cultivators and the allotment holders, are going to de their best with the resources at their disposal to make this scheme a success. I can promise them that there is no man who does his best to make this scheme a success who is going to be in any serious danger of any penalty because he did not succeed in doing what he was not able to do.
§ Mr. BYRNE
I wish to refer to the subject of compulsory powers for the purpose 228 of maintaining allotments in the City of Dublin. On the south side of the City of Dublin we find it impossible to get any sites for cultivation, although there are plenty of places which might be made available, but for some reason or other we cannot get them. The Government should give the local bodies power to take over those sites for the purposes of food production. Shortly after the rebellion the late Prime Minister went to Dublin and he stated that Dublin Castle rule had completely broken down, and everybody on this side of the House believes that. I wish briefly to refer to Dublin Castle rule, or the rule that is going on behind the scenes in Dublin. I chance to be a member of the Vacant Land Cultivation Committee of the Dublin Corporation, and I was very pleased to read in the newspapers an announcement made by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland that arrangements had been made to hand over a portion of Phoenix Park to the Committee for the purposes of cultivation. As the result of that announcement published in all the newspapers both in Ireland and in England, within one day our Committee received applications for 400 allotments. Four hundred workmen were prepared to till the ground and produce food. Our Committee immediately made inquiries as to when we could have the land, but from that day to this we have heard nothing further. We were quietly informed that the powers that have ruled in Dublin for the last fifty years have over-ridden the Lord Lieutenant. They allow the man's name to be publicly used in connection with a promise which cannot be fulfilled. We have always expected, when His Majesty's representative has made a public statement, that at least the promise would be fulfilled We have been used during the past fifty years to promises made on the Government Bench being broken, and they have brought about the state of affairs in Ireland at the present day. The people of Ireland are tired of promises, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he could make some public announcement whether we are going to get the land in Phoenix Park or not. We boast that we have one of the largest, I believe it is the largest, park in the world. Four hundred allotments would not take more than fifty acres. I forget for the moment how many acres the park contains. We have asked for fifty acres, and the Government have refused to give us this land for food production. Do the Government expect the 229 Cultivation Committee to go to private owners and try to get their sites for food production? How can we ask for compulsory powers to take these small pieces of land from these people when the Government refuse to keep a promise publicly made by the King's representative? I think probably after the speeches which have been made to-night we may have a chance of getting the Government to climb down and to see to it that when the head of the British Government in Ireland gives his word that a thing shall be done that pledge will be respected. In the Phœnix Park there are certain cattle, but I do not know that there is any possibility of the 50 acres which our committee require being wanted for cattle. Even if it were necessary for them, I would still insist on getting the land for food production for home use, because meat now commands a price which the working classes in Dublin cannot pay. The meat is for England; our grazing is used for cattle for English consumption. In England, wages are good and the people can afford to pay our farmers good prices for their cattle, and you cannot blame the farmer for desiring to continue the grazing. Some time ago you spent huge sums of money on posters asking the people of England to economise and not to indulge in luxuries. Our people in Ireland do not require advice like that. They cannot at this moment with the wages they are paid get even the necessaries of life. I saw a member of the Labour party on the benches opposite a few moments ago. I would like to know if he can mention any city or town in the United Kingdom at the present time where the Government would offer workmen £1 a week for working seven days a week and twelve hours a day? Yet this is the sum paid by the Government in Ireland to men wearing war badges who are working at the Remount Depot at Balls Bridge. Just imagine it! And these men were even denied the war bonus which was promised in this House—publicly promised——
§ Mr. BYRNE
I am sorry if I have overstepped the rules of order. What I want to point out is that the wages our men are being paid are not sufficient to provide them with the necessaries of life, and that, therefore, they should be given grass lands in the Phoenix Park which are at the disposal of the Government. I put this forward on behalf of these half-starved 230 people. But I will leave that now and come to the question of the cattle. I want to call attention to this. Having regard to the enormous prices given for cattle for export to this country, there is going on at this moment a speculation in land such as was never heard of before. A few days ago a small farm in Ireland was sold for £1,200, subject to a charge of £8 10s. per acre. How is the buyer—a farmer—going to make it pay? What does he intend to charge for the produce of it to the people to whom he looks to buy it I Fabulous prices are being charged in Ireland for foodstuffs, and those prices are an encouragement to people to pay huge prices for farms. I hope that this speculation in land will be stopped by the Government.
There is one further item I would mention which is in keeping with the food question, that is, the question of tonnage, which will eventually lead up to a great food shortage in our country. Tonnage is a serious question at the present moment, and the question of shipbuilding is a more serious one. In Dublin we are endeavouring to get a share of the building of the ships that will be required in the near future. I would ask the various responsible Government Departments, who are desirous of seeing ships grow like mushrooms, to endeavour, if possible, to help the Dublin authorities in procuring sites for the purpose of building ships. We have a board in Dublin called the Dublin Port and Docks Board. That board is run by a few merchants in the city of Dublin. They have refused to facilitate the shipbuilding companies in Dublin in the matter of sites. If the Government were serious about shipbuilding they could, with a stroke of the pen, wipe out the powers of that board, take possession of the ground that is required, and give it to the shipbuilding company to enable them to do this great work of national importance at the present moment. I believe that the Minister of Munitions, the Chief Secretary, and the Board of Trade will consider very soon whether or not they have power to compulsorily acquire this ground in the city of Dublin that is being held up by one or two members who require this ground probably for their own companies. They are standing in the way of a great public and national service— the production of ships—being carried out. By giving to Dublin these facilities it would also help us to find proper employ- 231 ment for the workmen there. When we give them that proper employment I hope that the wages they will receive will be something better than the miserable pittance that is given by the War Office in the Remount Depot.
Perhaps I might be allowed to say a few words about the farm labourers in Ireland. I know of a case that was dealt with a few weeks ago by the War Office, and, as usual, the War Office found an excuse. No matter what case you send to the War Office, you get a nice letter in return. You never carry your point, but you always get an excuse. There is a woman in Ireland, who is the owner of a farm of 150 acres. She has two sons, who have joined the Army. One of them is at present in France, and the other has recently joined up. This lady thought that having this farm on her hands, and there being a great outcry for the production of food, she would be allowed a little privilege by the Government. She asked that her second son should be allowed to stay at home—he was in Ireland, and close to the farm at the time— for a few months for the purpose of getting the crops ready this year. There was no possibility of obtaining labour but at least she thought, having two sons in the Army, one wounded in France and the other prepared to do his bit, the War Office would allow her to keep the son back for three months for this great work of food production. The case was very plainly put to the War Office. We do not ask for this man to be taken out of the Army. We do not ask that he should be taken away from his military duties for any great length of time, but we ask that he should be allowed for the next three months to stay at home and get his mother's 150 acres of ground put under food. The War Office thought he could do better work in the trenches, and they wrote back that he had already passed for military service and they could not see their way to allow him to stay at home for the time mentioned in the letter. If blunders like that are to go on, what are we to expect in Ireland? Would it go on in England? If an English farmer's widow-had 150 acres of ground and told you she was prepared and wanted to put it under tillage and asked that one son should remain home for three months for the purpose of getting the farm ready, would she be treated the same way as the Irish 232 widow? I do not think she would. It would not be tolerated. It is only because it is Ireland. In many cases similar things have occurred. The man has not left Ireland and it is not too late yet. His draft will be ready very shortly. The land is lying idle. Xo attempt is made to cultivate it. Labour is scarce and the War Office would be doing a national service if they allowed the soldier son to go to the land and manage it for a few months for the purpose of producing food. I think he could do better work at home than by going away, and I hope the hon. Member who represents the War Office, will reconsider the case.
§ Question, "Thai those words be there added," put, and negatived.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
At this late hour I do not propose to detain the House by moving the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for North East Lanark and myself in favour of the prohibition of the use of foodstuffs in the making of intoxicants. I will only say that the question is of vital and immediate importance in connection with the food supply of the country, and I hope to raise it next week on the Vote of Credit.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
Having regard to the statement made by the Leader of the House to-day with reference to the intention of the Government to introduce immediate legislation for the deprivation of the titles of traitorous personages, and, I understand, of all the honours of which they are recipients, and of which they can be deprived by an act of the Crown, I shall not move the Motion which stands in my name as an Amendment to the Address. I withdraw the Motion on the distinct understanding given, and I hope for the honour of the House of Commons, and for the honour of the British Cabinet, that that understanding will be fulfilled.
§ Question put, and agreed to
§ "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth: —
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign,
§ "We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 233 in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors and Members of His Majesty's Household.