§ If the average price for the wheat or oats of any year for which a minimum price is fixed under this Act, as ascertained for the purpose of this part of this Act, is less than the minimum price as fixed by this Act, the occupier of any land on which wheat or oats have been produced in that year shall be entitled to be paid by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in respect of each quarter of wheat or oats which he proves to the satisfaction of the Board to have been so produced and to have been sold, a sum equal to the difference between the average price and the minimum price per quarter.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The first notice appearing on the Paper to leave out Part I. is not a motion admissible in Committee. In Committee we deal with the Bill Clause by Clause, and a Motion to leave out a Clause only arises at the end of the Clause, when the Committee sees in what form it is left after Amendments have been considered.
§ The CHAIRMAN
There is an early Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Kilmarnock Burghs which raises a general discussion. The proposal to amend line 6 [''Minimum Price of Wheat and Oats"] is not admissible, because the words in line 6 are only a heading, and are not part of the actual Bill.
§ Mr. CLOUGH
There are Amendments down later to lines 8, 9, and 16 and 17. Would it not be in order to take them here to begin with?
§ The CHAIRMAN
If any Amendments are carried to the actual Clause that requires an alteration, either to the heading or to the side-notes, those alterations will be made without any Motion from hon. Members or action on the part of the Committee. The same thing applies to the proposal to leave out the words "and oats" in the heading.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
The Motion which I have on the Paper is to postpone Clause 1. In putting this on the Paper I had in mind the Amendment which immediately follows in my own name. This Amendment immediately following proposes to substitute an alternative option for that which is proposed in this Clause. The object of the Clause, I take it, to be to give security to the farmer, and the method which is proposed in the Bill is to give the security by means of a bounty, raising the price of grain to a certain fixed price. The alternative which I have proposed in this Amendment is that, instead of being given a bounty, the farmer should be given the option to sell his grain to the Government at that fixed price on the condition that he exercises it before a certain date. I had some doubts as to whether this and the following Amendment would be in order at this particular part of the Bill. I thought, if possible, that you might have ruled that it ought to come as a new Clause, but I thought, nevertheless, that it was a point of principle which ought to be discussed before the House committed itself to the principle of a bounty which is embodied in the Clause, and it was for that reason that I placed this Amendment to postpone the Clause on the Paper. Before I move in the matter, therefore, I think perhaps it would be desirable and would facilitate the business if you could give some ruling with regard to the Amendment which I have immediately following and with 1762 regard to the general position of this Clause in relation to this and similar Amendments.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I shall be very glad to do that. I read the hon. Member's intentions as being such as he has described, but a Motion to postpone the Clause would not achieve the object he has in view, because he could not discuss the merits of the Clause or of the proposed alternative on a Motion of that kind. With regard to his actual Amendment on the Paper, it is clearly out of place here, because we must first of all consider the proposal in the Clause and any Amendments which may be made to it in Committee before we could say whether we would accept or reject his Amendment and whether additional alternatives are then required. I think what I have already said will answer the point to a considerable degree, that on the Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Kilmarnock Burghs there will be an opportunity for the hon. Member to put forward his alternative to the proposal in its present form. In regard to the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Tynemouth, the same thing applies. We must not insert words at the beginning of a Clause. We must see how the Clause stands after we have amended it, then we shall consider whether any provisos or additions are required at the end. Then I come to the Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, to leave out the words "average price for the." I do not quite understand whether that stands by itself or whether it is one of a series of Amendments on the Paper.
§ Mr. LOUGH
The other Amendment is quite different from this, and this one can be looked at by itself, for it stands on its own footing. I beg to move to leave out the words "average price for the," and to insert instead thereof the words "price received by any producer for his."
I think this proposal raises the principle in this Bill of the average price for wheat, which, as it is defined afterwards in Clause 2, is a most unsatisfactory proposal. I think we ought to get at the very beginning of the Bill some more satisfactory basis upon which to construct this average price.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
On a point of Order. I have an Amendment down which appears to me to have the same purpose as that 1763 of the right hon. Gentleman. It is in Clause 2, where the definition of the average price comes. I should have thought that that would have been the proper place for it. All I want to ask now is whether, if the right hon. Gentleman moves his Amendment, that will preclude me from moving my Amendment in the proper place?
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. Member for St. Augustine's has chosen the better place for this purpose. I am rather unable to see how the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman will really read with other proposals, but I should not be prepared to rule it out of order.
§ Mr. McNEILL
What I want to submit is that this is a matter of definition. Clause 2, Sub-section (2), in the nature "f a definition of what the average price mentioned in Clause 1 means. Therefore I submit that that is the proper place for an Amendment which is in the nature of a definition.
§ Mr. LOUGH
This Motion of mine is not only a definition Motion, but is perfectly clear and explicit in itself. The case presented by my hon. Friend is that if we proceeded with the Bill preserving these words to which I object we might define them in Clause 2, but that would not remove the evil of which I want to get rid. The whole of this Bill is based on the words which I am moving to leave out in Part I. of the Bill on this question of average price. Clause 2 defines how the average price is to be fixed. It is based on a series of averages. The averages are taken weekly first, then they are put together and taken monthly, finally there is an average on a period of from six to seven months. Suppose, for the sake of illustration, that in these prices the lowest price was 45s. and the highest price was 60s., and the average at the end of six months was found to be about 50s., then, if the proposal in the Bill stands, the effect will be that this average price is taken as one price, and the minimum price set out in the Bill is taken as the other, the difference, when found and determined, will be paid to everyone of these farmers who has sold his wheat. That would be grossly un- 1764 fair. The average price would give the bonus to the wrong man, if the system of this Bill were adopted, while the man who deserves most would get least. For instance, if some of the farmers get 60s. and others get 45s., and the average price is 50s., the bonus would be 10s., and the man who had got 60s., or the occasional lucky man who got 70s. for his crop owing to its excellence, is put on the same level with the unfortunate farmer, say in Scotland, whose prices are much lower, who is working in most difficult circumstances far away from a market.
This is a most extraordinary proposal and is quite unnecessary, because my Amendment shows how it can be avoided. My Amendment suggests that instead of putting in this artificial fictitious average price, we should take the price at which a man has sold his wheat, an actual sample price, instead of this difficult working average. That would be a far fairer system. If the Commit tee will examine this problem they will see that it is quite impossible to proceed on the plan suggested in the Bill. The object of the Bill is to encourage people, who arc not favourably situated for the purpose, to produce wheat and oats. There are certain counties—I believe, that the county Norfolk is one—where no inducement is required, and all the wheat that can be produced is produced. Surely the policy of the Government ought to be that in out of the way places which do not usually produce wheat, and on land on which wheat is not usually grown, an inducement should be given for the production of this crop which is so necessary for the life of the people. Instead of that, the men who arc in the worst positon, men in remote parts of the country, farthest from a railway station and from a good market, are the people who will receive the lowest price for their wheat, and they are getting no more than the growers situated in the most favourable places who get the highest price. Then there is another point. Two farmers who are in practically the same position may never get any good price. One will get a good price and one a bad price. Yet both are to receive the same bonus. Therefore, because farmers who are in the same position will, under the arrangements of the Bill, get quite different amounts, and also because the farmer who ought to receive most will get least, some more satisfactory standard should be adopted.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
Under the arrangement proposed in the Bill a farmer might sell his oats or wheat at a price well above the price fixed in the Bill as the minimum price, and yet would be entitled to receive the bonus, so that in the end he would receive far more than the price fixed in the Bill. That is corrected by the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. At the same time I foresee some difficulty in carrying out the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, because it will be necessary then to take the prices received by every individual fanner, and that I regard as a very great difficulty.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
The tight hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member who supports him do not, I think, realise, in reference to average price, that this is the price to be fixed to decide whether there is to be a bonus given or not. There is no question of distribution. That will come later on, and all the arguments advanced are arguments as to distribution. I quite agree that this is not the right place to deal with distribution. We have now the question of fixing the average price, so that if the price of corn falls below that average a bonus will be given to the farmers, and whether the Bill gives it afterwards or not is another matter. The question at this point which we have to decide is that there should be some guidance as to average price for farmers throughout the country.
§ Mr. W. WATSON
I would like to know from the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment what his object was in moving it. I am not a practical farmer. I know a little about it—not much—but it does strike me that if the right hon. Gentleman's purpose was to secure the poorest possible crop of corn or other cereals in this country he is going the best way about it. I quite appreciate what the last speaker has said as to the question of distribution, as to whether a man who sells at 60s. is to get a bonus. That is another point. As far as I can see, if we are to strike out "average" and give to everybody the difference between the price which he actually gets and the minimum price in the Bill, the result will be that the person who cares least about the quality of his crop and gets the poorest price will get the biggest bonus. At present I see no answer to that
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Prothero)
The object of the Bill is to get the maximum of production, and it is not, if I may say so, from the small man that the maximum of production is going to be got. I agree that under the Bill as it stands we do not sufficiently look after the small man and the poor land. I think that that is the objection to the proposal of the Bill as it stands, and from that point of view I am quite willing to consider certain Amendments that follow, which have for their object, as I understand, helping the man with poor land, and not allowing too great a share of the allowance to go to the big man; but the principle of averages, I have no doubt, is the fairest system to adopt. This encourages everybody to do his best, and in the case of the man who, with extra skill, grows superior grain, it is meet that he should receive as much encouragement as the man who grows poorer corn. It will be within the knowledge of the House that there are many sorts of wheat which, from the milling point of view, are most highly valued, and those sorts are not the most prolific. We want to have all sorts of corn grown and we want, therefore, to have a general average fixed. As I understand the right hon. Member's Amendment, he thinks that if a man sells half his crop at 61s., and the other half at 59s., he is to get no difference. Is that the transaction?
§ Mr. PROTHERO
Obviously, if the man, on the rates at which he sold his samples, is not to claim the difference between the minimum price and the price at which he sold, it seems to me that would be absolutely impossible. I cannot understand how such a system could be proposed with any chance of success. I realise the right hon. Member's point, and on other Amendments I shall be very glad to give most careful consideration to the point, that our present proposal may be held to give more benefit to the larger farmer than it ought to do and too little to the small farmer. While I agree with the object of the right hon. Member, I cannot think that his proposal will really bettor the situation; rather, it would make it more difficult.
§ Sir WALTER ESSEX
I should like to know a little more as to how the average price works. Is it taken over a number 1767 of months, with the minimum and maximum? A man might sell at 90s., or at a high price in one season and at a low price in another season, and the two would be on entirely different lines.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is a subject which will be discussed on Clause 2, and we shall deal with it when we reach the Amendments to that Clause.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The CHAIRMAN
With regard to the next Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Morrell), it is put down for a different purpose from that of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock Burghs (Mr. Shaw).
§ Mr. SHAW
That is so. The hon. Member for Burnley has put down words with an object diametrically opposed to the idea which I, and other Members who support my Amendment, entertain. We desire to fix one standard, arid apply it to all the land. The hon. Member for Burnley apparently wishes to deprive the oat-growing farmer of reward under this Bill. I should like to ask whether I may move the alternative scheme, as the words of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Burnley are fatal to it? If I do not do so now, will I be in a position to move the Amendment on lines 10 and 11 of the Clause?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think that is so. The Amendment of the hon. and gallant Gentleman is to remove the words "on which wheat or oats have been produced in that year." I shall propose the Question on lines 10 and 11, and the hon. and gallant Member will be able to put forward the whole of his scheme. The Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Clough) does not come in at this point, and if he proposes it in the form of a new Clause I shall deal with it.
§ Mr. SHAW
I beg to move to leave out the words "on which wheat or oats have been produced in that year."
In moving this alternative scheme which stands in my name and in the 1768 names of several other hon. Members, perhaps I may be permitted to say what is the scope of our proposal. If hon. Members will look at the bottom of page 1412 of the Amendment Paper, they will see a further Amendment in the names of the same hon. Members in which we propose to leave out, after the word "each," the words, "quarter of wheat or oats which he proves to the satisfaction of the Board to have been so produced and to have been sold, a sum equal to the difference between the average price and the minimum price per quarter." We propose, when that Amendment is reached, to insert, instead thereof, the words, "acre actually tilled by him in that year to the satisfaction of the Board of Agriculture in excess of the total acreage tilled during the year nineteen hundred and fourteen, on the whole land in his occupation, for every acre of such excess a sum equal to three times the difference between the average price and the minimum price per quarter of wheat." By these Amendments we propose three things, and I shall deal very briefly with the first two. In the first place, we propose to adopt the acreage basis instead of the basis of production and sale Secondly, we propose to adopt one standard of reward for the whole country, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, for the breaking of additional acres, and, further, we propose to apply that standard of reward to tillage of any kind irrespective of the things produced, so long as the tillage is conducted to the satisfaction of the Board of Agriculture. Our third proposal is to confine the guarantee to excess above the normal cultivation in time of peace, and we take, for example, the year 1914. I will deal very shortly with the first two points. As to the basis of production and sales, I have consulted many eminent agriculturists, and I am told that in Ireland, for instance, it would be absolutely unworkable. In Ireland the Board of Agriculture would be faced with 500,000 applications on the basis of production and sale, each one of which would have to be carefully investigated, and I am informed by those who understand the question, that in all probability the expense of such investigation, and the large staff required, and so on, would in all cases be greater than the total amount the farmer himself would receive.
1769 Secondly, the requirements of production and sale is unjust to every country but England. The Scotch farmer and the Irish farmer and the Welsh farmer consume a large proportion of their own production, but that cannot be a justification for depriving a man, who may' be eminently successful as a dairy farmer or stock-breeder, simply because he has not sold his grain, of the advantages of this Bill. We propose to do away with all the elaborate machinery which will be required, and further to do away with the attraction of colourable claims of sale merely for the purpose of obtaining the bonus. In that respect I think the Bill is morally as well as economically indefensible. As regards the standard of reward, we propose one standard for the whole country, irrespective of particular crops produced, so long as the land is cultivated to the satisfaction of the Board of Agriculture. We wish to divide the reward over the whole of the land, and the guarantee we propose requires a few words of explanation. We propose to guarantee the particular acreage cultivated in excess of the standard of 1914. I will not bother the Committee now with the particular standard; what I want is to take a normal year, a prewar year, and then take any excess over the existing standard, the standard today, because the effect of the War has been that a great deal of energy and capital has been put into new land, and I think it would be most unfair to the farmer that you should consider this normal standard.
Therefore, we propose to go back to the year 1914, and we consider that more fair than to accept the present standard of cultivation as the basis. We propose as a standard of guarantee three times the difference between the market price of wheat and the price in the Bill. How that figures is arrived at is this: The Committee will remember that we apply the reward not only to wheat growing land but to land that is tilled to the satisfaction of the Board of Agriculture. One-half of the cultivated land in this country is under grain crops, and the average yield per acre of wheat is four quarters. It would follow that to leave the former in the same position financially under the Bill, a guarantee given irrespective of crops produced on the land, would have to be a guarantee equal to twice the difference between the minimum price and the general market price 1770 of wheat. Here another fact enters in: When new land is broken up, I am informed that the first crop is a grain crop, and therefore it would be unfair to take the normal basis as the basis of reward for additional tillage, as the guarantee we propose applies only to excess tillage above the 1914 standard. Some people have suggested that three times is really too generous. I think it is generous, but I do not think too generous, for, provided that we can put this Bill on a sound economic basis, then, in matters of tillage, we can afford to be generous, and ought; to be generous, to the farmer at a time like this. I beg the Committee to consider that there is all the difference in the world between the pledge of the State to pay a large sum by way of guarantee for that portion of the crop which ought in normal times and under normal conditions would be produced in any case and paying rather handsomely for something which the State under normal conditions would not receive at all. I think that substituting one standard for all parts of the Kingdom is a proposal which will appeal to the Committee. The first idea was to take oats as a standard for Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, but we found it added complications without any corresponding advantage, and would be less favourable to those countries than the universal standard we propose.
What is the real substance of this Amendment? We propose to confine the guarantee to excess production, and, if the Committee will permit me, I should like at the outset to deal with two principles which have been suggested. It has been urged that additional wheat will be grown in some cases on land which is at present tilled, and that therefore we deprive the farmer of the guarantee, although he produced additional wheat. There is no ground for that submission. Whether additional wheat is produced by alteration in the rotation of tillage, some crop will be displaced, and the displaced will naturally have to be grown on newly ploughed-up land, and so far as that process takes place the farmer will get the benefit of the guarantee under the alternative system. That is not the only criticism suggested. Another criticism has been suggested. It is said, "Oh, your alternative scheme militates against intensive farming." I think that is a criticism which ought to be met. I put this point to practical farmers. What some of them say about it is this, that it is a very good 1771 point for a politician and an excellent point for a Government which is desirous of thrusting a rather unpopular Bill through a protesting House of Commons, but there is nothing practical in it. The best method of employing extra capital and labour is in extra tillage. That is the real, substantial point and the substantial need of the nation. That is the most productive and most economical process from the national point of view. Always presuming there has been decent farming in the past, the real way to grow more grain is to till more land, and it would be time enough, I submit, to consider what will be done in the way of intensive and hothouse cultivation when the millions of acres in this country which are crying out for the plough have been brought under adequate tillage. The great cry is to plough up the land. We are told that there must be 3,000,000 extra acres ploughed up next year. The Selborne Committee, to whose Report I would respectfully call the attention of hon. Members and which was delivered in January of this year 1917, deal with the point in this way. They say, in paragraph 23 of the Report:What the nation wants is more land under the plough.That is the real, substantial problem. If you confine your bonus to extra tillage and accompany that with proper supervision of cultivation, then, in my submission, you have met the national need in a sound and economic way. But if you insist upon paying a bonus on the portion of the crop which the nation would receive in any case, and if you insist upon paying a bonus for the purely normal production of the country, then I venture to say you have raised quite a different set of questions, and you have raised questions which are not war questions, and questions which are highly controversial questions, and questions which ought not to be raised at a time like this. Why do the Government drag in the normal production of the country into this Bill at all? Is it in greater danger, this normal production of the country, from foreign competition? I submit that it was never in less danger from foreign competition than at the present moment. May I remind my right hon. Friend of two things? In the first place, unfortunately, there is a lack of tonnage, a growing lack of tonnage, and while that is a most grave matter for the nation and for this country 1772 for many years to come, it operates as a check upon a rush of foreign competition and low prices. That, I think, is sometimes forgotten. Consequently, when we are told about the increased cost of production, with all deference, that is not a factor which is confined to this country. It operates throughout the world, in varying degrees it is true, but still it operates-throughout the whole world, unfortunately, and that, again, a misfortune no doubt to the nation at large, tends to equalise the position and preserve the normal production of British agricultural soil in the same competitive relation to the production of other countries as it was-before the War, and, as I venture to suggest, in a slightly more favourable relation than before the War.
I submit that the normal production of the country can be left to take care of itself, whether the prices be above or below those fixed in Clause 2. Why do-the Government drag it in at all1? Because of hypotheses and conjectures as to what would happen to the poor farmer. There is a perfect cloud of hypotheses and a cloud of conjectures all round this Bill. Some of those hypotheses and conjectures I think it would be unfair at this stage to mention. Some of us seem to see under the abundant shade of Governmental hypotheses and conjectures which protect him from the gentle rain of foreign competition and shields him from the unpleasant glare of the Income Tax, and the even more searching rays of the Super-tax and Excess Profits Duty, the pathetic but somewhat substantial figure, hitherto-unknown in our history, of a statutory profiteer. What figure will he cut in the public eye? At bottom I acknowledge he is the best of all good fellows. We have a great respect for him, but he has never asked to be put in this invidious position;, he never apprehended any real danger to-his normal existence. Oh, no, but the gracious and benevolent personality, which I am glad to see adorning the Front-Bench, came to him and said with that-dangerous charm and that fatal power of suggestion which he possesses, "Are you quite well? Are you quite sure you have no apprehensions for the future? We know that your fears are vague: we told the House of Commons so; but just let us treat you as a baby and, to calm all your apprehensions, we will go down to the House of Commons and get them to enact a statutory lullaby." In my submission that is what this Bill is.
1773 Because we decline to be parties to this aspect of the plan of the Bill it must not be supposed that we are hostile either to my right hon. Friend or to the Government or to the objects, the avowed objects, of the Bill. So far as I can understand the real object of the Government, an object which must commend itself to every Member of the House, is to make it profitable for the farmer to till land which under normal conditions could not be tilled at a profit. If the Bill were confined to that then I venture to say there are few people, whatever their economic beliefs were, either as Free Traders or Tariff Reformers, who would take the slightest exception to it as a purely exceptional measure justified by exceptional circumstances. But the Bill goes very far beyond that. It proposes a bonus not only on new production, on new-land, but also on that large portion of the total crop which if there were no Bill at all would still return a fair profit in the normal course of business to the grower. Will the Committee consider for a moment what this proposal may mean to the taxpayer? Lord Selborne's Agricultural Sub-Committee, of which my right hon. Friend the President was a member, reported in January of this year, taking into account increased wages and cost of production, in favour of a minimum guarantee price for wheat of 42s., which they said would be a fair recompense to the farmer. They went further and said this in paragraph 42 of the Report:For the reasons we have given we think that farmers may fairly be urged, and if need be, compelled, to grow wheat and oats if they are assured of a minimum price of 42s.What arc the prices in the Bill? Sixty shillings and 5ois., although that Committee thought 42s. would be adequate remuneration. Suppose that next year, or, say in 1919, the contingency which the Government do not contemplate had arisen, and supposing the price of grain fell to the levels which Lord Salborne's Committee said in January of this year would be remunerative, what would be the position of the taxpayer? He would have to make good the difference between those prices and the prices fixed in Clause 2, and a very simple calculation based on the last year's Returns which have been laid on the Table, show that the taxpayer would have to pay £14,456,000 before a single extra bushel of grain had been produced for the nation, and that magnificent addition to profits to the men who had not lifted a little finger 1774 to add to the food supply of the nation. On the 1914 level of production, and assuming that prices fell to the figures of Lord Selborne's suggested guarantee, the price the taxpayer would have to pay for nothing, and merely by way of inflation of profits, would be £14,371,218.
§ Mr. SHAW
I do not know that they suggest any period. The period in the Bill is six years. If, taking into account increased wages and cost of production, Lord Selborne's Committee was of opinion in January last that 42s. was a fair price, then I submit the onus is on the Government to prove that 42s. is not fair now, and that 60s. is required. If we accept Lard Selbome's Report as accurate, the proposal in the Bill, so far as it relates to normal production, which we want to see left out, is indefensible, and we are faced with this dilemma. I do not desires to put the matter offensively, but either the Bill is an Inflation of Profits Bill, or it is not. If it is, then at a time like thisipso facto it stands condemned. If it is not, then equally it stands condemned because it is so drawn that if it becomes operative at all, it will operate mainly in a direction which was never intended, and therefore, I contend, the Government ought to. accept this Amendment. The vital flaw in this Clause as it stands is that it provides a guaranteed price not merely for additional production, but also for production which would already be remunerative at a much lower figure. The advantage of the Amendment is that, while it confers a generous guarantee for extra tillage and extra effort, it can never operate to inflate the profits of the man who has not lifted a finger to increase the food supply of the nation. Why should it? We are told, and this is 1775 one of the hypotheses and conjectures with which the Bill is surrounded, that the operation of this Bill is a remote contingency. Those who tell us that seem to regard it as a substantial point. But what is to be said for a Bill, the best argument in favour of which is that it will never come into operation. Even though the contingency is remote, that is no reason for providing for the contingency in an essentially unsound and uneconomic manner, and it is no reason at all for adding a most damaging precedent to the agricultural and reconstruction legislation of the country.
I submit that the alternative scheme in the Amendment secures the position of the farmer and secures the position of the taxpayer. The farmer will receive a reward for his added efforts and the taxpayer a definite return for his money. The Amendment means something for something, while the vital flaw in the Bill is that if it operates "t all it involves something for nothing. So long as there is a sense of fairness left in the country, where is the security for the permanence for such an arrangement, where is the security that it will last even for six years? The best security for the farmer on this Bill is justice, and I appeal to the Government not to leave this measure in a condition where great public pressure may arise—it is arising now, and the accidents of political chance may lead to its repeal—but to place it now on the unassailable foundation of providing for the public needs by a measure which gives substantial justice to every class of the j community. No doubt the fanner ought to be given a sense of security. If lie must have a sense of security, by all means let him have it; but is the farmer the only person entitled to a sense of security? The great masses of the people of this country to-day are eating dear bread, and if the price falls to-morrow they will have to pay for it under this Bill. I submit that this measure, in its present form, ought not to pass the House of Commons, which, after all, is the trustee of the general public interest, and is about, once more, as we hope, to assume its time-honoured rôle as the custodian of the public purse.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
The speech to which we have just listened is one of the character i we have heard in this House for the last thirty years, and is largely responsible for the present deplorably high prices of the 1776 necessaries of life. We had hoped that the lessons we have learned through this War, of the danger of relying so much on foreign food supplies for our own people, would have taught something which would lead Members of the Committee to realise that the national interest demands that we should produce from our own soil more food in order to prevent a scarcity such as we are unfortunately at the present time experiencing. Speaking as a farmer, we did not ask the Government to take the steps which they propose to take. We would rather have gone on on principles dictated by those of supply and demand, but the State, in the interests of the State, deemed it important that we should revolutionise our system of agriculture, and all we ask is that the State who makes this call upon agriculturists will see that agriculturists in carrying out the interests of the State will not be the losers thereby. It seems to me that it is a simple measure of justice which is proposed by this Bill. We want to see the agricultural districts prosperous. We want to see the agricultural labourer better paid. This Bill provides for that, and therefore I venture to think from that point of view it is a step in the right direction.
I am not going to attempt to make a Second Reading speech, but what I am going to say as a practical farmer is that in my opinion, if the hon. Member's Amendment is accepted, it will largely defeat the object of the Government in determining to raise from our own land a larger amount of corn than is at present the case. I will say why I contend that that will be the result of the acceptance of the hon. Member's Amendment. He proposes, as I understand him, to prevent the guarantee being applied to corn grown on land now under cultivation. He claimed and argued that in any case, and without this Bill, corn would be grown from such land, and therefore there was no justification whatever for a guarantee being given. I venture to say, with great respect, that that is altogether a fallacious argument. If we are going to depend on a great increase in the amount of corn grown from our own land, we must depend on the present arable land rather than on the land recently broken up which has been under grass. It is a system with many of us to grow a series of crops for, say, four years, and then to lay down the land for temporary pasture for a similar period. I contend that the real salvation 1777 of the country in increasing the corn supply will lie in the breaking up of our temporary pasture to grow corn, rather than in attempting to grow it on the old pasture land to be broken up. In other words, we are endeavouring to accomplish the objects of the State rather by intensively cultivating the arable land we have than by depending on the pasture to be broken up, and for this reason: The old broken up pasture will not be suitable for corn growing. In the first place, it is full of grub, which will probably destroy the crop. In the next place, if we succeed in getting a plant, the fact that that land so laid down has accumulated fertility for many years would make the straw grow so softly that when the first storm came down it would go. The straw would be rotten, and the corn in quantity would not be much more than the seed we put in the ground.
I admit that the breaking up of a limited amount of pasture is desirable in the interests of the State. We want to have increased cultivation, not only for the present time but in the future; but we shall have to use that land rather for the growth of potatoes, mangold, and roots, and thereby we shall bring it into condition to grow a reasonable crop of corn. The hon. Gentleman, however, wants to keep the farmer out of any guarantee for the corn grown on the old arable system. I do venture to repeat that nothing could be put before the House more likely to defeat the great objects we have in view—of getting more corn and of trying to reduce the price of the necessaries of life to the people—than the acceptance of his Amendment. Let me point out this: The fact of our intensively cultivating the arable land will prove a great loss to the farmer, because he will be deprived of his four years' pasturage for his sheep, one of the most essential conditions in the successful maintenance of a farm. We willingly make the sacrifice in the interests of the State, but the farmer will suffer, I know from practical experience, very serious loss from having his temporary pasture broken up—which I say is absolutely essential to grow the corn we want—and thereby losing the new ground for his sheep. He will be an extremely heavy loser, and altogether I do venture to appeal to the Committee to allow this narrow-minded class idea of hatred of the landlord and farmer to be forgotten. Let us encourage the farmer. We are prepared to do our duty as the custodians of the 1778 land, which the State has to see is managed in the best interests of the State. Do let hon. Members not speak against us if they cannot speak for us, and I venture to say that the Committee will be well advised to reject the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman. I have no doubt he introduced it with great spirit, but, if he will allow me to say so, if his principles are adopted they will defeat the object of raising move corn and will prove a gross injustice to the farmer, who is very anxious to develop his holding in the best interests of the State.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
On a point of Order. On this Amendment the principle contained in an Amendment appearing lower down on the Paper, to leave out from the word "each" ["each quarter of wheat or oats"] to the end of the Clause, and to insert other words, is not raised. I want, if I may, to call this to your attention, that the Amendment to which I have referred involves, as the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shaw) said, three distinct points. I want to suggest that it would be convenient for the Committee that the Division, if there be a Division, should be limited to the one point. The three points are, first, acreage, instead of quantity produced; second, to eliminate sale, and give it on produce whether measured by acreage or quarters; and, third, to limit the guarantee to land not under the plough in 1914. That last point, I suggest, is the one which will be most conveniently dealt with in this discussion, because the other two points—of eliminating sale or putting in acreage instead of quarters—are covered by Amendments which stand in the name of certain hon. Members, including myself. Consequently, the question of limiting the guarantee to additional acreage is the most convenient question to discuss now.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I had realised that there were really three proposals, as indicated by the hon. and learned Member. The present proposal is embodied in a series of Amendments, of which this is the leading one, which raises the question of giving only a bonus on excess acreage. That is really the issue of the present Amendment. If this proposal is not accepted by the Committee; I propose later on to take proposals such as those standing in the name of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Sir C. Warner), and the hon. and learned Gentleman himself (Mr. Scott) has one 1779 later on the Paper. But I think it is right that on the present one the other alternatives also should be open to discussion, as to come to a decision on one point the Committee must be able to hear the case on the others.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
We have heard a very brilliant and able speech from the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Shaw), but with all its brilliance and with all its ability I should not choose him as a tenant farmer. I feel that this is a very important Amendment, which not only justifies my making, but compels me to make, a somewhat elaborate statement about the question of a guaranteed minimum price and its effect upon farming. In the first place, as to this particular Amendment, I would suggest to the Committee that it will encourage an indiscriminate breaking up of grass land. There is no magic at all about ploughing up grass that is unsuited for arable cultivation. It also quite indefinitely enlarges the scope of the Bill. The Government finds that there is one industry, the corn-growing industry, which runs a special risk, that of a fall in prices owing to foreign competition, and that this risk means a great deal to the farmer at the present time, because we, at all events, are quite uncertain in spite of what the hon. Member has said, as to the conditions which may prevail after the War. Therefore, whatever uncertainty he may have felt before as to launching out in the corn-growing business, it is greater now, and what he hopes for at the present moment is security. When the hon. Member for Kilmarnock says that rests upon hypothesis and conjecture I would point out to him that in 1915 the Milner Committee took a great deal of evidence and the evidence was absolutely conclusive on the point that what the farmer wanted, before he could launch out further in corn growing, and risk his capital, was security, and that this was the evidence given in great detail and at great length before the Selborne Committee; therefore it rests upon something more substantial than mere hypothesis. When the hon. Member went on to speak of the large sums that may become payable under this Bill, I wonder if he followed his argument out to its logical conclusion. The same argument was used at great length by the hon. Member for Dumfrieshire (Mr. P. A. Molteno) who told us that there might be 1780 cause for a loss to this country of £104,000,000; therefore. I imagine his argument, and that of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, is, that this is so perilous a speculation that it is not one on which the nation can possibly embark. How about the farmer? Can you ask the farmer to embark on a speculation which is so hazardous that the nation will not touch it; it is the strongest possible way of stating the case for the farmer and the-case for the Bill. If you follow it out to its ultimate conclusion that is the meaning of that argument.
Under this Amendment tillage does not necessarily mean corn production; that is to say it does not necessarily effect the object of the Bill. There is no limitation whatever to the kind of crop that may be grown on this land. At the present moment the Board of Agriculture has been taking great pains to try and prevent the cultivation of certain crops, which with prices like these and when we want all the bread stuffs we can get, are in the nature of luxuries. I mean such crops as hops, bulbs, fruit, etc., All these could be grown under this Amendment in the middle of a great war, and the only control proposed is that the Board of Agriculture should see that the land is properly tilled. That is a fatal objection, I submit, to the Amendment. As to the effect on milk, something has been said about milk production, that milk is not encouraged by the Corn Production Bill; but surely nobody pretends that the milk producer is faced by the same danger of fluctuating prices owing to the cessation of the War, as the coin producer. He does not run the same sort of risk, or a risk on the same lines. His ease is perfectly different, and I submit it is abundantly met, because he has been guaranteed against too low a price for the season 1917–1918. A further objection that I would make to the Amendment as it stands is this, that it limits the allowance to the increase in arable land. What does that mean? It excludes from the benefits of this Bill, as was said by the hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Spear), the man who increases his acreage by ploughing up his temporary grass land. There are 2,600,000 acres of this temporary grass land which would be excluded as a means of increasing your corn cultivation, and I submit that is a great blot on the Amendment. In Wales, for instance, we expect to get a very large addition to our acreage under corn by ploughing up, not 1781 the permanent grass land, but the temporary grass land, which has been kept down for seven or eight years. Then surely it excludes also the man who cleans his fallows and grows corn upon them; it excludes the man who because his land is foul and impoverished, which it is at the present moment, throws all his strength into cleaning it and bringing it to a proper state of cultivation.
The whole point of the corn production campaign we arc carrying on in England is this: we are asking, not as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock says, for 3,000,000 acres of grass land to be ploughed up; we are asking for 3,000,000 additional acres under corn. That is a very different thing, and yet fully one-half of that additional acreage under corn and potatoes would be excluded by the Amendment. That would be diametrically opposed to all we have been doing for the last six months, and would be a fatal objection to the Amendment. I would also point out that the difficulty of carrying out this Amendment would be very great. the Board of Agriculture has to supervise the tillage, to say it is tillage which is to its satisfaction, and we should have to have a large staff of inspectors. I would point out this, that if you make an offer, let it be a firm offer; do not let it be conditional on somebody else deciding whether it has been carried out satisfactorily. To say to the farmer you shall have this allowance, whatever it may be, provided you satisfy such and such public body of officials, is not an offer which would give confidence to the farmer. Then I would like to point out that the adoption of a scheme like this would be very unfair to those districts which grow oats mainly, very unfair, that is, to Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and for this reason: the prices of wheat and oats do not run in regular parallel lines; wheat may keep up firm, oats may go down Under this Amendment the oat farmer, whose prices have fallen, would get nothing at all, because any payment is conditional on the fall in the price of wheat. In 1903, for instance, wheat stood at 26s. 9d. and oats at 17s. 2d.; the following year wheat had risen to 28s. 4d., oats had fallen to 16s. 4d.; not a penny to the oat grower would there be because wheat had gone up and the oats had fallen, and therefore I submit that would be a most unsatisfactory rule to adopt. If you take years 1907–1908 you will see exactly the same thing. Therefore, if you are anxious 1782 to exclude Ireland, Wales and Scotland from the benefits of this Bill then I admit this Amendment would be of use.
Finally, the Amendment will work, as I think, in the most unfair way. Let me give an illustration of what I mean. Supposing there are two farms, side by side, of exactly the same quality—150 acres each. On farm A the farmer is a man of enterprise, he has got 60 acres of land under the plough. Farmer B is one of the slow-moving, cautious, and slack kind, who goes on making a small but safe profit, and he has not got an acre under the plough. Under the Bill each of these farmers plough up 30 acres, that is to say, farmer A has now 90 acres under the-plough and farmer B 30 acres under the plough. Assume that each of them puts one-third of his land under seeds or roots, and that farmer A grows 30 acres of wheat and 30 acres of oats. He will get 120 quarters on his 30 acres of wheat and 150 quarters on his 30 acres of oats. Farmer B grows 10 acres each, namely, 40 quarters of wheat and 50 quarters of oats. When you come to make payment under this Amendment, let us suppose the price of wheat meanwhile had fallen from 45s. under the Bill to 34s., a difference of 11s., and that oats similarly had fallen from 24s. to 20s. Three times 11s. has got to be paid on the 30 acres of wheat on each of these farms—that is,. 990s. to each farmer. On farm A that works out at 5s. per quarter on 120 quarters of wheat and 2s. 7d. a quarter on the 150 quarters of oats. On farm B it works out at 15s. a quarter on the 40 quarters of wheat and 7s. 9d. a quarter on the 50 quarters of oats. So that farmer A, who has really done the mast for the nation,. the man who has grown the most wheat, and has employed the most labour, gets. for his wheat, with the bonus, 39s. a. quarter—that is, 6s. under the minimum price—and for his oats 22s. 7d. a quarter. On the other hand, farmer B, the man who ha>s done nothing all these years, the man who has been a slacker, a lag-behind, and who has refused to follow the example of his more enterprising and energetic neighbour, under this Amendment gets for his 40 quarters of wheat 49s. a quarter, or 4s. above the minimum price. Farmer A, the man of enterprise, gets 6s. less than the minimum price. Farmer B will get on his oats 27s. 9d.—that is, 3s. 9d. more than the minimum price—whilst the more enterprising farmer only 1783 gets 22s. 7d. I appeal to hon. Members whether an Amendment that can work so unfairly as that is one which this House ought to adopt?
There are, however, points in this Amendment which I do feel are of great importance. I realise, as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock says, that produce and sale are a very difficult matter administratively, and that it will be particularly difficult in Ireland, where there are numbers of very small people and where—not more, perhaps, than in England!—the pleasure of doing the Government nearly beats steeplechasing. I do not mean the slightest offence to hon. Members from Ireland. We should all do it if we had half the wit or intellect of the Irish Members. But I think, under the produce and sale system, every sack will do its duty. However, I leave the matter there. I do feel that, administratively, the difficulty of produce and sale are enormous; that if we go by payment upon an acreage basis we shall have got a system which is administratively possible, and which will mean a very great gain and great improvement, if I may say so, to the Bill as it stands. That is one point on which I hope we shall be able to meet the hon. Member for Kilmarnock. On the other hand, on the standard of reward, I have endeavoured to show the House—I trust with success—that the standard of reward will work very unfairly if it is based only upon wheat, and that it will press with great hardship upon the oat-growing countries which are under this Bill; and as to excess of production over 1914, I think the hon. Member is quite fair in taking that date—if he takes any—yet the principle of excess production is one which, I believe, is very detrimental to production under this Bill. To put it only upon excess is, I venture to think, wrong, especially when that excess is an excess of acreage. What are you asking the farmer to do when you are asking him to increase his corn production? In the first place, you ask him to plough up—I hope the House will not think I am getting too horribly technical, for I do not mean to be; I only want to make the point plain—supposing you ask the farmer to plough up his grass land. He has a perfectly safe return for his money in his grass. He makes no big outlay of capital. He incurs no personal anxiety. He runs very little risk. He gets his money in regularly. He has a, very small labour bill— 1784 one man per 100 acres. You ask him to plough up that grass. First of all, you ask him for a very considerable capital outlay. Then you ask him to exchange, no doubt a possibly larger return, for a perfectly safe smaller return. You ask him to incur no end of personal anxiety. You give him a labour bill which is two and a half times the size of the former. That is a very big demand to make upon the farmer.
Take the case of a man who ploughs up his permanent grass and does not come under this Amendment. He has laid that grass down temporarily. Say he has only had two years of it. It is going to be profitable to him at a very minimum of expense for at least six years longer. You ask him to plough it up, and you offer him no security whatever—no allowance under this Amendment. Take, again, the case of the large farmer of whom we have heard so much, the large farmer in Norfolk. I believe the hon. Member for Kilmarnock alluded to him. Do you mean to tell me that that man, without any security at all, is going to lay himself out to grow more corn if he is uncertain at all as to the future of his prices? He will not! I am afraid this is a technical argument, but it is one which every practical farmer would agree with me in. Some hon. Members seem to think that in farming large production is necessarily cheap production. It is nothing of the sort. There is in that respect the greatest difference between manufacture and agriculture. It is the case that in agriculture you have the law of diminishing returns and in the case of manufacture you have the law of in-creasing returns. If that large farmer has to get an increase in his production he has to make a very large increase in his expenditure. If you leave him alone my fear is that he will not make that expenditure. Let me put the case in this way: An acre of land without any fertiliser whatever grows 18 bushels of wheat. If you apply one dose of fertiliser you get an extra 10 bushels. If you apply a second dose of fertiliser you get an extra 8 bushels. It is to the nation's interest—and never more than now—to get the whole of that 18 extra bushels. Does it pay the farmer? Will it pay the farmer? That is entirely a question of the price he is going to get—absolutely !
Suppose that his fertiliser costs him at present war prices for an acre 65s., and 1785 that wheat is standing, as it is in these minimum prices at 60s. a quarter. That means 7s. 6d. a bushel. My farmer applies his fertiliser at the cost of 65s. He gets his 10 extra bushels of wheat. That 10 bushels of wheat at 7s. 6d. a bushel is 75s. He thus gets a profit of 10s. an acre. Supposing he applies a second dose and gets an extra 8 bushels. He has now spent 130s. His extra 8 bushels would be worth 60s. That is to say he gets 135s. for the 18 extra bushels, and spends 130s. to get them. His profit on the smaller amount is 10s. per acre, and is reduced 5s. per acre on the larger amount. It is, however, to the advantage of the nation to get the 18 extra bushels. Unless, however, the farmer is pretty sure prices are going to rise considerably above 60s. he will not grow the wheat. Why should he? He cannot be expected to do it. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is his profit now?"] Or, take this point: Suppose prices go down to 40s. He has bought his fertiliser in 1917. He has put it on in the spring of 1918, and he sells his crop in 1919 His loss if he puts on that fertiliser will be something very considerable. It will be £2 an acre if he grows that 18 bushels of wheat for the nation. That is what he stands to lose if the price goes down. There lies the reason, the practical reason, the reason of the experienced farmer, why we say that you cannot leave the farmer unprotected in this matter. It is to him we look for the larger increase in the corn production of this country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock, with his great experience of farming, told us, you will not get it on this new wheat land; this newly ploughed up grass land. We ourselves are warning the agricultural committees throughout the country that the whole of the increase in wheat that we expect them to get will have to be got from the existing arable land for the harvest of 1918. That is sound practical advice. Not one penny, not one atom of allowance will, under this Amendment, be paid on that additional wheat grown. I have dealt with the Amendment fully, because I believe it is of great importance, and also because it enables me to show that on one very important point I am in agreement, namely, that the acreage basis, if we can adopt it, will be administratively useful. and will be a most valuable improvement.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I merely rise to ask the right hon. Gentleman, as I meant to do before he got up, to deal with one I further question, so that the Committee may know exactly where they are. I appreciate fully, I hope, some of the technical objections he has raised to the particular Amendment before the Committee, though, I think, they leave the central principle of the Amendment to a very considerable extent untouched. But what I want to be certain about is this: Are the objections that he has just made so strongly to this particular Amendment directed to this particular Amendment only, or does he take up the attitude that, under no circumstances whatever, is he going to establish the principle that the State shall get something extra for these guarantees? I put the question in a perfectly specific way. Will he or will he not accept the provisos that were inserted in the Milner Report?
§ Mr. PROTHERO
We cannot accept the principle that these allowances should only be paid upon additional production, because it seems to me that before you increase production you have got to maintain it, and you cannot maintain it unless you give the same security to the big man to whom I alluded just now. As to the Milner Committee, I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman and I were both members of that, but what we did recommend was a minimum guarantee of 45s., and we said that of other proposals the one which seems to be practically worthy of notice is the proviso which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. We did not recommend it; it was not part of our substantive recommendations, but it was thrown out for consideration.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I think we had better really know exactly what it was the Milner Report said, because it is really a matter of some substance. The right hon. Gentleman, when he was considering the Financial Resolution, said this Bill was based on the Milner Report, and, as he signed that Report, on which he says this Bill is based, one would expect that the Bill would really carry out the main recommendations of the Report, and the point I want to. make is that the provisos of the Milner Report, the conditions without which the guarantees would not become operative, do not only apply to a man who is ploughing up fresh land. We -specifically recommended that a man, on 1787 whose holding at least one-fifth of his total acreage under grass and annual crops should actually be under wheat, should share in the guarantee. The farmer A, whose case the right hon. Gentleman gave, would be entirely covered "by the provisos of the Milner Report. Let me read the words, if I may, first of all, to see to what extent it is true that this was a recommendation, and then give the definite provisos. First of all, we considered, and dismissed, the idea—which the right hon. Gentleman will remember I was specially keen about—contained in the Amendment now before the Committee, that we should only pay on the extra amount that is produced. Then we come to Paragraph II.:Another proposal, having the same object in view, appears to us of a more practical character. It might he possible to give the guarantee in respect of the whole quantity of wheat produced, and at the same time to make sure that the country is getting a substantialquid pro quo for the liability undertaken by the Exchequer. One method of doing this would be to confine the guarantee to those farmers who were able to show that they had made a reasonable effort to increase the production of wheat. It is difficult to devise a test for that purpose, but if it was decided that any farmer claiming the benefit of the guarantee would have to show that he had fulfilled one or other of the following conditions, we believe that the double object of limiting the liability of the Exchequer, and ensuring an adequate return for the risk undertaken by the state, might be achieved. These conditions are:(a) That a farmer should have increased his area under arable cultivation by. at least. one-fifth over the similar area in October. 1913:That, I understand, the right hon. Gentleman has just said, he does not feel able to do—or in the alternative,(b) that, ill least, one-fifth of his total acreage under grass and annual crops, should actually be under wheat.So that the big farmer who is already growing plenty of wheat and doing his duty—the farmer A of the right hon. Gentleman's illustration would be covered by this proviso of the Milner Report. At the present stage I do not lay any emphasis on the exact proportion of one-fifth. We are getting a basis not of wheat only, but of wheat and oats, and therefore that might have to be reconsidered. I do ask this question: Will he, or will he not, in some such way as this secure that there shall be some quid pro quo Because, undoubtedly, both he and I put our signatures to the general principle that there should be Some quid pro quo, though not necessarily that you should pay on the extra production. The quid pro quo was that the man was tilling more land and increasing his arable area, 1788 or that he had already been placing, and had made it the habit of his system of farming to place, a fair proportion of his land under crops which are the most essential food supply of the people.
I want to be quite definite. If the right hon. Gentleman says that he, having signed this Report, having this Bill, as he said last time, based on this Report, will insert in the Bill something like the two provisos of this Report, I shall vote against the Amendment, but if he says he cannot accept the provisos in any form I shall have to vote for it. I am bound to do so, because I think the general principle that a man, by his general system of cultivation, or by extra cultivation, shall have done something to earn his guarantee, is very essential. To getaway from the rather small pont, as the right hon. Gentleman may claim, of what was contained in a particular Report, surely the principle is of enormous importance for this reason: We are hoping by passing this Bill, and by the other measures taken by the Government, to enter a new era with regard to the relations of the agricultural industry and other industries and the nation in general. Surely it will be a bad day for that good understanding, which we hope will be entered upon, if it goes out to the people of this country that that arrangement is a one-sided arrangement, and that there is not going to be any return necessarily made for the guarantee of prices that is given. I believe the people of this country, even if they dislike having to pay any guarantees, be they small or large amounts, would stick to the arrangement faithfully, and would be willing even that it should be perpetuated if they were certain that they were getting something definite in return. I thought this Bill was mainly based, not on the Milner Report but on the Selborne Report, and was intended to lead up to a permanent system. In that case I should have expected a quid pro quo to be given, not in the form of making a requirement from the individual farmer, but of a declaration from the Government that in the course of so many years they were going to see to it, under Part IV. of the Bill, that our food supply was increased from this country as a whole by certain steady, definite amounts each year until we got, not to the point of absolute safety, which perhaps we never can get, as we never can produce the whole food supply from year to year, but, at any rate, up to the point 1789 of nearest safety which, as Mr. A. D. Hall has explained, is safety in an emergency.
If this Bill had been, so to speak, a reconstruction of agriculture on a permanent basis. I think it would be very important to find out what the return to the nation permanently for this guarantee would have been in terms of safety. But I understand I am wrong, and that this Bill is based on the Milner Report and has to be regarded purely as a war emergency measure. As from the war emergency standpoint of view we have nothing definite as to what the farming community as a whole is going to do, I do think it becomes extremely important, if we are to enter this new era of good understanding between agriculture and other industries, that there should be some sort of requirement from the individual farmer who is going to benefit from the guarantee. I would be willing to take it with regard to the mass or the individual, but I think we ought to have it in one way or the other, because, if not, there is nothing which can prevent part of this Bill, at any rate, seeming a. very one-sided thing to an enormous number of people, who, in their present state of mind, are really very anxious to be just to agriculture, and I am sure a great many of them are very anxious to make up for what they admit might have been a past neglect of agriculture. But they do want to do it on the basis of some arrangement which, in some form or other—not necessarily in the form of this or some other Amendment on the Paper—shall secure that the man who gets the advantage shall do something to earn it. This will be the sort of case: A man with a farm of 300 acres has, perhaps, 80 acres under wheat or oats, which steadily drop down to 60, 50, or 40 acres; but so long as he grows any he is going to get the advantage of these guaranteed prices, if the price of wheat or oats falls below that which is contained in the Bill. Really that is a bad start, and I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to try, not necessarily at this stage of the Bill, but to try somehow whether lie cannot carry out in the spirit, at any rate, those two provisos in the Report to which he put his signature, and on which he said the Bill was based.
§ Sir C. WARNER
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, I would say that a quid pro quo is a very difficult thing, and I will show one of the 1790 difficulties, because in many cases, even under this Amendment, we shall get no quid pro quo at all. But to start with, what is it we are trying to get by this Bill? [An HON.". MEMBER: "Protection!"] I do not think the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite, who express themselves just as good Free Traders as my hon. Friend near me, would for a moment agree to any Bill that was simply a Protection Bill. That is not the point. What we are asking for at the present moment is that every possible acre of land should produce wheat or oats. That is what the nation wants. Wheat or oats are what the Bill is demanding in the name of the nation. Every man who cultivates an acre of wheat or oats this year, whether he has done it before or not, is doing something for the nation; and this Bill proposes to give him some security that he shall not lose by it for this year, and that if he does it for next year he will not lose by it next year. This is not a question of the man only who is going to raise a new aero of wheat. It is a question of the man who is already growing an acre of wheat. Is he to go on growing that acre of wheat? In many cases it is not profitable to go on growing it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not make him?"] If you are going to coerce him, then you will have to find him the capital, and the amount of capital is very considerable in proportion to the return. If you ask him to put his capital into this particular acre of wheat, are you going to give him nothing? Is he to have no quid pro quo if the prices fall?
Is he not to get what the shipowners hare got, an insurance against destruction? This is an insurance for the farmer and not for the landlord, and it is for the man who puts the crop in. This Bill is to insure the man against loss who grows wheat or oats, and that is the way to pro-dace more wheat or more oats. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is it?"] I think it is, and I believe I know more about farmers than my ho". Friend who interrupts me. I have talked to dozens of farmers, and I know they look upon it as important that they should have some security. You have no guarantee that prices will be kept up to their present level, and you do not know what prices are going to be. Under this Amendment, or any restrictions upon increased production, you would have to put it on the number of acres satisfactorily cultivated. That is what the Minister of Agriculture has accepted, and he has pro- 1791 vided that every acre cultivated in wheat or oats shall receive according to the amount cultivated, and if a farmer reduces the number of acres under this kind of cultivation he will get less security, and if he increases his cultivation he will get more. The only crops which get this insurance; arc wheat and oats. There are thousands of acres this year which were sown in winter wheat and oats, and the seeds rotted in the ground, and you cannot say that it was not properly cultivated. Are they to get anything? Those crops absolutely failed from the hard winter, and of course the nation would lose that money. I think the man who cultivated and sowed that land would have been entitled to get something.
§ Sir C. WARNER
I am talking of the scheme suggested that a quid pro quo should be given, and on this point the Milner Commission was quoted. If that recommendation had been adopted and a fifth had been laid down in wheat and oats probably the greater part would have utterly failed. I know on my own farms and hundreds of other farms the crops absolutely failed in their winter sowing, and they had to be ploughed up again. Surely a man who made this effort would be entitled under the scheme proposed to get his share of this insurance. Of course you cannot control the Seasons and that is a difficulty with fanning. The farmer is willing to risk that if you will give him an insurance against the fluctuation of prices. He is willing to take one risk, but he is not in a position to take both risks. The mover of this Amendment raised many objections to the Bill, but most of them are swept away by the concessions which the Minister for Agriculture made when he said he would give this allowance according to acreage. It does not moan the acreage of the whole farm, or the acreage of other things put in such as hops or even beet sugar and things of that kind, but it means the acreage absolutely of corn and oats. In all fairness the man who is helping the nation to-day by trying to grow the utmost amount of wheat and oats is entitled to this insurance, and it is only an insurance in the case of prices falling below certain figures. It is an insurance that he shall not be a very heavy loser, and therefore I think the nation will do fairly well, and 1792 it does get a quid pro quo in every acre cultivated for the purpose of growing grain. I know that hundreds of other things can be grown besides wheat or oats: some of them have been enumerated and others have not, but the question we have before us to-day as a nation it how much wheat and oats we can get grown. You must not deviate from the principle of giving the same security to the man who grows wheat or oats for the first time or the hundredth time, because those farmers are doing what you want done and they ought to have the security, and if you do not give it you will not get the increased production which you are looking for.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I have listened with some interest to the speech of the hon. Baronet opposite. He spoke of giving a security and an insurance, and he also dealt with the question of a quid pro quo. I submit to the Committee that if the taxpayer is to give a guarantee, the country should get some benefit because of that guarantee or payment. The hon. Baronet speaks as if there would be no wheat or oats produced at all in the absence of this guarantee. That is a fair assumption if his argument of spreading the guarantee over the entire supply is a sound one. I think the hon. Baronet recognises that even without the guarantee a great deal of wheat and oats would be produced, as has been the case in past years.
The hon. and gallant Member only needs to look at a recent return, and he will see that a large amount of wheat and oats has been produced year after year for a number of years, and to tell me that this has been produced at a loss year after year all those years is really too ridiculous. Whether the production is successful or not depends very much on the nature of the ground, and this brings us to the question of the productivity of the soil. If you are dealing with the richer lands, they may produce five or six quarters to the acre, and those lands will be cultivated without this guarantee, and therefore the guarantee should be limited to the poorer lands. What I am saying has not only been said in this House, but it was repeated in a letter in the "Times" newspaper the other day from someone who will be regarded as an independent 1793 authority, namely Mr. Wade, the Agent-General for New South Wales, and I will quote his words. He said:This above basis provides no guarantee of any substantial increase in the production of breadstuffs. There will be some increase, no doubt, but whether to any extent seems doubtful. On the other hand, there are not only individual landowners, but districts, and possibly counties, where all the arable land is as far as practicable now being utilised. In such cases fixing prices would not increase the area under cultivation, but the taxpayer will be under the burden of finding, an increased amount to meet the extra price per quarter payable on the yield from existing areas.''The point is that the taxpayer might have to produce a very considerable amount without getting any corresponding advantage or possibly without getting any advantage at all. I listened with considerable interest to the speech of the President of the Board of Agriculture, who dealt at some length with what is commonly known as the law of diminishing returns, and he made the extraordinary statement that the law of diminishing returns applied to agriculture and the law of increasing returns applied to productive businesses. I can assure hon. Members that if they look into any elementary book upon political economy they will find that the law of diminishing returns applies not only to production but to every other business, and the principle is that every properly conducted business, up to a certain point, as long as an increased application of capital brings in a still greater increase of profit, capital will be poured into it, and will continue to be poured into it as long as there is a corresponding ratio of return, but when the ratio of return for the increased amount of capital begins to diminish, then the point of diminishing returns is reached, and that principle is not limited to agriculture, but it applies to other businesses. I really could not allow such a statement from the Front Bench opposite to pass unchallenged. In speaking of the law of diminishing returns there is one law linked up very closely with it which the right hon. Gentleman altogether failed to mention, and that is the law of rent.
§ 6.0 P.M.
Rent will not be a diminishing return under the conditions of this Bill, but it will be an increasing j return, and this Bill, which is called a Corn Production Bill, ought to be called a Rent Production Bill. Take the case of I ordinary corn production, without subsi- 1794 dies of any kind. Corn or wheat will be produced on land where it pays to produce it, and the richer land will yield a proportionately higher result than the other land. Any attempt to increase artificially the price lowers the margin of cultivation on, the poor lands and increases the rent of the better wheat lands. That really follows from fundamental principles, and our great objection to this Bill is that these fundamental principles no not seem to be realised. I know that something has been said of shifting altogether on to the acreage basis. There is, to my mind, something to be said for that. I still think it is economically unsound, but it certainly is not so unsound as the other basis. If the amount to be paid were the same for the less productive land as for the more productive land the proposal would not work out so unjustly as under the Bill, because under the proposals of the Bill as it now stands the man with the richest land, which would be farmed for wheat whether there were this Bill or not, gets much more than the man on whose land it barely pays to grow wheat. Therefore, I regard the acreage basis as the less undesirable, though economically unsound now as I believe it would be in peace. It seems rather a pity when the Government had this alternative line in mind that they did not put something on the Paper embodying their view. It really makes it very difficult to discuss the matter when we have only some vague statement, from the Minister in charge of the Bill. He indicates his desire to make certain changes, but those changes are not put on the Paper. I understand that the Government are not prepared to accept the Amendment which was moved by my hon. Friend (Mr. Shaw) in a very interesting speech, but that they are prepared to do something else of which they have not given the Committee notice at all. Really, when we are considering at a time like this a Bill involving such enormous expenditure on the part of the taxpayer, and a Bill which proposes to extend his liability by guarantees which may mature into Grants, we ought to have something on the Paper from the Front Bench opposite to show what we are discussing. One feels that difficulty in discussing the matter, and I really hope the representatives of the Government will at the earliest possible moment make the situation clear and say in plain and definite language what is their proposal.
§ Colonel WEIGALL
The motto of the Royal Agricultural Society of England is "Science with practice," but this Debate has been a glorious example of the application of theory without practice. The speech of the hon. Member who last sat down (Mr. D. White) and the brilliant speech of the Mover of this Amendment (Mr. Shaw) were two conspicuous examples. The last speaker was surprised because the President of the Board of Agriculture stated that the law of diminishing returns applied to the agricultural industry and did not apply to other industries. I will tell him why. He forgets entirely that with manufactures you can go on expanding with the same establishment and administrative charges and increase your output. That does not hold good in the case of agriculture. The economic production of the soil is controlled by the price which the farmer is going to receive. Neither the hon. Member nor the farmer can control the seasons. These considerations do not apply to ordinary manufactures. We have been asked why the nation should be compelled to be under any financial obligation unless it is going to get a quid pro quo. That is perfectly sound in theory, but in practice the answer to-day is this. The House seems to forget that for fifty years the country allowed the whole agricultural industry to relapse. We lost over two million acres of arable land, and to-day that land is unproductive so far as food is concerned. The country now says that we have got to try and get back to the arable acreage of 1872. The only way is to give a sense of security to the only people who can do it. You cannot farm by Government Departments or by War agricultural committees. All you can do is to restore a sense of security to the landed interest.
§ Colonel WEIGALL
My right hon. Friend says that the Bill does not do it. but it does shod an air of security over them. There is a still greater quid pro quo. Let me just read some words used by Bismarck in 1879, because they are really applicable to-day. He said:There is a limit below which tile price of corn cannot full without the ruin of our entire economic life. That point must nor be reached, for when it is it will be too late for the country.….This is the position of British agriculture to-day. They have been feeding the nation mainly out of their capital for years past. and unless this downward course is promptly stopped, it means national ruin and anarchy as the result.1796 There is your quid pro quo. If you want national economic security, you must have a prosperous agriculture, and the reason for introducing this Bill is to prevent the agricultural industry relapsing into the state reported upon by the Eversley Commission in 1897. My hon. Friend who spoke before me was surprised when? interrupted him and said that at a certain period neither oats nor wheat had been grown at a profit. I said that on the authority of the Eversley Commission. They say:Generally speaking, the effect of the depression on all farmers has been to seriously cripple their resources. They are getting little or no interest on their money invested in the soil; they have now to considerably alter their style of living.….As regards the changes in rents, the evidence we have discussed. …. shows that in the most depressed parts of England rents have been reduced, on the average, by 50 per cent., while on very poor soils in some of the eastern and southern counties, no rent can be obtained and farms have been thrown on the owners' hands. Moreover, landlords have incurred increased expenditure on repairs, drainage and buildings, and since 1892 they have paid the tithe, frequently without any adjustment of rental. In many instances, where landlords have been called upon to undertake improvements of this kind it may be confidently held that the present rent does not represent more than a very low interest on the original capital expended.During those periods oats and wheat were grown at a loss.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)
I would remind the hon. Member that this is not the Second Reading of the Bill. The question before the Committee is whether this sum to be paid to agriculturists is to be reckoned either on the produce from the soil or on the acres tilled, and I really think that we ought to confine ourselves to that point.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
In your absence, Mr. Whitley was asked to deal with this as a point of Order, and he indicated that the main point for the purposes of the division would be whether the guarantee should be given in respect of excess acreage over the 1914 level or over the whole of the acreage of wheat and oats, though he said that the other points would be treated as in order for the purposes of the discussion.
May I supplement what has been said and point out that if 1797 what was said by Mr. Whitley were taken in concise form as put by my hon. and learned Friend, it would preclude the possibility, if the acreage proposal, for instance, were discarded and we retained the quarterage proposal in the Bill, of taking the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Shaw), as an alternative to his scheme, providing for payment for the excess on a quarterage basis. I hope no ruling will preclude the possibility of that Amendment coming up for discussion.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I am not giving any limiting ruling on supplementary Amendments. I am only protesting against the rather wide range which the hon. Member is developing.
§ Colonel WEIGALL
I am faced with a practical difficulty on this Amendment. It raises three diametrically different points, the excess and the acreage being the two main ones. It may well be that there are Members who are in favour of the acreage as against the quantity being taken as the basis, and they may be diametrically opposed, as I am, to only paying on the excess. I understood the ruling given by Mr. Whitley was that we were only dealing with the question of excess. Am I to understand that we can now arrive at a decision on the question on the excess, leaving the other point to be dealt with on the omnibus Amendment later on.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I do not propose to give any ruling on that point now. My intervention was solely with a desire to get the hon. Member to direct his remarks more closely to the discussion which has already taken place in Committee. I heard most of the ruling, and I think that I am in touch with what has been going on.
§ Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
The hon. Member began by telling us that the motto of a certain institution was "Science with practice," and he proceeded to allege that the speeches of some of my hon. Friends had been distinguished by theory or science rather than by practice. It is rather a dangerous method of argument in this House to adopt such illustrations. It is rather like 1798 pointing a gun at the enemy, but pointing the wrong end of it and having the muzzle directed towards oneself. The retort is obvious. I am not sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would claim that his own remarks were more distinguished for their science or for their practice, or for both of them. Probably it is better to allow arguments to speak for themselves. I will not claim any special inspiration, either from science or from practice. I will endeavour merely to address myself to some obvious, common-sense considerations arising out of the proposal of the Bill, the Amendment, and the various remarks that have been made. In considering the Amendment of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock Burghs (Mr. Shaw) it will be wise to lay emphasis upon what is the specific and avowed object of the Clause we are now considering. The object, as it has been clearly stated by the President of the Board of Agriculture, is a general one: it is to give security to the farmer. Security is the one thing needful for the maintenance of existing production and the increase of production in the future. We are also told that the guarantee involved to make up prices to the high level contained in this Bill is a guarantee which is not likely to become operative, that so far as can reasonably be foreseen, in view of all the conditions at the present time and the prospective conditions of the future, the actual prices prevailing in the market will probably be above this level, and that the guarantee will not become operative. What, then, is the need for the guarantee? We are told that there is still some element of doubt that farmers are by nature suspicious and cautious, that they prefer solid certainties even to the mildest speculation, and that the Bill has been framed with the object, at very little cost to the country, of giving them that security by means of a guarantee which it is very improbable there will be any occasion to implement.
If it is considered that the prices contained in this Schedule are in themselves, if guaranteed, sufficient security, not only to maintain existing production but to secure an increase of production of a kind which is necessary for national safety, why is there any necessity to tolerate prices beyond that level? If these prices give adequate security, then any profit which is secured in excess of these prices must be excess profits. Here I would like to mention an alternative proposal to that 1799 in the Bill and also to that contained in the Amendment of my hon. Friend. It has already been mentioned at an earlier stage. It was ruled out of order then, but Mr. Whitley indicated that it might be mentioned in the course of this more general discussion. I suggested, in an earlier Amendment, that that security could be obtained if, instead of offering a bounty to the farmer, he were given a firm option of selling the whole produce of his land to the Government at these prices, provided he exercised his option before a certain date. That is an alternative method of giving security. There can be no doubt that it does give security. It is possible that there might be some, farmers who have been left out of account—we were told that farmers preferred security to speculation—who would reject that option and who would prefer to speculate on the chance of obtaining higher prices in the future. Why should we give them the opportunity of this speculation combined with a Government guarantee against any loss if they enter upon that speculation? Let us give them the full and ample security involved in an option of selling to the Government at these standard prices, and, if they prefer to go in for speculation on the chance of getting higher prices, let them eater upon that speculation at their own risk. I suggest that to the right hon. Gentleman as a clear alternative method, as one which ought to be considered, and as one which the right hon. Gentleman ought to give the Committee his reasons for rejecting in preference to the proposal contained in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock Burghs has suggested another very clear and definite alternative, namely, that the bounty should be given, not on the total production, not on the production which would have taken place, in any case, whether or not there had been any guarantee, but on the production in excess of the normal production—in fact, that it should be given upon new production. The President of the Board of Agriculture, while appreciating the point of that suggestion, has submitted that a proposal confining the bounty to new production would not serve to maintain production at its present level, that it gives no security to the farmers who are doubtful about maintaining their present level of production, and that if all that were done were to give the guarantee 1800 proposed by my hon. Friend, there might be a danger of a considerable reduction of what we have come to regard during the War as normal production. I submit that there is no risk of that kind. With prices at their present level, or their prospective level, there is no danger, so far as price is concerned, of any reduction in production.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend how many years of a guarantee did the farmers have in 1915? There was an increased production then. Not only that, but the prices which obtained then, when no one was certain how long the War would last or that prices would reach their present enormous level, served to secure then a certain production in this country. That is not theory, or what my hon. and gallant Friend might term science, it is practice. Those price a obtaining in the open market, with all the risks of the market, served to give that area of production during the War. What reason is there—if at that time prices were lower, when we know now that, according to all the economic conditions of the country and internationally, and having regard to all the restrictions upon shipping which must prevail for years after the War, and which must limit the importation of wheat and corn to an enormous extent, when we know that prices must be maintained at a considerable level—what reason is there to suppose that if things are left alone, that there should be any reduction in production which can be cured by a guarantee in regard to prices. It may be pointed out—some hon. Members no doubt will point out—that in comparison with 1915 there has been some reduction in the past year. Was that reduction due to prices? Was that reduction anything of a kind which can be cured by a guarantee of prices lower than those which have prevailed during the past year? No. Anyone who has practical knowledge of the industry knows that that reduction in production took place chiefly on account of labour difficulties—difficulties which are increasing, and which will not be cured by this Bill. You may guarantee even higher prices than those guaranteed in this Bill, but if nothing is done to secure for the land the amount of labour which is required, not merely to increase production but to maintain it at its former level, the objects of the Bill will. fail to be secured.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I ought to point out to the hon. Member that the only question open on the present Amendment is the nature of the bonus, and on what basis the bonus should be given. The question he is raising will come up when we come to the Question that the Clause stand part, whether the Clause has beer, amended or not.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I appreciate that point, and I hope I have not strayed too far. My remarks were directed specifically to the leading argument of the President of the Board of Agriculture, who, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock Burghs, pointed oat that this proposal to limit the bounty to excess production will altogether fail to secure the maintenance of existing production, I thought it was germane to the immediate subject of discussion to point out that if that was not secured by prices at the ordinary level, in view of the economic circumstances of the case, it would not be secured by the Bill even as it stands. The last point I desire to make is with regard to the security which is to be given to the farmers, and which we all agree ought, so far as possible, to be given. I am afraid, in advance, that I may be ruled out of order, and I will endeavour, also in advance, to meet the point. The Clause in its present form gives a large bounty to farmers where there is no excess production. It gives a large bounty to farmers who have done nothing whatever to meet the national emergency by producing any excess of their former production, and my hon. Friend has proposed that the bounty shall be limited to the excess production, giving them security with regard to that. One of the chief elements in security must be the attitude of public opinion towards the farmers. There can be no security to the farmer unless the provisions which are adopted in this House have behind them the support of a strong volume of public opinion which will give it permanence. I think that support of public opinion would be given if the proposals took the form which was suggested by my hon. Friend, but if the proposals take the form which is suggested in the Bill I am very doubtful whether there will be that support of public opinion. I have the very gravest doubts of it already. We can see public opinion forming at present in a very hostile manner, a manner which is very ominous to the agricultural industry. We know that with prices at their present 1802 level farmers are making large profits; we know that they are making excess profits. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where?"] One can only put one's own personal knowledge and experience against other Members'. I cannot be expected to produce here accounts showing what they are, but from my own personal knowledge of the farming industry during the past three years they are making large excess profits, and they are exempted altogether from Excess Profits Duty. But that is not all. In a large measure they are exempted from Income Tax. They do not pay Income Tax on the profits which they receive. On account of this there is the very greatest hostility growing up in the country, and it is felt that this is an industry which is already privileged and is drawing profits which have been permitted to no other industry, and with the proposals embodied in this Bill that hostility will be still further increased. The only means of giving to the farmers the security which is desirable and essential is the method proposed by my hon. Friend, or some other method which will confine the reward to the performance of something in addition to what has been performed in the past.
§ Mr. CLANCY
I do not suppose it will be considered unreasonable if I say a few words at this stage from the point of view of an Irish Member. I am somewhat embarrassed by not knowing what the Government's intentions in regard to Ireland generally are, but I suppose the proper thing for me to do is to assume that this Amendment will be carried and to state what our position would be regarding it if it were carried. After the speech of the Minister for Agriculture, I suppose it may be taken for granted that it will not be carried, but still I think it is desirable and expedient in the highest degree to say that it would affect Ireland very gravely if it were carried and that my hon. Friends would vote against it to a man. While the Bill confers some benefits upon Ireland, they are far smaller, comparatively speaking, than the benefit it confers upon England. In fact, it might be described as a Bill for the encouragement of the English wheat grower. I suppose I should be out of order if I entered into the proofs of this assertion, but there is one fact which will prove what I say. It is proposed later on in the Bill to give a bounty or bonus in respect only of corn sold. If that stands, there is not the slightest doubt that Ireland, as compared with England, would be grossly 1803 injured. The large majority of Irish farmers are small farmers, and a great proportion of them consume their own produce, and under the Bill would get nothing at all, no matter now much they had done to provide food for the nation in this time of crisis. Of the 500,000 farmers in Ireland the great majority already have their land under tillage, and they cannot add materially to it, especially after the great increase of tillage which has taken place within the last year. The Minister for Agriculture in Ireland has stated, I have no doubt on good authority, that the increase m corn growing land in Ireland has been about 700,000 acres. That is not only relatively, but absolutely, larger than the increase in England. That reduces still further the margin of land which may be added to the tillage area of the country, and the result of the Amendment if it were passed would be that all these people would get no bonus or bounty at all, while their fellows in England, because they are large fanners and in past years have not broken up their grass lands, would pocket all the millions which will be granted them tinder this Bill. I should not envy the Chief Secretary for Ireland or the Minister for Agriculture who would have to meet the cry ' from the small farmers of Ireland that once more they had been tricked and deceived, and had been contributing their share of the taxation of the country, but had got none of the benefits of the War expenditure.
I assume that the Chief Secretary, even if the Amendment were carried, would move to alter or wipe it out altogether as far as Ireland is concerned, and, of course, if it is carried the Irish Members, with whom I act, will certainly endeavour to take that course. The Amendment is one of a series which, if carried, would aggravate the position of the Irish farmer, and make it worse in comparison with that of the English farmer, and that without any excuse whatever. It may be said, for instance, that this Bill is intended to produce food in addition to the present resources of the country, and that the Irish farmer ought not to get a bounty because he does not add to the tillage of the country. In my opinion the man who grows food on his own land, even if it only contributed to his own support and the feeding of his cattle and stock, is doing as much for the nation, in his own way and to the extent of his opportunities, as any 1804 other member of the community, because if he did not do this someone else would have to produce it and he would be buying. It might have to be imported, and there might not be ships to bring it in. As long as this man produces all he can out of his own farm, even though he consumed it all himself, he is leaving so much more for those who cannot cultivate any land or have no land or are dependent upon imports for their food. I do not anticipate that the Amendment will be supported by the Government or by the Committee; but, if it is, we will certainly oppose it, and will endeavour to make our voices heard afterwards, with a view to inducing the Chief Secretary to strike the Amendment out as one detrimental to the food-production policy in Ireland and to peace and order in that country.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
The hon. Member does not really understand the scope of the Amendment, because it is quite clear that any extra food supplies brought into the market from Ireland since 1914 would come under the scope of the Amendment and the Irish farmer would benefit accordingly. The great argument urged in favour of the Bill as a whole is that it is going to give security to the fanner. We are asking, however, whether there is going to be any limit to the price or to the bounties which arc going to be paid to the farmer, and whether, with security to the farmer, there is going to be any protection for the public as a whole. If there is going to be this minimum price, is there going to be any maximum price at the same time, or are the artisans of the towns to be called upon, in view of the high taxes which they will have to pay in any case, to meet what will be a purely artificial increase in prices? The first point in favour of the Amendment is that we ask why the nation should be called upon to subsidise what is going to be grown in any case.
This matter can be defended from the standpoint of war emergency, where you are trying to encourage extra production and extra, cultivation. But if that is so, the encouragement should not be given in the way proposed. I think, as the Bill stands, it is the beginning of Protection for the agricultural interest, and I am. convinced that the more it is understood, especially in the large industrial centres, the less popular will this measure be, and the only justification for it at all is that it shall be so limited as to make it plain 1805 that you are only encouraging the growing of wheat and other things where they would not be normally grown on the less fertile land by giving a guarantee to the farmer that he is not going to lose there. That is one argument that might carry something in the nature of more general support. But I am sure, to go beyond that, you would be doing something which will be very unpopular and entirely indefensible. Why should the farmer, who has grown nothing extra, be suddenly given a guarantee of prices reaching over the next six years? That is no more defensible than to give guarantees to every other interest in the country, and it may be that parties will begin and try to bribe the various interests of the country, thus beginning to bring in a bad and corrupt element into politics. I am convinced personally, and I want to see the largest amount of food production. The whole House is in agreement on that. I do not believe this is the best way in which it can be done, and when I hear the hon. Member who has just spoken saying that they want to share in the benefits of this War, surely we are not going to have claims put forward by the landed interests in the various countries that this War has got great benefits, and that they must be bestowed all the way round ! Surely there could be no worse argument than that. I am convinced that the limiting Amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Kilmarnock is an Amendment in the right direction, and, for my part, I hope he will carry his Amendment to a Division, and, as far as I am concerned, I shall be very glad to vote for it.
The discussion this afternoon has covered a good deal of the ground which was dealt with in the Second Reading Debate on the Bill. But that was quite justifiable, for the issues which were raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Kilmarnock, were issues on which we were prepared to join issue with the Government, and if the Committee will allow me, I should like to emphasise much of what he said, though I fear I cannot do it with his freshness or his wit. Every Member of the House must have heard his speech with gratification and remembered the days when his noble father used to address the House, with much the same verve and tone, with which we were delighted this afternoon. My hon. and gallant Friend put three points to the Committee. First of all. that it was better to give whatever benefits were given on 1806 an acreage basis rather than on a quarter-age basis; second, that uniform method of dealing with the whole problem, and using the wheat scale as the measure of benefit, was a better and simpler way of dealing with it; and, finally, that whatever benefits may accrue under the Bill should be given in respect of new efforts, new till age performed, by those who were to have their prices guaranteed. Those were the three points which were discussed by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture. But I observe that the right hon. Gentleman in replying to my hon. and gallant Friend stated the case for the Bill on new grounds to-day. We have had many speeches made in support of the Bill, and many have been made by my right hon. Friend himself. But I would like to point out that on the first occasion when the proposal came before the House, we were led to believe that it was based on the Selborne Committee's Report. On the next occasion when it was discussed here, my right hon. Friend assured me across the Table of the House that it was based on the Milner Committee's Report—two entirely different proposals; and now to-day we hear of a change in the agricultural policy of the Government, during the War; they are not going to press on with the ambitious scheme of trying to set three million acres extra ploughed; that is not so much their ambition, as an extra production from the land already ploughed.
Those are not inconsistent explanations of the policy of the Government, but on each occasion they have been new, and I think it would be for the benefit of the House and Committee if we might be told, finally and authoritatively, what are the real objects which the Government have in view; what aims the agricultural statesmen in their various localities are pressing on their farming friends, and that we should know exactly what basis the Government is going to adopt, or whatever payments are made, for the benefits which would accrue to the nation as a whole. This is the doubtful support which from time to time has been given to the Bill, but I have no desire to indulge in any dialectical discussion during war-time. We have much more important business on foot, and I would, therefore, address the Committee purely from the point of view of how we can get the largest amount of food produced in this country; how that production can be brought about by a 1807 system which will appeal to the general good sense and public policy, as understood not only by statesmen who sit on the two Front Benches, and the Members in various parts of the House, but by the general public as a whole. I would venture to suggest to my right hon. Friend that the worst service he can do to the agricultural community, for whom he is the guardian, would be to embark on any scheme which leaves behind it a sense of injustice in the great mass of the British population. Let us decide, once for all, that we are going to make a definite payment for services rendered by the farmers. I think the House is agreed that we are prepared, at the present moment, to make a payment which on purely business lines in normal times we should consider as uneconomical.
We are living in times of stress, and have to pay large prices for everything, and if we have to buy a larger proportion of our foodstuffs, produced in this country, we are ready to do it. But those who criticise the proposals of the Government are not fairly treated if it is suggested that they wish to restrict the output of food from our own soil. Those who have supported the Amendment from the first are prepared to pay for benefits received from the farming community. How far is the proposal in the Bill likely to bring that about? There is common ground between us that in making that payment we want to get some scheme which will induce the farmers to do what, owing to the reasons of their trade, owing to the shortage of their labour, and other causes, they would not be induced to dc without support. If you ask the farmer to plough up land which he knows, and. as the right hon. Gentleman said, while it is in grass would provide him with a steady, if smaller, income, if you ask him to take the risk and plough it up, and embark on a four years course, I think we are quite justified in making a payment for that purpose. I doubt if there is anyone who will dispute that fact, provided we get the value for our money.
I do not believe anyone, will dispute the fact that the main necessity is a larger supply of wheat, oats, and potatoes—and here, let it be observed, the Government scheme makes no provision for potatoes. I noticed the right hon. Gentleman criticised the tillage basis as suggested by my hon. and learned Friend in the Amendment, but on the tillage basis the 1808 reward has this justification: it would give potato growers an inducement, which in this season, at all events, would have been to the public advantage. Therefore, it is common ground between us as to the necessity for extra production of wheat, and not only wheat and oats but also potatoes, and I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman has been well advised in depreciating those smaller forms of production which all go to augment our diet, and have the most beneficial effect on our health. Whatever may be our main object, how far do we get in the Government scheme? As it stands, and as it is defended by my right hon. Friend in its present form, it provides for a payment not only of farmers who make an extra effort, and those who produce more, but it gives a guarantee, and may in the course of years give a direct benefit, to those who have made no effort whatever to employ a single extra man in the ploughing of their land, may not have used any of the mechanical appliances at their disposal, and who delibertely ploughed up less; they will receive in proportion benefits under the Bill.
That is where we join issue with the right hon. Gentleman. Let it be clearly understood that we do not object to production being aided by the State. We are prepared to make the fullest possible payment for value received, but we are not prepared to make payment for services which in the ordinary normal course of business farmers would perform without any inducement whatever. The criticism offered by the right hon. Gentleman on the acreage basis for the purpose of calculation would presumably have been better reserved for the Amendment proposed either by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Sir C. Warner) or one of the Members for Liverpool, and I observe that in the discussion it has been said, by my hon. and gallant Friend who proposed the Amendment, that the President of the Board of Agriculture criticised in advance the transfer of the basis from quarterage to acreage, for he said you will admit to rewards not only those who would be growing wheat and oats, but those who would be growing roots and various kinds of fruits, and he specially mentioned hops. I do not know how the hon. and learned Member for the St. Augustine's Division (Mr. R. McNeill) likes the exclusion of hops from the scheme, and I hope he will take the opportunity of explaining to his constituents that, in the view of the Presi- 1809 dent of the Board of Agriculture, the brewing of hops is not of national importance
§ Mr. PROTHERO
What I said was we had been obliged to restrict the cultivation of hops; we had cut it down by one-half.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
May I say that the hop growers have never found much of a friend in the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Runciman).
§ 7.0 P.M.
I can only say that the hop growers certainly behaved very well to me, and I have no complaint to make of them. The point made by the President of the Board of Agriculture was that these various forms of cultivation were not those which are the most desirable. What is the objection to limit the Amendment that it shall apply only to wheat, oats, and potatoes? That is exactly what is done in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Lichfield, on which the right hon. Gentleman looks with a more or less kindly disposition. If some limitation could be applied to the Amendment, the whole of the objection raised by the President of the Board of Agriculture could have been provided for. He made a great deal of the Pease of the farmer who had ploughed up his land for the purpose of temporary grass. Exactly the same reply applies to that. He is going to limit the benefits of the Amendment purely to those who grow wheat, oats, potatoes, and temporary grass. In no case would they be damaged on an acreage basis. His next objection was that it would involve a great deal of inspection. Whatever basis you adopt, inspection will be absolutely essential. It would be interesting to know how much money will be spent in Ireland on inspection and whether it will be done efficiently with the present staff. I very much doubt whether 500,000 claims for bonus, if the bonus ever becomes operative in Ireland, will be accepted by the Department of Agriculture in Ireland without the closest scrutiny. That is equally true in England, Wales and Scotland. Inspection is absolutely essential on the Government side and is equally as essential, under the scheme of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lichfield. How are you 1810 to provide that the profits from ploughed out land shall go only to those farmers who grow wheat or oats on it, as provided for in his Amendment, unless you have inspection to find out whether wheat and oats are actually grown?—and an Amendment has been pus down by the President of Agriculture which would in itself require inspection, namely, to see that the wheat is not mixed with other cereals, on the very grounds that it might be possible so to adulterate or mix it with other crops that the State might be swindled. Whatever scheme is adopted you must have inspection. Therefore there is no importance to be attached to the objection to the Amendment that inspection might be necessary.
The only objection in his mind, I gathered, was the last point, namely, whether or not payment should be made on all wheat grown, or only in respect of the excess which we are now requesting our agriculturists to produce for national purposes. The case that was put by the President of Agriculture was that of two extreme farmers, one most efficient and the other most slack, and the slack farmer he said might quite conceivably get for his corn a great deal above the average sum ruling for the year, and the man doing his best might quite conceivably, owing to physical causes, get below the average price for the year, and the distance between the two might be so great that actually the slack farmer might be getting higher payments for his produce than the efficient, farmer. The total gross income drawn by these two farmers, one from the market and the other from the Exchequer, would be in the inverse ratio to their merits. That is equally true under the Bill as it stands. That very objection was urged by me, I think, on the occasion of the Second Reading of this Bill, and now I know it to be true, because I have got the support of the President of the Board of Agriculture. The farmer who has done his duty in the past, has done it for business reasons. It is a great mistake to imagine that farmers are different from other business men. They are not different from a manufacturer, or a stockbroker or a merchant or a shipowner in respect of the one thing which keeps them all in business. They go on doing business not for its own sake, but for what they can get out of it.
Certainly, I never heard anybody meeting any shipowner who made large sacrifices deliberately. That is equally true of farmers. They do not carry on business for any other reasons except that they can make a livelihood out of it. Some prefer to make their livelihood in that way, and some prefer to make it out of shipping, but in each case I am perfectly sure that it is business reasons which have induced them to remain in it. Those who have done their duty in the past, as it has been said by some people in the course of this controversy, are those who have found the growing of corn pay them, or, perhaps I might put it alternatively, those who have found the change over from growing corn to some other system of farming too costly to undertake. But in any case, what they could get out of their farming was the deciding factor in regulating what they should do. How far is it necessary to give them benefits in the future if benefits do accrue under the Bill? It is a strange confession for the President of the Board of Agriculture to make, after many months of propaganda work, a great deal of it conducted with the greatest skill and enthusiasm by county committees and Ministers of the Food Production Department, private Members and public-spirited men everywhere, that now he has to justify his present scheme on the ground that it is only by his present scheme he will be able to keep the present production up. That must come as a grave disappointment to those who have great hopes of getting move wheat out of the 3,000,000 extra acres under the plough which were promised to us in this House by the Prime Minister. I do not think that the House will be surprised if we object to making payment to those farmers who have continued to grow wheat right up to the present time, or, if the present time be not regarded as a fair test, right up to either the year 1913 or 1914. The Amendment suggests the year 1914, but there would be no objection to making it the year 1913, if necessary. The House cannot be surprised if we object to make payment to all these farmers who have not lifted a finger to increase production. Those who have put down nothing extra are to get exactly the same benefits as those who may, on the instigation of those who are carrying on propaganda among them, embark on the risky business of getting rid of their grass and turning their soil over.
1812 I will not go into the technical questions discussed by the right hon. Gentleman as to the law of diminishing returns, except to say in passing that he ought not to speak of the law of diminishing returns with regard to agriculture as a whole or farming as a whole. As I understand the law of diminishing returns, it must apply to acre by acre, and could only be true in respect of acre by acre. I pass all those technical points by and put to the Government the broad question, Are they well advised, at a time when legislation by agreement is of the first importance, in pressing this on the House, a most reluctant House, I venture to say? [HON. MEMBERS: "No !"] Yes, I repeat it, pressing it on the House which has been told by the Leader of the House that whereas they would be prepared to consider proposals which might be made in Committee, it must be clearly understood that the Government, having initiated and enunciated their attitude, would not depart from it. He even went so far as to suggest that Amendments which might be proposed in Committee could scarcely be accepted, because they might be regarded as a breach of faith. But when this is pressed on the House, is it not a mistake so to present it as not to carry the whole House with the Government? It can be done. Already the President of the Board of Agriculture realises that there is a very strong feeling in favour of making this an acreage basis instead of a quarterage basis. Here I would suggest to my hon. Friends from Ireland that the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Clancy) who spoke last has entirely misunderstood the Amendment. Under the Amendment every one of the Irish farmers who have ploughed out the extra 700,000 acres of land would be eligible for benefit. Under the Government proposal of a quarterage basis whatever benefits may accrue to them will accrue much more largely to those who have the better land and the larger production in England and Scotland. The proposal that is put before the House now by my hon. and learned Friend actually brings in potatoes. Let the Irish Members go back to their constituents and say, "We have voted in favour of the scheme of the Government which excludes potatoes." That, I venture to say, they will not care to do. The Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend actually includes all tillage, and among those foodstuffs which will undoubtedly be benefited will be potatoes, which are grown so 1813 widely in Ireland. I am really surprised that my lion, and learned Friend, who is one of the shrewdest men in the House of Commons, and is a very experienced Parliamentarian, should have so misread the proposal now before the House.
The President of the Board of Agriculture goes some way when he says that he will adopt the acreage basis as against quarterage. That gets rid of an objection which has been pressed from the very first. I remember referring to it myself far back in February, and it has been mentioned in every Debate that, under the Bill as it stands, the men with the best land and the best produce would be getting the largest amount of benefit. Now we come to the possibility of uniformity. That I will not press. I do not feel as strongly about that as I do about others. But when it comes to the question of excess, the President of the Board of Agriculture and the Government not only place themselves, but they place the House, in a very difficult position. Let me describe first for a moment—and I do it perfectly fairly—the relative positions of an agricultural member and of a town member. The agricultural member, who may feel the justice of this Amendment as proposed by my hon. and learned Friend, and who may feel that it is the only fair way of distributing public money, is driven by the Government to go into the Lobby in favour of the Government proposal, and will do so because of his constituents, whose interests lie is supposed to look after here, and he does it against his sense of justice. He puts the town Member in this position, that he must look after the interests of the taxpayer as well as of other people. He may have no agricultural constituents at all, and he therefore may be, and, if he is thinking only of his constituents, will put that first. How is it possible for a town Member to go down to Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham, or Liverpool, and say that the farmers, who are not excluded from the denunciation which takes in all men who make, profits as profiteers, have actually asked the town representatives to vote in the House of Commons for giving to those who are now getting magnificent profits—the biggest they ever got in their life—a permanent guarantee, which may become operative even at a time when taxation will press most heavily on those who dwell in towns, and for no national advantage in return.
There is a limit there, but I am sure that my hon. Friend does not wish to make too much of that point. I observe that the President of the Board of Agriculture, speaking at Exeter, said that this must be regarded as a principle adopted permanently. I hope that I have mistaken what he said.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
What I said was that I myself should have preferred it for a longer period; and I meant, if I may explain, that ten years at a lower price would have been equally attractive, or more attractive.
I think that I also remember reading in my right hon. Friend's speech that what he said as to a longer period was said by him on the authority of the Prime Minister.
I am very glad if I misread that, because I remember that on, the Second Reading of the Bill he prefaced has remarks by saying that we should accept this purely as a war measure, and it is only as a war measure that many of us accepted such a thing in any form. I accept the Second Heading statement, arid I am glad to sec that that is his faithful account of the measure as it stands. look at the position of the town Member ! He is actually asked to go down to his constituents, to these great towns, and to say, "I have voted in the House of Commons for giving a guarantee for four, or five, or six years, whatever the period may be, to those farmers who have been making handsome profits—I have done it actually for that class of farmers who may not have lifted a finger to increase the-production of food."
What is most important is to increase the supply of food. We are being invited by the Government to vote for the proposal not only to increase the supply of food, but actually to give a bonus, if it becomes operative, to those farmers who, anyhow, supply it now. I press this point. I am sure the Government do not wish to put the House in a difficulty. I can assure them that they 1815 would greatly embarrass a very large number of their own most faithful supporters in asking that there should be payment for benefits not received. They are telling town Members to go down to their constituents at the very time that democracy is really agitated about what they call profiteering, although I cannot accept many of the definitions of what is called profiteering that have been given, and which would certainly prove very poor guidance for Lord Rhondda. At the very time the public are agitated about it we are invited to support what my right hon. and learned Friend wittily described as "Statutory profiteering." I press on the Government that there should be a reconsideration in respect of that one point. They would never have thought of doing it if they had acted on the Milner Report. They would not have dared, if they had really taken that Report, to come to the House and say that every farmer, whether growing wheat or not, or j even if he reduced production is to have the benefit of the guarantee, Let me quote the Milner Report, signed by Lord Milner, the Chairman, by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, by my right hon. Friend here (Mr. Acland), and by a number of gentlemen who are probably among the first authorities in this country on agriculture. The Milner Report says:It might be possible to give the guarantee in respect of the whole quantity of wheat produced—That is the Government proposal—and at the same time to make sure that the country is getting a substantial quid pro quofor the liability under-taken by the Exchequer.That does not appear in the Government proposal. The Report goes on:One method of doing this would be to confine the guarantee to those farmers who were able to show that they had made a reasonable effort to increase the production of wheat.That is the recommendation of the Milner Committee on the subject, of my right hon. Friend opposite, and my right hon. Friend near me. The Report goes on:If it was decided that any fanner claiming the benefit of the guarantee would have to show that he had fulfilled one or other of the following conditions, we believe that the double object of limiting the liability of the Exchequer and ensuring an adequate return for the risk undertaken by the State might be achieved.The two conditions referred to do not appear in the Bill, and both of which, I regret to say, the right hon. Gentlemen rejected this afternoon, when they were 1816 put to him by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Acland). The first condition is:..(a) That a Farmer should have increased his area under under arable cultivation by at least one-firth over the similar area in October, 1913; or in the alternative,(b) That, at least, one-fifth of his total acreage under grass and annual crops should actually be under wheat.Both of these stipulations, I am informed, were rejected this afternoon. If the Government are going to press on with this proposal without any alternative, and none of the stipulations suggested by the Milner Committee, signed by the right hon. Gentleman himself, if they are going to discard the proposal made by my hon. and learned Friend, it would be impossible for those of us who wish to support the Government, and free it from embarrassment, to do otherwise than vote deliberately against the proposal as it stands in the Bill, in order that we may carry out the wishes of our constituents in the broader spirit—that there should be the largest amount of food production and the best possible use of public money, with no unfair advantage to any one industry, and at the same time securing to agriculturists who do their public duty full reward. Otherwise it would be impossible to give support to the Government in the passage of the Bill through the House. I very much regret that I and my Friends should be under the necessity of voting against the Government. It is not our fault. We are driven to that course by the refusal of the Government to limit the benefits under this Bill to those who actually give value to the nation.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Before the discussion proceeds further, I desire to state that I have had a manuscript Amendment handed in to me by the right hon. Member for the Camborne Division of Cornwall (Mt. Acland) to insert a proviso at the end of the Clause on the subject of limiting the Clause to producers who can show one-fifth increase of arable cultivation. I thought it right to give the information to the Committee that this particular matter might come on subsequently.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
Does the Amendment include only one stipulation or does it include also the alternative stipulation that one-fifth of the total acreage under grass and annual crops should actually be under wheat?
§ Mr. ACLAND
When I handed in the Amendment I did not understand from the President of the Board of Agriculture that 1817 he had definitely and absolutely turned down anything in the nature of the Milner stipulations. In order to make the matter clear, I thought it right to put down an Amendment containing these two stipulations, to be inserted in the form of a proviso.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have nothing to do with the merits of the Amendment; my only duty is to mention the fact that I have received the manuscript Amendment, and so prevent any misapprehension that might arise. It appeared to me that it was a matter which would come up in due form later on.
Whereupon, the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod having come with a Message to attend the Lords Commissioners, the Chairman left the Chair.
§ Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.