§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £152,265, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1919, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, of the Agricultural Wages Board, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including certain Grants in Aid."—[NOTE.—£300,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Prothero)
The Estimates do not include all the operations for which the Board of Agriculture is responsible; they deal mainly with the pre-war normal activities of the Board. The new developments are met by the Vote of Credit, but as my salary appears on these Estimates I take it that a discussion of all the points of policy and otherwise for which I am responsible will be in order. Therefore I propose to deal very shortly with the normal pre-war activities of the Board, and to concentrate mainly on the more recent development—that is to say, food production. The estimates show a reduction of something like £17,000, and that in spite of the fact that for the first time the Board is charged for the Wages Board with £76,000. That reduction is mainly obtained in this way. Last year we had a vote for small holdings of £170,000. We had an unexpended balance of £60,000, and we therefore ask this year only for £70,000, which, with the amount of the unexpected balance, makes up the amount which we think we shall be able profitably to expend. The Wages Board has been set up in accordance with the Act of Parliament, the regulations have been laid upon the Table of this House, and the Board was set up and met for the first time on the 3rd December, 1917. 1265 There are thirty-nine district wages committees. They are all also set up, and the Board has already issued notices for twenty-two counties of the statutory rate of wages. The notices are already advertised for another eighteen, and in the course of time the rates will be fixed in the other counties which are left out at present. The wages are mainly in the region of about 30s. a week. Whether they can be continued to be paid depends largely upon prices. Of course other things may help. Better organisation of labour and increased machinery may help. If we can increase the produce of the land without increasing appreciably the cost of production, that, again, will be of very material assistance, and that form of help we expect from men of science. It is, therefore, a natural transition, I think, to turn from the Wages Board to scientific research.
This is a field which is very large. To describe it in detail would occupy all the time at my disposal. I can only allude to the work of Professor Russell at Rothamsted on the problems raised by the conversion of grass land into arable land and the search for an efficient soil insecticide. Again, I must only allude to the work done at Cambridge by Professor Wood and Professor Hopkins on animal nutrition, and particularly on economy in beef production. I desire to illustrate the possibilities of scientific research in agriculture from the plant-breeding work of Professor Biffen at Cambridge. It is almost one of those romances in which science abounds. It is more than fifty years since the Abbot Mendel discovered the laws of inheritance. Those laws remained unrecognised until the present century, but on them is founded a new science. It has been discovered that you can create a new variety of a plant by characteristics of other varieties of the plant. The result of this is most remarkable. Instead of having to wait for the chance discoveries of nature we can deliberately sit down and manufacture the kind of plant that we want. The experiments of Professor Biffen with rust-resisting varieties of wheat are typical of the process. After examining a number of varieties of foreign wheat he discovered a Russian wheat called ghirka, which resists rust. Now rust destroys annually thousands of quarters of wheat, but this ghirka wheat was of no use to the British farmer because its yield was miserably 1266 low. But Professor Biffen, by using the Mendel system, was able to transfer the rust-resisting quality of ghirka to a high yielding English wheat, and though that wheat has now been in use for several years it has shown no tendency whatever to revert either to the rust tendency of one parent or the low-yielding tendency of the other. He has now produced a wheat which produces a high quality of straw—a fine, stiff, upstanding straw—and a high quality of yield of grain, so much so that without pushing it will produce forty-two bushels to the acre, and by pushing up to seventy-two bushels to the acre. It also possesses a very high quality of disease resistance, and it combines with these qualities the quality of strength, which is so highly valued by both millers and bakers, and which is recognised in increased prices.
Hitherto the plant-breeding work has been hardly applied to any of the crops of the farmer except wheat—though it has been applied partly to barley—and mainly to wheat suited to the Eastern Counties. But suppose you apply it to the wheats and barleys used in other districts, to oats and rye, to temporary grass and potatoes. There is an extraordinary list of possibilities opened to the British farmer. If, for instance, you could produce a potato which was immune from blight and immune from wart disease, it would be an invaluable boon to English agriculturists, and there is every prospect that that may be achieved. If any millionaire is to survive the vigilance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer he cannot do better than turn his attention and his money to the Plant-Breeding Institute at Cambridge and to the Institute of Applied Botany which we are endeavouring to found there, and I believe that he would confer a great boon upon the agriculture of this country. Perhaps I may remind the Committee of the wise saying of Dean Swift, that whoever could make two blades of grass or two grains of corn grow on spots where but one grew before would confer a greater boon upon mankind than the whole race of politicians put together.
Of agricultural education there is very little to report. Our staffs at the universities and colleges and institutes are all depleted. But there is one small piece of practical work to which I should like to allude in passing. 1267 That is to the cheese-making schools which have now been started in a large number of counties. That movement started in the autumn of 1915. It has been greatly developed under the pressure of the War, as to the most economic use to be made of surplus milk, and we have them now in some thirty-three counties, and we have co-operative cheese schools also in another seven counties. In some counties they have taken a firm root and they have established a real industry. One deplorable result of the War is that milk-recording societies have practically come to a standstill. Anybody who has had experience of the value of these societies will regret that result of the War. There are only twenty-five of them now and the loss is very great. I wish they could be extended.
The Board's Report about the farm colonies has come up for discussion on the Bill extending these farm colonies. Nobody, I venture to say, knows better than I do how inadequate a provision has yet been made, or even foreshadowed, for the great want that there will be for land after demobilisation. The Board's plans for providing for the wants of demobilised soldiers and sailors have been before the Government for some time and are still under consideration. The same may be said of their plans to deal with the very difficult question of tithes. But I hope that a Bill to deal with that very difficult problem will be introduced at the end of this Session, and printed and taken up at the next Session of the House in the autumn.
As to live stock, veterinary science has now got a magnificent laboratory equipped in Surrey, and I hope that the future use of that laboratory will result in great advances in veterinary science. I may say that the health of the live stock has been, on the whole, extremely good. There has been an outbreak of parasitic mange among horses, but there is a great reduction in the sheep scab, and up to a very few days ago I should have been able to say a great reduction in swine fever, and that in spite of the fact that the Board, early last year, relaxed its Regulations in order to encourage and maintain the pig population of the country. The numbers of live stock in England and Wales may be of interest to the House. I should like to compare the Returns of 4th June, 1914, and 4th June, 1917, with the estimate for 1268 4th June, 1918. The number of dairy cattle shows an increase in the present year on the figures of both preceding years; that of beef cattle over one year old shows a slight diminution on the figures of 1917, but an increase on those of 1914; that of all cattle under one year shows an increase over both periods. The total net result is a diminution of 27,000 head of cattle on the figures of 1917, and an increase of 330,000 on the pre-war period of 1914. The number of sheep shows a decline, and it is a decline on the figures of 1914, and a smaller decline on the figures of 1917. That result is mainly due to the disastrous lambing season of 1917. It has already been partly counteracted by the more favourable season of 1918.
The pig population of the country declined last year very seriously, from October onward. That decline has, however, now been arrested. The Board has always been in favour of as large an increase in pigs as possible in this country, provided that pig-keepers do not trespass too largely on the breadstuffs of the people for the food of pigs. The hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley), now gives us the benefit of his valuable help, unpaid, in looking after the pig industry in this country. He has already achieved valuable results. I only hope that his recent legal appointment, which I see in to-day's paper, will not prevent him from still looking after the interest of the pig. Individual landowners have taken up this question of increasing the number of pigs with great vigour. In Gloucestershire, for instance, the hon. Member for the Wilton Division (Sir C. Bathurst), a few weeks ago, had already been instrumental in establishing sixty-five pig clubs. The Rural League set up 130 in different parts of the country. We have many agencies working in the same direction, and were I quite sure of the supply of feeding stuffs and of its distribution, I should regard the situation as promising. There are several more activities which I can only just mention. One is the Army Cattle Committee, another is the Hop Committee, which has met with success a very difficult situation created by the reduction in brewing, A third is the Flax Production Committee, which has for its object meeting the requirements of the War Office owing to the cessation of imports of flax into this country.
There remains forestry and fisheries. In forestry the principal feature of the 1269 period under review has been the admirable Report of the Forestry Sub-committee of the Reconstruction Committee. I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Camborne Division (Mr. Acland) on the great share he took in the preparation of that Report. I feel sure that the Report lays down the lines on which forestry must for the future advance. The Board has already, in consultation with the Minister of Reconstruction, formulated its plans. We are ready to start as soon as we have the funds, and we are making certain preparations. We have got in the Crown Nurseries upwards of 30,000,000 plants ready for transplantation, mostly conifers. We are preparing to sow a large quantity of seeds this autumn. We are arranging for the training of disabled officers and soldiers as forest officers and woodmen, and the first of our classes opens at the Forest of Dean on the 3rd August. In this and in almost every other side of our activities we have proved the great advantage of woman labour.
Fisheries might very well have a Debate all to itself. There is hardly any industry, I should say, there is no industry, in the country which has done better for the nation, both in food production and as an auxiliary arm of the Navy than has the fishing industry. Of course, on the latter part, as an auxiliary arm of the Navy, I feel that the First Lord of the Admiralty could speak more fittingly than myself, but I cannot refrain from expressing my admiration of the devotion to duty the contempt of danger and the grim humour with which the crews of our minesweepers and patrols daily and nightly take their lives in their hands. I am sure our fighting fishermen have shown again and again that they are still of the true breed. Nor is the life of the peace-time fisherman, or that of the fisherman who plies his ordinary avocation very much less hazardous. He cannot tell whether, when he draws in his haul, he may not haul a mine which will blow him to pieces, neither can he tell when he is towing his haul or conveying his fish to the port that he may not at any moment be attacked by a submarine. And yet it is only with the utmost difficulty that we are able to keep the fishermen of this country from breaking all the regulations that are framed for their protection and their safety. In 1916 the landing of fish in this country fell by something like 75 per cent. That redu- 1270 ction was, of course, progressive, but it had reached that point in 1916. It was due to the demands of the Navy for men, and to the restriction of the fishing areas. We had no reduction in 1917. I very much hope we may not have any in 1918; but, of course, the demands of the Navy continue, and, owing to the operation of the Military Service Act, there is very little new blood introduced into this native industry. That the takings of fish have been kept up is mainly due to the spirit of the fishermen themselves, with what assistance we can give them by every possible relaxation of necessary rules and by every means of access to new areas of fishing. The production of food per unit of man power in fishing is very high. In agriculture it is estimated at 8 tons per unit; in fishing it is estimated that it is as much as 16 tons per unit, and if you take it on trawlers alone it would be something like 35 tons per unit.
The question seems naturally to arise, Why, if so much food is produced, we should take any more men? That is one of the difficulties we have to solve. But the fisherman, both by character and by training, is eminently fitted—in fact, there is no class of man so fitted—to help to secure our sea-borne traffic. While the trawler in ordinary fishing work, manned by ten men, may land 350 tons of food a year, the same crew, in the naval service, might save a vessel and lives, and the cargo of 3,500 tons of food, and so, in one single operation, save for this country as much food as a fishing trawler could bring in ten years. Therefore we are obliged to recognise those conditions, and our object has been, in close association with the Admiralty, to recognise that fact, and yet to keep as large a fishing fleet as we can in commission, and the Admiralty, recognising the value of the fish-food side of the question, has co-operated with us in trying itself to keep going as large a number of vessels as possible, and to open out new areas of production to the fishing vessels in their work. I set up, in the course of 1917, a Committee on sea fisheries. It is presided over by the hon. and learned Member for the Luton Division of Bedfordshire. It has already done most useful and admirable work. I can only indicate it very briefly in two directions. It has installed 100 motors in 100 fishing vessels, and it has a large 1271 number of vessels already in hand undergoing similar installation. It has also endeavoured to organise the transport and supply of materials, such as ice in boxes, to establish the means of procuring, preserving, and canning fish, especially seasonal fish. I should like to say a few words about the shell-fishing industry, which has been largely developed. We have found the means of dealing with certain pests which affect the oyster shells, and we are establishing men and machinery, as soon as possible, to deal with a large number of districts in which these pests abound. So much, or, perhaps, I should rather say, so little, as regards these fisheries.
One word about freshwater fish. There, again, we have set up a Committee to inquire into our freshwater fisheries with special reference to eel cultivation. It is under the chairmanship of Lord Desborough, and it has issued two admirable Reports, the recommendations of which have, for the most part, been adopted by the Board. As anticipated, the principal development lies in the development of eel cultivation. It may probably be known to the House that, before the War, we annually exported to Germany something like 80 per cent. of its total supply of elvers, and, at the same time imported from Belgium and Holland the greater part of our supply of mature eels. That does not seem a very commercial proposition, especially when we consider that we have in this country one of the finest natural supplies of elvers in the world. We have a vast number of suitable waters for the cultivation of eels. In taking this matter in hand we have obtained possession of enemy-owned elver fisheries at the mouth of the Severn, and we have selected suitable waters for their cultivation. We set to work in the spring and, though somewhat late in beginning, 1,100,000 elvers have been captured and distributed, and we look forward with the utmost confidence to the prosperous development of eel cultivation in this country.
I am afraid that this is a very meagre account of the normal work of the Board. I have had to omit a vast number of points which I should like to have dealt with, but I now turn to the point on which, I believe, the House is especially interested, namely, food production on the farms. May I say one thing to begin with? This is the first opportunity I have 1272 ever had, although I have been some time now at the Board of Agriculture, of explaining to the House what we have been doing. Hitherto I have been asked to defend the action of Departments with which I have been officially in conflict, such as the War Office, the Ministry of Food, or the Ministry of National Service. Although I am bound to say there is a certain humour in the postion, I would much rather stand here and defend my own alleged or actual misdoings. I am quite aware that in taking the course I propose to do I shall enormously widen the opportunity for criticsm of our action. What, I think, the House would like to know is this: How much money has been spent, on what it has been spent, and what have you got for your money? That is the feeling which I have in my own mind as to what the House would like to know. I propose to give you the information under seven heads: First of all, the Headquarter Staff, then county agricultural executive committees, then labour, then ploughing, cultivation and machinery, supplies, horticultural operations, and then a few words as to miscellaneous expenses. Under each of these heads I propose to give the actual expenditure from 1st January, 1917, when the Food Production Department was set up, down to the close of the financial year, 31st March, 1918. As the census of the arable area under crops dated 27th April, 1918, I think this expenditure and results are, roughly speaking, comparable, and I will add, if I may, the details which will make the story coherent. In order to make it coherent I will begin at the beginning. On 22nd May, 1916, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Camborne Division (Mr. Acland), then Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, in moving his Estimates, used the words—I am afraid I can only quote them from memory, but I believe that I am perfectly accurate—that "the danger point of gravely decreased production is already reached." Seven months later the prospects looked blacker still. The harvest of 1916 proved a disappointment. Fertilisers, feeding stuffs, and implements were scarce. Something like two-thirds of the labour ordinarily employed on farms had been taken away from the farms which were previously, in many instances, under-manned, and farmers were quite unable, owing to the uncertainty as to the amount of labour which 1273 they could retain, were unable to make plans for the cropping of the land. Meanwhile, the activity of the submarines, the stringency of our finance, and the strain on our tonnage, seemed to render it important that we should increase to the very utmost the output of food in this country. The materials most wanted were breadstuffs. Four-fifths of our requirements are normally imported, and corn being a bulkier cargo than meat, is more difficult to carry in reduced tonnage. It was therefore decided, in December, 1916, to attempt what looked like an impossibility—to increase the area devoted to corn, roots, and potatoes. We knew that foodstuffs were likely to become extremely scarce, therefore we wanted to increase the area devoted to roots, and also to peas and beans, which I need hardly remind the House are, in farmer's language, included in the word "corn." We wanted to produce these crops for the human food, and also the animal food of the country.
We opened this campaign on the 20th December, 1916, on a black winter day, and in what proved to be a protracted and severe winter. Though the general policy was dictated from Whitehall, it was felt that it must have agricultural opinion behind it, or it was doomed to failure. So it was decided that the movement itself should be in each district mainly controlled and directed by the farmers themselves, and for this purpose the best agency seemed to be the local war agricultural committees which had been set up by Lord Selborne on the recommendation of the Milner Committee, in 1915, and which were in some counties active, while in others they had had nothing but a nominal existence. It was through all these bodies that the campaign was opened on 20th December, and at that meeting, and in two circulars issued by the Board, dated 28th and 29th December, the immediate programme of increased tillage for 1917, and the further programme of increased tillage for 1918, with its motto of "Back to the 'Seventies," were sketched in outline. The formation of district sub-committees and of sections for the encouragement of allotments and village pig-keeping were set forth; and the prime necessity of getting a survey of the land in each county and of the area of grass land which could advantageously be brought under the plough, were insisted upon. 1274 The reduction of the area devoted to luxury crops, like mustard grown for seed, or flowers and bulbs, was pointed out and urged upon the Committee, and finally the promise was made to the Committee that they should have clerical and skilled assistance, that they should have furnished to them for each county a quota of produce, and that they should also have compulsory powers to enforce cultivation wherever it might be necessary. Early in January the Board transferred to the war agricultural committees most of their own compulsory powers. It required those war agricultural committees to act through executive committees, which were appointed according to the terms of the Order. Before the end of the month the executive committees were in existence with competent executive officers. The whole of the counties were grouped into seventeen districts, subsequently increased to twenty-one; in fifteen out of the seventeen districts Commissioners were appointed, and these instructed in their duties, among which was to forward a weekly report of progress. Before the end of the month one of the committees completed its survey. The first derelict farm dealt with was on 5th February, 1917. By the end of the month they were all actually at work stimulating cultivation and laying their plans for increased tillage.
Meanwhile, on the 1st January, the Board set up a Food Production Department. I think the House is probably aware that the Board of Agriculture had been for years something in the nature of an agricultural local government board—that is to say, its only duty had practically been to administer certain Acts of Parliament and to encourage agricultural research—and it had been divorced from any direct participation in the agricultural industry. It had nothing to do with prices, it had nothing to do with labour, it had nothing to do with fertilisers, it had nothing to do with feeding stuffs. Now it seemed to the Board that, inasmuch as farmers were placed in a position where they could no longer get the necessary requirements of their trade by themselves independently, we must pursue a new action, and so the subsequent history of this movement has been not a gradual loss by the Board of Agriculture of powers which it never possessed, but its acquisition of new powers in the face of Departments which were already strongly entrenched and already in 1275 possession of those powers. I think it only right to make that explanation, because it has very often been thought that the Board of Agriculture gave up some right of fixing prices. It never had it. The right of fixing prices belonged to the Board of Trade, and the only maximum price that had been fixed in 1916 was fixed by the Board of Trade. So also with fertilisers and feeding stuffs—they belonged to the Board of Trade.
We set up this Food Production Department on 1st January, 1917, and we set up at once sections in it to deal with local organisation—that is to say, with the war executive committees—to deal with supplies, including fertilisers and seeds, to deal with horticultural work and allotments, and with labour, and with machinery. We collected an admirable staff of technical assistants from the colleges and institutes, and an advisory committee was set up, consisting mainly of farmers, who met for the first time, I think, on 19th January, 1917, and have sat since then continuously, meeting every fortnight. At the same time we established a woman's branch, exclusively run by women for women, to deal with whole-time and part-time workers, and we strengthened the county organisations. We also set up a credit system for farmers, for the purchase of the requisites of production, arranged through the joint stock banks. To meet the labour difficulties, or to help in meeting them, orders were placed for a large number of tractors with the Ministry of Munitions, steps were taken to discover the number of steam ploughing sets, and to obtain the return of the essential men to man them. We made arrangements with the War Office for the supply of agricultural companies formed of soldiers, for the supply of German prisoners, and for the hire of heavy horses with soldier drivers, and with the Home Office for conscientious objectors. That, however, never came to much.
The spirit of the agricultural community was excellent. They were willing to make great sacrifices in the interests of food production, but they were naturally reluctant to plough up their grass. Nobody, except in rare cases of potato land, is much disposed to plough up grass. In the first place, grass is in a way the sheet-anchor of their safety. Its profits are sure, the outlay is small, the labour bill is small, and also farmers have had forty 1276 years' bitter experiences of corn prices, which had ruined thousands, and they were naturally, though prepared to make great sacrifices, not prepared to face such a slump in corn prices as would drive them to bankruptcy. It was in order to remove that initial difficulty that the Government decided to guarantee minimum corn prices for a period of years, and the Prime Minister's speech on 23rd February, 1917, announced that policy. We were very late in the season, and we could do very little for 1917, comparatively speaking. But we did get, considering the time, a very considerable addition of land under crop. I think I am speaking within limits when I say something like 280,000 acres. At a time when the world's supply of food became seriously short, that extra supply helped the country very materially to turn an awkward corner, and the huge potato crop proved perfectly invaluable to the nation.
The first edition, so to speak, of the Food Production Department was headed by officials of the Board. Their time was absorbed in conferences with the War Office and the Minister of Food on a variety of topics, and whatever time remained—and work was often prolonged till midnight—was spent in organising the War Executive Committees and in installing the new Department into its new offices. But it became increasingly evident that if we were to grapple with this problem satisfactorily, we must have a chief at the head of it who was prepared to devote his whole time to perfecting and running the machine. That chief we were fortunate enough to find in Lord Lee, then the hon. Member for the Fareham Division, and chairman of the Bucks Executive Committee. In his hand the Food Production Department became a living, effective organisation. His organising ability and his energy, enthusiastically backed by a most loyal and able staff, filled in, as it were, all the details of the framework and clothed the skeleton with flesh and blood and muscle. It is very largely owing to him that the Food Production Department has been able to help so effectively the movement towards increased production, but while I want in the fullest possible way to acknowledge my debt to my colleagues in the Food Production Department, I do not, I need hardly say, desire in the remotest degree to evade my own personal and official responsibility. I 1277 met the Director-General in personal consultation three times every week, and once a week I presided at a conference of all the officials of the Food Production Department.
Let me now go on to details. The headquarters staff has, of course, varied in numbers during the process of organisation, that is to say, between the 1st January, 1917, and the 31st March, 1918. At the end of March, 1918, the numbers were approximately 680. The total expenditure from 1st January, 1917, to 31st March, 1918, for salaries and wages, excluding those Civil servants who were being Loaned to the Department and whose salaries are borne on the Votes of their Departments, has been £74,495. To this must be added the travelling and incidental expenses, £38,342, making a total expenditure for the fifteen months on the headquarters staff of £112,837. The office rents are borne on the Office of Works Vote, and they, like the salaries; have, of course, considerably varied. We began with one building in Victoria Street. We now have rented numbers 70, 72, and 74, Victoria Street, and 57 and 59, Palace Street, and the present rental amounts to £6,000 a year, which should be added to the expenses of the headquarters staff.
I go on to the County Agricultural Executive Committees. There are sixty-three of these committees, and there are some 500 district sub-committees. Each of the executive committees is allowed expenses for office staff and funds for office management. These have formed themselves into sub-committees dealing with labour, machinery, supplies, finance, and, in the last few weeks, threshing machines. Through the district committees the executive committees are in touch with every district. The counties, as I have explained, are grouped into twenty-one districts, each with a district commissioner, who is himself ex officio a member of all the executive committees within his district. It is to these war executive committees that the Board has delegated its powers, and it is through them that the Department acts. The members of these committees are, for the most part, men of business, dependent for their livelihood on their business. Yet on both the executive and district committees they have given their time, their skill, and their experience without any pay or reward. They are all of them unpaid. The tasks they have had to perform 1278 are extremely difficult, delicate, and invidious. I think they have faced them with a rare courage as a public duty in the national interest. Mistakes, of course, they have made. The enormous amount of work they have had to do would make it perfectly absurd to expect anything else. But I am convinced of this, that anybody who knows their work believes that their work has been done both ably and well, and the nation owes them a great debt of gratitude.
Their work has been very varied. I will only mention two points. One was the survey of the condition of agricultural land. The result of that has been that we know far more of the condition of agriculture in this country to-day than we have ever known in the history of agriculture. We have got a good record of the conditions of cultivation of the land. The other task to which I allude was the task of issuing notices for ploughing up grass and for specific acts of cultivation. Something like 100,000 notices have been issued by these committees. I think it speaks volumes for the patriotic feeling of both landowners and farmers that in only 372 cases was the Board asked to authorise proceedings for wilful failure or neglect to carry out those Orders. In the majority of these cases proceedings became unnecessary, and only seventy-two cases have come into Court, and in only one of those cases have we failed to get a conviction. But even if all the prosecutions which were authorised had resulted in proceedings, it would have been something below one-third of 1 per cent. of the notices which were served, and the result of the work of the committees has been not only a great increase in the area of arable land, but a most substantial improvement in the general standard of farming throughout the country.
I may perhaps add also that the drainage powers conferred by the Board on these committees have been used with very great success. We have in hand schemes, some of which are already completed and some are approaching completion, by which something like 120,000 acres of land will be brought into profitable cultivation. I mean by drainage not pipe drainage, but the drainage of surface water. Now the expenditure on these local organisations for the fifteen months ending 31st March, 1918, falls 1279 under two heads. First, there are the administrative expenses for the sixty-three executive committees and 500 district committees. Members have given their services unpaid. The total sum is £176,038. The Grants for farming and drainage and other operations, the bulk of the expenditure being recoverable, have been £146,522, making a total expenditure on the local organisations for those fifteen months of £322,560.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I think it is almost all recoverable, but I will tell the right hon. Gentleman later on. I should like to make it quite clear that no labour is given to the farmer. The farmer pays in every instance the local wages rates of the district, except in one instance. He pays 5d. an hour to the German prisoners, which is slightly below the rate for agricultural labour. Of course, agricultural labour has been throughout the very great difficulty with which we have had to contend. Agricultural labour is so much less mechanical than other labour that it is far more difficult to deal with it, either by dilution or substitution. Nothing can replace to the farmer the man who knows the land on which he has worked all his life probably, and who knows not only what he has got to do, but how he has got to do it. And it is for this reason that the Board has throughout endeavoured to secure to the farmer men indispensable for cultivation, and, so far as the exigencies of the military situation would allow, to make sure of the number of men which he would be able to command. It is the uncertainty on this point that almost paralyses his efforts. From June, 1917, to April, 1918, when the Royal Proclamation was issued, this difficulty was satisfactorily met. The Cabinet decision during that period remained in force, that a man who was on a farm on the 1st June, 1917, and whole-time employed on farm work of national importance, could not be posted without the consent of the war executive committee. That secured us our labour for that time, but even during that period the shortage was severe.
In quantity, of course, the loss of labour was mitigated, but in quality the loss could not be made good. The new 1280 labour was, for the most part, unskilled and inexperienced, and it is quite obvious that, dealing with labour of that kind, increases expenses very largely. Less work is done, and the work that is done is less efficiently done, and at no time during the whole of this effort was the Department able to secure what it had put forward as its minimum requirements, and which were promised by the Government. We had to do the best we could. Naturally the supply of this outside labour has varied enormously in these fifteen months. I could give it month by month, but I do not know it would be worth doing. But I may give it at the beginning of the financial year—that is to say, on 1st April, 1917, and at the end of March, 1918. On 1st April, 1917, when we were in the full swing of our ploughing operations, we had approximately 36,000 soldiers, including ploughmen, who had been returned from the front for that special purpose—men of the Home Defence Force and Agricultural Companies, and 830 German prisoners and interned aliens. At the end of March, 1918, we had 61,000 soldiers and 10,200 German prisoners and interned aliens.
The other supply of labour is woman labour. As I have said, we created this branch early in January It has been run throughout by women, and since the food production campaign began the number of women on the land has been increased from something like 91,000 to over 300,000, that is to say, whole-time and part-time workers. The local organisation in each county consists of a women's war agricultural committee, of district sub-committees, an outfit officer who distributes the outfits, and a village registrar. All these are volunteers and unpaid. Besides this, we have a paid official staff of one organising secretary in each county, and for all the counties of England and Wales seventeen travelling inspectors. The House may think that organisation is elaborate. May I put one reason why we could hardly make it less? The Board undertakes a very serious responsibility if it sends young women on to the land in a remote country district without making tolerably certain—in fact, without making quite certain—that they shall have a friend within reach to whom they can go in any difficulty. That is the object of this rather elaborate organisation. Moreover, the work of the local organisation includes the inspection of billeting accommodation 1281 —a very important point—the introduction of the supply of labour to farmers often averse to a novelty, the formation of groups of part-time workers under skilled leaders, so that in the case of each woman who can only serve half-time they can make up the whole-time work from a group of women, and the collection of seasonal workers in large numbers. Besides the village women included in the 300,000, there are what we call the land army. These are women who have undertaken to work on the land and to go wherever they are sent. They are recruited from all classes of the women of this country. I hope the House appreciates the difficulties with which we are faced in respect of these, what I may call, mobile women. The agriculturist cannot compete with other industries in respect of wages. Physically the work is hard. It is monotonous. It is carried on out-of-doors in all conditions of weather, and in respect of accommodation it implies real privation and real hardship. These facts have never been concealed; yet we have got, or we had at the end of the financial year—the numbers are larger now—11,000 women who had patriotically responded to the appeal. That appeal is strengthened, I think, by the fact that they have to make sacrifices, and have to endure privations, which to some extent are comparable to those of their friends and relations at the front. Certain inducements we do offer. We give a month's training free. I know you cannot call it real training, it is more to get their muscles into something like condition, to give them something approaching the condition required for agricultural work. We maintain them in depots between the terms of training and of employment. For instance, we get them trained and it may be some weeks before they get employment. Again, they may leave one employment and they may have to wait before they get another engagement. We keep them during these periods at depots. We provide them with an outfit. I should like to say a word or two about the outfit. It is not a decoration. It is absolutely essential for them in which to do the work they are called upon to do. It happens, I think, to be pleasing to the eye, but that is owing to the fact that it was chosen by women for women. I cannot claim any credit for that. We do, however, give them a certain outfit and we renew it half-yearly. The total expenditure upon the women's 1282 branch during the period of fifteen months has been £230,273. The principal item is for this outfit which comes to £130,037.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
Yes, from 1st January, 1917, to the end of March, 1918. Part of this payment of £130,000 includes boots for the village women. They find it very difficult to get boots at all. We found this difficulty so great that we said we would get them for them if they paid for them, and the Treasury allowed us to make them a grant of 5s. towards the cost of these boots. Some part of that expenditure is capital expenditure on the outfit, besides depots and furnishing. But I can give the amount we actually received up to March 31st 1918. It was £48,440.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
Out of £50,000. We do not expect until the crops are realised to get the whole back. The time to pay will be after the harvest. I now pass to the fourth head, ploughing and cultivation. In spite of every effort we could make to find labour, the shortage of manual labour was most acute, and we had to provide mechanical and other assistance. Once again I should like to remind the House that without the help of the Board the farmers could not have helped themselves. The sources of supply were cut off from them, and the richest and most independent of them could not buy English-made machinery nor secure a supply of motor fuel, nor purchase implements or harness. Therefore, we had to do for the farmer what the farmers, I daresay, would have done much more easily for themselves, but which they could not. In the case of steam tackle, there were, in January, 1917, 510 sets. Of these only 250 were able to work, because the owners could not get them repaired, or had lost their skilled men. The Department was able, by the summer of 1917, to put 210 of these broken-down steam tackle sets into operation, and to get back from the Army 300 skilled men to drive them. The remaining forty sets were obsolete, or beyond repair. Since then we have been hoping for ninety additional steam tackle sets for the ploughing season of 1918. Of course, steam tackle and steam cultivation remain on heavy land by far and 1283 away the best implement for ploughing, We must, therefore, make every effort in that direction.
Take horse-drawn implements. We arranged with the War Office for facilities for farmers to hire horses and soldier drivers. We also obtained the sanction of the Treasury to purchase a number of horses, and we made the necessary arrangements. During this period we have placed 9,749 horses at the disposal of farmers on hire. We have had going thirty-six ploughing schools in the country. We have trained a very large number of ploughmen with the horses. We have also had to provide the necessary harness. We have provided horse-drawn implements. We have consigned upwards of 18,000 binders, ploughs, drills, harrows, presses and rollers, and every other kind of implement to executive committees for their own use or for hire out to the farmers. As to threshing tackle, we have had very great difficulty in increasing the supply beyond the increased supply provided last year. I am glad to say, however, that I think we shall have something like 350 additional threshing machines available for the coming harvest. The County Executive Committees have, at the request of the Department, appointed subcommittees, whose duties are to get the threshing tackle into repair and find the necessary labour, to organise and use the tackle to the very best advantage, so I hope we shall be able to cope with the demand. The total expenditure under the head of steam tackle, horses, and horse-trained implements was £319,269. The greater part of this expenditure, of course, is recoverable.
A great development has been effected by the Department in the use of tractors for ploughing and cultivation. Many difficulties were encountered. Supplies from overseas came in but were liable to interruption. The English makers' works were closed, and the farmers looked with great suspicion upon the tractors as novelties. They were, however, only too pleased to put them into use; at all events, in some parts of the country a very difficult task. But, as I say, they were pleased to obtain the machines in the great emergency in April and May, 1917. We had a fleet of some 666 tractors, some of which we owned and some of which we hired. I have no doubt whatever that much of the tractor 1284 ploughing done at that period was costly and inefficient, but there was no other way to get the land up. We had to do the best in the very great emergency, and all due care was exercised, and I have no doubt the best possible results obtained. We stand in a different position now. At the beginning of the financial year, that is, in April, 1917, we had 660 tractors, some hired and some Government-owned. At the end of the financial year, 1918, there were 3,000 Government tractors at work, and it may be of interest to know that the tractors dealt with, I think, 611,000 acres, and that the steam tackle sets dealt with something like 1,000,000 acres. We have had to establish a base depot for tractors at Willesden. The reason for that is that we wanted to avoid the duplication of supplies. If we had supplied each executive committee with spare parts and fuel we should have had to supply a very much larger quantity than by having the base supply, and by having this the committees have been provided, and great economy effected. We have had ploughing centres where we have trained 6,000 men for ploughing, as well as a very large number of women, who are very successful with the lighter type of tractor. The schools, having done their work, are now closed.
The organisation has had to be very elaborate. It is a new venture. We have had to exercise great supervision, seeing the organisation was minute and expensive. We also, for training purposes, have had, for a considerable time before these centres were established, to send out an excessive number of men in order to work the tractors, and the tractors had to travel considerable distances from place to place. They were then operated under conditions of time and weather under which private owners, I think, would not have used them. Therefore, on these grounds it is obvious that there must be a loss unless charges considerably above the current rates of the district are made upon the occupier, who, it must be remembered, was asked and even compelled to plough. Our estimates to the Treasury are based on the recovery of two-thirds of the working expenses. The calculation is a very elaborate one; every detail is worked out most minutely, and I will give you the result of it. The working expenses—including all salaries, wages, bonuses—there is a bonus upon ploughing above a 1285 certain quantity in a certain time—fuel, spare parts, repairs, insurances under the National Health and Workmen's Compensation Acts, a portion of the expenses of the head office and the executive committee—amounts per unit of ten tractors—that is the way in which we handle it—to £136 10s. a week. Each tractor is estimated to plough 10 acres a week, and each unit, therefore, ploughs 100 acres a week. At the minimum charge of £1 per acre, there is a weekly earning of £100, or deducting 7½ per cent. for bad debts, of £92 10s., as against the working expenses of £136 10s. If you bring these figures down on an acreage basis the cost is 27s. 4d. an acre, against the net earning of 18s. 6d. per acre.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
No, I am coming to that. What we have done in these estimates I am giving you now is to charge the total expenditure to one year. It is, of course, quite wrong, and I am giving you the best figures we can, but if you put depreciation at 20 per cent. per year on all the tractors, the ploughs, and other equipment, it would add £13 10s. to the weekly cost, so that the weekly cost would be £150.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
The £150 is not wholly cost to the State, as I was explaining, because two-thirds is recovered by the charges which are made, and with regard to the £150, you must remember that it includes depreciation on capital expenditure. The total amount expended on the purchase of the necessary implements and equipment from 1st April, 1917, to 31st March, 1918, was £895,685. The working expenses for the same period was £700,095, making a total of £1,595,780.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
Hardly as much as that. I pass on to the fifth head, namely, supplies. In dealing with the supplies, fertilisers are, of course, our principal 1286 difficulty. The manufacture of fertilisers rests with the Ministry of Munitions, who have always helped us in the greatest possible way. Since March, 1917, distribution has rested with the Department; before that time it belonged to the Ministry of Food. We have arranged a flat rate of railway delivery so that the farmers of the United Kingdom, however distant, get their sulphate of ammonia exactly at the same rate. One great difficulty we had to deal with was that the works became choked and impeded as the sulphate of ammonia accumulated, and the relief which the makers of sulphate of ammonia found was by exporting it. We had to stop the export, and at the same time provide some means by which the congestion could be met. We arranged a sliding scale of payments, by which merchants were encouraged to order early, and the price was raised towards the end of the fertiliser season. This worked with remarkable success. The fertilisers have gone off quite easily, and there has been no congestion. Another thing we have done is to take in hand the railway distribution of fertilisers. Every manufacturer is allowed to supply his old customers within a 5s. railway radius. Beyond that he has to come to the Board for a special licence, and we exercise that licence with due regard to railway transport, and the facilities of supply wherever the manufacturer proposes to send the fertilisers to. We have consulted the railway executive over this scheme, and they sanctioned and approved it.
We are dealing on the whole with superphosphate, sulphate of ammonia, and basic slag to the extent of 1,100,000 tons, and we hope we shall effect a saving of something like 20,000,000 ton miles by this method of licensing, which is a matter of great importance. We have also managed to increase the supply of sulphate of ammonia very considerably. The amount of sulphate of ammonia consumed by the end of the fertiliser year of 1916 was something like 65,000 tons; at the end of this fertiliser year, namely, the 31st May, 1918, we had used 238,000 tons, and we could have sold a great deal more if we had been able to do so. We increased the amount of basic slag very greatly. We hope in this coming fertiliser year to have an increase of between 300,900 and 350,000 tons. We have prevented compound fertilisers utilising superphosphates and sulphate of ammonia at a 1287 higher price than those ingredients sold for. We oblige them now to give an analysis according to the fertiliser constituents of the compound. It is a thing for which agriculturists have been clamouring for years.
Superphosphates, of course, we have great difficulty in dealing with, because the ingredients are from abroad, and I think I ought quite frankly to confess that we made one bad blunder. We wanted superphosphates very badly in March, 1917. We wanted to get it on the land immediately. We heard of a cargo of superphosphates at Lisbon. We bought them. We thought we had arranged Blue Book rates. We did not get Blue Book rates. We got the ordinary freights, and we found we were landed with a very considerable loss—a loss of £28,000, or something in that region. But we got the superphosphates on the land, and if you put into the account what is calculated to be the ordinary increase from 1 cwt. of superphosphates, namely, 4 bushels to the acre, I think we may possibly have recouped the loss of that unfortunate blunder. In the case of seeds we have to do what we very much dislike doing, and that was going into trade at certain times. We tried our utmost to do everything through the seed merchants, who most loyally co-operated, but on occasions we have had to buy seed wheat and seed oats—seed wheat, for instance, for the spring operations of March, 1917, seed oats for the last winter, because these supplies were very scarce. We have, in each case, recouped ourselves the outlay, but we never wanted to go in for the seed trade, and, as I have said, have always tried to do everything through the trade.
As to seed potatoes, nobody who remembers the bungle and confusion which occurred in regard to potatoes in 1917 will fail to understand that in carrying out the large orders which we had to do on that occasion for the small allotment-holders it was easy to make a blunder. We had to deal with £200,000 worth of potatoes for seed. We had contracted with the allotment-holders to sell them at what was then the seed-potato price, but after many fluctuations, during which I often wished that Sir Walter Raleigh had had his head cut off before he discovered potatoes, it was ultimately fixed at a much higher price than we had contracted to sell them to the holders. We had to decide 1288 whether we would charge the allotment-holders or stand the loss ourselves. We decided to stand the loss ourselves, and it came to something like £5,000. I think on a transaction of £200,000 to lose only something like 2½ per cent. was not in the circumstances a very heavy expense. There are other points in the supplies which we have had to deal with. We have got a considerable supply of potash coming forward. We have provided for binding twine. We have had to provide seeds for allotments. That is the greatest difficulty in the development of allotments, and in order to provide the seeds we had to get the seed merchants to consent to limit their export trade until we knew that our home wants were met. They did that very loyally, and we had to provide ourselves with seed. Then there is the question of spraying. We had to provide over 6,000 potato spraying machines, all of which were sold very rapidly to the farmers or to the allotment-holders. I think there where 6,746 machines, which were sold at cost price of at very little more to the allotment-holders. We have had many demonstrations in the use of spraying, and I hope that it has been pretty general this year. The total charges for the supply division were £437,947, out of which we expect to recover £372,177, and we have recovered £282,955.
There remains the horticultural side. It has been most carefully organised to encourage the allotment-holders and small cultivators. We have horticultural representatives in 918 districts, and it is mainly owing to their efforts that we have formed 741 food production societies. We have also given instruction to the allotment-holders through a panel of gardeners, numbering over 2,000, who have given their services without payment, and our inspectors have encouraged the growth of allotments. Some of these returns as to the number of allotments may be of interest. In county boroughs the increase of allotments is 279 per cent. In 125 towns from which we have received returns the increase is 131 per cent. In 499 urban districts the increase is 164 per cent. Altogether, whereas the number of pre-war allotments was 570,000, it is now over 1,400,000. We have also taken in hand a very considerable amount of work in the preservation of fruit and vegetables. We set going a very considerable organisation for that purpose at the request of Lord Devonport, then the Food Controller, but 1289 in November the Food Controller demanded our organisation back again. We were not unwilling to give it up, and we were only too glad to be able to hand him over a going concern. We continue to look after some fruit and vegetable methods of preservation, such as canning and bottling, and whereas the number of bottles generally provided is something like 600,000, we have now obtained and are in course of distributing something like 6,000,000 bottles. That will give some idea of the extent to which the preservation of fruit and vegetables has been carried. We have also provided for the making of agricultural baskets, and I hope that something like 1,000,000 baskets—a matter of great interest in all fruit and vegetable work—will have been provided. Altogether, the expenses of the horticultural branch has been £109,403, of which a large part, of course, is recoverable.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
Yes; but not the expenses of the processes which we have handed over to the Food Controller. He has paid back what we expended. The last item is "Miscellaneous." There are not really so many items under that head as might be expected in such a lengthy list of expenditure. The total expenditure under "Miscellaneous" is £4,934. The most important item is that of a seed-testing station. We set up a seed-testing station at which seeds can be tested for purity and germination. Hitherto it may surprise the Committee to know that in England, although it is the greatest emporium for seeds in the world, we have sold our seeds abroad with a foreign certificate as to purity and germination. The seed-testing station was started on a small war scale, but already it promises to become self-supporting.
The total expenditure under all those heads is £3,133,003. Out of this we expect to recover £1,452,940, leaving an expenditure—and you must remember that a great part of this is capital expenditure—of £1,680,063. Of the recoverable amount, we have already, up to 31st March, 1918, recovered £602,985. Therefore, the expenditure which may be charged against the Food Production Department is £1,680,063. A great part of that, something like £1,200,000, is capital expenditure, and if you spread it over a period of four years obviously it becomes a much smaller sum. That is the 1290 amount which has been spent and how it has been spent. The House would like to know what it has got for the money. After all, that is the most important point. We have been charged very often with dealing only with what we have done as a matter of acres. People say to us, "Why do not you deal with it from the point of view of the produce?" Surely that is a most unreasonable proposition! How can we deal with what we have done as a matter of produce until the wheat, for instance, has gone through the threshing machine? You do not know till then. All that we can tell is that as a result of this expenditure, instead of a considerable decline such as might have been expected in 1916, we have increased the arable area of the country by 2,142,000 acres. It has been cropped in this way: We have an increase of wheat of 752,000 acres, or 39 per cent., which is the highest acreage of wheat recorded since 1882. We have increased barley by 158,000 acres, or 11 per cent. We have increased oats by 735,000 acres, or 35 per cent., showing the highest on record by 23 per cent. We have not neglected the crops for live stock, because we have increased the acreage of rye, beans, peas, beans, etc., by 280,000 acres, or 69 per cent. We have increased potatoes by 217,000 acres, or 50 per cent., giving the highest on record by 27 per cent. It does not stop at that. This movement has spread to Scotland and Ireland. We have the highest acreage under corn crops in the United Kingdom that has ever been recorded in the history of British agriculture. Nor has it stopped there. I will not say that the movement has been imitated, but it has set an example to France, to Italy, and to Greece. Our methods have been studied in all those countries, and in Italy and Greece they have been largely adopted, with the result that Greece hopes to become self-supporting with the harvest of 1918. Of course, you cannot tell what the harvest is going to be, but, subject to it being an average harvest, the position of the Allied countries as regards food is vastly better than it was in 1917 or 1916, and the relief to our tonnage in not having supplies from America by reason of the food supplies that are now grown here and in the Allied countries is very great and likely to be of material assistance to us.
I should have liked to have gone further. I should have liked, if we had had the labour to have ploughed up more land. I am afraid that in this matter of ploughing 1291 I am one of those who stand midway between two schools. There is one school which wishes to plough up nothing, and there is another school which wishes to plough up everything, and, like a member of a Coalition Government, I suppose I have no friends because I stand between the two; but I am convinced that with our existing supply of labour we could not safely carry out the programme of further ploughing which we had in mind. We had designed to increase still further the arable area, as we might possibly have done given the labour, with a view, some three or four years hence, of approaching the time when we might be self-supporting. I have said that it is impossible to carry out that programme, but we hold it before us as an ideal, and if ever labour is materially and substantially improved and secured we should be prepared to undertake some portion of it, but for the present we have suspended the issue of all ploughing-up notices. We have, of course, to deal with those notices which are already out, and as to those we have adopted the position that in each case they are to be reconsidered on their merits with regard to the supply of labour and the changed conditions which may have taken place. If no change has taken place in the condition of the farm which would prevent the notices being carried out, they will be carried out for this reason: The Orders which have been held in abeyance are Orders given out for the most part some months ago, and they were allowed to delay carrying them out in order, for instance, that they might get their hay harvest in. I feel that it would be so unjust to suspend them altogether if the man is still able to carry them out, and this would create an ill-feeling amongst those farmers who carried the Order out at once.
In conclusion, I should like to say a word about the splendid support given by the farmers themselves. I do not think the public really understand what sacrifices the farmer has made. I am not talking about the man who grows some exceptional crops, but of the mixed arable farms, which are the principal stand-by in this country. I do not believe people realise what sacrifices of money profits those men make. They accepted the new principle which we tried to put before them. It is not now a question of what is going to pay them best, but it is a question of what will produce the most food, and they have 1292 most loyally met my appeal. Looking at the performance, which is, after all, not the performance of a Department or of the Board, but the performance of a great number of small men—after all, the vast majority of these farmers come under that definition—it is an effort to meet a great national emergency, and I regard the farmer's performance as one of the great achievements of the War.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am very glad that the President of the Board of Agriculture has in his concluding words made some concession to farmers with regard to the ploughing up of further grass lands. I should like to say that, while I object as a small farmer to the further ploughing up of grass land, I have done it, not because I belong to the school described by the right hon. Gentleman as those who desire no ploughing up of grass land, but because I desire to develop as much as possible all the sources of production we have at our disposal. I do not know whether the Committee will excuse me if I say that I have myself some little knowledge of farming, inasmuch as I farm some seven hundred acres, and I do it mostly myself. I do all the buying and selling, I settle the wages sheet, and I draw the cheque myself every time. Of course, I do not pretend to have anything like the knowledge possessed by the hon. Member for the Wilton Division (Sir C. Bathurst), but I have some little ordinary knowledge of the common details of the working of a farm. My experience has taught me that if you want to be successful as an arable farmer you must do two things. You must, first of all, have your land very fit and get your crops in very early. I do not think any practical man will dispute that proposition. To carry those two conditions out you must have plenty of labour and efficient men.
It is quite true that the improvements in machinery have diminished labour on arable farms, but, on the other hand, the labour that is still necessary must be skilled. You must have men accustomed to horses and machinery, and, however excellent and desirable women labour may be, the women cannot possibly supply the skilled labour. If it is necessary to plough up more land it is evident you must have more labour, and there can be no question about that. What is the position? We have got less labour than we ever had before, and we have much less skilled labour, and what is really happening now 1293 in a good many instances—I do not say it is so in every instance! In order to be able to say, "We have ploughed up fifty acres," the result has been that fifty acres of the existing arable land has been neglected in order that fifty acres of grass land may be ploughed, with the result that in some cases the grass and the hay which would have been produced on that fifty acres has been lost, and the crop grown on the fifty acres has by no means always been a success, because the remaining old arable land has been neglected. If you really desire to produce the most you can you must concentrate upon a certain amount of acres and keep that in the best possible cultivation.
I see present the Member for one of the Yorkshire Divisions, and I understand there that the ploughing up of grass land has been a very great success. I do not live in Yorkshire, and, therefore, I have not the advantage of the excellent agricultural committee for that district, but in my part of the country the new procedure has been by no means a success. I have myself got about ten acres of very excellent oats. I ploughed it up early in January with my own horses. I took a considerable amount of trouble with it, and I think I shall have a very fair profit. My part of the country is not a very good corn-growing country. I have forty-one acres on which there is absolutely nothing at all. There was a very fine crop of grass in March, but at present there is nothing on that land but weeds. That is not through any fault of mine, but because the right hon. Gentleman has cultivated it, and this is the result. The War Agricultural Committee some time in February or March gave out the quota of men which the county must provide for the Army. I was told by some of the people who knew that they were actually proposed by the Food Production Department in this way. They said, "If you do not plough more grass we will do it ourselves." The safeguard of local knowledge completely disappeared, and the consequence was that land was taken which was not the best for the purpose, because no one will say that grass land worth £4 an acre for feeding purposes for five or six months is the best possible land to plough up.
If you are ploughing up old pastures you are bound to plough up a lot of fibre which it is very difficult to disperse, and you must allow a certain amount of time for the action of the weather to destroy the fibre. This was done in March, and 1294 nothing could touch it, and, therefore, it could not be worked, and all the labour was lost; in fact, the grass was lost and nothing has been gained. I do not often correspond in the papers, but recently I have writen one or two letters, and I have not had a single letter—I generally get good many anonymous letters describing me as being of a reactionary and foolish character—either anonymous or signed, objecting to what I have said. On the contrary, I have had a very large number of letters endorsing what I said. I would like to read a very short quotation from a Cirencester paper which was circulated about a fortnight ago. There was a meeting of the farmers there, and this is what they said:There was a very strong feeling in the Northleach district that this ploughing up should not be urged to the extent it had been because it was a very serious question. What was the good of breaking up this land which was productive and making it non-productive?Another gentleman said:The whole thing pointed to the difficulty of trying to farm the land from headquarters in London. He had been of the same opinion right through.Then another gentleman said:He broke up twenty acres of sainfoin this spring to be patriotic and planted it with oats. Unfortunately the drought had set in and unless it altered very much from what it was to-day he should not have very much more corn when harvest came than he planted in the ground in the spring.There was an extremely able letter about a week ago in the "Times" by their agricultural correspondent, in which He says:It is felt by farmers that the Board of Agriculture should define their policy more clearly than has yet been done stating whether their aim is acres or quarters. The two are not synonymous and there is a suspicion that war-time necessity is being used to promote revolutionary changes that have not the backing of economic experience.I have several private letters confirming what I have said that in a good number of cases the crop that will probably result will not be more than the seed that has been put in. I see Lord Cowley, in a letter in the "Times" to-day, says the same thing has happened in his part of North Wiltshire, which is about twenty miles from where I live. I do not want to go into the past, but I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has met us so far that for the future, as I understand it, no more grass land will be ploughed up. There was a saying that it would go on if 1295 labour could be obtained. Of course if there was a sufficiency of skilled labour that would alter the position to a certain extent, but I do not think there is any chance of their being a sufficiency of skilled labour until after the War, and therefore I do not think we need allude very much to it. There was one further point which the right hon. Gentleman made, and it was that where those orders had already been given I understand there will be a further inquiry.
§ Mr. PROTHERO assented.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Still, the idea would be that the persons who have already had an order made on them would be compelled to break up the land. Of course, farmers are like everybody else. I do not doubt for a moment that there have been certain cases, although I believe that, as a rule—I think the President agrees with me—farmers as a body have done their very best to comply with the requests made by these Departments in very difficult circumstances. I do not think we should be entirely guided by principle, and although if we do not compel these people to plough up their land they will be in a better position than their brothers who have already ploughed, the point is, shall we be doing any good in the direction of food production? That alone ought to guide us. If by being obstinate a farmer has saved his grass and it is to the interest of the nation that the grass should be saved, it ought to be saved. I have a short letter here, and I will only read two extracts from it. It refers to a farmer in Devonshire—the letter is written by his brother—who apparently has been exempted from military service by the war agricultural committee on the understanding that he shall break up another 130 acres of land. His brother writes to me to say—It is open to question whether such an undertaking obtained under duress holds good in law.It is quite right that a man should go and fight for his country unless he is doing work of national importance, but it is not right to say to a man, "Unless you do something which we think will improve the production of food in the country we shall take advantage of being able to give you an exemption, and say you will have to go to the War." The gentleman writes to me to say: 1296He and I were in fact given to understand by the Board of Agriculture in London that his case would be heard at Exeter and not at—In the circumstances, I consider that the matter should not be allowed to rest, and I shall be much obliged if you will kindly suggest what steps can be taken to put right his case.I replied to his letter this morning, saying that I thought the best thing I could do was to hand his letter to the President of the Board of Agriculture, which I accordingly do.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I quite understand. I do not know whether the statement is correct. I do not vouch for it. I only hand the right hon. Gentleman the letter. I hope that if the policy of ploughing more grass land should be ever recommended that the idea of getting a certain number of acres from each county should be abandoned. In my experience not only every county differs, but in many cases almost every field differs. You cannot lay down a hard and fast line and say that in a certain county so many acres shall be ploughed and that in another county so many more shall be ploughed. Again, labour differs. In some counties it is very plentiful and in others very scarce. The principal condition is to see that in each county a certain amount of suitable land—never mind the quantity—which can be properly cultivated should be ploughed up. I do not want to go into the past, but I am not at all sure that sending local people round to adjudicate upon their neighbours' proceedings is altogether a wise course. In certain cases there are little petty quarrels which have been in existence for a long time, and opportunities are taken to wipe off old scores, or what are supposed to be old scores. I do not think it is a very wise proceeding to send a man to deal with his neighbour. Neighbours are not always very friendly, and it is not a very wise thing to do unless you have very exceptional people.
When I had the honour of meeting the right hon. Gentleman the other day I alluded to the fact that it is very necessary to keep blacksmiths and saddlers in the country. In my own district there were only one saddler and three blacksmiths to deal with a large arable district. Those three men had received notice to be examined. I had a very kind letter from the right hon. Gentleman, in which he gave me certain information, but this morning I received a letter from the saddler, who 1297 tells me that he has been examined and the result is that he was informed that if he has an operation he will then be put into Grade I and will be taken He sends me a petition, signed by some sixty farmers, which I will hand to the right hon. Gentleman. I went into this man's case last week. He has no one to help him. He is trying to get an assistant, but cannot. His father is a very old man, with whom he has not been on very good terms, and he has only taken him into his house to prevent him going to the workhouse. It is not possible for the father to give him any assistance. It is obvious that, if you cannot get harness repaired, you cannot plough or reap. The same applies to the blacksmith. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will hand him this letter. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has come to the conclusion he has announced. I will not go into the question as to whether the policy is wise, but I trust that in the future he and all of us will be able to work together to do the best we can to obtain food production.
§ Mr. TURTON
As representing an agricultural constituency perhaps I may be pardoned for addressing a few observations to the Committee. In the first place, we are very much indebted to the President for his extremely interesting statement, and for going so thoroughly into the whole question of agriculture. I hope that those who have been somewhat captious critics of the policy of the Board of Agriculture will read his speech. If they do so with any amount of intelligence I am convinced they will come to the conclusion that we have not only in the President of the Board of Agriculture, but in all the different officials connected with that Board, a most capable body, which deserves the greatest praise and every encouragement from all those connected with agriculture. I am glad that the President thought it right to pay a well-deserved tribute to the efforts of the farmers of this country in the present crisis. There is no more loyal and patriotic body of men in the country than the farmers. The President was perfectly right when he stated on the floor of the House in his official capacity that they have made great sacrifices for the cause of their country. I hope those ignorant and ill-informed individuals outside, who are only too apt to find fault with the farmers, will recognise that the President has spoken with authority, and I hope we shall have no 1298 more of these ill-deserved attacks which are so often made on the farming community. I am glad also that the President paid a well-deserved compliment to the women of the country for coming forward in the way they have done. I do not know how it would have been possible to carry on the farms without the assistance we have received from the women. I should also like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the fact that he has reconsidered the question of the ploughing-up notices, and has decided that for the present they can be suspended. We have almost reached the breaking-down point in regard to the ploughing up of further land. It would have been almost impossible, under the present conditions of labour, in view of the large amount of land that has already been ploughed up, if any more notices had been sent out, to carry them out.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not elaborate further the question of labour on the farms. The question has been raised in two previous Debates, but it is the crucial point connected with agriculture at the present time. I do not want to go into the arguments so well stated by other hon. Members the other evening, but I would remind the Committee and the President himself of the present condition in which we find ourselves. If we go back to the year 1880 or to the time when agriculture began to decline, we find that year after year there was a large exodus of men from the country into the towns. By degrees the countryside has been depleted of its best men and of those who were originally brought up for agricultural purposes. The result is that at the present time we find ourselves far short of the necessary amount of labour. The President has alluded to the different methods by which he proposes to increase the labour. He mentioned the German prisoners. I hope that some change may be made in the present arrangements under which German prisoners work on the farms. Would it be believed that according to the arrangements now existing—I hope they are about to be changed—no German prisoner is asked to walk more than 3 miles to the farm where he is to work? The result is that when a farmer has practically no one to work for him, if he resides more than 3 miles from the town where the prisoners are kept, he has to drive in early in the morning, probably his most busy time, to bring these German 1299 prisoners to work. Then on the stroke of four in the afternoon the German prisoner says that his time is up and he proceeds to go home.
We saw in the "Times" the other day an account of a prisoner who had eaten all his breakfast and the rest of his rations for the day in the morning. Close by me in Yorkshire a German prisoner had only one biscuit left in the middle of the day. It is impossible for a man to go through the day's work unless he gets a proper amount of food and the proper allowance of rations. I hope my right hon. Friend will look into this question and will see that it is impossible to ask the farmer to drive in his trap to bring the prisoner to work. People in the past have been accustomed to walk 3 or 4 miles in order to do a day's threshing, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, if it was possible for an Englishman to do it, at any rate a German prisoner might equally be asked to do it. There are many other methods by which it would be possible to increase the labour on the farms. Particularly you might do a great deal more combing out from the mines and from the timber merchants. Unfortunately, timber work is one of the greatest competitors with agriculture for labour at the present time. Wherever wood is being cut down, large wages are offered to the men to cut it down. Some attempt might be made to get these men back to work on the farms. I do not like to make suggestions with regard to where you might get labour, but I should have thought it was possible in these days to issue an edict under the Defence of the Realm Act that there should be no more cheap jewellery made in Birmingham and other towns. I should like to see every jewellery shop in every town throughout the United Kingdom shut up and no more money spent on cheap jewellery, and that some of the men employed in making this jewellery, on which munition workers are spending money, should be got to work on the land. I hope he will see his way to assist, as far as he can, in getting more labour on to the farms. It is no use at present relying on Irish farm labourers. No English farmer wants an Irish labourer to help him in his harvest, and I do not think he will find very many English labourers who will work alongside an Irishman at present, especially if he is of military age. I have 1300 every sympathy with the English farmer and labourer in refusing to stand alongside an Irishman who is of military age.
The right hon. Gentleman has to-day been extremely valiant, because, in his own words, he is cock of his own dunghill; but I want to ask that he will be equally firm when the questions comes of adjusting what are to be the prices for the farmers during the ensuing season. I understand the prices are fixed by the Food Control Department, in consultation with the right hon. Gentleman. The agricultural correspondent of the "Times" pointed out last Monday that this matter must be dealt with soon, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to recollect the enormous cost that we have been put to, not only in connection with wages, machinery, and horses, but in almost every single matter connected with agriculture. It has been suggested that we ought not to have less than 80s. a quarter for our wheat. With that opinion I entirely concur. If prices were fixed on a certain basis when the minimum wage was to be put up to 25s. a week, now that in all counties we are paying, with the cottages and the gardens and the other perquisites which they get, not less than 34s. or 35s. a week, we are entitled to a little advance on those prices which were mentioned at the time of the Corn Production Act. With regard to the price of hay, it is perfectly monstrous that farmers should not get more than £5 10s. a ton. The whole of the arrangements connected with hay are on an entirely wrong basis. If you sell your hay to one of your smallholders you have to get the consent of an authority somewhere else, the buyer has to pay that authority 5s. a ton and the seller 2s. 6d. a ton, and when you get your money goodness only knows. I let one of my smallholders have some hay last February. He sent the money in long ago. In addition, of course, he has to pay the poundage. I have never seen any money in payment for it. At present hay is being sent from Yorkshire to Leicestershire, and people in Yorkshire who wanted it have actually received hay which has been as far as Cornwall and have had to pay as much as £9 a ton. Is it not possible to get some better arrangement by which hay can be bought on the spot from neighbours instead of sending it to these far-distant places and then bringing it back? There is enormous congestion of traffic on all the railways, and it is indeed hard upon the Railway Executive that the Department 1301 should send hay by rail these enormous distances and then bring it back. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, in consultation with the Ministry of Food, will deal with this question in a liberal fashion. The expenses of the farmers have gone up enormously. There is no single thing for which they have not to pay a greatly enhanced price, and the idea that they are making enormous profits is entirely a myth.
Is it not possible for the right hon. Gentleman to release some of the cottonseed cake which is so necessary for the milk producer? Milk production is in great jeopardy on account of the Order suspending any further delivery of cotton-seed cake. It is not only the milk. If you have stock which is already fat it begins to lose weight unless you are able to give it some cake, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see whether it is not possible to release some of that cake of which we know there is already a large amount in stock. You cannot keep cotton cake indefinitely. After you have had it for some three months it begins to get mouldy and it will go bad, and the only result of keeping it will be that it will be wasted and you jeopardise the milk production.
The right hon. Gentleman paid a well-deserved compliment to the county agricultural committees. They have done very good work indeed, and he has a great deal to his credit in having established them. I remember at the time they were established receiving a letter from him asking me to do all I could in my division to assist him in bringing them to the notice of my Constituents. They deserve very well of the country. Will the right hon. Gentleman keep a very watchful eye upon that Report of the Reconstruction Committee in which it is suggested that these committees are to be done away with, and that the work of the county councils, which manage the agricultural education of the counties and look after the small holdings and other matters connected with agriculture, is all to be given over to a Statutory Committee. I hate the expression "Statutory Committee." There are far too many suggestions to have Statutory Committees. You cannot have a better body than the county councils, directly elected by the ratepayer, who have to levy the rates themselves after the matter has been debated in public. A Statutory Committee is not dependent upon the votes of anybody. It is not in any way amenable to questions connected with 1302 rates, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see that the county councils are not about to have taken away from them those powers which they have exercised so well in regard to small holdings, allotments, and agricultural education, and have them diverted to a Statutory Committee.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the way in which he piloted the Land Drainage Bill through the House and through Committee upstairs. I suppose it was a record that the Bill should have got through Committee before the hour for adjournment. By means of the Land Drainage Bill and the vast system under the county committees, 120,000 acres of land have been brought back. There is no more crucial question connected with the cultivation of land than seeing that it is properly drained. Most of us had our estates drained some forty to fifty years ago—deep draining and the drains buried—and the tiles by this time have perished. It is absolutely essential that we should have some scheme brought forward by which those lands can be effectively and properly drained. It is an absolute waste of money, time, and energy to have any cultivation of land unless you have it properly drained, if it happens to be waterlogged. Land drainage schemes refer only to the large areas, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see, in addition, that some scheme is brought forward by which owners of land can on some easy terms, probably under the lands improvement scheme, be able to get their land drained, and thereby increase cultivation. I thank him for what he has done for us in the past, and I beg him with all my heart to keep his eye on the question of prices and present a very stiff upper lip and a firm back when he comes to consult with the Food Controller.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
No one could have listened to the speech of the President of the Board of Agriculture without being struck by the extraordinary grasp he has of the very varied range of subjects which he has presented to the House. I do not suppose there is any man in the country who has a greater experience of agricultural subjects than the right hon. Gentleman. There is nothing truer than the sentiment he uttered that the future of agriculture depended upon prices. Of course the prices of agricultural produce have soared enormously, so much so that the guaranteed prices under the Corn Production Act are already out of date, con- 1303 sideling the very large increases in the farmers' expenditure. No one who has no practical experience of the matter can realise how enormously their expenses have gone up. It is really something phenomenal. At present prices I should not like to commence farming and to stock a farm. I am very doubtful whether I should make a profit or not. The hon. Member (Mr. Turton) alluded to Statutory Committees. The less we have of these Statutory Committees the better. If the State proposes to farm, the State will get far more thistles than cabbages. I should think anyone with the example of State control in all our industries before him must be thoroughly sick of all of it.
The House to-day is in a very mild, contented frame of mind. It does not in the least reflect agricultural feeling outside. They are exasperated to a degree, and anyone who goes to a country district will have very great difficulty in getting them to realise that the policy of the Government, especially in regard to labour, has been justified. I had to speak at a war aims meeting last Friday, in Devonshire, and I had to make a special appeal to the farmers to come forward and put their savings into Government securities.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will tell him. Like other people, farmers made a good deal of money in the first two years of the War. If a man had bought whisky then he would have made a large sum of money. But I put that aside for the moment. I do assure the House there is a very great deal of dissatisfaction in agricultural circles, and no one can expect anything else. I am quite certain the right hon. Gentleman knows it as well as I do. He has said, and said truly, that the agricultural community have responded magnificently to his appeal. He told us—it was published a week or two ago in the newspapers—that there are something like 8,000,000 acres of corn and potatoes grown this year. That is, 2,000,000 acres more than in the year 1916. To that statement, which was published, I have no doubt, under the authority of the Board of Agriculture, this very significant sentence was added:In England and Wales alone there are over 200,000 fewer male labourers on the land to-day 1304 than in the year before the War after crediting all military and prisoner-labour furnished by the Government.Therefore it is a marvellous achievement on the part of the agricultural community that, with very depleted labour forces, they have been able to increase the corn and potatoes. But I do not want to go back on these things. The Government must realise, as the right hon. Gentleman stated here on the 1st July, that they have taken the key-men from the agricultural industry, and thereby have undoubtedly risked the gathering in of these largely increased harvests. There is no way out of it. I am perfectly certain the right hon. Gentleman must realise, even with the weather we are having to-day, which must have the effect of beating down some of the good crops, that the harvest will be very much more difficult to gather in than before this large number of men were called up. I do not want to quote what the right hon. Gentleman said, but he put the matter with absolute accuracy when he raid that practically every one of these 30,000 men recently called up was a skilled man, and a great number of them were the key men of the industry, and without them a great mass of unskilled labour would be but an unmanageable crowd. That is absolutely true, and therefore I must again appeal to the Government to reconsider this matter whether they cannot release some of this labour and so secure the harvest. I know my right hon. Friend is impressed by the exigencies of the situation in France, but I am sometimes inclined to think that he might stand up a little more stiffly to his colleagues in the Government. He seems to me to be sometimes a little like a willow, very graceful and beautiful, but a little drooping. Of course we all know that he is a gentleman in the truest sense of the word, and therefore somewhat at a disadvantage in dealing with men of a rather coarser fibre. At this moment we are in the midst of summer. The food position looks fairly hopeful, but the winter is coming. [Laughter.] I am afraid it is an obvious remark, but I am not sure that it is altogether realised. The winter is coming. Lord Rhondda achieved great success with his Department—probably one of the greatest successes of recent days—and he, like Nelson, died on the eve of victory. But I want the House of Commons and the Government to realise that we shall be without many of the eggs, and much 1305 of the butter and vegetables in the coming winter that we have to-day. Jam, of course, will be very scarce. If you were to withdraw 30,000 men from the shipping industry you would say it was absolute folly. But that is what has been done with regard to the agricultural industry, and the Government know perfectly well that if we do not produce the food at home—we have got a large amount of it produced, but if we do not secure the harvesting of it—then, we must import food, and that will mean the use of an enormous amount of shipping. It would be to the interest of the country itself, and to the interest of everyone, that you should make sure of securing a good harvest. Of course, you cannot farm with regiments of men. People forget that every farm is an individual unit. Each farmer has his one or two labourers, as the case may be. You cannot send down a regiment to a parish and order them to harvest one part of that parish, and then another part of it. It all has to depend on the weather, and the crops get ripe at the same moment. These men who have been taken away are so absolutely essential in this matter that the farmers undoubtedly will have very great difficulty in harvesting their crops. Women have come out splendidly. As my hon. Friend opposite said, they have in many cases saved the situation, but you cannot expect women to do this hard manual work. It cannot be done. If you have seen women work, as I have; if you have seen them throwing up the corn on to the carts, and out of the carts on to the ricks, you would say it could not be done. I would again impress on the Government that although the submarine menace is better in hand, it is not by any means defeated. If you take the first six months of this year, we lost something like 200,000 tons of shipping per month. That means a total of about 1,200,000 tons, and we only built about 760,000 tons. Surely, from the point of view of bringing troops from America, you will want your ships for that purpose rather than for importing food!
There is one other point which I wish to press on the President, and that is that counties which have carried out the behests of the Government have been very unfairly penalised. The county which I know best, Devon, has had its quota to find lately of 950 men. It found 940 of them, and every one of these men has gone. Not one has been left behind. 1306 They were all called up before 26th June, the date fixed by the Minister of National Service. I have been endeavouring to find out what this concession really meant and the number of men who received their calling-up notices after 26th June, and who therefore would not be taken before the harvest. The Minister of National Service says he will not give the figures, but that a relatively small proportion of men will be left. Therefore, we may take it that practically the whole of these men have gone, "except"—I quote from his answer this afternoon—"in the case of some of the Welsh counties where there have been special difficulties to meet." I do not know why there should be more difficulties to meet in the Welsh counties than in the English counties, but I do not ask for an explanation of that now. With regard to the labour which you are sending down to us, the men do their best, but the labour is costly, because it is inefficient labour. They have not got the skill, although they do as well as they can. You compel the farmer to pay the rate of wages current in the district. I would not object to that, if we could get the efficiency current in the district, but we have not got it. If the right hon. Gentleman is unable to persuade his colleagues to release for the harvest, and the harvest alone, some of the men recently taken, cannot the Army release some of their low-grade labour? There are an enormous number of men in the Army who will never be any good for fighting purposes, and who would be far better engaged on the land. Depend upon it, the farmers of the country do want some encouragement in this respect. They are controlled to an extent to which no other industry is.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The agricultural industry is controlled by the Board of Agriculture, which provides the acres, by the Munitions Department, which provides the fertilisers, by the National Service Department, which takes away the men, and by the Food Production Department, which fixes prices. That is not a bad lot of control; four Departments practically controlling agriculture.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
All I can say is I do not fancy the coal owners are doing very badly. We have to pay a very heavy 1307 price for coal. Still, I am not arguing about coal, but about agriculture, and when the coal question comes up I have not the smallest doubt that my hon. Friend, who is a great expert on many subjects, will be able to present the case of the coal owners to the House. With regard to the future, I am glad the President has announced his decision that he will not ask that more acreage should be ploughed up. I think you could have had greater acreage possibly if you had had the requisite amount of labour, but you have not got it, and it would be folly to increase the acreage of ploughed-up land if you have not got the labour properly to cultivate it. It would be simply window dressing. My right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) quoted just now from the agricultural correspondent of the "Times," who said: "It is quarters, and not acres, that we want to aim at in future." Of course, a great deal of unsuitable land has been ploughed up. There is a great deal of land to-day that will hardly return the seed that has been sown on it. There have been a good many blunders, but you can forgive blunders when there has been such a great measure of success. I would ask whether it is not possible now, instead of laying down a hard and fast quota, to devote your energies, and concentrate your attention upon the best land for corn-growing purposes. Raise the standard of the cultivation of the land. You are bound to do with less labour. I do not think anything can or will replace the 30,000 men who have been taken. It is essential that the land which you do cultivate should be cultivated in the best possible manner. For that purpose it is really essential we should have a sufficient supply of fertilisers. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us some satisfactory assurance with regard to the supply of fertilisers for the crops that will be planted this autumn and next spring? It would be of immense advantage if we could have some guarantee in this matter.
My right hon. Friend referred to the decline in the pig population of the country. He did not give the figures, but they are very marked. He alluded to the amount of dredge corn that had been tilled. He said that something like 682,000 acres of rye, dredge corn and pulse had been tilled, and rather indicated, I think, that it would be used for feeding cattle. I am sorry to say the 1308 Food Ministry will not allow us to use it for feeding cattle or pigs. I had brought to my notice a case of a man who had actually to sell his own good barley at £16 10s. a ton, and then to buy inferior pig meal at £21 10s. a ton. Naturally, there is a decline in the supply of pigs in those conditions. If the right hon. Gentleman could tell us that we shall be able to utilise this dredge corn for the purpose of producing pork and beef, and, if he thinks right, some of it for poultry, it would give a great impetus to the production of these things. But you cannot expect people to rear pigs or fowl unless they can get food for them. I hope that he will be able to give agriculturists an assurance on this point. I fear very much also that unless something is done you will have a great scarcity of milk next winter. The cost of production of milk has gone up enormously. Though women are very capable of milking cows, they do not like doing it. A cow has got to be milked fourteen times a week. There is no Saturday afternoon or Sunday off. It is rather monotonous work, and the dairy farmer has got to pay very high wages to get it done. I hope, therefore, that dairy farmers will not be so restricted in the use of home-grown corn for cattle. If they are, I fear it will mean something very serious for the dairy industry in the winter. In conclusion, I would congratulate the right hon. Gentleman very much on his efforts to increase the food production of the country. The suggestions which have been made this afternoon and certainly those which I have made have not been in the nature of criticism upon him personally, but have been made entirely, with the object of increasing the food supply of the country.
The point of view from which I would like to look at this question is that of the smallholders or small farmers of this country. Though we are all interested in the small farmer, I am especially so, as I represent what is now, under the new Act, the county of Holland, which claims to be the premier agricultural constituency in England. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] At any rate, it is the chosen land of the smallholder, and the county council have a rental of £19,000 a year, which is punctually paid, from smallholders. In that part of the country there is the largest unsatisfied demand for small holdings in England. We have done our duty 1309 in the matter of ploughing up grass land, and of the 240,000 acres which we had only 50,000 are still in grass. But I am sure that the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman will be welcomed, as I think that, if we are still to maintain our present system of agriculture, we cannot do more at present as regards the breaking up of grass land. Coming to the subject of manpower, the substituted labour may be analysed into women, German prisoners, and war agricultural volunteers, who would be mostly, I suppose, men over forty-five; and after the remarks of the hon. Gentleman opposite I do not venture to mention the Irish labourer in this House. While the arrangements made for providing the larger farmers with this labour are adequate, there are no adequate arrangements made for providing this labour for the smaller men.
There is a question which I would like to put to the right hon. Gentleman which is of interest to all Members of this House, especially to those who, like myself, have seen active service. I would like to know what progress is being made under the Small Holdings Colonies Act, 1916, in the settlement of soldiers and sailors on the land? The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture (Sir E. Winfrey), whom I see present, has given his lifetime to advocating the interests of smallholders, and has done yeoman service on their behalf, and I would like to ask him specially as regards the Holbeach colony. I understand that the Board of Agriculture has leased 1,000 acres from the Crown and has divided, or is in course of dividing, them up on behalf of soldiers and sailors who are unable to take a further active part in the War. I would ask him specially what is the size of the farms into which it is proposed to divide these 1,000 acres, and also how much Crown land he has to distribute. If he could make some announcement on that subject I am sure that it would be very well received by all of us who are interested in the question of the soldier and the sailor. In my part of the country I think that the largest landowners are the colleges and institutions like Guy's Hospital. I do not think that the policy of these institutions has been sympathetic with the smallholder, or at least I think that they might carry their care of the smallholder somewhat further than they have carried it up to the present. I am quite well aware that these are semi-private institutions, and 1310 that the Board of Agriculture has not any great hold upon them. Still I would be very glad of the Parliamentary Secretary in the course of his answer would indicate the lines by which these bodies could be induced to meet the wishes of the smallholders.
In the matter of banking facilities I quite realise that the banks have afforded ample scope in the past to the large farmers, but I do not think that their operation has been so satisfactory in the case of the smaller men, and I am afraid that the position may be all the more compromised as a result of these banking amalgamations which are going on so fast and as to which there is great anxiety in country districts. It seems to me that the smaller men have had to rely more on tradesmen, auctioneers, seedsmen, and so forth, on a system of credit. This has been a great advantage to them in some ways. It has had the advantage of being very speedy and secret, and based on personal knowledge of the men, but it has had the great disadvantage that it is not based on a stable financial system or on proper business rates. Therefore, the great thing is to combine on the one hand for the small people a system which shall be speedy, secret, and based on knowledge of themselves, and on the other hand shall have the financial stability and give the rates that are desirable. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman what has been done as regards the system referred to last year of affording banking credits to these small people? On the subject of agricultural research I think that the fault is that the money grant is far too small. I have been accustomed to look at Treasury matters according to the principles of Gladstone and Harcourt, but I think that we might well spend more money than we are doing on this subject. We very often train these people in research and pay them so very little that they go away to some other place where they can do better for themselves. I would like also to say a word as regards the National Agricultural Council, which has been organised by very able and patriotic people. As I understand that, it is entirely a private body, but in view of recommendations that have been made it is hoped that in future it will be recognised and become part of the organisation of a body of people representative of agriculture. If so, I would like to put in a word for the smallholders in order that they may get representation 1311 on this body. I am quite well aware that owing to the energy of the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Weigall) they are being represented.
I pass now to the important question of the housing of the right hon. Gentleman of the President himself. I have wandered far and wide in London to eight or nine offices which are all occupied by his Department. I very much hope that he may be able to contract his quarters, and that he may house himself in some more central place where we can more easily get from him the information which we desire. Finally, I should like to pay a tribute to the ability of the right hon. Gentleman's officers, who are always ready to give such full and ample information on subjects affecting an industry which is the first interest of all Members of this House.
§ Captain Sir CHARLES BATHURST
I should like, in the first place, to welcome the hon. Member for Thirsk (Mr. Turton) as a valuable recruit so far as the agricultural ranks in this House are concerned. We have all listened with great interest to his speech, which contains evidence of the study of that question of agricultural reconstruction which we shall all have to face during the next few years, and especially the social side of it. I should like to join with him in urging the President of the Board to consider how this enhanced body of land labour is to be used after the War, and to put pressure upon the President of the Local Government Board to see that this problem is tackled in good time. The hon. Member who has just spoken (Major Peel) referred to the National Agricultural Council and asked the representative of the Board for some information on that matter. As this is clearly a matter on which the representative of the Board is not entitled to nor could probably say very much, for the very reason that its main function, as a quite independent organisation representing various classes of agriculturists in this country, is, so to speak, to put a wholesome pressure from time to time on the Department of Agriculture and to keep it up to Scratch in the best interests of the industry, perhaps he will allow me to say a few words in reply to his questions, as I have the honour of being one of the two representatives of the landed interest on 1312 the advisory committee of the council, the other representative being my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle. We hope that this body will effectually represent all organised forces in agriculture in the country—landowners, farmers, smallholders, allotment-holders, and labour, and I may say at once that we welcome the effective organisation during the last few months of labour in the agricultural world as calculated to enable us to speak with a more united voice and therefore with greater conviction on questions affecting the vital interests of agriculture than we have been able to do in the past.
Before making a few comments on the interesting speech of the President of the Board of Agriculture I should like, in the presence of the hon. Member for the Maiden Division (Sir Fortescue Flannery), to make reference to a matter which he raised by question in the House yesterday. I found, when I entered the House somewhat late last night, I was greeted by some of my oldest and most respected friends as a pro-German as a result of this question put to the right hon. Gentleman. Apart from other considerations, I can assure the House that ever since in October, 1914, a German gentleman of the name of Carl Klosh decided to call himself henceforward Charles Bathurst, and has since been and is now masquerading in this country under that name, I have no sympathy whatever with those enemy aliens who ought at the present time to be interned, and I shall be the very first to take steps to banish them from every part of this country, whether in the hon. Gentleman's constituency or elsewhere.
§ Sir FORTESCUE FLANNERY
The question which I addressed to the President of the Board of Agriculture had no personal reference to anyone whatever, and the only point to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers to must have occurred in the answer of the President, which I myself had not in any way anticipated or expected. My question was of a most general character, and had no reference whatever to my hon. and gallant Friend.
§ Sir C. BATHURST
I quite recognise that, but it is in consequence of the answer given to the hon. Baronet's question that I desire to say a few words on the subject this evening. I may candidly confess that in regard to the so-called foreign syndicate, which is neither foreign, because it is a British company, nor a 1313 syndicate, because it is under the Companies Acts, and its formation was approved by the Treasury some four months ago, I never felt, in associating myself with any enterprise, such a measure of conviction that I am doing what I conscientiously believe to be in the highest interests of the industry which I have most at heart—namely, that of agriculture—as I have experienced in this case. The object of this very interesting experiment which is now being made in Essex is to try to demonstrate what can be done by a more intensified system of agriculture, such as is now practised in Belgium and Denmark, on some of the poorest and stiffest land in this country. My friend, Mr. Christopher Turnor, who is a well-known agriculturist, and probably there is no man whose work will tell in future years to a greater extent than that of that far-sighted agriculturist. My friend, Mr. Turnor, and myself decided to associate ourselves with two Belgian gentlemen and one Dane, all skilful agriculturists, in developing this experiment in the neighbourhood of Colchester. The names of these three gentlemen are Mr. George Kryn, Mr. Hansen—he being the Dane—and Captain Loewenstein. Mr. Hansen is well known in this country, having for thirty years carried on business as an importer of Danish bacon in the City of London, and when I remind the House that we have subsisted to a disproportionate extent on Danish bacon, it is interesting to learn that this gentleman, although a Dane, is convinced the time has come when we ought to be far more self-contained in the matter of bacon production. He is a Dane who has lived for thirty years in this country, and is honoured and respected in the City of London. Mr. Kryn came to this country as a Belgian refugee on the outbreak of War, having carried on a large industrial business as well as farming operations, I think, in the neighbourhood of Brussels. At any rate, immediately the Germans over-ran his part of the country he volunteered to come here with the whole of his staff and started to manufacture munitions for the purposes of the British Army. He has done so with enormous success at the Garden City of Letch worth, and has turned out a larger quantity of shells in a given time than any other firm in this country, all for the benefit of our Army and for the prosecution of the cause of the Allies. Then I 1314 come to Captain Loewenstein. He is probably, amongst all the well-known Belgians who are now in this country, the most distinguished, and is entitled to claim for himself the most predominantly, I might almost say magnificently patriotic work, on our behalf. Captain Loewenstein was an official of the Belgian Ministry of War. He was a member of Lord Kitchener's Commission on supplies for anterior lines, and he was personally accredited to the War Office by the late Belgian Prime Minister. He is a native of Belgium, and his wife is the same, as well as all his other relations. He has been sent abroad on various matters at the personal request, successively of Lord Kitchener, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Blockade, and I may, in passing, say—I hope I am not divulging any secret—that at a time when the British Empire was seriously in need of light field guns, he managed, in a period of forty-eight hours after he landed in a certain Allied country, to secure for the British Army, the whole of their light field guns over which the diplomatists of the two countries had been bargaining for months. For that he received, and I am sure he was entitled to receive, the Military C.B. at the hands of His Majesty. I venture to hope that all my colleagues in this interesting experiment may be deemed worthy the confidence of the hon. Member for the Maiden Division.
I should like to say one more word, and it is this. Captain Loewenstein is well known in the Board of Agriculture; he has consulted the leading officials of that Department with regard to this interesting development. I believe he has their full approval and sympathy, and I may furthermore add that part of the property has actually been purchased from Mr. Eduard Strutt, the chief agricultural adviser of the President of the Board. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the officials of the Board will keep an eye on the development of this experiment, and, if they find it is worthy of imitation in other parts of the country, that they will let agriculturists generally know what can be done by intensifying our methods of culture even on the poorest clay land. The interesting part of this experiment, to my mind, is the successful breeding and feeding of pigs on a very large scale without having to go outside the farm for the concentrated food which they require for their conversion into pork. I dare say this House 1315 may know that in Denmark the chief crop which is used for the production of pig meat is sugar beet, which is being largely grown on this land in Essex, together with large quantities of lucerne and a considerable quantity of beans, which look perfectly magnificent in this current year. The manager of this farm, I should like to mention, is a natural-born Belgian, who was a professor at the University of Lugano in agricultural science, as well as managing a large farm. He also is a refugee, who came to this country in August, 1914. Subsequently, on the invitation of Cambridge University, he became a lecturer to the agricultural students there. He claimed to be able to feed pigs entirely upon concentrated foods consisting of sugar beet and also of lucerne, and these concentrated foods are as available for the purpose of feeding pigs as cakes and other foods, of which unfortunately there is an insufficient supply, are for cattle.
The right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon has brought considerable relief to my mind. As the hon. Member for South Molton very truly said, however much we may welcome the delightful and charming manner of the right hon. Gentleman, there is undoubtedly in the country to-day a very considerable feeling of unrest as to the future. On the part of the farming community we in this House are bound, to a certain extent, if we are to do our duty as their Members, to echo their feelings and to express their sentiments. There is no doubt whatever that this last comb-out has caused greater unsettlement than any act of the Government's administration since the War began. I would remind the House that this is not the first time that something similar has occurred. It has occurred three times during the last three years—on the part of the War Office and of the Ministry of National Service. They have obtained men who are indispensable to the farms, and as a necessary consequence these men have had to be called back, and their embodiment cancelled. That circumstance shows that our criticisms are perhaps a little more far-sighted than members of the Government appear to think. We are every whit as patriotic as any other class of the community, and every whit as keen as others that men of military age should join the Army, but we do ask, and I think rightly ask, that there ought to be some sense of proportion in 1316 calling out men who are key-men of the agricultural industry, and who should have been retained for the food production in this country. Reflections have been made upon the farmers as to their desire to make profits, and as to their retaining young men upon the land, but there is no want of patriotism among the agricultural community, and if farmers are anxious for greater production on their land, and if they are anxious to have labour for the purpose of achieving that object, it is not at all because they are thinking of profits for themselves, but because they feel how grave is the responsibility upon them to see that they do not fail in ther duty of providing food for the people of the country. Whatever may be said about the reluctance of farmers to allow young men to go, I do not think that anyone will say that reluctance exists today. I believe that, very largely owing to the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman himself, there is on the part of farmers no other desire than to meet the requirements of the nation in the way of food production, for which they are now responsible. After all, it is a small number of men that the authorities propose to take. Thirty thousand men were recently called up from the farms. I have tried to make some kind of calculation as to the number of these men who can be described as key-men in the industry, and I do not hesitate to say that at least 15,000 men are really necessary to the working of the farms. The right hon. Gentleman opposite pointed out that 80 per cent. in the West of England had passed into the ranks of the Army, and were still under training.
§ Sir C. BATHURST
In my county it was 80 per cent., and in some counties I think over 90 per cent. At any rate, the larger proportion have gone, and I want the right hon. Gentleman—and I think wholesome pressure has been put upon him by both Houses of Parliament during the last fortnight or three weeks—to impress upon the War Cabinet and the Ministry of National Service the necessity of bringing back from the Colours the comparatively small number of key-men of the agricultural industry. It is a very small demand to make, especially in view of the large number of troops who are settling on the other side of the Channel from other parts of the world. It is all very well to say that these men are needed during the next two months, but if 1317 they are wanted in that time it is like taking lambs to the slaughter, for they cannot be properly trained. In any case, to my mind there is something a little unreal about this demand. Here we have the millions from America pouring over to France, including 600,000 or 700,000 who are already trained and fighting, and yet you ask for 15,000 or 20,000 men who are admittedly key-men of the agricultural industry, men taken from the most essential work of the country, namely, the production of the people's food. May I make the suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman that he should see the higher powers that be, and I am sure he would have the backing of every agricultural Member of this House In regard to the Orders that have been issued for ploughing up grassland, in the absence of labour they would be a farce, and it has been a real relief to hear the right hon. Gentleman state plainly in this House what he has in contemplation, during the remainder of this year, as to stopping the ploughing up of grasslands, except in so far as the Orders issued have already been made. I hope that, where those Orders are regarded as being difficult to carry out, or impossible to carry out, in this absence of labour, the executive committee will see fit to modify their position in exceptional cases?
The right hon. Gentleman said, "I should like to have gone on." Candidly, I should not. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that at least for twenty years before the War I advocated at least as strongly as anyone in this House, and, perhaps, rather more strongly than many, the responsibility of ploughing up the grassland of this country. I may be regarded as reactionary in this matter, but I have a clear conscience on the subject. I cannot satisfy myself that there is going to be an increase of the food supply eventually, as the result of an extensive and indiscriminate ploughing up of grassland, especially in the West of England. The right hon. Gentleman must realise, in respect, that by the ploughing up of grassland we are exhausting our capital; we are feeding our stock with the accumulated fertility of generations, and, in some cases, centuries. That fertility will become exhausted under the plough, and then what will be the state of these farms? Admittedly, that arable land will not produce anything like the amount of corn and other foodstuffs that it was able to give before the War, and the right hon. 1318 Gentleman sees that. He has to admit that, at any rate, for a year or two this land can give little or no return to the occupier, and I am quite sure that the occupier is getting, at his landlord's expense, an enormous crop that he is not going to be able to maintain without using a far larger amount of fertilisers than he has ever employed before. That brings up the question of the availability of fertilisers, and, in this matter of fertilisers, you must look, not one year ahead, but five years ahead, in order to provide for this new ploughed land when its fertility becomes exhausted. That has been the experience in Germany, Denmark, Belgium and Holland, and you will have the same experience here when you turn a large area of grassland into arable cultivation.
I want to refer to another matter that I do not think has been mentioned in this House, but has been mentioned in another place, and that is with reference to the unfortunate decision of the President of the Board to relax the restriction which has hitherto obtained upon the importation of Canadian cattle into this country. I may remind the House that the Board of Agriculture owes its existence very largely, if not entirely, mainly to the recognised necessity of keeping imported cattle free of disease, or, in other words, to prevent the importation of cattle that are diseased. It took thirty years' agitation on the part of most enlightened agriculturists in this country, and of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, to get the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act passed into law. We have had some bitter experience of foot-and-mouth disease, and but for the fact that the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act has been faithfully carried out by every President of the Board up to the present time, at the time when the War broke out we should have found ourselves faced not only with a bread famine but undoubtedly with a meat famine. It is owing to the security offered by the Diseases of Animals Act that we have been able, although reducing our arable area, to make live stock the sheet-anchor of the British farmer and to raise our meat requirements at home to the extent of no less than 4–5ths per cent., unlike our bread requirements, of which we produce only one-fifth, or 20 per cent. Are we going now, in the face of what has happened as late as 1910 and 1911, to scrap a policy which every enlightened 1319 agriculturist in days gone by, and every President of the Board of Agriculture, has deemed to be wise and far-sighted?
We belong, perhaps, to a somewhat different generation from those who had to go through those awful times when pleuro-pneumonia, cattle plague, and foot-and-mouth disease were all rife in this country, and when the decimation of our flocks and herds was something too terrible to describe, but those experiences may arise again unless we keep a very careful watch on the importation of live stock from sources where disease may exist or into which it may be brought. What is the case for the Canadian importer? It is that he has had no pleuro-pneumonia, so far as is known, in his country during the last twenty years, and the right hon. Gentleman believes that the single case which was suspected in 1892 was not, in fact, pleuro-pneumonia. I am inclined to think that pleuro-pneumonia is a disease of no very serious account nowadays, but there are diseases of a far more serious nature. One of them is cattle-plague, which the right hon. Gentleman, I think in passing error, in a speech to the Imperial Conference, confused with foot-and-mouth disease, and another is foot-and-mouth disease itself. I was one of a Departmental Committee appointed by the then Lord Carrington, now the Marquis of Lincolnshire, to inquire in the year 1911 into the remedies that might be adopted in order to prevent the dissemination of foot-and-mouth disease in this country. We every one of us assumed to such an extent that at any rate no live cattle would be passed into this country as such, and spread over the farms of this country, that we did not even refer to the subject, but we did say this:The Committee wish to record their entire agreement with the evidence they have received of the necessity of maintaining the restrictions imposed on the import of foreign animals under the Foreign Animals Order, 1910, and consider that it is essential that the landing of animals from countries infected with foot-and-mouth disease must not be permitted.May I say here that all cattle coming from Canadian or other sources are slaughtered at the ports in order to prevent the danger of their spreading disease on the farms of this country. But we go further in this Report, and suggest that where there is any suspicion of foot-and-mouth disease in the country of origin the landing of the animals themselves should not be permitted. In 1910, 1320 when we had a very serious outbreak in this country, the landing of animals from Ireland at the Port of Liverpool—which was then deemed to be free from foot-and-mouth disease, but which in fact was infected with the disease—occasioned the outbreak in three different parts of Great Britain of the disease on a large scale and the consequent slaughtering of a very large number of animals. The Committee to which I have referred went to say:The Committee would like also to place on record their approval of the procedure adopted by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in dealing with outbreaks of disease, and consider that the freedom of this country in recent yeans from widespread epidemics is due to the Regulations so admirably carried out by the officers of the Board and those of the local authorities.I do not want to say more on that subject, except that those of us who for the last twenty-five years have endeavoured to do something to keep the Board of Agriculture up to the scratch in this matter will continue to do so, and I sincerely hope that we shall on reflection have the sympathy and support of the right hon. Gentleman. What he actually said at the Imperial War Conference last year to the representatives of Canada was:As far as I am concerned, and as far as the English Board of Agriculture is concerned, after the War we should, I consider, be wise to remove the embargo, and I think for this reason in the main. The home demand for store cattle in the Eastern counties has been rather imperfectly met for many years past. On the other hand, there has been a considerable increase in breeding in this country, but if we have, what I think we shall have, a large extension of arable farming in this country, we shall want to increase our reservoirs, of store cattle.I would like to mention this striking fact to the right hon. Gentleman, that the chief demand for store cattle, so far as the agriculturists were concerned, came from the county of Norfolk, which is a great grazing county, but which absorbs a large amount of Irish and other store cattle. But only two years ago the county of Norfolk, and, indeed, East Anglia generally, came into line with all the other enlightened agriculturists in the country and demanded that this embargo should be maintained, so that, so far as I am aware, the agriculturists of England are solid in this demand that this embargo should not be removed. I do not want to read more of this except that the Chairman, the right 1321 hon. Member for the Strand (Mr. Long); said, "Now the position is that the restriction is to be removed, and the Board of Agriculture will take such steps as are necessary for this purpose."
§ Mr. PROTHERO
My hon. Friend is raising a most difficult subject and one which I venture to think he would be very wise to leave alone. The point with regard to Canada is this: The embargo was first placed upon Canada on the accusation that Canadian cattle were liable to disease. The Canadians say they do not mind us keeping on the embargo, but they ask us not to put it on the ground of disease, as it is a slur-upon their cattle. The ground of the disease would be taken off, but there is no suggestion that, unless we bring legislation in this country, the embargo will be withdrawn, and I venture to appeal to the hon. Baronet, who must know the feeling in Canada in this matter, to leave the subject alone.
§ Sir C. BATHURST
I respectfully, in the best interests of agriculture in this country, and on a question which I have championed for the last thirty years, long before the right hon. Gentleman ever had to deal with the matter, find it impossible to leave the matter where it now stands.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I gather, from what the President has said that action cannot be taken without legislation. That was my impression, and I think the hon. Baronet would admit that legislation is needed. Therefore it cannot be debated to-day in Committee of Supply.
§ Sir C. BATHURST
If that is your ruling, Sir, I will not add any more. The question was debated in the House of Lords, and this is the first opportunity we have had of discussing it here.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The position is quite clear. We have had it on a previous occasion, I remember now. It is a matter that needs legislation, and therefore it cannot be discussed in Committee of Supply.
§ Sir C. BATHURST
I do not want to say anything more upon it except that the United States and Canada are one for this purpose. There being a 3,000 miles frontier, it is utterly impossible to differentiate between the two, and the disease is never absent from the United States. I am very sorry indeed that anything that I should say should be resented by the right hon. Gentleman, because I have had the pleasure of criticising, in a very friendly spirit, agricultural administration in the presence of at least five representatives of the Board in this House, and not a single one of them, until the present representative of the Board, has taken exception to what is really only intended for friendly criticism. I assure him that I do not mean anything more. It is not with a view of criticising him that I make these suggestions, but with a view of criticising a policy which in some respects I consider dangerous to the industry which we represent here.
It has been suggested, and it is looming large in our newspapers, that the Food Production Department will be able, as a result of this ploughing up programme, to provide the country with forty weeks' supply of food from our own soil. That has been stigmatised by many leading agriculturists on both sides of the Atlantic as being probably a somewhat exaggerated estimate, but I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not a fact that that estimate is based upon the full pre-war production of arable land—that is to say, on the basis, for instance, of an average production of wheat per acre of 32 bushels? I am quite satisfied that the greater part of the old arable land is not producing anything like 32 bushels per acre to-day. Much of it is not producing more than 20 bushels, and in certain oases the right hon. Gentleman has himself admitted, where there has been ploughing in the spring with no winter frosts on the land, the newly-ploughed land is not producing anything like that yield, and indeed will hardly return in some cases seed to the grower. If I may venture to say so, I think there is a danger in budgeting in too exaggerated a fashion in respect of our own food production returns, because it is rather apt to take the heart out of our American friends, to whom we look to supply the balance of our requirements. They have come forward most magnificently to supply our deficit of food, and anything which might dishearten them or lead them to believe that we 1323 could supply the main part of our own requirements might result in our finding ourselves short of essential foods in the next few years. In any case, I hope that these announcements that are made from the Food Production Department will be made with all due modesty, and after a very careful estimate of the existing conditions prevalent on the farms of this country.
I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman refer to the stimulus which his Department has lately given to pig production in this country, because some of us were afraid during the whole of last year that the pig population was seriously decreasing, and we thought that, bearing in mind that it was the one animal that could produce and reproduce meat and fat faster than any other, the Department would be well advised to encourage the production of pigs in every possible way, On the other hand, we felt that, except for the advice that we ought to walk a pig instead of a puppy—and we did not all have the opportunity of doing that if we did not happen to live in a hunting country—the actual stimulus afforded in this direction was in most parts of the country somewhat small. But the President took up, most far-sightedly, this question of the additional production both of pigs and potatoes, with very satisfactory results so far as potatoes were concerned, and, in some parts of the country, with regard to pigs. I think he said that sixty-five pig clubs were started in Gloucestershire. Why, in five weeks we started 125 pig clubs, and I do not hesitate to prophesy that by the end of this year we shall add to the pig population of Gloucestershire by no less than 100 per cent. If, as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's efforts, that is reproduced all over the country, I shall offer him my warmest congratulations, because I am sure there is no industry which deserves greater support. There is only one other matter to which I feel justified in referring, and that is security of tenure. I felt a little apprehension when I read the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in reply to a question in this House about the Berkeley Estate.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That, again, would require legislation. The right hon. Gentleman cannot bring that forward.
§ Sir C. BATHURST
What I was going to suggest was the application of the Agricultural Holdings Act to this specific 1324 case of the Berkeley Estate, and other cases which might arise, upon which the right hon. Gentleman has taken action, and made a considered statement in this House. Perhaps I may put my case, and you will interrupt me if I am going outside my legitimate sphere.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The question was one asking the right hon. Gentleman if he would bring in legislation. How can security, of tenure, of which the hon. Baronet has spoken, be given without legislation?
§ Sir C. BATHURST
Perhaps I have misstated my case in calling it security of tenure. I have anticipated the possible result of the right hon Gentleman's decision in the Berkeley Estate case. Perhaps, if I may state the case, no doubt you will stop me if I get on forbidden paths. In the particular case the Earl of Berkeley, through his agent, gave notice——
§ The CHAIRMAN
At the same time, would the hon. Baronet go into the pith of the matter first, and the preamble at the end? What is it he wants done? If we know that we can see in a moment whether legislation or not is required.
§ Sir C. BATHURST
The pith of the matter is this: As I read the expressed opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, it is possible and proper under the existing Small Holdings Act, and the Corn Production Act, so far as it applies, for a landowner to give notice to his tenants to quit unless they are prepared to accept a considerable addition to the existing rents. That is the point I make. That appears to be the policy which the right hon. Gentleman is prepared in certain cases to approve. What I want to point out is that that is not the way most of us have read either the letter or the spirit of the Agricultural Holdings Act; and if such a policy is followed it will cause a considerable feeling of uncertainty amongst farm tenants throughout this country. I will not develop the matter if you think it is undesirable to do so, but it is a matter which has caused a considerable amount of feeling amongst both landowners and farmers in my own county of Gloucestershire, and which I hope we shall have an opportunity of raising in this House at greater length on some other occasion. I feel somewhat embarrassed by trespassing on forbidden ground, but I should like to say this: Reference has been made in this House to two very eminent men. One 1325 is Dr. Russell, who has made investigations into insecticides, and the other Professor Biffen, of Cambridge University. I do not think this House realises the enormous debt which we owe to these two scientists, and I do not think either of them has received until to-day the due meed of praise to which he is entitled, and this applies particularly to Professor Biffen. The House may not be aware that Professor Biffen some ten years ago declined to accept a very large salary from the United States of America to go there and develop his Abbot Mendel experiments, which have provided this country with the finest, wheats this country has ever seen. Out of sheer patriotism he preferred to remain in this country to develop this country's wheat. I doubt whether there is any other man in the agricultural world who would have taken the patriotic line Professor Biffen has taken, with the result that to-day we have not only the finest wheats in the world, but consistent types which can always be depended upon to hold an even quality. I should like to have touched on one or two other questions, but as other Members desire to speak, I will not say more than that I welcome the strenuous and vertebrate action the right hon. Gentleman is taking in face of the pressure being put upon him by other Departments of the State.
§ Mr. HARDY
The right hon. Gentleman, in his very interesting address, disarmed a good deal of criticism, but I should like to mention one or two things. First of all, I should like to emphasise the matter which was raised by the hon. Member for Thirsk—namely, that of prices. A very large increase of arable land has been obtained, and it is getting time when farmers have to make up their mind what the next crop shall be on this newly turned-up ground. It is, therefore, essential that, as soon as possible, the Board should be able to arrange the prices for the future. It is quite impossible that you can expect the really important crop, wheat, to be grown unless some increase is made in the price as it at present stands. There was a very careful survey made only quite recently in Sussex. I understand the prices were taken out since 1913 up to the present time, and they show that, whilst the sales had undoubtedly risen something like 85 per cent., the expenditure, taking the rate of wages, which is practically established now, had increased something like 110 per cent. The land 1326 which is now being put to wheat cannot possibly be kept in wheat unless the price is altered. The stiff land in my own district in the Weald of Kent could not possibly grow wheat at 75s., and, therefore, I think it is a duty that the Board of Agriculture owe to those whom they have induced to plough up land that they should use their utmost influence to secure that prices for crops should be such as to pay those farmers for their action and their patriotism. Two hon. Members who have spoken have rather tried to encourage the Board of Agriculture not to adhere to what was said by the right hon. Gentleman in connection with Orders still in existence. I quite agree they ought to be carefully revised in order to see that altered circumstances may not have rendered it necessary in some cases to withdraw them, but I am quite sure that where loyalty has been shown in connection with these ploughing Orders it would create a very bad effect if they found that those who had always shown an obstructive and delaying policy should eventually benefit by that policy, and it would not lead to the popularity of an extremely difficult policy, which, on the whole, has been well carried out.
There is one point I should very much like to press upon the Board of Agriculture in connection with some of the first words spoken by the right hon. Gentleman in his address this afternoon, when he referred to research and to the agricultural colleges. I do hope the Board of Agriculture realises the extremely difficult position in which agricultural colleges are now working. I am connected with one myself in the county of Kent, the South Eastern Agricultural College, and it is extremely difficult to carry on at all. I think it would be a national calamity if these colleges were allowed practically to die out on account of difficulty in connection with finance. They have lost their students to a very large extent, and they find it extremely difficult to carry on on account of the depletion of staff. They have very large outstanding expenses incurred not only with the connivance but the persuasion of the Government in other times, in order to make a thoroughly good institution for the higher agricultural teaching, and now they find themselves burdened with many outstanding charges, and it is almost impossible, even with the generous support of the district, to carry on at all. Appeals have been made to the Board and 1327 to the Treasury, and they have been honoured in the past, but the difficulty which lies on these colleges is that they can get no certain promise for the future, or even for the immediate present. They go on involving themselves in more and more debt. They are quite unaware whether they will be likely to receive help from the Government in order to pay the salaries of their best teachers, so as to keep them for the time, which they hope is coming, when all the work of these colleges will be enormously wanted. I do urge the Government to give their attention to this, and bring before the Treasury the enormous importance of keeping the agricultural colleges in existence, and as a going concern.
There is one other matter which I should like to press upon the right hon. Gentleman. A good deal has been said upon two questions of land—that is, partly as to allotments and partly as to meeting the demand which undoubtedly will be made not only by discharged soldiers, but by our soldiers when they come back from the War. The county councils have for months and months been pressing upon the Treasury and the Board of Agriculture that they should be given leave to buy estates when they come into the market, as many of them are coming in now, in order that they may be able to provide for this need which undoubtedly will arise. There has been at present an absolute block put upon their powers of borrowing in connection with these matters. The county councils believe they are very much better able to deal with these matters themselves, that they are the authority which can most easily discover their needs for their own district, and they do think they should be able to take advantage of opportunities when they do arise, instead of having this block by the Treasury; and they certainly think the Board of Agriculture might help them a great deal more than they have done in connection with this matter.
The matter of tithe was mentioned. There was some promise, I understand, in this matter. There was also a promise to me by the Leader of the House only a few days ago that the Bill should be introduced before the Adjournment. I only want to emphasise the fact that I hope the Board of Agriculture is taking up the matter seriously. There is an opportunity now for settling this extremely diffi- 1328 cult question, which has been hanging on for years, and has assumed a perfectly unnatural aspect owing to the increase of the price of cereals, not from natural, but from war causes. The thing is proving a terrible burden in many parts of the country, especially in these days of very great difficulties about altering rents, and that sort of thing, in order to meet the situation. There is, I say, an opportunity for settling the matter really in a sense fair to all the parties concerned—an opportunity which has not existed in the last twenty or thirty years. The matter is one of supreme importance. It wants pushing on, and I do really hope that the Board of Agriculture will take this matter seriously in hand, and will not merely put it forward in a sort of cursory manner with no intention of pressing it to a settlement. It requires to be dealt with at once, if we are not going to have a perfectly absurd rise in the rate of tithe.
§ Colonel WEIGALL
What has been stated before the Committee here this afternoon, and the apprehensions of agriculturists outside, are neither of them a perfectly true reflection of the agricultural position to-day. A middle course appears to me to be really a true reflection of agricultural affairs. Before I deal with one or two matters with which I wish to deal, may I be allowed to say, in one or two words, something on the National Agricultural Council referred to by the hon. Member for the Holland Division of Lincolnshire? My hon. Friend spoke of myself as being finally at the back of that council. I am extremely proud of my connection with the council, but I feel it due to my Noble Friend Lord Selborne, and also to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Labour, to acknowledge their labours in the matter, and their energy and enthusiasm in the inception of this council, for a humble individual like myself could not have done the particular work they have done. I hope, however, that in the reconstruction period after the War the council will have an immense effect upon the whole agricultural situation. For the first time it will be open for whatever Government is in office to consider that they have a single organisation which is wholly representative of the owner, occupier, smallholder, and labourer. Never before in the history of agriculture in this country—at all events, never in the memory of any living man—has it been open for the Government of the day or the President of the 1329 Board of Agriculture to say, "Here is an expression of the consolidated, considered opinion of the industry." I am sure my right hon. Friend, if he were here, would not object to me repeating what he has often said, and others—namely, the impossibility of arriving at what is the considered opinion of an industry when various organisations, two or more, are on the ground, all doing excellent work within their own sphere, but who are not in a position to give the opinion of the industry as a whole. Therefore I do hope that in future, whatever else the National Agricultural Council is able to effect, it will be able to give the considered opinion of agriculture. May I say, too, that I hope the suggestion of my hon. Friend that it should be made into a statutory body will not receive any consideration whatever. The one safeguard, it appears to me, is that it should remain an independent body, not bound in any way to the Government of the day, but merely to carry out in the interests of the industry and of the nation what is considered the wisest and the best thing.
On the general situation, as presented by the President of the Board of Agriculture, former speakers have deplored the multiplicity of Orders and Regulations put out from the Government Departments. But, I ask those hon. Members, how would it have been possible in any way to produce the result that has been produced during the last year unless the Government Departments concerned had taken into their hands the control and to a certain extent the government of the matter? I must say, on thinking the matter out, that it does appear to me that the whole of the success achieved, certainly the main portion of it, has been due to the methods employed. As to the estimate mentioned by the hon. Member for the Wilton Division, I agree with him that the estimate is too large. In the main, we shall this year, with reasonable good luck, have a wheat harvest above the average, barley 5 per cent., and oats 15 per cent. below the average. These figures speak for themselves. I hope, however, that the Board of Agriculture is not now going to fold its arms and feel that having done so well they have nothing further to do during the coming six months. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton very truly said, the winter is coming on, and the question of maintaining the fertility of the land for next year 1330 ought to be very carefully considered. The question of fertilisers is of the first importance. I know what is the difficulty in this matter—in both fertilisers and feeding-stuffs. So far as the President of the Board of Agriculture is concerned, I am not in the least happy as to the future either with respect to fertilisers or feeding-stuffs, because I do not think, nay, I am sure, that these difficulties will not be diminished.
Taking feeding-stuffs as an example. In another capacity as a departmental official in the Food Ministry it is my privilege to serve on the Orders Committee, a body which deals in detail with all proposed orders before actual issue by the Food Controller. In consideration of feeding-stuffs there are the glycerine demands from the Ministry of Munitions, there are margarine and edible fat demands from the Ministry of Food, and feeding-stuffs from the Board of Agriculture. Interminable wrangling always ensues, and owing to the conditions in which we now live without a Cabinet system by which departments can get quick decisions, all these difficulties are inevitably increased. I do not know whether I am in order, but it does appear to me to be one of the fundamental difficulties in all these matters of fertilisers and feeding-stuffs that, living under the conditions in which we are to-day, with none of the pre-war conditions where the Government Department had the opportunity of arriving at an early decision, you cannot under present conditions get that decision, and there are many difficulties. I do, however, hope that the President of the Board of Agriculture will see that, whatever happens, he has a really considered policy for the next twelve months for the due provision of both feeding-stuffs and fertilisers. There is another reason why the demand for fertilisers will be so incessant within the coming year. In my part of the country, Lincolnshire, we have been accustomed to use a very large amount of farmyard manure. Owing to the lack of feeding-stuffs last year the output of that has been very much diminished, and although the quantity may have been almost up to the standard the actual return in plant food has been of very less value.
In conclusion, I want to deal with a comparatively small matter—after fertilisers and foodstuffs—which concerns the Food Production Department, for which the 1331 President is responsible to the House. This afternoon he gave us in some detail the amount of expenditure that is being incurred in the provision of horses and implements hired out to farmers. He did not, however, inform the House—and this applies to tractors—as to the number of tractors and implements which, having had priority granted for obtaining them, had been ordered, paid for, and received, and, being unable to be used from lack of labour and horses, had either been left on the manufacturers' hands or offered to the selfsame manufacturers at four-fifths of their original cost. There are to-day 3,000 rollers, drills, harrows, etc., for which priority was granted, for which the manufacturers were paid, which, owing to the lack of horses—there only being 9,000, against the 30,000 which were budgeted for—could not be used. I hope that whoever is going to reply will give an explanation of this matter—for I have no doubt there is an explanation—though it does seem to me that there has been a little lack of foresight. It ought to have been known—one would have thought—that it was not absolutely certain that the horses could be obtained, and therefore the orders to the manufacturers could have been stopped or delayed. I may be wrong, but I trust whoever is going to reply will be able to give a good answer on this point of what seems, perhaps unintentional, lack of foresight. On the whole, I do think the nation is under a deep debt of gratitude to the Board of Agriculture for the whole scheme which has been carried out. The labour situation has been handled in a way, however, which deserves qualified praise. In the main I am prepared to say that the administration of this great campaign has been a success, and that it has been well and carefully handled. There is one more detail. The suggestion was made that in future inspectors should be interchanged so that local scores should not be paid off or local obligations paid for. I agree, and I have no doubt that there have been cases of that kind. On the other hand, it seems to me that, as local customs vary so enormously, if you are going to bring a man from one end of the country and ask him to inspect farms at the other end, you might just as well bring a man in who has never been in the industry at all. Although there may have been local cases where these charges can he made, I think it 1332 would be better to have men with local knowledge and allow them to inspect in their own districts.
§ Captain STARKEY
The statement we have heard to-day from the President of the Board of Agriculture relieved us of considerable anxiety with regard to the ploughing up of more grass land. As the right hon. Gentleman is well aware, the War Agricultural Committees have intimated to him that it would have been very undesirable, and would have caused a great loss had this programme been proceeded with. The position is still one of considerable anxiety. The resources of farmers are strained to the utmost, labour is exceedingly short, and it is very difficult for them to carry on. I think that in all probability we shall be able to get through the harvest, especially if we are favoured with fine weather, because we shall have the assistance of many volunteers. But the difficulty will arise in cultivating the land throughout the coming season. Then the shortage will become most apparent, and I hope some arrangement will be made by which we shall be able to get back some of our men; otherwise, we shall have great trouble. I should like to say a word about the tractors. These tractors have been of the very greatest assistance. Without them, I doubt whether we could have got through. Of course, the tractors have their limits, and in many cases they have been put to do work which was not possible. Under favourable circumstances of weather and soil they can do good work and they have come to stay. We shall have to rely more and more upon them to get the land ploughed. I hope there will be sufficient of them to go through. There is always this difficulty. Everybody wants to have a tractor at the same time, when the weather is favourable. Therefore it is somewhat of a lottery whether the land is cultivated to the best advantage.
With regard to the standard of acres, no doubt it is easy to the official mind to speak about the standard of acres. What is required is to know the result obtained from those acres. The only way to know accurately is that the results should be measured when leaving the threshing machine. The threshing machines are to be under the control of the local war agricultural committees. Would it not be possible to arrange that the Government should take over the grain as soon as it is threshed, and that it should be weighed 1333 at the same time? If that were done, and if the farmer had the option of whether he should keep it or whether he should part with it there and then to a trolly or motor lorry that might be in attendance on the threshing machine, if certainly would be of great advantage, because whenever grain is put into an ordinary barn, from that moment it begins to deteriorate, and also becomes less in quantity owing to leakage. It would be a saving both to the farmer and the country if it could be dealt with at the time. I am sure the farmer is entitled to an increase in price for the cereals he grows. The cost of everything which he requires has been enormously increased in value. Except for the rent, he pays more for labour—and that very inefficient labour. In order to maintain this additional land he will require more horses, which are very much more in price. The implements are dearer; so are the repairs, and everything else. Therefore, we are entitled to have a revision of the price which is to be paid.
I wish it to be made clear what the farmer can do with regard to tail corn. If it could be stated that he is entitled to keep his tail corn and his rakings and use them for feeding his animals it would be a good thing. An offer was made in the late spring that anyone who voluntarily broke up grass land could have the free use of the corn from it. But that Order came out so late that no one was able to arrange for it. We have more pigs in the country, and we shall require something to feed them upon, and unless the farmer sees his way to feed them, I think he is placed in a very awkward position. I hope something will be stated definitely in regard to tail corn. What is going to happen in the autumn? This year all the animals have been grass fed, and very little cake has been given to them. Consequently, at the end of the grass season there will be a large number of stock, many more than usual, placed upon the market. In the month of October there will be a glut of cattle in the market. Will the Board of Agriculture be able to deal with them? I have seen it stated—I do not know whether it is official—that if there are too many they would be returned to the farmer to be kept till they were required. Such a case would be fatal, because they would not be sent in until all the grass is consumed. Therefore, it would be a great loss to the farmer and the nation. I hope 1334 provision will be made for this matter, and if the President of the Board of Agriculture can take farmers into his confidence, tell them what he is going to do, and whether these animals are to be placed in cold storage, or that there will be no doubt they will be dealt with when sent to the market, it would enable them, at any rate, to keep their animals until the last moment, and so utilise the food of the country to the best advantage.
§ Mr. NEEDHAM
I desire to call attention to the action of the Board in relation to economic entomology in the University of Manchester. The Board issued a letter to the university on the 25th of April, in which they said that they had under consideration a scheme for the establishment of a Phytopathological Institute, in close association with the existing Research Institute at Rothamsted. This proposal, they went on to say, if adopted, will necessarily involve the transference there of the work on economic entomology now being conducted at Manchester, with the aid of a Grant from the Board. That is a matter which the University of Manchester regards very seriously. In 1910 the university provided from its own momentary resources laboratories and Grants for certain experiments in furtherance of research relating to insect pests. They were opened by Sir Thomas Elliot, then Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, and he stated that the Board appreciated very much the work that was being carried on in the university and the possibilities of development in the future. Next year Sir Thomas Elliot wrote to the vice-chancellor of the university asking what proposals he bad, first, for the development of research in economic entomology, and, secondly, for the provision of technical advice for agriculturists in the group of counties in the neighbourhood of Manchester.
The Board, in 1911, issued a detailed circular explaining on what grounds Grants could be made to universities and institutions in order that experimental work in entomology and other subjects relating to agriculture could be carried on. This circular formed the basis of the setting up of an institute for entomological experiments and research, and, in 1912, the university received a Grant from the Board of Agriculture, and out of its own funds found the money to carry on this research work. The matter has gone on until now, when the Board apparently 1335 wishes to alter its policy. The university has conducted the work of a valuable character during these last years. It is quite true that the War intervened and the development of the work has not proceeded to the extent which it otherwise would have done. Although the university has suffered like all other institutions from the War, a great amount of valuable work has been carried on and the university regards it as a very serious and retrograde step on the part of the Board of Agriculture when it proposes to withdraw the monetary Grant and therefore to close down practically the entomological research work which the university has carried on.
It proposes to centralise this kind of work at Rothamsted. I suggest that there is scope not only for enlarging the institute at Rothamsted, but for the maintenance of separate institutes in various parts of the country. To the best of my knowledge no suggestion has been made that the university has not fulfilled its part as the result of the monetary Grant, no complaint as to the insufficiency or inadequacy of the work done has been made, and therefore that ground may be dismissed. What does seem to be suggested by the President is that better work could be done or concentration of the work would be more productive of results than the work which is being done by the Manchester University and other centres. Our argument is that there is ample scope for the work to be carried on at Rothamsted and other parts of the country. In the further correspondence between the university and the Board, one of the curious grounds alleged is that Manchester University had not, so far, had the help of the education authority in Lancashire. That was never a condition under which the Grant was given in the first instance.
I am not going to enter into the causes why the Lancashire Agricultural Com- 1336 mittee and the university and the Board of Agriculture are not working in close connection. The Board of Agriculture knows the difficulties between them and the local authority, and it is not relevant to the case of the Manchester University that the aloofness of the agricultural committee of the county or the county authority should be brought into this question. I regret very much that the President is not here to deal with this question. We regard it as one of great importance, and, although no action has yet been taken, and the President has said that the matter is under consideration, in view of the request for particulars of the university staff who can be transferred, it is quite clear that they have made up their mind to this line of policy. This money has come from the Development Commissioners, and it is part of the original scheme of research, and it is not, in, our opinion, carrying out the Commissioners' desire that work of this kind at the university should be discontinued. I hope that the President will further consider this question, in order that the work of the Manchester University may be maintained in this Research Department of Agricultural Entomology.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-six minutes before Nine o'clock till To-morrow, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.