HC Deb 18 August 1919 vol 119 cc2015-6

I am afraid it would be impossible for me now to refer, as I intended to have done, to the question of Agriculture. It is such a vital industry—it is, after all, the greatest industry in this country—that it is quite impossible to make a survey of the trade and industry of the country, and leave agriculture out of the reckoning. But I have promised my hon. Friends that at an early date I shall address a meeting directly connected with the agricultural industry. They thought that that was preferable to any statement which could be made in the House. All I can say at the present moment is this. As the time is so short before the farmers of the country have to make up their minds whether they are to go on with the schemes of cultivation, a Commission is sitting to examine and report as to what would be the mini mum prices which would be fixed for the purchase of the crops next year. The Government do not anticipate the Report, but I cannot imagine any report which would not recommend the continuation, at any rate for another year, of prices that would approximate to the prices which have been obtained up to the present.

All I have heard about the harvests of the world, and all I have heard about the increased demands which are likely to be made on those harvests, leads me to the conclusion that the farmers of this country would, from a purely business point of view, be perfectly justified in anticipating a recommendation that would guarantee to them sufficient prices for continuing the contribution they have made to the food production of this country by increasing the area under cultivation. I sincerely trust—and in fact I earnestly appeal to them—to continue the patriotic experiments which they have made, and which have done so much to restore agriculture and put it in the enviable position of being the only industry that has increased its output in this country, while so many have fallen behind. Nay, more than that. I hope to submit to the agriculturists of this country, on behalf of the Government, schemes which will restore agriculture to the position it was in forty or fifty years ago, when there were four or five million more acres under cultivation than now, and which will put us in the position which Germany was in when she produced food on a hundred acres to feed seventy-five persons, whereas in the United Kingdom the produce was sufficient to feed only forty persons. That is a condition of things which ought not to exist. I earnestly hope when we submit our proposals to the country and the House of Commons, that they will receive favourable acceptance.

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