HC Deb 26 March 1919 vol 114 cc519-57

I beg to move That, as a necessary and immediate preliminary to agricultural reconstruction, it is essential to reorganise the Board of Agriculture, and to accord the Department the status, staff, and accommodation of a first-grade Ministry. The Motion which I have the privilege to move has been drawn up and approved by the Agricultural Committee of this House. It is framed in no way hostile to the Board of Agriculture, much less to the Noble Lord who is President of the Board, or to the Parliamentary Secretary (Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen). The Motion has been framed so that we might do something to strengthen the hands of the Department and to make it a more real live body, able to carry on good work for the development of the agricultural industry. We know that in the past the development of agriculture in this country has been shamefully neglected. We know that agriculture has always been made subservient to industrial development. At the present time a new era is opening before us. The War has opened our eyes to the fact that a maximum production of food on our own home soil is necessary. Not only is it necessary that we should have the maximum production of food from our own home land, but also that we should have these lands made use of so that they may best serve the social development of the country. We know that in the past men have been discouraged and have left the country and the land. We think that now by a wiser policy being adopted, and the Prime Minister having indicated to us that in his opinion agriculture now must begin to receive more attention, there is a wider prospect opening before agriculture in this country, and we turn our eyes to the Board of Agriculture. We do not, of course, expect the Board of Agriculture to do everything for us. The development and success of agriculture in this country must always depend, as it has depended in the past, mainly upon, the energy of the farmers and on the individual character.

We consider that it is a wise policy that the present Board of Agriculture should be raised in status to one of the main Departments of the State, and that the Minister of Agriculture should be a Secretary of State with the same status and in the same position as any other important Minister. We want to see the Board of Agriculture enlarged and equipped with a staff which can carry out far more work in the future than has been done in the past. That, of course, would entail more money being spent, but when we see the possibilities which lie before a progressive policy in agricultural developments, I do not think this House would grudge wise expenditure of money for this purpose. As a Scottish Member naturally I would like to have spoken more about the Scottish Board of Agriculture than the English Board, but I understand that by the framing of this Motion I am not allowed to say very much about the Scottish Board. Perhaps I may be in order in saying, that if we are going to have, as I hope we shall have, a better and an enlarged Agricultural Department in England, that we in Scotland will have some share in the good things that are coming. We want to see the Department of Agriculture brought into close touch with the farmers of the country. We quite recognise that it is impossible for the best work to be done by the Department in future unless it is brought into direct and close touch with practical agricultural opinion. We consider that the Department should be able to carry on technical instruction in all branches of the industry, which should have a very vital effect in improving agri- culture all over the country. Whether it be, first of all, by what we may call technical instruction, whether by the establishment of farm institutions, agricultural colleges, experimental farms or of research work in many directions, we see that there is a wide field for good work.

We know that as regards research into diseases affecting animals in this country we have been in a very backward condition in the past. We know, for instance, what little knowledge we have of diseases such as swine fever or abortion in cattle, all of which do an enormous amount of injury to the production of food. We also know that as regards plant life we are very ignorant concerning many of the diseases that ravage our crops. For instance, we have seen "fingers and toes" carry away every year hundreds of acres of that important crop of turnip. Yet our experts have never been able to diagnose what that disease is. In addition to that we know the ravages of the potato disease. and of more than one form of that disease. We are at present threatened by a new form of it in the shape of what is called wart disease. I sometimes think that some of the advice which we are given by those in authority in reference to this questions is not of a very practical character. In fact, what they tell us to do would almost bring more loss to the farmer than the disease itself. But, undoubtedly, we have in that disease at the present time a scourge which is threatening to do great harm in the future to the production of potatoes in this country. In all those directions there is great scope for research work. All that work is not merely in the interests of the cultivators of the soil, but it would tend to the betterment of all those connected with rural economy, and of course would be in the interests of the consumer. Then in another direction, if we had a seed-testing station, and had more encouragement given to the veterinary profession, we would have reforms carried on which would be of the utmost advantage to agriculture.

When we come to think of what we want to do to remodel the Board of Agriculture, so that it may take up all those questions and do the best work that is possible, we see that the Board of Agriculture must be connected directly with the agricultural opinion of the country. In Ireland they have a Department of Agriculture which is in direct touch with agricultural opinion. Through the Council of Agriculture which they have in Ireland they have in every county direct communication between producers and the Department of Agriculture. Again, by its Agricultural Board, all the work that is taken on by the Board, while controlled and guided by a central authority, is yet delegated to local bodies in administering the work. In that direction the model of the Irish Department of Agriculture is one which we might wisely keep before us at this time when we are thinking of improving the condition and status of the English Board of Agriculture. In other countries we see large sums of money spent upon the development of agriculture. We see in Canada something like £800,000 spent every year. We see in France £1,000,000 spent every year, and in the United States something like £3,000,000. When we compare all that with the small, niggardly expenditure in this country, must we not recognise that in the past we have starved this industry? It is because we hope now that a better future lies before us and wiser counsels will now prevail that we agricultural Members bring this Motion before the House, recognising that, if this progressive step be taken, we would do much, whilst strengthening and enlarging the Board of Agriculture, to bring prosperity to what is, after all, the oldest national industry in the country, and bring wealth to our rural districts, which contribute so much to the social stability of the nation.


In seconding this Motion, I propose not to follow the example of the Mover by dealing with the question on general lines, but to devote myself to a particular aspect which is of very great importance. That is, the question of plant disease. During the last twenty or thirty years there has been increasing recognition throughout the world of the importance of this subject to agriculture, but it is mostly in tropical and sub-tropical countries that that recognition has been shown. In this country it is impossible to say that there has been any general recognition of its importance. Certain individuals, no doubt, and certain members of the staff of the Board of Agriculture, and certain farmers who are more enlightened than the majority, have appreciated its importance, but, broadly speaking, it has been so little regarded as a matter of importance to the industry from the commercial point of view that to-day there are no figures available for ascertaining accurately the extent of the loss which the country suffers from year to year. In consequence, in estimating the size of the problem and the gravity of the loss caused, one has to resort to estimates, but, fortunately, I think I can put before the House estimates which are really trustworthy, made by skilled and experienced observers.

Roughly, on present-day prices, the annual damage to crops in England and Wales is probably not under £30,000,000 sterling from insect and fungus diseases. Professor T. B. Wood, of Cambridge, reckons that 30 per cent. of the world's wheat crop is annually lost by fungus diseases alone. I will quote to the House certain figures which show some of the details of the losses in this country. In the case of wheat through rust, 10 per cent. of the crop was estimated to be lost last year, and that would be a crop of ten million quarters at an average price of 72s., so that the loss of wheat alone would amount to £3,600,000. The loss from wheat bulb fly, upon which calculations have been made, was one-tenth, or £360,000. Take the case of oats. From one particular pest, the frit fly, the loss is estimated at 10 per cent. in all probability, and that loss in the crop on last year's prices represents something like three millions sterling. On potatoes from blight alone, at pre-war prices, the loss was somewhere between a million and a-half and two and a-half millions sterling, and that is on the pre-war crop which was very much less than that of recent years. In the last publication of the Board on diseases in 1917, I observe that seventeen different fungus diseases are enumerated as affecting our potatoes. The figures I gave are for one only. In turnips and swedes in 1914 in Northumberland, Norfolk, Cambridge, excluding the Isle of Ely, and Essex, the loss on those two crops from diamond-back moth was at least half a million pounds, and probably the total loss on those crops in the country from this pest was, on pre-war prices, in the year, 1914 a million sterling. Those are simply five different pests I have mentioned, but their number in all is legion. As a result imports into the United States of potatoes were forbidden, and this country lost its trade, which was about 300,000 tons of potatoes annually, simply and solely because there was not adequate machinery for the purpose of controlling our plant pests in this country. I could give the House many other illustrations as to fruit trees and forest trees. We are just starting forestry on a national scale, and the Department of Woods and Forests have not got an entomologist or a mycologist at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, who is responsible at the present time for this branch, knows that disease is rife in the coniferous woods. Take another criterion. In the ten years before the War applications for leaflets were received at the rate of 75,000 per year, that is leaflets about insects only, and not all the insects but only a certain number. Let me read a letter or two to the House which brings home the thing even more strongly. I desire to impress the importance of this question on the House. In a letter from Gloucestershire about the fruit fly in 1917 the writer said: Two of the last ten years I lost the entire crop, and in the remaining eight I lost more than half entirely through the frit fly. The loss to the country I consider is very much greater than either from anthrax, sheepscab, or swine fever. In 1913 and 1914 numbers of farmers in the district have turned stock into their oat fields just before harvest as they found it was not worth cutting. I think it the duty of the country to investigate fully and be prepared with a remedy to meet further attacks. The President of the Wisbech Fruit Growers' Association in a letter in 1917 said: I have no doubt you will have heard of the great damage done to both the crop and trees (apple) by the capsid bug, and I regret to say the damage by this insect is by no means confined to the apples, but they have very seriously damaged the gooseberry trees, and the potato, so much so that I have every reason to believe the yield will be badly affected. I view the matter as very serious indeed, and I feel that some move must be made at once to try to stop this pest as it is doing thousands of pounds of damage in this district. Those are illustrations. The point of importance is that those losses could be materially reduced if adequate steps were taken. I know that the Board of Agriculture is most anxious that it should be so equipped with staff, apparatus, and buildings as to make it possible to deal with those pests, and it is moat important that this House should register its conviction by this Motion that the Board should be put in a position to do what it wishes to do. In France ths phylloxera was successfully dealt with by adequate control measures. We could do an enormous amount if we set about it in an efficient way. I do not want to deal with the history of what has been done in this country. Let us start from where we are now, and at the present time the position is this. Research work is concentrated at Rothampsted. Pure research work and other research work are two different things. I ask the attention of the House to the difference. Pure research work is work of scientific men, who must be given a free hand to work out their own theories and pursue their own ideas without reference to immediate practical application—work that could properly be done by men of the university type. But there is another kind of research work which is vitally important. In order to get the farmers of this country to do what is necessary to deal with these pests you must convince farmers that the proposals you make are sensible and are going to be effective, and that it will mean that they are going to make money instead of losing money and be worried for nothing. In order that that should be so it is vitally important that the men who go to advise farmers should be men who understand thoroughly what they are talking about. They should be practical farmers and also scientific men who have carried out their own experiments in connection with the research work done by others for the purpose of ascertaining if the control measures they propose would do good and not harm. That is a point to which I personally attach the greatest importance. From it follows two corollaries—(1) that there must be intimate touch between the advisory staff and the research staff; and (2) that the advisory staff itself must be so equipped with land in the right locality so as to enable them to make sufficient experiments themselves to understand really what they are advising in regard to control measures. The essence of the whole thing depends on the wisdom of the control measures. The advisory staff must also be able to carry out their experiments in the right place. In the first instance it will be at their own station, and, in the second instance, it will be on the fields of the farmers who are suffering from various pests. For that purpose you want itinerant arrangements, with vans which could go around, and a certain number of men who understand what they are about to go to the farms and win the farmer's confidence and show him on the spot what they can do, and the next year all the farmers will come and invite their assistance freely and voluntarily.

In order that those measures should be carried out, it is necessary that the Board should have a large central station, that the research workers should be in touch there with the advisory staff, and that the administrative staff of the Board, who have to enforce the Destructive Insects and Pests Acts and carry out, so to speak, the disciplinary measures that are the corollary of knowledge about control measures, should be in touch with the advisory men. You must not dissociate science from practice. I am not, of course, venturing to sketch out anything in the nature of the organisation the Board ought to have. I do, however, suggest that the Board ought to frame its scheme and come to this House and explain the principles of the scheme in asking for the money to carry it out, so that this House could deal with it and express an opinion on it in order to make sure that it is a really practical scheme. Just before the War we were spending in this country something like £5,000 a year. In the United States I do not know what they are spending. It is very difficult to dissect their figures accurately, but it is much nearer half a million pounds than five thousand, and if this problem is to be dealt with properly the country must realise that expenditure of money for this purpose will be remunerative to the country as a whole. If the loss annually is in the neighbourhood of twenty or thirty millions sterling, surely it is worth while spending anything up to a quarter or half a million, provided there is a reasonable certainty at an early date of saving 10 or 20 per cent. of the total annual loss. It is good business. I venture to submit that the House and the Treasury should look upon the matter from that point of view. There is one difficulty in the way which ought to be pointed out. At the present time there is not a staff of young men with the requisite knowledge in this country, and they have got to be trained, and one of the first steps the Board ought to take with young officers and men of intelligence from the ranks coming back from the front is to start a training centre where they can be given the right education for carrying out this work. The earlier portion of the education should be in the universities, but the later portion should be at the training centre, where they can, so to speak, ultimately be apprentices almost to the men who are doing the practical work and going about the country. I have taken that as an expression of the sort of way in which the Board of Agriculture ought to be reorganised with a view to practical efficiency.

Lieutenant-Colonel WEIGALL

At the outset I am authorised by, I think, almost the most representative, and certainly the largest, conference of the occupying interests in agriculture to give the most strenuous support to this Motion to-night. This conference met yesterday afternoon and was composed of representatives of the House of Commons Agricultural Committee, the Central Chamber of Agriculture, the National Farmers' Union, the Agricultural Wages Board, the Agricultural Organisation Society, and the British Empire Producers' Association. I will divide my remarks under two main heads—first, destructive criticism, which is always easy, and secondly, if my hon. and gallant Friend on the Front Bench will allow me, I am going to be presumptuous enough to offer constructive criticism. Under both these heads he is too old a friend of mine, I know, to accuse me of making any personal attack whatever on himself or on, the Noble Lord who presides over the Board of Agriculture. As regards both of them, I am only too happy to pay a heartfelt tribute to their unfailing courtesy and consideration to all those with whom they come in contact, and also to many of my friends within the Board, the devoted band of Civil servants. It is not a personal matter at all, but all I am concerned with is this. They are asked now to hack down an oak tree with a penknife, and it, is an absolutely impossible task. They are asked to make bricks, and they are given no straw to do it with. As to the constitution of the Board, officially the Archbishop of Canterbury is a member of the Board of Agriculture. I do not know that he has ever sat on the Board, and I do not know that the average agriculturist could receive very much agricultural advice from His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury. He fills a very high office and a most useful place in our national life. I can only conceive that in the origin of the Board the Primate was added to its constitution because there might have been a time when supplications for rain or for fine weather were desired, but this office, I must remind the House, was undertaken last year by a Noble Duke in another place, and so efficacious was his intervention that, after writing to the newspapers during a time of drought, when the land was so hard that we could not get our horses on, the blessings of the bucolics were immediately turned to the cursings of the whole countryside.

In its constitution the Board was never intended to be the initiating guide, philosopher, and friend of the agricultural community. It was set up with the idea of administering certain Diseases Acts and collecting certain statistics. It gradually widened its scope. It was built up in a purely haphazard way, and never given its real place in the agricultural administration of the country. What happened? There was a wide gulf between the average agriculturist and the Government Department concerned. War broke out, and it was immediately necessary to bridge that gulf. At enormous expense, which was quite justified—just as we had to make shells at all costs—we had to increase our home production, at whatever cost. Committees were formed, money flowed like water, and the end justified the means. But my point is this, that those means ought never really to have been necessary if we had had an adequate administrative machine. As its scope widened, it neither had the staff nor the status, nor the accommodation to carry out its work. The result was that a new Department was formed called the Food Production Department. It nominally was a sub-Department of the Board of Agriculture, but, in reality, it was an entirely self-contained Department. I can make public now what, during the War, it was impossible to do. During the last year of the War I was head of a division of the Food Control Department, and in that capacity I received a confidential instruction that the Food Production Department was to be treated as a channel for official communications as a purely self-contained Department—that our communications were to go simultaneously to the Board of Agriculture and the Food Production Department, clearly showing that there was a superimposed Government Department concerned with the very first essential which the Board of Agriculture ought to have, namely, the administration of the whole cultivation of the land of this country. Subsequently the Food Control Department came along, and rightly had to control the whole of the raw material, production, distribution, and consumption of the large amount of foodstuffs in our country.

9.0 P.M.

I have heard complaints during the last two years as to why the Food Controller should have anything to do with agriculture. Let me say, on the first opportunity I have of saying it, that my old chief, Lord Rhondda, held this, as I know, as a basic principle—and I think a great deal of his success was due to the fact that he carried it out to the letter—that if you are to have control, you must have it from the centre; you must have it all or none. He adopted a principle, and all this superimposed agricultural control was necessary, because there was not machinery in the country to do it. Therefore, he had to take control of the whole, raw material, with the universal accord that it received. Thirdly, there was the War Office. The War Office had to produce clothing for millions of troops. That, again meant control. All these three things—Food Production Department, Food Control Department and War Office—had to be superimposed on to the Board of Agriculture because former Governments, had never given to the country the benefit of a complete administrative machinery to carry out all these things. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend in his reply will, point to the research, the education and all the grants that have been made. There is published every year, the annual Report of the Education branch on the distribution, of grants for agricultural education. The uninitiated reading this will immediately say, "Everything that can be done is done. What more can you want? Here you have a document that runs into hundreds of pages, giving all the institutions and the counties which are receiving grants, and the total list of the whole of the activities of agricultural research and education in this country." In theory that is perfectly true, but I want to give the House a practical example of how, under the present regime, it works, and what I am going to say now casts no reflection whatever on my Friend at the head of this Department at the Board of Agriculture. There is no more zealous public servant in the public Departments than he. But here is how it works. During the last six weeks I have been in the position of deputy-chairman of the Milk Committee. That has entailed the chairmanship of all the Sub-committees, and one of our Sub-committees has dealt entirely with the facilities for education and research of the dairy industry in this country. I asked if, through the ordinary official channel, I could be given a county that could be shown to be a really progressive county from the point of view of education and research in the dairy industry. I am not going to name the county, because we only get full, free and frank evidence because it is given on the distinct understanding that it is not to be made public. But I was given a county which was, in the opinion of the Board of Agriculture and other Government Departments, a really progressive county. This is how their scheme in that county is described: Agricultural education is directed by the county organiser for agriculture. Itinerant cheese and butter schools are maintained. Schools and lectures in agricultural subjects are held throughout the county. In past years the teaching staff has been strengthened by an assistant-instructor in agriculture and jointly with an instructor in farriery, and in this way it is possible to give more agricultural instruction by means of lectures, and to give field demonstrations, and so on. From the point of view of output, that is really a very good county, and everything is going perfectly straight. Then I asked for evidence from the ordinary, average, everyday farmer, and, in order to get really good evidence, I asked the National Farmers' Union if they would nominate two average good farmers in that particular county to give evidence from that particular point of view. Here is the evidence I received. I asked the witness, Is there anyone in your county to whom you feel you can turn for advice in case of difficulty? Mr. So and So said: 'I know of no one. I should probably ask my neighbour, or, in case of illness, the veterinary surgeon. I agree it would be very desirable to have more information available on such questions as the analysis of cakes and meal. Before the War I have obtained a good deal of information through reading the 'Mark Lane Express.' Latterly, however, it has not been possible to carry out the experiments which formerly were reported there. I do not rely in any way on county authorities. I believe some years ago a county farm school was established, un by the county council, but it was not financially successful, and was obliged to close down.' A member of the Committee asked whether the farmers in the country were in the habit of turning to the county organiser in cases of doubt or difficulty. Answer: 'I have never regarded him in that light, and I have never heard of any farmer of my acquaintance going to him for assistance. We should welcome the assistance of county authorities and educational facilities and means of obtaining information in case of difficulty if they were at the disposal of farmers in the county. What was wanted was a county organiser who could speak and act as a practical farmer. There is a real instance of glorious Government theory up against the bedrock of farmers' practice! The real difficulty is that you have got this splendid theoretical curriculum which is wholly out of touch with the average everyday farmer in the country. My hon. and gallant Friend in his answer may say, "Well, what more can we do? You cannot expect us to keep running down into the country. That is the job of the county councils." I agree that to a greater extent the county authorities might help the farmer. All that the Board of Agriculture can do under the present system is to give financial Grants. The wealthier county councils say, "We do not want the Grants; we do not want to do the work." The poorer counties, if they are retrograde, simply fold their arms, and say, "We do not want anything." It is this you want to get over. I want to see the farmer really in a position to bring direct pressure on the Board and on the county authority, and I want also to bridge this enormous gulf which the evidence I have quoted shows does now exist between what help is now available, and which is wholly inadequate from a financial point of view—to bridge that gulf by bringing the real, practical farmer into far better and closer touch with that which concerns him deeply.

The Canadian Mission now in this country sent their agricultural representative to give evidence before my Committee. I was ashamed at the end to feel that a country like Canada should be filling the bill to the extent she is, so far as her farmers are concerned, and our own country here leaving the farmer to shift in all these directions for himself. I asked my hon. and gallant Friend last week, having had the evidence that I have had before the Milk Committee as to the ravages of this disease, whether anything was proposed to be done? The position at present means this, that in every single one of the herds that is producing the one essential food for our women and children the output is diminished by 40 per cent., thus sending up the price to every one of us.


What about the land?

Lieutenant-Colonel WEIGALL

It is not a question of land. I could take the hon. Gentleman to land in Lincolnshire, the manipulation of which would land anyone in the Bankruptcy Court in a very short time. This year, for instance, our autumn corn has been whipped by the rain during the last three months, and the springtime sowing has thus been made backward. The point I wanted to make is this: Do the authorities, knowing the ravages of this disease, intend to do anything? The farmers in the country come to us and say this is one of the things which is interfering with milk production in the country; this is one of the things sending up the price to the consumer; what can you do? I asked the Board of Agriculture, and the answer I got last week was that an inquiry was held in 1905, in which year the Report of the Inquiry was published, and that that Report is available. Are we so bankrupt in imagination that we are going to say that veterinary science has not advanced one iota in the last fifteen years, and that all the help and assistance the present Board of Agriculture can give to the dairy farmers of this country in the stamping out of this disease which is causing great loss, is to refer them to a Report of fifteen years ago? From the point of review of research and of education I shall be extremely anxious to hear whether my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir A. Boscawen) can give us any real satisfaction. He may, I know, say that, of course, the matter is one for the Treasury. All, however, I want to say to him is this: The true statesman is always an economist and the true economist is the man who knows when and how to spend money.

I can conceive of no way of advancing the interests of the agriculture of this country more than by wisely spending money in the stamping out of disease. It may be here suggested that up till now all my observations have been in the line of destructive criticism. I will endeavour, therefore, to make constructive suggestions—though it may be urged with some truth that it is presumption on my part to do so. I may, however, make the excuse that I have known agriculture from the inside and from the outside, as the hon and gallant Gentleman knows, for a great number of years. I have earned my living in this industry as an agent for very large acreages of agricultural land, and I have been farming my own and other people's land for the last twenty years. I have continuously sat on all the local authorities in my own part of the country for the last eighteen years, and I know, therefore, from the outside, as well as from the inside where it has been my privilege to serve as an acting Civil servant for the past year in another Government Department. The constructive suggestions are these: That the Board of Agriculture should be re-organised on the lines of the present Irish Board of Agriculture. You should have your president presiding over it. You should have a council of agriculture, appointed as to 60 per cent. from your county councils, and as to 30 per cent. nominated by the Departments. Together with these you should have an executive agricultural board of twelve men, three of them for each province of our country (including England and Wales), with eight elected by the councils, and four nominated by the Departments. Let that be your supreme administrative machine. Let it be linked up with your county committee, which will be a true mirror and reflection, of the agricultural community in the particular county. Take into consultation and the closest co-operation all the great organisations, including the Agricultural Labourers' Union, and you will now have for the first time in the country a national agricultural body—after ten years' advocacy by some of us. It may be that if there had not been a war we should not have had it now. There is, however, a wholly different outlook in the industry. With that atmosphere we were able to form a national council which is equally representative of owner, occupier, and labourer. We have met once a month, and we have never yet got up from the table without a unanimous decision. That in itself is a great stride forward. I ask that the Board should make use of it; and have your county committees, truly representative of all the interests in the industry, directly linked up with the different Government Departments. Let your central control be as strong as possible. Let your local administration be as decentralised as possible. I cannot help thinking that if that sort of administrative machine were created you would bridge the enormous gulf that now exists between the average farmer and the Government Departments. I hope that this Motion will be a real test as to whether the Government are in earnest about the agricultural industry. It is no good talking to us about a great agricultural policy, and a great industrial policy. All that is perfectly splendid, but you cannot do it all without the necessary administrative machinery. I hope this Motion will be the first test as to whether the Government really mean business in their treatment of the agricultural industry or not. I know I should be out of order if I went further with regard to that topic, but I will conclude by saying that if the Government are in earnest, and want to make the agricultural industry really prosperous; if they do not wish us to spend the rest of our days leaning on a financial crutch, because no industry can be successful from the economic point of view which is always compelled to lean on a financial crutch, then they must give us a real, active administrative machine, which will enable us to improve our education and our research, and reduce our cost of production, and then agriculture will be a real, live, stimulating interest in the whole of the industries of this country.


I think we may congratulate ourselves and the Government upon the measures which they have already introduced, and which they will introduce in the future, and which were adumbrated by all of us in our election addresses, and which it is the wish, I am quite sure, of all Members of this House, as well as the people of the country, should be carried out. First of all, I think we were all exceedingly interested in listening to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down, in which he criticised fully and very drastically the formation of the Board which deals with the great question of agriculture. I think, possibly, the suggestions he has made may be perfectly correct. Reference has been made to the necessity for a large policy in dealing with the question of agriculture. I agree that large dealing with all these questions is an essential now, and I do not think it is entirely on account of the War that this large dealing is necessary. I think every hon. Member of this House will agree with me when I say that shortly before the War, and indeed for some time before the War, we had begun to see signs of foreign competition cutting deep almost into our vitals, and showing that we were not in the strong position which we always maintained we should be in, and, in fact, we were losing ground which we ought never to have lost at all in view of the wonderful advantages which this country has over all others upon earth.

I should like to enumerate a few of those advantages. In the first place, there is the enormous proportion of the world's shipping which we had, and we had the greatest Empire on earth in which to deal with subjects of His Majesty the King. We had the most wonderful geographical position so far as the markets of Europe and the world were concerned. We had a number of seaports far in excess of those existing in any other country, and I think the proportion was something like five to one. We had ideal facilities for the making of cotton and woollen goods, and we had large deposits of coal and iron in juxtaposition to our ports which were unequalled elsewhere; and we also had the finest grazing country and stock-raising, country in the whole world. Notwithstanding all these advantages, we noticed that before the War our hundred-year-old supremacy in commerce was slipping away from us. I remember many years ago a new manager being appointed to one of the greatest industrial firms in the North of England which owned its own, coal and iron mines and steel works, and he said if he was not able to compete with the whole of the world with this concern, and compete successfully, he would never believe in certainties again. Before the War that concern was not occupying that high place so far as its financial position was concerned as this manager had expected it to do, but he was hopeful that it would be absolutely successful. Nevertheless we felt our supremacy sinking away.

Before the War I and a great many others looked upon this loss of supremacy and attributed it to one thing, and one only, and that was to the question of Free Trade, which involved, in our opinion, unfair competition. Since the War I think we have to a certain extent changed our view, and I am not so sure that it did not strike me last night that the question of doing away with Free Trade would not be a panacea for all these evils. We must look deeper, and we must look into the reason given last night by the hon. Member for Preston, to whose remarks I listened with the greatest interest. My opinion is that in the past we kept our heads above water not because of our methods, but in spite of them. As a matter of fact, I think it was the natural advantages which our country gave us which managed to keep us for so many years ahead of other countries. As a result of our supremacy slipping away we now see these enormous measures of reconstruction, which have to be put through as quickly as possible.

I do not by any means see eye-to-eye in all respects with hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I think the House will agree that if some of the methods which they have put forward for a great many years had been adopted earlier, as they are being adopted now, we should have arrived quicker at a state of prosperity and quietude than we are doing at the present moment, and we should have got through the War with more facility and dispatch. With regard to agriculture, I do not think any other industry can be mentioned in which such archaic methods and systems have prevailed as in that of agriculture. In the past nothing has ever been done for agriculture except to place burdens upon it, because it was one of the easiest industries to get at and it could not run away. People who were engaged in it were supposed to be only deserving of poor profits, and the wages paid to the agricultural labourer were miserably poor and insufficient pittances. I should like to make one remark with regard to some of the hon. Gentlemen who sit on the benches opposite in regard to certain sarcastic remarks which I have heard them make from time to time and to which we have got rather accustomed. They say that any idea that Members on this side of the House have with regard to the benefit of the workers of this country is, so to speak, put up as a peg on which to hang our hats. I would remind hon. Members opposite that we have just been through one of the greatest cataclysms that the world has ever seen, and that we have all been associated in France and in other fields of war, and those of us who were not so engaged worked at home. I myself have been so associated, and is it to be supposed that we have done so without having changed a good many of our views? So that if hon. Members opposite consider that there has been a certain tardiness on the part of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House with regard to our views, they must, notwithstanding that, give us the credit for being honest and believe that we do not put them forward from selfish motives after the terrible dangers and sufferings through which we have passed during the last four or five years.

I am asking for nothing else in regard to agriculture but fair dealing. This industry has been living, and the Government knows it perfectly well, from hand to mouth for years and years. Innumerable statesmen have endeavoured to deal with it; they have dabbled their toes in cold water without taking a cold bath, which they were so strongly recommended to do by the right hon. Member for Cambridge on the occasion of the Debate on another measure the other night. They have not succeeded in taking that cold bath which would have produced something of great advantage to agriculture. This industry has rightly earned the name of Cinderella. It has always been the one to be paid the least attention, but I hope that before many months have passed we may see agriculture deserve further the name of Cinderella, who after a certain time became preferred to all her sisters. There have been all sorts of propositions put forward for the improvement of agriculture, but I have always noticed one thing in all discussions which have taken place with regard to it, that the committees or authorities appointed invariably seem to take up the attitude that agriculture could go back, more or less, to the position in which it was before the War so long as everybody connected with it could make a profit. But I do not believe that that would be for the good of the community. I believe we shall have to introduce modern methods and modern systems into agriculture.

Either agriculture is to exist, or it is not, and in this matter I use the word "exist" as a synonym for "succeed," because if it does not succeed, and if the Government cannot make it succeed, then it is just as well that it should not—and it certainly will not—in the future exist. How is it going to succeed? Is it by co-operation? Is it by centralisation or something of that sort? It is for the Government to say. We all know with regard to farmers that they are a very peculiar race, and co-operation and centralisation do not always appeal to them. I should think that, as a class, farmers stick less to each other, and their opinions coincide less with each other's, than in any other business. For this reason: When a farmer wants to sell a pig or a cow or a horse he usually goes to his next-door neighbour. We all know that buyers and sellers do not invariably see eye to eye, that there is a considerable difference between them, and, therefore, there is always a difference between the farmers; but I think that it will be a great incentive to them to learn when they realise that they are certain to have to pay not only the wages that they are paying now, but that in a very short time demands will be made for higher wages by the agricultural labourer. I am quite certain that if an inquiry similar to that which is being held in regard to the coal-mining industry could be held in regard to agriculture, the agricultural workers would not be able to put forward the same good case, or to obtain the same results, rightly, on the finding of the Court, as the coal-miners have done. But I do not think for one instant that there ought to be any industry in this country, especially an industry like agriculture, which is the basic one of the whole lot, which should not be able to pay its labourers just as high wages as are paid in any other trade.

The present condition of affairs means there is something wrong with agriculture. It is either the weak system, the apathy of the people involved, or it is want of co-operation between the three classes mainly concerned, namely, the landlord, the tenant, and the agricultural labourer. Surely it is the duty of the Government to prescribe some scheme which will make agriculture attractive not only to capital but also to labour. We have heard that a great number of the soldiers who have been applying to come home to work on the land, when they get home, have not wished to go on working. There must be something wrong if that is the case. If the land is not attractive enough, and the towns prove far pleasanter places to live in, it must be because there is no chance for the people who are interested in agriculture. I look to the Government to redeem their promises, after the splendid start they have made in the work of Reconstruction, to put forward some scheme or another which will place agriculture on a better footing. I would just like to put forward a figure or two in this connection. In 1907, the year of the Census of Production, the import of edible foodstuffs into this country was £194,800,000 worth. The amount of undutiable foodstuffs grown in the United Kingdom in the same year was £196,344,000, and in point of fact this industry in the United Kingdom was only supplying half the wants of the population. Let us take, for example, a step which the Government took with a view to inducing the farmers and agricultural community generally to produce more food for the benefit of the people. They caused an enormous amount of ground to be ploughed up from one end of the Kingdom to the other. I myself last autumn was employed on the Headquarters Staff of the Western Command. It was part of my duty to traverse the country from the Scottish border right down to Pembroke Dock, and I can assure the House that I saw acres of cereals which were untouched and ruined by the third week in October. There is going to be nothing popular about that. When there are so many countries in the world able to produce without any danger cereal crops which are a necessity for everybody, but which are not the only necessity—when there are so many parts of the world which can produce these crops under much better auspices than we can, I submit that it would be better for us to devote our attention to the crops to which the climate of this country would not be so dangerous.

I would like to give another figure. In 1904 the Board of Trade made a Census of the weekly budgets of expenditure of some 2,000 families in the United Kingdom. The average income of those families was 36s. 10d. per week. It was found that the total expenditure on bread and flour per family was 3s. 7d. per week. The other foodstuffs which were producable in the United Kingdom and which those families bought amounted to 14s. 7d. per week, and the balance of 27s. was made up of tea, coffee, and sugar. Therefore, nearly five times as much other foodstuffs as bread and flour were bought by each of those families. It seems to me that that part of agriculture has been totally neglected, and, notwithstanding the remarks the other day of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman), I cannot help thinking that if a system of intensive cultivation were taken more carefully in hand considerable improvements would be seen. The Government's schemes of transport and of land settlement will effect something, but agriculture wants a very great deal more than that. We must remember that there are only two classes of people as far as working the land is concerned. One, of course, is the agricultural labourer and the other is the farmer. The farmer stands in a unique position with regard to his industry compared with other people in other industries. The farmer is the one man who cannot be changed from one industry to another. If we cannot keep our farmers going, if we cannot keep them in prosperity, we shall be absolutely no good at all so far as agriculture is concerned. They have borne the heat and burden of the day and many losses, and they are a little suspicious of what may be done for them in the future, but they will adopt, I am quite sure, any scheme which is put forward by the Government for the amelioration of the present position, and the Government will find no more loyal helpers than the farmers.


I am in agreement with the greater part of what has been said in this Debate. I do not think that anyone who has any knowledge of the present position of the Board of Agriculture can feel that its condition is in any way satisfactory having regard to the great importance of the industry. The accommodation that is provided for it, so scattered and so inefficient, is evidence that up till now the industry has not been viewed from the standpoint that it ought to be viewed, but at the present moment one is justified in saying that the nation as a whole views the industry of agriculture from a different standpoint than it has done previously. The nation will expect in years to come to have as large a proportion of its foodstuffs grown at home as it is possible to do. We do not want to face the same risks as we have had to face during the past four years. The nation also recognises, if that is to be so, that we must have the Board of Agriculture given a proper status and properly and adequately equipped in order to carry out its numerous duties and functions. This is certainly not the case at the present time. It is deplorable that we should have an industry of this character carried on under conditions whereby problems may arise and there is no source from which information can be obtained in order to guide and help those who may be in difficulty. There is no industry in the country that wants a better equipped central department more than the industry of agriculture The geological formation of our country in itself constitutes a problem requiring a concentration of mind such as agriculture has never received up to the present moment.

There has been a great deal of loose talk about agriculture in the past. Certain forms of cultivation have been referred to as though they were capable of being applied to the whole of the country but it can easily be shown that there is no given form of cultivation either on small-holdings or on large industrial farms that can be applied to the whole country. It is a question of finding out the best form of cultivation for given areas to give us the best results. We cannot hope to achieve that unless we have behind us a Department properly staffed and equipped with attached to it research departments from which shall be forthcoming all the information that is essential for the guidance of those who are associated with the industry. I would not to-night rise to support this Motion if I felt that merely by raising the status of the Ministry, or even by giving it accommodation which harmonises with the importance of its work, we were going to rest there. We do not look upon this as the end in itself. It is but the means to an end whereby the fullest resources of this country may be tapped in order to provide the greatest possible amount of food for the people within our shores.

I was struck by some information which reached me the other day when in conversation with members of a Farmers' Union, showing how little agricultural education has been taken up in this country. I believe there is a college in Kent which has simply languished for want of support to carry on its work, and I was informed that just previously to the War they were compelled to take in foreign pupils at higher fees in order to get the money necessary to carry on the work of the college. If it is in the interest of foreigners to come to these colleges in order that they may be trained, educated, and equipped, there ought to be some advantage attaching to them so far as our own people are concerned. This Debate has developed on rather different lines to those which have obtained in previous Debates in connection with agriculture. Previously the industry has sought relief in measures upon which this country I am afraid never will be agreed. We can, I should think, agree to-night that it ought to be possible for the Board of Agriculture to be equipped in such a way that the fullest resources of science shall be forthcoming to help the industry in growing the food of the people. We on these benches will at all times be ready to give support in that direction, while, on the other hand, we would hesitate to give support to proposals which in the end, unless the industry is changed, would be a means of giving protection very largely to inefficiency. We are prepared to look upon this question from the standpoint of national necessity, but we are not prepared to view it from the standpoint of backing up national inefficiency. National inefficiency, I am afraid, has formed a very large part in regard to agriculture in days gone by.

We on these benches have a special interest in agriculture, although we find ourselves very largely on common ground with those who have brought forward this Motion. Our special interest in agriculture is not merely to have a Ministry with a proper status, or even with buildings suitable to its requirements, nor yet is our interest limited to the growing of food for the people. Our special concern is to see the industry in such a condition that those who work in connection with it are able to receive a wage that would establish in their homes a standard of comfort which harmonises with their human needs. That is our special interest in this matter. We feel that the House must of necessity view the question of agriculture in the future from that standpoint. The day has gone by when the labourer will be content to live and work under the conditions which we have endured in the past. The whole circumstances of his life have got to be improved. He will expect better housing accommodation; he will expect to have opportunities for pleasure and recreation; he will want the whole surroundings of his life to be such as will tempt him to remain by the countryside rather than to present to his mind a condition of things he will only tolerate until the industries in neighbouring towns tempt him there or the conditions in the Colonies hold out an invitation for him to leave his native country. He will want a wage that will enable him to give his family that which they are reasonably and honestly entitled to, and I can tell the House that at the present moment there never was in the history of this country a greater determination, so far as Labour is concerned, to establish this condition as part of his working life. It is well that the House should understand that this question of agriculture has greater significance and importance because of that fact. It seems to me it is impossible for us to view the future with any idea of giving to the labourer that which he is claiming, and which we feel he is entitled to, unless we have a Department in the Board of Agriculture with the proper status, properly and adequately equipped, in order that the fullest resources of the nation may be brought to bear upon the industry, rather than, as has been the case in the past, concentrating our minds upon remedies that are no solution of the question, and will in the end leave us very largely at the point from which we started.

We on these benches are glad to give support to this proposal, and we hope and trust it will not be taken as an indication that we merely want to add to the dignity of those who occupy positions in this Department. We give our support to it because we want the Department to be able to render that service to the industry which national interests demand at the present moment. Possibly, if we were to go into this question from the standpoint which we would like to, we might urge a point of view with which some Members in the House would disagree. We would like to see this industry made really a purely national industry with the land of the country belonging to the people of the country, with the industry organised and developed in the interests of the nation and with the idea of eliminating vested interests entirely from it. We feel that until that position is reached agriculture can never hold a satisfactory position in this country. But pending the time when we shall be able to view the question from that standpoint—and I hope it may be in the near future—we are glad to welcome this Motion and we trust it will be accepted by the Government and that the industry will be able to look to the Board which controls its destinies as something in the nature of a real friend, ready to hold out a helping hand in those times of trouble which, unfortunately, come too often to the industry as a whole.


I do not want to put the hon. and gallant Gentleman who is to speak for the Department into the position in which he unwittingly placed me the other night by compelling me to confine my remarks within a period of a few minutes, and I therefore rise now to make some observations on this Motion. Let us bring this matter down to practical facts. The dignity of an office is measured more by the salary which is enjoyed by the head of it than by anything else. As long as the salaries of the President of the Local Government Board and of the President of the Board of Trade are £5,000 a year while that of the President of the Board of Agriculture is only £2,000 a year, the Board of Agriculture will be treated by the Treasury, and by everybody else, as very inferior to the other two offices. That sort of treatment is now entirely out of date. In old days the organisation used to be something like this. At the head of the scale in salary came the legal officers, because lawyers have always been extraordinarily capable of looking after themselves from a financial point of view. They received something like £10,000 a year each. Then came the Secretaries of State with £5,000 a year each. Then came the rest—rather a bad third. That was altered in the 1906 Parliament, when the offices of the Local Government Board and the Board of Trade were brought up to the level of the offices held by Secretaries of State.

Two very serious anomalies were then left. The greatest, with all respect to agriculture, was with regard to the President of the Board of Education. That office ought certainly to have been made a first-class office long before now. But it is quite as important that the office of the Board of Agriculture should also be made of similar status from that point of view to the offices of local government and trade. This matter reflects itself even on the salary and status of the humble Under-Secretaries. I have had experience as Under-Secretary in four different Departments, and I have always found that the importance and difficulty of the work of an Under-Secretary varies inversely with the importance of the office which he happens to occupy. When I was Financial Secretary to the Treasury and was paid the most I ever had—£2,000 a year—my work was certainly easier, because that was the best-staffed office. The better an office is staffed the easier becomes the work of the Parliamentary heads. I afterwards became Under-Secretary to the Foreign Office, and then Financial Secretary to the War Office. They were also well-staffed offices, but the work was a good deal harder, because they were not so well staffed as the Treasury and the Foreign Office. Certainly the most difficult and hardest work, which gave me the longest task and more steady all-day-Sunday work than I have ever had anywhere else, was at the Board of Agriculture, where I was only thought to be worth £1,200 a year. That was because the staff was not adequate. My hon. and gallant Friend knows that. The men were frightfully overworked and hard pressed, and one had to make bricks nearly all the time without the necessary straw. One found it much more difficult to turn out first-class work, because of the way that office was graded, than it would have been if the office had been graded and staffed properly and if that staff had been paid properly.

The simple facts with regard to premises is symptomatic of the way in which the Board of Agriculture has always been treated in this country. In my time the Board was scattered in about fifteen different actual addresses in England and Wales. I believe the number has gone up to nineteen since then. The difficulty of working a Department scattered through fifteen or twenty different addresses can be better imagined than described. I have recently had an opportunity of visiting the Boards of Agriculture both in Scotland and in Ireland on forestry business. I went to Edinburgh, and found that the Board there had a central office, occupying very dignified quarters in a beautiful square in that marvellously noble city. But there, too, the Board was scattered into five or six different branches, only a nucleus being in the headquarters. It was only when I went to Ireland that I found the Board of Agriculture housed as the Board of Agriculture ought to be, in dignified, ample buildings, where the whole of the staff could come together. The housing of the Boards in England and Scotland is utterly inefficient, and it must make for less efficient work than they ought to do all day long. I am certain that a doorkeeper in the house of the Department of Agriculture for Ireland would refuse to be housed as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture is housed in London.

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The low grading of an office works in practice in this way. The Treasury regards an office like the Board of Agriculture as something like a third-class office. They refuse to pay adequate salaries to the staff. They refuse to allow that staff to be recruited from the best available class entering the Civil Service, or they give one an entirely inadequate number of men recruited in the best way and from the best class. In actual working this sort of economies in staff are the very worst forms of actual waste of the nation's money. I do not believe that first-class work can be done by a third-class office any more than we can expect A 1 efficient from a C 3 nation. The sort of thing that happens is that a real question comes up, and a suggestion is made of a profitable line to follow, where either money can be saved or some good work done for the State. The harassed chief of the office says, "Who is there in the Department who will take up this question, look into it, and present a memorandum which will suggest a policy that can be carried out usefully?" At the Board of Agriculture he has two alternatives: he has either to throw it on to some extraordinarily overworked one of the few officials—there are half a dozen men of first-class ability who have done marvellously good service to the State in the Board of Agriculture, all of them always up to their eyes in work because the office is so hideously understaffed so that men cannot possibly give attention to their new work; or he has to give it to some man underneath, perhaps a young man, who is underpaid, not recruited from the class from which he might be recruited, and who, with the best will in the world, cannot produce a first-class scheme or tackle the new subject that has come above the horizon. Although you may save an odd £100 a year here and there in economies on the staff, yet the hon. Gentleman knows well that during the period of the War you have over and over again lost in money value to the nation to the tune of millions because of that petty economy of staff and the inadequate staffing of the office.

Think of the future! Agriculture has a very difficult prospect before it. The pending increase in the agricultural labourer's wage, which I am glad to find the whole House is ready to welcome in advance, is going to make farming extraordinarily difficult to almost every farmer everywhere up and down the country. A big man can make economies. He can use labour-saving machinery, buy tractors and lay field to field. He will survive. He may even nourish more than before. The small man who can run his farm with his own family is going to manage to keep alive, but the small farmer with a 100 or 150 acres and two or three labourers is going to find things very difficult indeed. The problems in front of the Board of Agriculture will be of extraordinary difficulty. You cannot meet the position simply by introducing high Parliamentary prices. To say that because agriculture, for the first time, has got to pay its labour decently, therefore you are going to pour into the pockets of the agriculturists extra bounties from the taxpayers' pocket, is not a policy which by itself will give that stability which is the absolute foundation of agriculture. You have to add something. You have to work out a regular scheme for giving to the nation safety and security and the best possible quality in their food supplies. If you can persuade the nation that they are really getting something for their money, if you can persuade them that they are going to get from the new policy absolute safety in time of emergency, that a certain proportion of land is going to be kept under arable cultivation, sufficient to make us self-supporting in emergency, that the land is not only going to be better cultivated from the point of view of production but better used from the point of view of supporting men, women and children upon it, and that that factor is going to be looked into thoroughly parish by parish and every parish is going to be surveyed to see not only that the land is used properly but that the housing is proper, that the chances of the small man getting up are adequate, that all the best farms are not monopolised by one or two men who have more than they want with no chance for the small man—if all these things which concern the food-producing capacity of the land and the capacity of the land to sustain and train thoroughly healthy families are going to be tackled as they ought to be, you will want a far differently equipped Board of Agriculture from that which the Treasury and the Government have given us in the past. The truth is that production from the land and settlement on the land are now recognised—if not they ought to be recognised—as some of the very first and foremost activities and responsibilities that the State can possibly undertake. That, I think, means that this Motion is justified. We cannot go on struggling with premises which were suitable enough for a Department which only administered swine fever and the muzzling of dogs, and things of that sort. Perhaps the best solution might be that suggested by the Haldane Commission, a great Department of production of which the most important Sub-Department should be the Department of Agriculture, but we cannot afford in this matter, with all these big problems pressing upon us, to wait for an ideal solution. I think the form the Motion takes is rough, but it is justifiable, it is necessary, it is essential if agriculture is to be tackled in the way it must be tackled during the next few months and the next few years, to make it a first-class Department, to staff it, to house it, to pay its staff adequately from that point of view.


May I say how very much I regret the circumstances of the Debate last week. If I had realised what was going to happen on that occasion I should certainly have cut my remarks shorter. With regard to this Motion I am glad to be able to say on behalf of the Government that I am prepared to accept it. Not only so, but I am authorised to say the Government is prepared to bring forward the necessary measures, which will probably require legislation, to carry out what is contained practically in the Motion as soon as possible. We realise exactly what has been said by some speakers to-night. The Board of Agriculture must not be what it was originally, a mere negative Department charged merely with the carrying out of certain Acts of Parliament. We realise that it must become in the words of the Agricultural Sub-committee on Reconstruction presided over by Lord Selborne, A great Department of State charged with the care of agriculture in its widest sense and with the promotion and welfare of rural as opposed to urban life. For that reason we accept the proposal that the Board of Agriculture should be made a first-class office. I am not sure whether it is altogether proper for me to support such a Motion because its carrying out may involve a slight increase in my salary, though not very much after the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had his pull. But still we feel, if we are going to do our work properly, if we are to carry that weight in the Cabinet that the importance of the subject demands, the Board of Agriculture should be placed on a level with other first-class offices in the Government. It is quite true that the present constitution of the Board is altogether anomalous. My hon. and gallant Friend (Lieutenant-Colonel Weigall) said the Archbishop of Canterbury was a member. I do not know why he should not be. As a matter of fact, I believe he is not. But according to the original Act establishing the Board it consisted of the following: The Lord President of the Council, His Majesty's principal Secretary of State, the First Commissioner of His Majesty's Treasury, the Chancellor of His Majesty's Exchequer, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Secretary for Scotland, and any other such person as His Majesty the King may from time to time think fit to appoint during His Majesty's pleasure. We quite realise that no doubt the holders of these great offices in the present Administration and past Administrations have been excellent. But their time is so fully occupied that they cannot devote it to a Board of Agriculture con- stituted in that way. Of course it is an anomaly and utterly impracticable in the shape in which it is laid down in the Act of Parliament.

I ought to say perhaps what we propose should be done under present circumstances. Something has been said about what happened in Ireland. I quite agree that we ought to take our reforms from what occurred in Ireland and set up our Board of Agriculture more or less on the lines of the Irish Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. What we are putting forward as our proposal at present is as follows. We wish to see set up an agricultural authority in each county. We have had during the War the county agricultural executive committees which have done splendid work. They were set up for a special purpose under Defence of the Realm Regulations. They are now being continued under the Corn Productions Act, under Part IV. of which we have the right to delegate certain powers with reference to the cultivation of the land to any persons in a particular county. But we want to go much further. We want definitely to link up this committee with the county authorities and just as there is now in each county closely allied with the county council but distinct from it, a county education authority, so we propose that there shall be a county agricultural authority in each county in the country. To that body will stand referred practically all matters coming under the purview of the county councils which have regard to agriculture. We shall propose a Clause in the Land Settlement Bill setting up county agricultural authorities on these lines.


Will that be in relation to the county councils?


Certainly. It will have very much the same relation to the county council as the county education authority has. That is to say, the majority of the members will be nominated by the council.


At the present time the county council is the education authority acting through the Statutory Committee.


That is exactly the proposal that we intend to make. The county council will be the authority acting through a statutory agricultural committee.


Has that to do with afforestation as well?


No, I think not. I would ask the House not to press me on details, which they will be able to see when the Bill is introduced. That will give us a statutory body in each county charged with looking after agriculture. We have to link that body up with the central authority. We quite agree that instead of the somewhat nebulous Board we have to-day, we should follow the Irish practice; that we should have an agricultural council in England, and an agricultural council in Wales. There is, I think, an agricultural council in Wales to-day, but it has no statutory authority. That agricultural council will be partly elective by the county authorities I have indicated, and partly nominated by the Board. It is also proposed that there shall be a much smaller agricultural board or committee, which again will be partly representative of the agricultural council and partly nominated by the Board. In that way we shall hope to obtain an advisory body on all matters of interest to agriculture. New methods of cultivation, and so on, can be discussed, and the President will have at his elbow the best advice coming from every part of the country. These are the lines which we propose to follow in the reconstitution of the Board.

It may interest the House if I say something about the administrative changes within the Board which we propose, some of which are authorised already. I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend (Mr. Acland) and others have said about the terribly inadequate housing of the Board. It is indeed a serious handicap to the work that we are trying to carry it on in nineteen separate buildings, with the result that even if a question is addressed to me here—and many are addressed to me—it very often necessitates messages being sent from building to building. The amount of additional labour entailed is most terrible and wasteful. We have already authority from the Treasury largely to increase our staff of Commissioners, who will be links between the Board at the centre and the county authorities outside. Originally there were, I think, nine small-holdings Commissioners. We have now authority for sixteen Commissioners and forty Sub-Commissioners. These officers will have their offices in the county towns which are the centres of their area. They will deal with the county councils in all matters in respect of which we act either with or through the county councils and the county agricultural authorities.


Will the Commissioners and Sub-Commissioners be paid?


Certainly we have sanction from the Treasury for the payment of the number I have indicated. They will deal with such matters as small holdings, the cultivation of land, drainage, agricultural education, land reclamation, diseases of animals, plant tests, seeds, and so forth. That change is authorised and we hope in that way to have a staff linking up the Board with the county authorities, being in touch with the farmers, and being able to disseminate information and knowledge which we think will be of value to agriculture.


Will the county agricultural committees be subject to the Commissioners?


No. The Commissioners will be officers of the Board, who will act largely in an advisory capacity. We do not wish in any way to have a bureaucratic system. What we want is to have a strong Board at the centre and as much decentralised work as we can get, but we must have a certain number of officers as go-betweens between the Board and the local bodies, to act as inspectors and so forth and to see that work is properly carried out. An hon. Member seems to criticise the fact that so many are to be appointed and that they are to be paid; but the work which these men will have to do in the first year or two under the Land Settlement Bill will be gigantic. The settlement of soldiers on the land is a very difficult business and will have to be done very rapidly in an emergency, and we shall want all the help and official aid that we can possibly get. So far from having too great a staff, I think it very likely that it will be found that our staff even as now sanctioned will be inadequate.


Will the Commissioners be members of the county agricultural committees?


I should say not. They will be officers of the Board, but they will be closely in touch with these bodies, and they will be intermediaries between them and the Board in London. The next point is the establishment of what I may call the commercial department. We have the nucleus of that already in the commer- cial branch of the Food Production Department. That branch did an immense amount of work. To give an example, I may take the question of fertilisers. Nothing was more important and nothing was more difficult than to obtain an adequate supply of fertilisers at reasonable prices. That matter was taken up by the commercial branch, and though I do not say that they did everything that everybody wanted, they did a vast amount of good. One particular matter I may mention. They took care that there was an adequate supply of sulphate of ammonia, and that it was supplied to farmers at a reasonable price. Farmers very often object to control, and none of us like control when it takes the shape of a maximum on what we have to sell, but in this case the control took the shape of a maximum on what the farmer had to buy, and it was a very great advantage to the farming community to be able to get sulphate of ammonia at a reasonable price. We hope to develop this comparatively small branch of the Food Production Department into what I should call a commercial division of the Board of Agriculture, and then there duties will be magnified. Control will disappear, but they will become largely an advisory body, helping us in all such matters as supplies of raw materials, e.g., of fertilisers.

One great difficulty we have got to face to-day is the supply of phosphate rock for the manufacture of superphosphate, and the commercial branch will be of great advantage in acquiring adequate supplies, and also in such matters as the supply of lime substitutes, marketing, machinery, binder-twine—a question which is exciting a great deal of interest lately—seeds and seed-testing. I think that my hon. Friend who introduced the Motion suggested that we were doing nothing in the matter of seed-testing. That is not the case. We have got our seed-testing station which is to be removed to Cambridge. We attach great importance to it. That sort of work has got to be developed, and our commercial branch is the proper Branch to do it. There are other things, too.


May I ask if the hon. Gentleman is prepared to deal with the question of wages and hours of labour?


That, I may say, is already provided for by the agricultural wages boards.


Not in so far as fertilisers are concerned.


I am coming to the question of the agricultural wages boards. That is another instance in which it may be that the staff will have to be increased. At all events that is provided for, and I do not think it is a question for the commercial branch of the Board. I was about to mention other things which could be developed by an adequate commercial division. We are looking forward to a development, it may be a revival to some extent, of what I may call rural industries, and I think there is an opportunity in connection with agriculture for the revival in some parts of the country of such industries. For example, if our experiment in sugar-beet growing is successful, there will grow up a considerable industry in the manufacture of sugar and alcohol, and whatever may be made out of sugar beet. Similarly there is the case of flax. We were called on during the War to do a good deal in the way of flax growing, especially for the wings of aeroplanes. I think we had in 1918, 13,500 acres under flax. There, again, there is in the retting and deseeding an opportunity for industry. Take hemp. Hemp was a considerable industry in the eighteenth century in some parts of the country, especially in the Fen district, and it might be developed. The same way with tobacco. Experiments have been made in the growing of tobacco. I am told that, especially in light soils, in some parts of Norfolk tobacco could be grown exceedingly well. Everybody knows, who has any knowledge of the trade, that the amount of industry employed in the drying and handling and what is called the re-handling of tobacco will constitute a very valuable industry. In all those sort of ways and, still more important, with the great question of transportation, with the acquiring of knowledge of where transport schemes are needed, and where a light railway would be an advantage, to collect agricultural produce, or motor lorries, the Commercial Branch of the Ministry, I believe, will render the greatest service to agriculture.

I think the House is entitled to know the schemes we have in mind. If we are able to reconstitute the Board on the general lines suggested in the Motion, we hope to develop very largely the horticultural branch of the Ministry. We have got a horticultural branch now of the Food Production Department, but it has got to be extended. With the extension of small holdings and of allotments, for which there has grown up a most admirable taste during the War, we realise that more market gardening and fruit growing have to be developed. We hope, therefore, that a strong horticultural division of the Ministry may do a great deal on those lines, and may, in fact, practically introduce into large parts of the country which are suitable for intensive farming that petite culture which is so successful in some parts of France and other Continental countries. Now I come to another matter which has been talked about a good deal to-night, and that is education and research. We have got now our intelligence branch. We wish to develop it, and we shall call it the technical division, and although I think what has been done up to date has been somewhat belittled, we quite realise that we have got to carry it further and to get the results of our research made better known and put more into touch with the practical agriculturist. But, after all, a good deal has been done in the way of research. At Cambridge we have research stations for plant breeding and animal nutrition, at Oxford we are making research in economics, etc., at Reading in dairying, and at the great station at Rothamsted on soils, plant nutrition, and plant pathology. I entirely agree with a great deal that fell from the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott) as to the importance of developing our research into plant pathology, getting further information as to these fungoid pests, and so on, that do so much damage, and bringing that information more into touch with the farmers concerned. We have got that matter in hand, and research is being carried on at Rothamsted under, I think, the most favourable conditions. Then there is another matter beyond actual research, the question of demonstration. Demonstration farms, run on commercial lines, have proved that certain things can be done which have not been understood before or, at all events, which are new to a particular district. I mentioned the other day, in reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Lieutenant-Colonel Weigall) that we were experimenting on a number of demonstration farms with dairying on arable land, which we think will be of great advantage for two reasons—first of all, because it will enable us, we hope, to use a great deal of the land which has recently been ploughed up for dairying, and so on, instead of letting it tumble back to grass; and secondly, in that way we think we may be able to increase the milk supply of the country, especially in winter—a very important matter. More milk could and should be consumed in this country. The average is about a quarter of a pint per head per day. In New York it is a half-pint. If we can do something in the way of increasing our milk production on the lines I have indicated it will be a very good thing for the health of the country and for the farmers of the country as well. I have not the time to go through all the other proposals that we are putting forward. We hope to strengthen our statistical division, because we must have exact returns of agricultural production for the purposes of the Corn Production Act. We hope to improve our branch which deals with financial control.

We are often charged here with treating unfairly or, at all events, inadequately the Fisheries Branch of the Board. It must be remembered that we are not only a Board of Agriculture, but we are also a Board of Fisheries, and I know it is held by some Members that it would be far better if there was a separate Department of Fisheries altogether. Whatever the truth about that may be, and I am not one of those who are particularly keen on the ceaseless multiplication of Government Departments, what I say is this, that we do not neglect the Fisheries side. The Fisheries side of the Board rendered an extraordinary service to the country during the War. It was practically the intermediary between the fishermen of this country and the Admiralty, and it did splendid work. But there is a great deal more that can be done. A great deal more can be done in the purification of shell-fish, and in the way of marketing. I believe it is a fact that very often, owing to the irregular landing of fish, or owing to a glut, a great deal of the catch is wasted. Better systems of marketing might get over that difficulty.

Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. WILSON

Is the ron. and gallant Gentleman going to deal with the question of the pollution of rivers under the Board now?


I was not going to deal with that.


Will the Board take powers to deal with the question of the pollution of rivers?


I am not quite clear on that point. If the hon. Member will put a question down, I will certainly answer it. I am dealing here rather with the prevention of the pollution of fish, especially shell-fish. No doubt a great ideal more can be done in insisting on proper precautions being taken, and also in the way of research, in ascertaining the best way of treating disease, and so on. These are the lines that I have sketched out—quite inadequately, I am afraid—on which we hope to reorganise the Board. But the first thing undoubtedly is, we must have the status of a first-rate office, and the staff and the housing accommodation, and, by means of the plan I have indicated, get into touch with the counties. By the advisory committees and the smaller boards we want to get into far closer touch with the practical farmers of this country.

Those are the lines we propose to go upon. Of course, they are not of themselves going to solve the agricultural difficulties. As an hon. Member said, these are only means to an end. The difficulties of agriculture will be solve not by administrative machinery, although that may help a good deal, but by three things—by wise estate management and judicious expenditure of capital on the part of owners, by skill and perseverance on the part of the cultivators, and by industry on the part of the labourers, whom we all hope to see a contented and well-paid class of labour. Those are the main considerations. In so far as by administrative machinery we can help—whether by central machinery or a system of decentralisation such as I have described—we think it the duty of the Government to give this great industry every possible chance, and for that reason the Government are prepared to accept this Motion, and hope to carry it out at the earliest possible moment.