HC Deb 27 November 1919 vol 121 cc1959-68

(Composition of Councils and Committees.)

1.—(1) The Council of Agriculture for England shall consist of the following members:

(a) One member of each of the Agricultural Committees established by the councils of the counties and county boroughs in England to be nominated by the committee:

Provided that, if the Agricultural Committees established by councils of county boroughs shall exceed twelve in number, the total number of members nominated by those committees shall be twelve and the members shall be nominated by the committees in such manner as the Board may by regulation prescribe.

(b) Six members of the Agricultural Wages Board to be nominated by that Board in equal numbers from the representatives of employers and workmen.

(e) Twenty-four persons nominated by the Board, of whom eight shall be representative of workmen engaged in agriculture, and of the remainder three at least shall be women, six shall be representative of the industry of horticulture, and three representative of agricultural education or research.

(3) The Advisory Agricultural Committee shall consist of the following members:

  1. (a) Four of the members of the Council of Agriculture for England who have been nominated by the Agricultural Committees to be nominated by the whole body of such members representing the Agricultural Committees.
  2. (b) Four of the members of the Council of Agriculture for England who have been nominated by the Board to be nominated by the whole body of such members, and so that one of the persons so nominated shall be representative of workmen engaged in agriculture, another shall be a woman, and a third shall be representative of agricultural education or research.
  3. (c) Two members to be nominated by the Board in equal numbers from representatives of employers and workmen.
  4. (d) Two members of the Council of Agriculture for Wales to be nominated by that council.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1c), after the word "work-men" ["of whom eight shall be repre- sentative of workmen"] to insert the words, "and eight employers of whom four shall be landowners."

The paragraph provides for twenty-four members nominated by the Board, of whom eight shall be representative of workmen engaged in agriculture and of the remainder three at least shall be women, six shall be representative of the industry of horticulture and three representative of agricultural education or research. It is difficult to understand why employers of those concerned in agriculture are left out. They are mentioned in the preceding paragraph, but not in this. It may have been thought by those responsible for the Bill that the agricultural committees in the counties would nominate employers, but I am not sure about that. This is an Agricultural Bill, and although it is of great interest to all the country, it is principally interesting to agriculture, and it is for the purpose of furthering the interests of the industry in the whole country. Whatever the character of the county councils may have been in by-gone days they at present tend to become more and more urban. The rise of the small towns and larger villages will make them very much more urban. In, addition, the agricultural council has already twelve members to be appointed by the urban districts. Then the Board of Agriculture has the right to nominate one-third of these agricultural councils. I have the greatest confidence in the present Board and its chief officers, and I am sure they will not do anything that is not absolutely fair to agriculture; but this is a Bill, practically speaking, for all time—not a war emergency Bill—and I have not such confidence in the future of the county councils as to think that they will have that great interest in agriculture that I should like them to have. The interests of the employers and landowners ought to be considered in the composition of the councils. Reports appeared in the papers the other day of a conference held in London, and we were told that they had split on the question of who ought to be represented. Strong objection was taken to any landowners being represented. That gives some indication of the trend of opinion in regard to representation. The Amendments which I propose are, in paragraph (c) after the word "workmen," to insert the words "and eight others, of whom four shall be landowners and four employers of labour"; to omit the word "six," and to insert instead thereof the word "four"; and to omit the word "three," and insert instead thereof the word "two." Horticulture is to have six representatives. Although horticulture is a very important part of land cultivation, six members is a very large proportion to allow to an industry which is, comparatively speaking, only a small part of the great industry of agriculture. Three representatives are provided for research. I think two might do equally well. If the Parliamentary Secretary would be prepared to increase the present total number of twenty-four, the representation of horticulture and research could be kept at their present figure, and I should not insist upon those Amendments The inclusion of landowner representatives is indispensable. The landowners are a very small minority of the population, but in agriculture it is admitted that they provide two-thirds of the capital necessary to carry on. There is a grave danger that in future representation the landowning class should not have adequate representation on the councils. It would be in the interests of the councils that such representation should be given.


I beg to second the Amendment. I do not tie myself to any particular numbers to be nominated by the Board, but it is very important that among the twenty-four persons there should be a certain number who are representative of landowners, and also of tenant farmers working upon the land. It is quite clear that when these councils meet for the discussion of agricultural questions it will be a serious omission if no voice is able to be raised there representing the interests of the owners of the land. It would be a disadvantage from many points of view. If these councils perform, as I hope they will, a useful purpose in friendly discussion on all matters of interest to agriculture- it will be a benefit, apart from other practical benefits, that all the various interests concerned in the land should be brought into amicable relations and have opportunities of hearing each others points of view. If the representatives of horticulture, education, research, labour and so forth meet to discuss matters, it would be of great advantage for them to know what was likely to be the view taken by owners and occupiers of land. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will recognise the principle of this Amendment, and, if necessary, in- crease the total number, in order that there may be room for a certain number of representatives of the classes covered by this Amendment.


I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not give way on this matter. The landowners and farmers will be adequately represented among the sixty odd representatives from the agricultural committees. I sit on one of these committees and it is practically composed of prominent farmers in the county of Devon, or landowners. Probably in this case they would appoint as their representative either the past or present chairman of the county council who happen to be members of the committee, both of whom are landowners, or possibly if they want someone who is likely to be in London they may appoint myself I happen to be a landowner—or one or other prominent farmers on the committee. I would not do anything to cut down the representation of the workmen or the representation of women, horticulture, education or research.


Is there anything to necessitate the representation of the landowners and tenant farmers on the agricultural committee? I agree that in point of fact they are there now, but there is no security that they will always be there.


The committees do in fact consist of prominent farmers or landowners in the county. It is extremely difficult for workmen to sit on the agricultural committees, and I think the House will be safe in assuming that the great majority of the sixty representatives of the agricultural committees will be farmers or landowners.


I hope this Amendment will not be pressed. The hon. Members who are supporting were not on the Committee which considered this matter. If they had been they would realise that we went into it very carefully, and after considerable discussion between the two sides, a compromise was arrived at. In the composition of the agricultural councils as originally proposed in the Bill, there was a, danger that urban representation would be too large. We provided that every county borough which established an agricultural committee should be entitled to representation. As there are eighty county boroughs in England it must be obvious that if they had all been represented, they might have outvoted the representatives of the country districts altogether. I met that point by a proposal which received general acceptance, limiting the number of borough representatives to twelve. It was further pointed out that the Agricultural Wages Hoard had too large a representation. I met that again by reducing the representation from twelve to six. Inasmuch as I am anxious that the Labour movement should be adequately represented I increased the number of Labour representatives who are to be nominated by the Board from six to eight, in view of the fact that by the reduction in the number of representatives of the Agricultural Wages Board, the number of direct representatives of Labour who would come from that board was reduced from six to three. In many ways it is undesirable that we should have this special representation at all. If we could have avoided it nobody would have been more pleased than I, but it seemed to me, as my right hon. Friend opposite has said, the chances were that practically all, or a very large majority, of the representatives of the county councils would be either landowners or farmers, and inasmuch as we want the councils to be an adequate mirror of the various interests in the land, and especially as we wish to take agricultural labour along with us and identify Labour as much as possible with the general prosperity of the industry, we felt it necessary to protect those which were likely to be a minority on the councils and we put in special words to enable Labour, horticulture, research and other interests, which might not get representation in the ordinary way, to have such representation. The whole matter was fought out in Committee, we came to a compromise, and I hope the House will not upset what was done in Committee, although, of course, it has a perfect right to do so if it thinks fit. The landowners and farmers will get adequate representation. We want to have an adequate representation of Labour. We want horticulture to be adequately represented.


That includes allotments.


Yes, horticulture includes allotments, which is a very important matter. Nothing is more likely to break down the difference's between the urban and rural areas than the allotment movement. Having regard to the importance of developing what is called intensive cultivation of the soil, I hold that six representatives of horticulture on a council of over ninety is not an undue proportion. Nor would anyone say that it was an undue proportion to provide that three should consist of women, nor is it unfair that we should ask for three representatives of agricultural research. It is to agricultural research, to such splendid work as has been done in places like Rothamsted, originally thanks to private enterprise and initiative, and to the dissemination of the knowledge thus gained, that we must look forward for the improvement of agricultural methods and the production of better results, and it would be unfortunate if we were to reduce the number of representatives of agricultural research. I do not wish to increase the total. The matter has been carefully considered; it is the result of a compromise, and I regret, that I cannot see my way to accept the Amendment.


I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment. The existing proposal is, as has been said, the result of a compromise. If this proposal were granted I am not sure that there would not at once be a demand for an increased number of Labour representatives. We are all trying to create a better spirit between employers and employés for the development of agricultural industry, and if the workman thinks that the strength of his representation is to be diminished by including on these councils, as is suggested, more landowners, I am quite certain that, that will not help to produce the desired result.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not convinced me, but in face of the opposition I have no alternative but to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Captain BROWN

I beg to move, in Sub-section (3), after the word "members" ["following members"], to insert the words "to be nominated with due regard to their geographical distribution."

There seems to me to be a slight danger that members of this committee might be drawn from one portion of the United Kingdom. If that is so, I have very grave doubts whether other portions of the country will be satisfied with the decisions at which they may arrive. I admit that in the case of a somewhat mixed body, as this committee is, it may be a little difficult to arrange, but I do think that this is not a binding form of words, and it can be laid down as a general principle, as the Board is given powers of nomination, it can fill up gaps, so as to see that every district is fairly represented on the committee. In the North of England there is considerable feeling on the matter. We are afraid that if these matters are arranged by people who live close to London our interests may not be sufficiently considered. In this connection it is instructive to see how the committee which actually discussed this Bill was composed. Cumberland, Northumberland, Westmorland, Durham, and the North Riding of Yorkshire had three members. I only got on as one of the three with the greatest difficulty, while other counties nearer London had more representation. The county Sussex, which is smaller in area than many of the others, was given three members, and yet we find great areas of country unrepresented in matters which affect all areas alike. I am sorry to speak from the northern point of view, but it is not solely a northern point of view. It affects try part of the country equally, but I use the North for the sake of argument, because it is the place which I know, and we do claim that in this we represent what might be called the Highlands of England. What would Scotland think of a committee set up to regulate agriculture in Scotland if the Highlands of Scotland were absolutely unrepresented?

We are in area something like one-eighth of the total acreage of the country, and out of that one-eighth we produce one-fifth of the total sheep. In the circumstances we are entitled to have some safeguard that our interests shall be preserved. I believe that Wales has special representation from the geographical point of view, and I am told that one of the difficulties with regard to Wales is the language difficulty. Is not there the same difficulty all over England? Have we not got difficulties of language in North, South, East and West? What sort of an animal would the House think I was referring to if I started to talk about a mule hog? They would wonder if I was, referring to a mule or a pig, and yet it is a kind of sheep. A committee cannot understand matters of that sort unless they have a local man to explain what the local people mean. The committee is a purely advisory committee with no executive powers, but the Board of Agriculture has to take advice. Take as an illustration the question of rabies, I am told that in the North the muzzling order is not enforced because of the fear that the miners would not submit to it. I quite agree, but this might be obviated if there was someone to explain to the miners why the order would have to be imposed. But if an order of this sort is issued by the Board alone naturally every miner does everything he can to get round the orders of the Board, while if he had someone who was more or less a local person whom he could abuse, he would obey the order and merely abuse his representative. But there is more in this than meets the eye. There is a great deal of sentiment in it. We feel in the North that unless there is representation to safeguard our interests there may be a very great deal of anxiety and that this committee may not have the confidence of farmers, as I sincerely hope they will.

Commander WILLIAMS

I beg formally to second the Amendment.

I would point out the necessity of trying to distribute the members of the committee as far as possible on purely geographical lines. One argument which might be used in favour of the Amendment is the different climatic conditions which affect various parts of the country. This is a matter which affects us more in the South than it docs those in the North, as climatic conditions are much more seriously interchangeable within a comparatively short distance.


While I sympathise entirely with the object of my hon. and gallant Friend, I cannot accept the Amendment, because I do not know how it would work in practice. This is a plan for distributing on geographical lines the members of a body which is a very small body, consisting of only twelve members, who are distributed into four categories. I think that in practice to distribute these members on geographical lines would be absolutely impossible, but I can assure my hon. Friend that in choosing representatives on this advisory body the first thing that any county agricultural committee and any Board of Agriculture would endeavour to do would be, as far as possible, to get proper representation for every part of the country, and I hope, therefore, that he will not press the Amendment.


While I have sympathy with the spirit of the Amendment, I have great doubt as to whether it is really necessary to put such a provision in the Bill. Perhaps the position would be met if the Parliamentary Secretary would give a reasonable undertaking that when making Regulations under Clause 4 of the Bill, regulating the proceedings for appointing the members of each council and committee, he would endeavour to secure the object of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, and also of myself.


As far as we are concerned, we shall be quite willing to indicate in our Regulations that as far as possible the members of the advisory committee should represent every part of the country.

Captain BROWN

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


At an earlier stage of the Bill an Amendment which apparently had the effect of extending the Bill to Scotland was ruled out of order. Of course I can understand that any general extension to Scotland would be out of order, but as, I understand the Amendment, its intention was merely to lead up to a very limited provision as regards Scotland. I think that limited provision could be inserted now, even though the, original Sub-section was not inserted by this House. It has been pointed out by Members from various Scottish constituencies that a difficulty arises from the. fact that although the English Board of Agriculture has no general jurisdiction in Scotland it acts with regard to diseases of animals in Scotland as well as in England and Wales, and I understand the desire of the Scottish Members is that on the Advisory Council there should be some means whereby the special circumstances of Scotland may be brought before the attention of the President of the Board of Agriculture. Therefore, though I could not accept any general Amendment which would give Scotland a general right to interfere in the affairs of England and Wales, I am quite willing to accept a limited Amendment. I therefore move, as an Amendment to the First Schedule, to add at end of Subsection (3): (e) Two members to be nominated by the Secretary for Scotland, who shall be entitled to act only in relation to matters and questions arising out of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1874 and 1914. That would mean that if there is an outbreak of, say, foot-and-mouth disease or something of that sort, the handling of which affects Scotland, then at the next meeting of the Advisory Council we should be only too glad to have with us two Scottish representatives, who would act in relation to that matter and nothing else. Perhaps the Amendment I have moved will be agreeable to my Scottish Friends?


When I ruled out the previous Amendment I had not grasped that it was intended to refer only to the one standing last on the Paper. I thought it was of much wider scope, but, having had more opportunity of looking at it, I do not see that the same objections arise on the Amendment proposed by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture.

Amendment agreed to.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed.