§ MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
"That a sum, not exceeding £1,899,862, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1921, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, including Grants for Agricultural Education and Training, a Grant in Aid of the Small Holdings Account, and certain other Grants in Aid of the Agricultural Wages Board, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew."—[NOTE.—£2,200,000 has been voted on account. ]
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Sir A. Boscawen)
The Estimate which I am asking the Committee to pass shows in the gross a diminution when compared with that of last year. The gross Estimate last year was £4,824,505. The gross Estimate this year is £4,528,873, showing a diminution of about £300,000. It is quite true that we are asking Parliament for a rather larger sum than last year. The reason is that the Appropriations-in-Aid are very much smaller. Owing to the closing down of various Departments connected with the Food Production Branch large receipts which came in last year will not come in this year, and also, owing to the sales of tractors, motor ploughs and other things, which were used by the Government during the War, being now practically completed, large receipts from those sales, which were very satisfactory, will not come into account this year. Therefore, although we are asking for rather more on the Vote, there is really a reduction in actual expenditure. The reduction would have been very much greater if it had not been for the very important duties of land settlement which had been put upon the Ministry by Parliament last year and which accounts for the very large increase of certain items of the Vote.
606 The proper way to look at this Vote is to compare it with the scale of the Vote before the War. There you will find a very large and, I think I shall be able to show, a very justifiable increase. The year before the War the gross Estimate was only £519,000; today it is £4,500,000. I agree that that is an enormous increase, but the reason for it is quite easy to find. It consists in an entirely altered attitude of the country and the Government towards agriculture. Before the War it was a commonplace to say that for many years agriculture had been neglected in this country. I will go further and say that the word "neglect" is not really strong enough. Agriculture had been deliberately sacrificed. The economic policy which prevailed during the last half of the 19th century and the early years of this century deliberately sacrificed agricultural interests. The policy was to import all the foodstuffs as cheaply as possible from every part of the world in order to exchange them for the exports of manufactured goods. That policy, it may be said, made the country rich. Political economists would tell us that it did make the country rich; but at any rate it had this effect: it made us dangerously dependent on foreign supplies for our food, and it largely depopulated the country districts and ruined our agricultural population. Then came the War, and the Government and the nation realised what some of us had been preaching in the wilderness for many years before. They realised our dangerous dependence on foreign food supplies, and as a result there was a great appeal for more home production. That appeal was magnificently answered by the farmers of this country. We also realise how the country districts have been depopulated, and we have been making every effort since to repopulate the country districts. We can only repopulate them if we make agriculture economically successful, and the danger we are faced with to-day is that many of the lessons that were learned in the War are already being forgotten by the people of this country.
With this changed attitude towards agriculture, there came also an entirely changed conception of the duties of the Ministry of Agriculture. When we were originally established 25 or 30 years ago, the idea of the Board of Agriculture as it then was, was merely to carry out cer- 607 tain Acts, in fact, to be a sort of police authority to stamp out insect pests and animal diseases, to muzzle dogs, and do other important duties of that sort. There was no idea that the Board of Agriculture should take an active part in what I may call the constructive development of this great industry. With that changed attitude towards the industry there has come a change of idea as to the functions of the Board. The outward and visible sign of this inward and spiritual grace has been the fact that Parliament has changed us from a Board of Agriculture into a Ministry of Agriculture. I do not quite know what difference the name makes, but I understand that we are now regarded as a first-class establishment, and that we have been promoted in practically every way except that there has been no increase in the salary of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture (Lord Lee of Fareham) and myself. The result is that my Noble Friend and I find ourselves doing A1 work on a C3 salary; but we have our reward in the consciousness of duty cheaply and nobly done. A great change has come over the idea as to the duties of the Ministry. We are to take an active part, and we are taking an active part, in the promotion of the industry in every possible way, and I will indicate very generally some of our principal functions and show how at the present time we are endeavouring to promote the interests of the industry.
The first matter with which I will deal is the question of agricultural education and research. In no way were we more neglectful of our duties than in the matter of agricultural education and research before the War. I am ashamed to say that for this purpose we spent in 1908–9 the miserable sum of only £13,300. In 1913–14, after the Development Fund had been established, there was some improvement and the figure went up to £73,150. While this great country was spending the miserable sum of £13,000, rising to £73,000, Canada on similar services was spending £840,000 a year, and the United States for the Federal allocations alone, apart from what the various States were doing, was spending no less than £4,000,000. Nothing is more important than this subject. The future of agriculture depends on know- ledge, and we ought to be in a position, 608 first of all, to ascertain all the latest and best processes and, secondly, to extend and disseminate that knowledge so that those who are going to be the practical cultivators of the soil can do so to the best possible advantage. I am glad to think that one of the increases we have to consider to-day is largely the result of the great additional work we are doing both in agricultural research and in agricultural education. Research was done for many years in this country largely through the beneficence or the enterprise of private individuals. It is impossible really to estimate the wonderful improvements in agriculture that were made as a result of the great experiments carried out at Rothamsted. We have now put our research on a reasonable basis. We are trying to concentrate certain lines of research at definite places. We are dealing with plant physiology at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, with plant breeding and animal nutrition at the University of Cambridge; fruit growing at the University of Bristol; soil problems and plant pathology at Rothamsted, animal pathology at the Royal Veterinary College, dairying at Reading, zoology at Birmingham, and agricultural economics at the University of Oxford. To all these different institutions we make grants, grants that are not incommensurate with the great work that is being performed. The people who carry on these researches are not Civil Servants, but they are assisted in their work by the State. Although there is a great increase in the amount of money we are expending compared with the very small amount in the years before the War, I feel perfectly certain that the Committee will not stint this money, because every penny spent on agricultural research is money well invested and will bring back a very handsome return. So much for research.
Having got your research, the important thing is to disseminate the knowledge among those who are going to be practical agriculturists. We have various methods for carrying out this dissemination. We first of all have the agricultural colleges, which are supported on these Votes by the State. These are principally for the sons of landowners, for those who are going to be landowners, and especially managers, and every effort is made to see that a very good agricul- 609 tural education is given. But we want to go beyond that. We want to give the best education possible in agriculture to the sons of small farmers, who will be the practical cultivators of the soil in the future, and for these we are setting up what we call farm institutes in most counties. We assist the counties and we get assistance from the counties. I am glad to say that the majority of the counties are now taking up this scheme. At the farm institute there will be courses for farmers' sons in the dead time of the winter, which will be carried on from one year to another. There will also be courses for women in such subjects as dairying in the summer. In addition, the farm institute becomes the centre of county agricultural education, where you have your county demonstration plot, and where various experiments are carried out, and where your agricultural organiser will spend his time chiefly. The farm institute will be the centre for the dissemination of knowledge for the whole of the county.
Then we have what we call the demonstration plot. The demonstration plot is run on strictly economic lines. We want to prove to farmers, who are often sceptics in regard to new processes, but who will come in very quickly if they are convinced there is money in it, that certain new processes can be carried on on strictly economic lines. We are starting a number of demonstration plots. The most important are the plots we are starting for the purpose of illustrating the value of what is called arable dairying That is to say, more milk can be produced per acre of arable land than from grass land under suitable conditions. When we had to adopt the ploughing-up policy in connection with the Food Production Department, it was thought that that would interfere with our milk production. The Board of Agriculture never took that view. We always held that even if this land was ploughed up and was not of use for cereals, it could with great advantage be used for the production of milk. Anyone who has been to the Harper Adams College in Shropshire or who has studied their report must realise this, that under suitable conditions, by the production of fodder produce, milk can be produced in greater quantities per acre off arable land than can possibly be done from grass land. We are trying to prove that by demon
610 stration plots all over the country, and we are trying to do it on an economic basis, and by showing that milk can be produced in greater quantities per acre on arable land, and that it can be done on an economic basis, we shall appeal to the practical farmer.
There are a great many other ways in which we are endeavouring by experiment and by demonstration and so forth to assist the farmers in their work. We have the co-operative and travelling cheese schools. Provision is made in the Votes for these. These schools have been an enormous success. As a result of our co-operative and travelling cheese schools we have more than doubled the amount of cheese produced in 1919, as compared with 1918. We have introduced the manufacture of cheese—a process which is most useful to the dairy farmer at times when there is a flush of milk—into counties which had never produced a single penny-worth of cheese before. Cornwall had never raised cheese in any quantity, but Cornwall cheese has now become quite celebrated, and I hope it will go round the world. In these ways we have shown farmers how they can make use of their milk, when there is a flush of milk, by turning it into cheese. That is greatly to their advantage, and greatly to the benefit of the food production of this country. Then there is our live stock scheme, which was started at the beginning of the War. There is an increased Vote for it to-day. Under the scheme you provide, say, for the cost of a stallion or a bull or a boar for stock purposes. That scheme has bees very successful. It has introduced sires of good quality and has greatly improved the quality and character of the live stock in the country. Then there is our grassland improvement scheme. We do not want to encourage the laying down of arable to grass, but there is a great deal of grass in this country of a very indifferent quality, and there can be no doubt that by demonstration, by lectures, and so on, and by pointing out the necessary processes, such as the application of basic slag, we can greatly improve the quality of the grass in many parts. We do not neglect horticulture. There is a Vote for horticulture. We want to see every county with its horticultural instructor. We want to help the smallholder and the allotment holder in the cultivation of his 611 small plot of land, to increase the food it produces, and to encourage him to go in for small live-stock, such as rabbits, bees, and poultry-keeping on a small scale.
Very successful experiments have been made for the purpose of mitigating that terrible disease, wart disease in potatoes, Which has wrought such havoc in many parts of the country. I am sorry to say that we have not discovered how to prevent this disease. We know that certain lands get infected, and remain infected for years, but we have been able largely to turn the flank of the disease by the introduction of immune varieties, which, although they are not always as good croppers as some of the susceptible varieties, at all events can be used in those places where the land is infected, and by that means we have been able to prevent the spread of the disease to those great districts in the eastern counties which have always been the principal parts of England for the production of potatoes. Another experiment we are carrying on deals with the cultivation of light lands in Norfolk and Suffolk. Any hon. Member who is cognisant with the conditions of some of the eastern counties, know that there is a great tract of very light soil which is on the verge of cultivation, but which is not cultivated at all now. It is so light, so sandy, that it blows about. I visited a farm a year or so ago on the verge of Norfolk and Suffolk, and I said to the farmer, "Are you in Norfolk or Suffolk?" He replied, "It depends on the way the wind is blowing. If it is blowing from the North I am in Suffolk. If it is blowing from the South I am in Norfolk." That is difficult land to cultivate. But we have acquired a certain area in the neighbourhood of Methwold, and we are showing how that kind of land can be cultivated, and are utilising it at the present time for the growth of tobacco.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
We are carrying on the experiments, and my latest in- formation is that it will be profitable. At all events, if we can prove that, we have done something to show how a tract of most unproductive country can be made profitable. I have not smoked any of the tobacco myself. I did once smoke 612 Irish tobacco, and I said that I would: never smoke it again. I trust that ours may be of a better quality than the Irish tobacco. We are carrying on the Experiment, and I venture to say that the small sum that we are asking for it is money well spent. I might mention another experiment. We are setting up a lactose factory for dealing with whey, which, as everybody knows, is a by-product of cheese. Where you have cheese made on the farm, the whey can be used for rearing pigs,and—as we can now show—for rearing calves, but where cheese is made away from the farm it is a question what to do with it. This whey contains a large amount of albumen and sugar which is now being largely wasted, being poured down the drain and so on. We believe that we can find some use for this whey, and we have set up this experimental factory. I am told that lactose is a very valuable substance for food for invalids and children.
Finally, before I pass from this branch of my subject, I would like to make a few observations about what we are doing in connection with sugar-beet. In the Estimates there is a sum of £250,000 down for sugar-beet. We have long believed that in this country we could grow sugar-beet profitably, just as it is done in the North of France, Germany, and other countries. I have seen sugar-beet growing in the North of France. The climate there is certainly no better than the climate in this country, and yet they are growing it successfully For the purpose of experimenting on a thoroughly proper scale and with every possible advantage, a society was formed, and, with aid from the Development Fund, they acquired an estate at a place called Kelham, near Newark in Nottinghamshire. They were assisted by the Development Fund who gave them a loan of P 130,000 odd. That loan has been diminished by the fact that a part of the estate has since been sold to the Government for a farm colony, and £47,450 has been taken off the loan for that purpose. Until the society was ready to get to work, the Ministry have been farming it, and a further sum of £35,000 has been advanced to provide the working capital of the farm, with the result that the society have had loans which amount to about £120,000 net. The society has parted with its property to a company called 613 Home-Grown Sugar, Limited, by an arrangement which was made by the Treasury and the Ministry of Agriculture. The capital is £1,000,000. It is proposed to call up £500,000. £125,000 has been found by the directors and the members of the society, another £125,000 has been found by the general public, and the Government are prepared to advance £250,000, and also to guarantee interest on the money subscribed by the public at 5 per cent for ten years. I wish to ask the House to authorise the expenditure of this £250,000 by the Government in order that the company may get to work immediately. We want to get the factory finished and in working order in time for next year's crop. A great deal of sugar-beet can be grown on the estate. A great deal more will have to be grown in the neighbourhood, which is said to be exceptionally suitable for the crop. It will add a new and a valuable crop for the rotation of crops.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I think the House will want to know something of the terms of the advance. What are the provisions for repayment, the interest which will be ultimately paid upon the money, and so on?
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
The Government really invest this money in the company. The company may pay it off at any time at par, but until they have paid it off they cannot declare a dividend more than 5 per cent on the capital.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
No, the Government do not. It is an advance for the express purpose of enabling this great experiment to be kept up, but it is repayable, and, until it is repaid, the company cannot pay more than 5 per cent, on the capital. It may be said that this should have been done on other terms. We had to consider how we could get the experiment going, and, unless we had made conditions of this sort, we should never have been able to raise the capital. The Government are represented on the Board, and I believe that the experiment will prove successful, but the sooner we get to work the better, and for that reason I am going to ask the Committee to pass this Vote to-night. These are various ways in which the 614 Government have been endeavouring to assist agriculture in its practical development.
I must say a word about one or two other matters. I must speak about our original duties and our police duties in the matter of animal diseases, and so on. We have had rather a troublesome time in the past year. First of all, we had a serious outbreak of rabies, and then we had a very troublesome series of outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. With regard to rabies, we were much criticised. We were told that we ought to muzzle the whole country and that we should never stamp the disease out otherwise. I am glad to think that we did not adopt that plan. It would have put people all over the Kingdom to enormous trouble and expense, and we have succeeded, by drawing circles round infected districts, and by prohibiting movements out of infected areas, I will not say in stamping out the disease but in largely curtailing the spread of it. There have been only two outbreaks in the last few months. A great many muzzling areas have been got rid of, and I earnestly hope, if there are no more outbreaks, that we may have the thing stamped out entirely in a few months' time. The Committee knows very well the method that we pursue in dealing with foot-and-mouth disease. Directly there is an outbreak we come down upon it as strongly as we can, and we stamp it out there and then. It is an expensive process, meaning very heavy sums for compensation, but it is worth doing, and, although we have had sporadic outbreaks all over the country, I am glad to say that up to a few days ago we had been absolutely immune for some weeks. Unfortunately, there have been two more outbreaks in the last few days, one in Norfolk and the other, I believe, in Kent, but we shall pursue our policy of stamping it out by the strongest possible methods whenever it shows its head, and in the meantime we have appointed a committee of experts to inquire into the whole matter with a view of trying to discover the origin and cause of the disease, in order to be able to take more effective preventive measures in the future.
There is another very big matter to which I must refer, and which has caused a very considerable increase in our Estimates this year. We have been asked to undertake, and we have gladly under 615 taken, training schemes for ex-officers and soldiers who fought in the great War. It was felt that a chance should be given to many of these men to return to agriculture. We want to increase and encourage our rural population, and it was felt that these men who had done such splendid work during the War ought to have the opportunity at the expense of the Government. Our training scheme is costing £782,000, and it is divided really into two separate classes. There is, first, what is called the officers ' training. It is not confined exclusively to officers. It is extended to men in the ranks who have had a good education. That scheme is divided into two subheads. First of all there is a limited number of scholarships, one hundred altogether, at the agricultural colleges. They are for men who will become agricultural experts, lecturers, organisers, and so on. They will get a first-class education and, no doubt, will be able to do very good work afterwards. The openings for men of that class are small in number, and we were obliged to limit the scholarships to 100, because we did not think that we could find work for more men of that class during the next few years. Besides that, there is a scheme whereby they are placed on the land under farmers for a period, and where they really learn the practical work of the farm. The scheme has been very well carried out. We have been greatly helped by the County Agricultural Committees. No less than 2,000 of these men are in training to-day, and I am very hopeful, from the reports that I get, that they are acquiring very useful knowledge and that they will be a valuable addition to our rural population.
There is another scheme for the training of disabled men in agriculture which we took over from the Ministry of Pensions. We have at present 1,750 disabled men in training, chiefly in horticulture and so forth. The work is going on well, the men take a great interest in it, and the outdoor life with good food and all the rest of it has had a wonderful curative effect upon their disabilities. All that is most hopeful; but I candidly confess that my Noble Friend and I view the outlook of some of these men with a considerable amount of apprehension. It is all very well to put 616 them on the land two years for training, but the question is what we are to do with them afterwards. Owing to their disabilities, a great many of them will never be able to compete with the average agricultural labourer in the labour market. The present rate of wages makes it prohibitive, and many of these men cannot do a whole day's work in the way that a fit man can. Then there is the question of small holdings for them. I should like to see them all provided with something in the nature of a cottage home; but there are great difficulties. I do not believe many of these men will ever be able to do the rough- and-tumble work of a small holding. What they can do is to have a cottage holding with a small bit of land where they can grow fruit and vegetables and keep bees and pigs and rabbits, or something of that sort, and enjoy the proceeds in addition to the pension which they receive. But it is a very expensive scheme. It means the building of a vast number of cottages; it means erecting a very large number of small buildings to a few acres. It is a scheme which will cost a great deal more than ordinary land settlement. We have the position of these men very much on our minds at present, and we are endeavouring to find a solution which, without being too onerous to the State, will at all events give these gallant fellows some hope in life for the future.
I turn now to the very big and very expensive operation in which we are engaged, which accounts for by far the largest item in the increase of our Estimates, in so far as there is an increase. That is Land Settlement. As the Committee knows, the duty of providing small holdings for ex-soldiers who were suitable, who had the knowledge, who had a bit of capital, was placed on the Ministry in the Land Settlement Act of 1919. We did not in the least object to that plan. We think it is perfectly right that these men, if suitable, should have a chance of cultivating a bit of the country for which they fought. At the same time we felt it our duty to be very careful in the selection of these men, because nothing could be more unkind to an ex-soldier than to put him on a small holding if he was not suitable to cultivate it. It really means disaster in the very near future. Another difficulty was that you cannot buy land all at once. If you did you would force up the price to an 617 impossible figure. Besides which, the whole of this country is well occupied, and we do not want to dispossess good cultivators, except in so far as it may be absolutely necessary. Then, also, there is the fact that in many cases a small holding requires a great deal of equipment in the shape of houses, buildings, fencing, and it may require roads, draining and so on. Therefore, if it is alleged against us, as it very often it, that we are going much too slowly, I would ask the Committee and ex-soldiers to exercise patience, as I think I shall be able to show that under the greatest difficulties the county councils have been tackling their job with real earnestness.
Let me give a few figures. The difficulty was rendered all the greater by the fact that we were not allowed to buy any land from the beginning of the War until December, 1918. Therefore we had no land in hand to start with. Also, we had not got the drastic powers we possess now until August, 1919, when the Land Settlement Bill was passed. The total number of applicants for small- holdings for ex-service men has been 33,646 up to date. They have applied for 582,000 acres. Of these, 19,587 have been approved for a total of 318,490 acres, and 7,142 are awaiting interviews. The balance between that figure and 33,000 have either been rejected or have dropped off and not renewed their applications. There has been a considerable application from civilians, and although I think we must, when the proper time comes, deal with these civilians—many of them are men who were willing to serve, but were kept at home to cultivate the fields during the War—yet, as the Act gives a preference for two years to ex-soldiers and to women who served on the land, the civilian, I am sorry to say, must wait until the ex-soldiers are settled. The Councils, therefore, as regards ex-service men, are faced with the duty of providing 318,000 acres, and up to date they have acquired 187,000 acres. I do not think it is a bad record, having regard to the shortness of the time. The latest returns show that up to 16th March 5,794 men, ex-service and some civilian, have actually been settled on 80,000 acres, and, in addition to that, for the Ministry's farm settlements we have acquired 32,000 acres and have settled 510 men, and there are 189 waiting to acquire holdings. Therefore, roughly speaking, we have 618 settled something in the neighbourhood of over 6,000 men out of about 20,000 who have been approved, which, I think, is not a bad record, having regard to the fact that the Act was passed only on 18th August last.
Of course, the scheme is costly, and, of course, there is going to be a loss. We anticipated there would be a loss. By a certain Clause in the Act of 1919, the Ministry recoups the county councils the annual loss for seven years, and at the end of the seven years it will write down the capital value to a figure which will represent the then market value of the holdings. I should like to explain why there is a loss. There are three reasons. First of all, because the price of land has gone up. I do not want anyone to think that we have been paying excessive prices for the land. I have had some inquiry made, and I find the county councils bought about 200,000 acres before the War at an average cost of £33 an acre. Since this new scheme came into operation we have bought about 180,000 acres at a cost of £41 an acre. When you remember how the value of everything else has gone up, and that the value of a sovereign has practically fallen more than 50 per cent., I do not think it can be said that we have been paying too much for the land or that the landowners have been profiteering, when the average rise has been only £8 an acre.
There are other reasons which contribute far more than the cost of the land to the loss on the smallholding. The first is the fact that every smallholding, or the great majority of them, involve the building of cottages and the erection of small farm buildings, and that whereas the equipment of the average smallholding before the War would have been, for cottage and buildings, about £600, it is now £1,500. But the chief cause is the high rate of interest at which the money has to be borrowed. It makes all the difference in the world to the loan charges if you borrow at 3 ½ per cent., as was done before the War, or borrow at 6 per cent., which is the figure now. What is the result? We do not intend to put these huge charges upon the ex-service men. We do not propose that they should pay an economic rent. If we did, that rent would be prohibitive. I find that a holding which could be let for about 28s. an acre, without equip- 619 ment, before the War, would now let for something in the neighbourhood of 57s. If you take the economic rent, and if you take a similar holding of 30 acres with equipment, on the average the rent would have to be over £6. It is obvious that we could not ask ex-service men or anyone else to pay those enormous rents. What we propose to do, therefore, is to make an annual loan on the great majority of these smallholdings, which will be paid off by the Ministry and recouped to the county councils year by year, and then the total capital value will have to be written down at the end. The principle on which we act is that the holding should be let at what is the to-day market value of the holding. If there are Members who think that our county councils are not doing their duty as energetically or as well as they could, I would answer that on the whole the work is being well done, and that if only we exercise a little patience, the great majority of these men will be suitably settled, and will, I hope, prove successful on their holdings.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
If my hon. Friend recalls the Act passed last Session, he will see that there is to be a valuation at the end of the seven years, when the holdings will be handed over to the county councils on what, we hope, will be a self-supporting basis. I pass to another and separate branch of our duties, and that is fisheries. I know it is very often said, "Why on earth should fisheries be mixed up with agriculture, and why should there not be a separate Fisheries Ministry?—I do not think that under present circumstances this House or the country would be willing to set up a new Ministry. That is not all. I see my hon. Friend who represents a part of Scotland is sitting opposite. I think we should be obliged to have three Fisheries Ministries.
§ 5.0 P.M.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
But it is only one Board under the Secretary for Scotland, just as our Fisheries Department comes under the Ministry of Agriculture in this country; but in order to have an effective 620 Fisheries Ministry dealing with fishing all round the coast as a national question, you would be obliged to have one Ministry for the whole of the United Kingdom, and I venture to suggest that my Scottish friends would not take that lying down. Under these circumstances, I do not think a Ministry of Fisheries is possible. It is necessary, therefore, that we should try to improve the Fisheries Branch of the Ministry of Agriculture so far as England and Wales are concerned. The industry is one of the greatest importance. It is allied to agriculture in that it is engaged in the production of food. It has some advantages over agriculture. There is no cost of growth, no feeding stuffs or fertilisers are necessary, and the crop is there, to be caught and brought away. I candidly confess that, so far as administration goes, it has been neglected somewhat in the past because it has been in a sense nobodyߣs child. We are trying to reorganise our Fisheries Branch. Our very efficient Assistant Secretary has become the Fisheries Secretary, responsible to the Minister direct without going to any other official, who has got no taint of agriculture about him. By generally extending the Branch we hope to perform more effective work in the fisheries in future. The importance of fisheries and the need of developing them on scientific lines has been shown in a very remarkable manner by the War. We found out this very interesting point, that owing to the fact that large fishery grounds which were extensively used before the War, had a sort of close time during the War, there has been an enormous improvement both in the number and size of the fish caught on those grounds. That, no doubt, means that a certain class of our fishing grounds were being over-fished before the War, and it means also that we ought to have a Government Department with power to regulate the fisheries, as otherwise we would fish out certain grounds and destroy them altogether. Here, again, we are very deficient in powers, and I earnestly hope I may be able in the course of this Session to bring in a Bill which will greatly strengthen our powers of dealing with fisheries, and if it cannot be passed this Session, I hope it may be in the very near future. Not only do we wish to regulate the fisheries in every way, but we want in every way also to encourage that most gallant set of men, the fisher- 621 men of this country. I do not know whether Members of this House have read the Report recently issued by the Ministry entitled "Fisheries in the Great War." It is an absolute epic of heroic deeds done by the fishermen. Fishermen proved the backbone of our auxiliary patrol. No less than 3,000 fishing vessels were employed, and 50 per cent, of the fishermen actually saw service during the War. Those who were not serving, and some of those who served at one time and fished at another time, went out to gather food in the gravest dangers of mines and the submarine menace and German brutality, and in face of those they behaved with the greatest bravery. We are, as I say, endeavouring to improve their position and to get the fishery business once more re-established.
During the War fisheries were greatly interfered with, and many fishing grounds could not be used at all. The result was that the quantity of fish landed fell from fifteen million cwt. in 1913 to only four million cwt. in 1917. There has been a considerable revival, and last year over ten million cwt. were landed, while for the first quarter of this year there has been a record landing. Fish is, of course, at a much higher price than it used to be. An average of twelve shilling and fivepence per cwt. rose to three pounds and fivepence in 1918, and that fell to one pound fifteen and elevenpence, a great deal less than the figure of 1918, but at the same time a great deal more than the former price. At the present moment the price is falling, and nearly all fish is being sold to day well below control prices. We are asking for grants to-day for various works in connection with our fishery development. We ask for money for research vessels. Without research vessels on the high seas we cannot do the work of research as it should be done, and as it is done in other countries. Let me refer also to the work of the Motor Loan Committee for inshore fishing. Inshore fishermen were enormously assisted during the War by the work of the Motor Loan Committee, which installed motors in a very large number of small vessels which had previously been dependent entirely on sail. No less than 365 of these vessels have had motors installed, and in 80 more the installation is in hand. We have also completed one motor trawler, and we have others under construction.
622 There are other matters in this connection. There is, for instance, the question of eels, which may seem a small matter; at first sight. We deal not only with inshore fisheries and deep-sea fisheries; but we also deal with fresh-water fisheries. We found during the War that, whereas this country consumed about seven thousand tons of eels every year, we were importing five thousand five hundred tons. The Germans, with their wonderful powers of penetration had acquired a station at Epney, on the Severn, where they were trapping elvers (young eels), and were despatching millions of them every year and distributing them in Germany to stock their own rivers. We commandeered that station, which, happily, no longer belongs to Germany, but belongs to the Ministry of Agriculture, and instead of those elvers being trapped for the people of Germany, they are being cultivated now for the stocking of our own rivers in order that we may grow and consume our own eels. There is no doubt that a good deal more could be done on these lines. A great deal has been done most successfully. When I come to examine the question of shell fish, most Members will naturally think of oysters; I am going to refer to the poor man's oyster, the mussel. We have mussel establishments where it is cultivated on various parts of the coast. Owing to pollution a great many of those mussel places had to be closed by the Ministry of Health. Our Ministry during the War established a most successful mussel station in North Wales which has put £5,500 per year into the pockets of the Conway fishermen, and which has provided the people of that part with mussels which are beyond suspicion and safe from all pollution. We have carried that work further, and are conducting experiments on the River Exe, near Exeter. Another matter of some interest in the destruction of fishery pests. Fish have got pests just as animals have diseases and plants have insects. We have a terrible invasion a few years ago by a gentleman known as the slipper limpet who came from America. He settled in the estuary of the Thames and very nearly destroyed all our oyster fisheries there. We tackled the slipper limpet and endeavoured to get rid of him and to use him, and we did so-successfully, for the production of food. We are doing it in this way. We first of 623 all used it as manure, but it was not very successful as it was not of a high character. We are now turning it into shell grit for the use of poultry, and the slipper limpet, instead of destroying the oyster, helps to produce eggs. I think it is a very good example of how limpets can be utilised for the benefit of the country generally. As to our fisheries generally we deplore the absence of powers to enable us effectively to organise, develop, and protect the industry. We are doing our best with such powers as we possess. We have reorganised the branch. We had a certain number of inspectors and officials and we have turned them, now rather multiplied in numbers, into a coastal staff for the general assistance of fishermen at the various ports, and they have proved of the greatest value. Fishermen who have returned from the War have found many difficulties, such as absence of coal, petrol for motor boats, sufficient tackle, difficulties of transport, and other questions. Without really sufficient legal powers our coastal fishery officers proved themselves of great assistance in re-establishing this most important industry. We attach great importance to international action in regard to fisheries. After all fisheries are not a thing that can be run by one country only, though, of course, in fisheries we lead the whole world. Our men go out in their big trawlers to fish the seas as far as Iceland and to the coast of Morocco and even further. International action, especially in connection with research, is of importance. We have readily supported a body known as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which met for the first time in London since the War. I am glad to think our energetic Secretary is now President of that body, and I look for great assistance in our work from the labours which they have undertaken.
I desire to apologise to the Committee for the rather long and I am afraid inadequate review of the work of the Ministry. We are a Ministry which perhaps is not as much in the limelight as some others. But we try honestly to do the work which is put before us. We are dealing with matters of great importance. We are trying to assist home production to the utmost of our ability.
624 Just as home production was all important during the War on account of the submarine menace, so to-day with the condition of the exchanges against us and high freights, the more we can produce, the better for the country generally. The better such production will be for the farmers, with their splendid independent self-reliance, and for the agricultural labourers who were far too much neglected for many years in this country, and whom we wish to see happy and contented, living in the country; for small holders, whose interests we are specially called upon to protect, and who, I hope, may bring to the cultivation of the soil many of those splendid qualities they displayed in the conduct of the War, and for our fishermen, whose splendid deeds I have already narrated during the War to this House. We are endeavouring in every way to assist agriculture and fisheries, but, after all, success in these industries must depend upon the men themselves. It cannot be accomplished by legislation or by Government Departments. All we can do is to make such conditions as may enable them to carry out their work under reasonable conditions and to give them all the assistance and knowledge and encouragement that we can. In undertaking this constructive work, especially the research work, putting before our cultivators and fishermen the best knowledge and the latest processes, and encouraging all who are going in for these industries to learn for themselves the best methods of treating nature, I think, by doing that, we are accomplishing good, sound work, and we may claim to justify that large increase in our Vote that has occurred, not since last year, but at all events since the period which existed before the beginning of the War.
§ Mr. ACLAND
It gives me a great deal of pleasure to say, as I am sure I can say, that the Committee have been extremely pleased and interested in listening to the statement of my right hon. Friend. It gives me great pleasure to be able to say that, as having had the honour to hold the position for some time which he now holds, and I think he has very worthily upheld the honour of the Department in the statement he has made. He began by paying what we cannot call much more than lip service to the actual Estimates which he has presented to the House. He did refer to 625 them, whereas some Ministers in making their annual statements do not even refer to the Estimates themselves, but I think the Committee would have been glad to have had a little more explanation of the actual Estimates, because, on the face of them, the figures are very startling. He told us quite frankly that whereas now be is asking for four millions odd, before the War the Estimates of the Board of Agriculture were something like half a million. That is, of course, an enormous increase, but there are some very remarkable figures of increase if you compare this year with last year. First of all, one sees in the Estimates that all the expenditure of the Food Production Department, about a million and a half, disappears, and a million or so disappears on the item of herring fishing, and in spite of that reduction of 2 ½ millions on those two items, there is a net increase of a million between this year and last. That is a very remarkable figure, and I think we should like to have had something more of an account of how that very considerable increase is arrived at. If one looks at the Estimates one notices that the Vote for salaries has gone up by nearly £100,000. I personally believe that that is justifiable. I believe that we have had false economy at the Board of Agriculture in the past by under-paying the men and under-staffing the office, but if you look into the particulars you see at once that there are two or three new men brought in at pretty high salaries, two, for instance, at £1,700 each, that there are eighteen fresh principal and first-class clerks, and twenty-one extra staff clerks, and I think the Committee would have been glad of some explanation of the work that these men do. I believe the explanation would have been satisfactory, but the fact that the representative of a really biggish spending Department like this, no doubt wanting not to make his speech too long, refrains from making any explanation of this very considerable increase of expenditure to the House only confirms what I and other Members feel, that we ought to have some system of examination of these Estimates in Committee, and then consider the report of the Committee when the Estimates come before us here; but we must do without that at present, as the Government has turned it down. The right hon. Gentleman said nothing about 626 his hopes—I hope that did not mean that he has none—about getting into fresh premises. I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture at the time when we were just hoping to get into the buildings which had been built for us and which were captured from under our very noses by the Ministry of Munitions, who have held on to them like slipper-limpets ever since. Is there any prospect of getting them out? I am certain that not until the Ministry of Agriculture can really get itself together in one set of premises, instead of being scattered into about seventeen, it cannot be really efficient in the highest degree. Can the right hon. Gentleman say if there is any chance of a move?
I think there is a chance. I will not put it too high, but we believe the Ministry of Munitions will disappear and that the Ministry of Supply will not take its place, and in that case we hope to get into what is now called Armament Buildings, but which ought to be called Agriculture Buildings.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I think the right hon. Gentleman will be fully justified in taking advantage of the undoubtedly low state of popularity of the Ministry of Munitions generally, and I think I may say of the high state of popularity of the Ministry of Agriculture generally, in order to get the former out and the latter properly established. I want to ask a few questions about the general position as to food production, because that, after all, is the primary aim and object of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. I very much agree with my right hon. Friend's concluding words, that there is still a food shortage. There is indeed, and there is every prospect of a world food shortage continuing. Until there is something like real appeasement in Europe, and the settling down to work again of populations in countries like South Russia, Poland, Hungary, and so on, there is bound to be a world shortage of food. I believe it is going to be for some years almost as acute in many ways as it was during the War, and I do not believe the world food crisis has anything like disappeared or shows anything like real prospects of disappearing. That has very widespread effects. It not' only means that sufficient nourishment is not within the grasp of hundreds of thousands, and, 627 indeed, of millions, of people, so that there must be, I am afraid, thousands of people really dying of starvation, but it means, and must mean, the continuation of high world prices for a great many of the primary necessities of our lives, and that means discontent and difficulty all over the many countries like our own which have a prospect, after all, of avoiding the greater evil of starvation. We see the thing happening day after day— prices go up, wages go up after them, prices go up again, and so the vicious circle goes on—and whatever any Government does, that is bound to happen, I think, as long as the demand of the world for the essential commodities of life enormously exceeds the supply of those essential commodities.
Therefore I think the Ministry of Agriculture is justified in regarding a forward campaign of food production every bit as much the first necessity of their work as it was during the height of the submarine difficulty in this country. In many ways the prospect is not very good. I do not know if it is the fault of the Ministry or not, but the fact, I think, is undoubted that a very great deal of land has gone back from corn land into grass. I should like figures, if they can be provided. Then the bad weather we have been having recently has rather changed the position as to the chances of crops, and so on, for this year. It was very unfortunate, I think, that during the fine weather—and there was a good deal of splendidly fine and warm weather this spring—when farmers might have got their grain into the ground, there was a most unfortunate uncertainty as to what the policy was with regard to the price of wheat and other cereals as the result of this year's harvest. Many men hesitated because they did not know where they were. He who hesitates is lost. The wet weather came, and it will be very difficult now to get that grain into the ground, with the best will in the world. In the West of England, I know, we have only about half our oats in, and before the ground is fit again it will be in many cases too late for oats. We shall have to sow vetch corn, food for beasts, instead of food for men direct, and even in the North of England and Scotland they have, I believe, a saying that May oats and June barley are very little good 628 indeed. There is going to be an awful lot of May oats this year, and I am afraid the produce of them may be very light. The position is not good, either, with regard to milk production. There has been, of course, owing to the difficulties of the feeding stuffs, an appalling loss of calves. Calves which ought to have been brought up have not been brought up, but have simply been killed, and I am afraid for years to come there will be a serious shortage of young milking stock. With this sort of thing staring us in the face, I think every effort is justified which can in any way add to our total food production in the next few years.
How can the Ministry help? In a few things they can help, and one is in regard to the supply of fertilisers We would like to know how that stands. Is the Ministry obtaining permission from the Government still to retain in this country something like an adequate supply of sulphate of ammonia for agricultural use without too great an increase in the price of that very important fertiliser? I know that prices abroad are very much higher than, by agreement among the producers, they have been here, but I think as long as the emergency here continues it is fully justifiable for the Ministry to retain here an adequate supply of sulphate of ammonia for our home farming. The same about super-phosphates. Farmers this spring would willingly have bought much more super-phosphates than they could get, but it was not procurable. It was being imported from Morocco—the rock, or whatever it is—and it is very important that agreements should be made for next season with France, which will make it certain that an adequate supply of super-phosphates shall reach this country for the use of the farmers as fertilisers. Similarly with regard to feeding stuffs. I am only entering a plea on all these things that really the war emergency is still existing and that everything ought to be done to secure that, in regard to fertilisers and feeding stuffs, the farmers should have what they need in order to maintain the highest possible scale of production.
When one goes about any agricultural district and asks about the farmers' difficulties, in many cases it comes down to the difficulty which is so present to the 629 minds of hon. Members, the difficulty about housing. They say very often, "We would willingly employ another labourer or two if there were cottages and houses available for them to live in." It is a very unfortunate thing that just at the time when we want to increase our arable land, which means more labour, it is specially difficult to get extra houses in which those workers can live, and in most rural districts—I suppose not in all—it is appalling how slowly the housing programme is going on and how slowly the deficiency of houses is being overtaken. There are young fellows who have got engaged to be married when they came back after the war and who want to settle down, and who are willing, in spite of the dullness of the agricultural districts, to live in them, young fellows and their sweethearts, but they have simply gone off, gone away, anywhere, because they have got sick and tired of expecting their rural district councillors to do anything to provide the houses which they really want. Even in cases where the farmers, to do them justice, would be willing to try' to produce a little more in the interests of the nation, and no doubt in their own as well, anything the Ministry of Agriculture can do to assist the Ministry of Health in pushing forward this housing programme will be of direct benefit to agricultural production at the present time. Land settlement also, I believe, has a direct bearing on getting the utmost out of agricultural production. I believe that these new cultivators, these men who want small bits of land to settle on, would generally, even in districts where there has been a high standard of farming in- the past, produce a higher standard of production, working, as they would be willing to work, all the days of the week, all the hours of the day, and many hours of the night, they and their families, to get the utmost out of smallholdings. I believe there is a great future for the smallholding which a man can run himself with members of his family, and that a very high standard of production can be expected from this holding.
Therefore, my right hon. Friend is quite right in pushing this matter forward, as a question of quite important national policy, but, as he says, undoubtedly the finance of it is extraordinarily difficult. You are getting in many districts men to 630 slice off a grass field, or perhaps a couple of arable fields, and hand them over to an ex-soldier who has settled in the village and wants a bit of land, has the necessary training and experience to make the best use of it, and where extra buildings are not very necessary—pigstyes, poultry houses, and so on, perhaps, but nothing in the way of farm buildings. You may, in some cases, take a farm and divide the buildings, having two families to share the farm and buildings; but when you come actually to providing buildings, the difficulty is very great indeed, and the expense, of course, is most serious. Take the case of a man who wants a 20-acre holding. If the average cost of the land is £40 per acre, then 20 acres will cost £800. That is not going to be the most serious item. If things could be done on that scale it would be comparatively easy. We should be wrong in thinking that the difficulty in the way of establishing this sort of small holding for ex-soldiers has been the high price demanded or obtained for the actual land. That is not the main point. The main point is the housing and equipment. In my part of the world the district council are letting their contracts for ordinary cottages at £1,200 and £1,300 each. I very much doubt whether you can get the cottage and equipment necessary for a 20-acre holding for less than £2,000.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Yes, I mean the water supply, equipment, roads, and everything. I believe that is a very moderate figure. If you call it £3,000 as the outside figure for land, buildings, and everything, that, at 8 per cent., means £240, and 8 per cent. is not high when you can only borrow at 6½. The ex-soldier himself will expect not to pay more than £3 an acre, and will feel aggrieved if you ask more than ∽60 an acre. Deducting £60 from £240 leaves £180, or bring it down, if you like, to £150 a year to be found by some authority beyond what the man himself can find. It is a tremendous bill for the country to have to face. We realise that the county councils on the whole have been doing well in getting land, but we should like to know, I think, to-day, or on some later occasion, whether they are really going to face—whether the nation is going to face—what will be a necessity. I think it has 631 got to be faced. I believe in the long run we shall get good value for settling these men, but it is an appalling bill to have to settle. For each 10,000 men you may be spending £1,000,000 or £1,500,000 a year. Another thing which I hope is being still attended to, to the utmost of their ability, in this food crisis—and I still call it a food crisis—is the question of allotments. I have a special interest in allotments, with which I will not bother the House, but I hope that they are accepting it as a definite part of the duty of their officers to do as much as they can to enforce upon local authorities the proper use of the provisions of the Acts which have recently been passed extending the powers of local authorities to obtain land for allotments.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I think that is good, because undoubtedly, just as in many cases the smallholder will produce on a more intensive scale than the larger farmer, so the allotment holder will produce on a more intensive scale than the smallholder, and there is nothing, I think, which may be of more usefulness to the State in times of industrial unrest than this means of occupation in hours of leisure, so that, in spite of the increasing demands of towns for housing schemes, and so on, they have got their 10 rods of land secured to them as allotments on which they can spend their spare time, and produce food, without any difficulty about transport or things of that kind, for themselves and their families. Then I want to ask a question about reclamation. Are practically all reclamation schemes abandoned? I know that it the pressure of the Treasury for economy, a good many of the plans the Ministry had made had to be abandoned. The Committee would like to know something, I believe, as to the policy of the Ministry as to reclamation. There seemed, for instance, to be rather promising schemes of reclamation on Bodmin Moor, in Cornwall, using the higher land for afforestation and the lower for agriculture. One hopes these things are not altogether abandoned where they really present a chance of being put on a productive basis after the expenditure of a certain amount of capital.
I come to the question to which my right hon. Friend, I think, wisely devoted 632 the greater portion of his speech—the question of research. It is, of course, more and more important that farmers should be certain that they are not wasting labour on their farms. It was not altogether a good thing before the War that labour seemed, and was, so cheap, because it did not really much matter whether you employed men on feeding and milking cows in your dairy herd, which were not really productive, or whether you had a crop or two which was not really pulling its weight in paying rent and rates. Now these things do matter. Farmers are beginning to think more seriously about labour, although the higher wage they have to pay in many counties is not really higher than the wage they paid before the War, when you take the enormously increased cost of living into account, and it is much more important to the farmer, in consequence of the increased cost of his labour, to be sure that labour is well used. Therefore, everything the Ministry can do in inducing farmers to keep accounts should be done. We shall be glad of some progress report as to their cost-accounting scheme, and the policy of keeping milk records, and weeding eut of their herds animals that cannot really pay. Anything they can do with regard to the application of science to the industry is, of course, very much to the good. I should like to ask a question, which Members have asked perennially, and never, I am afraid, got a satisfactory answer. Has anybody yet any idea of how the infection of foot-and-mouth disease is brought into this country? I am glad they have appointed a Committee of experts to go into the subject. They have done it before, though not with much result; but better luck next time. It is one of the things about which one always seems to be on the verge of making a discovery. You think you can trace it to a man coming home from abroad with the infection on his boot, or to feeding stuff coming in with infection. We never used to nail it down to anything in the past, and I gather it is the same at present. There is no suspicion which could amount to any sort of presumption of proof. With regard to research into plant diseases and pests, to all those who have looked into the appalling losses which occur to agriculturists in this country and other countries, I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree, it is a most important matter, and well worth while 633 devoting a certain amount of money to make real investigations and to acquaint farmers with their results.
I will not go into controversial questions at all this evening, although I do feel that in these days we should have liked something more like an analysis of these actual Estimates, and a real justification for some of these very large increases of proposed expenditure. On the whole, I am glad that the House was determined last Session to set up a real Ministry of Agriculture, and to make it into a first-class office, but I do warn my right hon. Friend—not that I suppose he needs warning—that the House will require from time to time a very distinct justification for the greatly increased grants of money for which his office is now asking, and definite proof that it is resulting steadily and effectively in increased means and increased efficiency in our standard of food production.
§ Captain HOTCHKIN
In connection with smallholdings, I should like to draw attention to a question which, I think, is of very great importance to disabled ex-service men who desire to obtain land from county councils. At the present moment, county councils are providing, and have provided, smallholdings for ex-service men, but this is done under certain conditions. One of those conditions is that the applicant should have a thorough knowledge of agriculture, and another condition is that he should be physically fit. These are perfectly right and just reasons, but it debars, in many cases, disabled men from obtaining smallholdings through the county councils. Now, many of these men—in point of fact, most of them—have been to colleges and other centres where they can train in bee-keeping, poultry-keeping, pig-rearing, etc., and I would suggest that immediate facilities be given to county councils to enable them to acquire land for these most deserving cases, as they are constantly making application to the county councils for land. The land required would not be necessarily of the best quality; therefore it would be considerably cheaper than some other land. A very small equipment would be necessary for these holding, because the present buildings could be utilised. I am sure the men could be located in small groups, or near centres, where they would be likely to obtain suitable markets for their produce. I feel it only fair that the 634 very easiest possible facilities should be given to these men who have personally sacrificed so much in the interests of their country.
In conclusion, in the matter of small holdings I should like to raise one or two points. A great deal has been said about the cost to the taxpayer. There is no doubt about it that the cost will come very heavily on the taxpayer, as has already been explained. I do not, however, quite agree with the remarks of my right hon. Friend opposite on this point. He has only taken the case of twenty-acre holdings. When you are making out schemes you do not go in entirely for twenty-acre holdings; you make use of the existing buildings and cottages, and adapt them to accommodate two or three families. Therefore the loss, though it would be extremely heavy, will not be anything like the proportions suggested. I personally consider that the smallholdings scheme is, apart from, anything else, one of the most beneficial reforms which has even been instituted in this country. We can look at it from several points. You cannot introduce any social reform without having to pay a considerable cost for it. On the other side, look at the benefit we are likely to get. Let me put the following point. First of all, we shall get improved health for the community owing to the larger number of people living upon the land. We shall also get improved health for future generations. Thirdly, there will be a greater tendency to thrift displayed by smallholders in comparison with many other workers, and that will be beneficial to the nation. We shall also learn lessons of co-operation which are so extremely necessary nowadays. The scheme, in addition, helps hard-pressed housing authorities by providing houses, and good houses, on the land, and inducing the people to move from congested areas. The smallholder also has the advantage of what I think will be found to be general prosperity and most comfortable housing. These are great advantages! I do feel that the smallholdings scheme is going to be one of the most beneficial that has ever been adopted in this country. It is going to help to stabilise things and to make people happy and contented; and this will do more to counteract the evils of Socialism than any other measure which has of late years been introduced.
§ Captain FITZROY
There are a great many Members anxious to speak upon this Agricultural Vote, and I shall not forget that; when one looks at the White Paper one realises the enormous number of subjects with which this Vote deals. I must, however, raise a protest at the inadequate time given to the Committee stage in the discussion of agricultural questions. I know the Government are anxious to get this Vote. I hope, therefore, there will be a renewal of this discussion after the Private Business has been got out of the way this evening, so that the Government may be able to get their Vote, which they will hardly expect if the discussion ends at a quarter past eight, and the rest of the evening is devoted to Private Bills.
In his remarks, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture endeavoured to justify the increase in the amount of the Vote which he has presented to the Committee, on the ground of the altered attitude of the Government in regard to agriculture, compared to that which Governments used to take up in the past. If the future of agriculture depended upon the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman who spoke first in this Debate, I am sure its future would be well assured; but I would point out that, important as the attitude of the Government towards agriculture is, the thing that is of real importance is the attitude of the industrial and urban populations towards the whole condition of agriculture; that is the thing which matters, and upon which prosperity depends. Agriculture is rather suffering from being under the shadow of the uncertainty of the Government's agricultural policy. It is not in order to discuss agricultural policy on this Vote, but I must take this opportunity to ask the right hon. Gentleman to do his utmost to press the Government to let us have that policy without further delay. The Prime Minister promised this policy as long ago as October, and I really do not think that it is too much to ask that it should be presented now that we have got to the latter part of April.
I do not propose to range over a variety of subjects. I desire to make a few remarks by way of eliciting a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary at the end of the Debate. There is an item in the Vote which deals with the Wages Board, 636 I think it is for travelling expenses and the salaries of the officials of the Board. I believe the Wages Board is a statutory body over which the Ministry of Agriculture has no control. Therefore, I am not quite clear as to whether the right hon. Gentleman can give me any satisfaction on this point. I understand the Central Wages Board has now altered its procedure to that adopted when it first commenced operations. The original Act proposed that the suggestion should go from the District Wages Board to the Central Wages Board, and should be considered by them. The later procedure is that the Central Wages Board send out their proposals to the District Wages Boards for their consideration. This is a complete reversal of the procedure as laid down in the Act. It is quite obvious that the procedure as laid down in the Act had for its object the differentiation between conditions that arise in different districts—the difference of soil, the greater expense of cultivation in one part of the country and another, and the varying costs of living in different parts of the country. But under the present procedure the original suggestion comes from the Central Wages Board, which has sent out its proposals to the District Wages Boards of a flat rate minimum wage following on the last award given, and which actually raises the amount of the minimum wage by a larger amount in the poorer districts than it does in the richer districts. This is, obviously, quite contrary to what was the original intention of the Act of Parliament.
I understand from the answer to a question in this House the other day that the Ministry of Agriculture has to do with fixing the maximum price of wheat from time to time. The Parliamentary Secretary informed us the other day that the cost of production would be taken into consideration when any revision of price is made. Since the last award given by the Wages Board a further proposal has been made that the minimum wage should be increased by a further 8s., bringing it up to 50s. per week. The maximum price of 95s. per quarter for wheat fixed, after some hesitation, at any rate, on behalf of the Government—so I understood from the answer of the right hon. Gentleman, the Parliamentary Secretary, the other day—on the basis of the 42s. minimum wage. There was taken into account the 4s. 6d. rise which was made the other 637 day. What I want to ask is whether the right hon. Gentleman can give an assurance, when he replies, that if this further proposal is assented to by the Wages Board, that a further addition to the maximum price of wheat will take place in this year's harvest?
There is one other question I should like to introduce. We have, unfortunately, had during the last few days further outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. We had hoped that that was at an end, but the fact of these further outbreaks makes agriculturists still more anxious that there should be no departure whatever from the Government declaration, and that the embargo on foreign and Colonial cattle should not be removed. There was some agitation caused owing to the fact that to a certain extent, and by permission, a certain number of Frisian cattle had been imported under certain conditions. I am quite aware that under a sub-section of the Act of 1894, and confirmed by the Act of 1896, this is perfectly legal as far as the importation of Frisian cattle is concerned. Nevertheless, I assert that the breeds of cattle in this country are the best in the world. In this matter, I hope we shall resume our former position, and I trust we shall not need to supplement our herds by importations from abroad. In reference to this question of the importation of Frisian cattle under certain conditions, I want the Minister of Agriculture to assure me that there will be no departure from the rigid rule that store cattle shall not be allowed to be too freely imported into this country.
It is very often assumed that the whole danger of the importation of Colonial cattle lies in the fear of importing disease, but there is a very much graver danger than that. We have had brought home to us only recently the danger that this country is under if it depends too much on foreign supplies of food. We have had shown to us during the War that there is a danger of the food supply being cut off, and we came very near to that danger in the course of the late War. If ever we come to depend upon our meat supply through stores imported from abroad, we should be in a much worse position as regards our meat supply than we were in regard to our wheat supply during the War. As a matter of fact, we 638 cannot feed more animals than we can produce at home as stores. There has been a complaint in regard to the excessive slaughter of calves, but if we were dependent upon our stores from Canada, the slaughter of calves would be a great deal more excessive. How should we be placed if the store cattle from Canada were cut off, and we had been so foolish as to slaughter our calves. I only refer to this question, as it is a much larger one than purely the danger of importing disease. Knowing, as I do, that a great many hon. Members wish to raise important questions on this Vote, and realising the short time we have at our disposal, I will not add any more remarks to those which I have already made.
§ Mr. G. ROBERTS
I would like to associate myself with my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) in congratulating the Minister of Agriculture upon his very interesting and informing speech. I think all of us in the House will agree that he was perfectly entitled to remind us that heretofore agriculture has been sadly neglected, and I am glad that he was able to rejoice in the fact that a substantial improvement had taken place. I think we all agree with him in placing in the forefront of his speech evidence of the great work that is being done by the Ministry in regard to education and research, for I am sure it in along that line that true agricultural development must be looked for. We are? confronted now with the phenomena of high prices. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne that the food crisis which we encountered during the War is still with us. I believe that there is a world scarcity, and until production is greatly stimulated, these high prices will remain acting as a handicap to our national recovery.
I hail with great satisfaction what has been done in the direction of settling ex-service men on the land. I confess that I came down to the House in a mood to offer some criticism on this point, because I thought progress had been very slow, and that county councils were negligent in this matter. However, what my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has told us has caused me to give further consideration to the matter, and I am not prone to criticise county councils because, after what has been said, it I appears to me that in the limited time 639 they have been operating I think they have done very well under the circumstances. They have done very well up to this point, and I trust they will be stimulated to renewed endeavour because, whatever the cost, I do not think any class or party in the State will in any way resent expenditure, so long as it is wisely made, in settling these splendid fellows upon the land for which they have fought.
The real point to which I want to draw attention is that raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne. A great deal was done during the War to speed up production with regard to the land of this country, and I am now asking whether the progress made under the distress of the War is going to be lost now that the War is over. It is quite correct for the Parliamentary Secretary to remind us that public memory is very short-lived. Of course, there is always a sub-conscious conflict between the urban and the rural interest. It is not that the town worker really desires to be placed in conflict with his rural brother, but there is his economic interest, and if food can be drawn from other parts of the world at a slightly less cost than it can be produced at home, then naturally he turns to the cheaper article, heedless of the harm he may be doing to his own class. We ought to turn ourselves to the question of what we can do, not only to maintain the stimulated production during the War, but in order to continue that process. Undoubtedly world prices will remain high for some considerable period. When we were discussing food prices a week or two ago I asserted that the outstanding fact of our period is that consumption outstrips production in the matter of food. We have the standard of living in every country advancing, and certainly the standard set in this country will be copied by every other country in the world. We know that great changes are taking place in the standard of living of Eastern peoples, and when we couple that with the fact that European countries are not producing anything like the quantity they produced before the War, none can wonder that there is a period of scarcity with us.
Whilst at the Ministry of Food this was an aspect of the question which had to be constantly taken into consideration. We knew approximately what were the available surpluses of food in the world, but 640 the uncertainty was the effectiveness of the demand which might be made by countries drawing upon those stores. Whilst there is no actual shortage of cereals in this country, taking the whole world into consideration, once effective demand becomes normal there is no surplus available. I am grieved to find that whereas we made progress in the cultivation of cereals during the War there is already a tendency to go back upon that policy. This may be due to the uncertainty indicated by the hon. and gallant Member for Daventry (Captain Fitzroy), and my right hon. Friend may have to deal with that point. It may be that I was partly responsible at that time, but I am not satisfied simply to have figures put up against me, and I want to know what is the justification for them. It is not sufficient to say that we ought to advance the price from 74s. to 95s. I want to know the facts which have entered into the calculation, and, when convinced, I am prepared to acknowledge that unless the British farmer can secure a fair price for his produce he cannot carry on the high wages and more humane conditions which I have insistently demanded ever since I have been a Member of this House for the agricultural class. Those conditions of higher wages can never be secure unless the farmer is secured fair prices. I subscribe to that principle. But, on the other hand, I want to have the facts justified before I am prepared to commit myself to them. If, therefore, I was responsible for the delay, that is my justification.
The Government have certainly given an indication of their determination to continue the policy of encouraging home production. I know there is considerable impatience for the Government policy to be revealed. I share that impatience. It seems to me that one of the most pressing problems of the time is that of food production. I was gratified to know that much more land was being brought under arable cultivation during the War, but despite all endeavours a very large increase in the production of wheat did not take place. Nevertheless there was a substantial increase, and I had hoped that that would be a continuous process. But we are already going back to our prewar experience, and I venture to express a hope that the policy foreshadowed by the right hon. Gentleman will result in an increase of cereal production. It is 641 very desirable we should produce as much as possible at home. We have, I hope, learned great lessons during the War. There are many considerations which should prompt us to grow more wheat at home. We are extremely dependent upon other countries. I am glad to observe that the harvest in India and the Argentine has been very good so far, and that the prospects in other countries are also not unfavourable. But, after all, these circumstances cannot always be relied upon, and if we had the produce in our own country, it would be under our own control. I have always asserted that we could, by the force of public opinion, and by Government action, keep conditions within reasonable limits, because our dependence on foreign markets places us at the mercy of those who have a surplus to dispose of, and rail as we may against profiteering, we are helpless in that particular regard. I do not share the apprehensions of those who feel we are losing in respect of our dairy herds. The figures do not reveal that.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
But there is some apprehension in respect to other cattle. It is a very significant fact that we were able to get through the War without any particular diminution of our herds. That is a fact of great credit to the British farmer. But here we may be misled by merely taking figures. There has been a great diminution in the weight of meat produced because of the difficulty of getting feeding stuffs. I hope we are recovering from that disadvantage now, and that we can bring our stock to full maturity. But it appears to me that the line of development that will have to be pursued is to increase the yield per unit. We have brought during the War a good deal of unsuitable land under arable cultivation, and the proceeds of some of that land cannot be justified as an economic proposition. But I believe, despite all that is said against the British farmer and despite the comparisons drawn with his competitors in other lands, he stands out very creditably. I believe he gets as good and an even better return per acre than does the farmer of any other country in the world, with perhaps a solitary exception here and there, which is explained by the fact that the smaller the country the more intense is the cultivation. When growing wheat on prairie land one is not 642 very particular about its cultivation, because it is possible to get a good return for a small outlay. But we have to go a great deal further, and I believe it is only along these lines that we shall be able to bring prices down to anything approximating to the pre-war level. I want to get rid of the three and three-and-a-half quarter per acre. We produce an average of four quarter per acre now, and it must be the policy of the Board of Agriculture, by their educational and research methods, to advise the farmer how it is possible to increase the yield per acre.
Similarly with respect to milk. During the greater part of last year I was involved in violent controversies respecting the price of milk. I had gone into the matter very exhaustively, and I was convinced that the prices as I fixed were, taking the country as a whole, reasonable and fair to the farmer. Having exhaustively enquired into the matter and reached my own conclusions, I stood by it, and I appeal to facts as justifying me in that respect. But here was the trouble. In my opinion the yield per cow was far too low. The gallon and a half and the two gallon cow must be got rid of, and it is by helping the farmer to a better selection, thereby increasing the yield, that I believe we can look as a means of reducing prices.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne said a word on behalf of the allotments movement. I know that my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has so many requests to deal with that it is utterly impossible for him, having regard to considerations of time, to speak upon every one of these points. I believe we have very largely gained, under War stimulus, some 250,000 acres under cultivation as allotments, and in 1918 from these allotments there were produced 2,000,000 tons of food, practically furnishing, I am. informed, 10,000,000 of families with vegetables. I trust that every endeavour will be made by the Board to make these allotment-holders secure in their little holdings. It is a good movement. There are many social aspects of the matter. We know and we rejoice in the fact that hours of labour are being diminished, and one problem that will confront us in the near future is in what way, and how best, workmen can spend their new leisure. I believe many of them are extremely anxious to have the use of a small piece of land, 643 and that they derive there from a great deal of pleasure, besides making a substantial contribution to the food of the country. On one other point I would like to put a question to my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. It may be he will not regard it as of sufficient importance to reply to in the Debate. If so, perhaps he will send me an answer. I am glad that a Committee of Inquiry—although it is an addition to other inquiries—is to be set up to investigate the question of foot and mouth disease.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I am glad to hear it, and I congratulate the Board on it. My constituency happens to be very hard hit in connection with this matter. We have, I believe, one of the largest cattle markets in the world, and that is closed owing to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease somewhere in the district. I am not complaining of that. I think the policy of the Board in acting drastically in this matter is a very wise one. It is much better to err on the side of severity than on that of laxity, as this infection may spread very widely. But I want to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has any late information respecting the disease in this district, whether it is now possible to have any modification of the Regulations, and whether he can give me an indication as to how long it will be before it will be possible to re-open the market? I may conclude by saying that I feel a new spirit is entering into this Ministry of Agriculture. I believe that that is reflected very largely throughout the country. Certainly, as far as I am concerned, I want to see agriculture placed upon certain and secure foundations, for I am sure that it would be an all-round benefit to the country, and will also prevent our country becoming, what I was fearful once it would do, completely or permanently industrialised. A thorough development of agriculture, alongside manufactures, seems to me to be the means whereby our nation will acquire new and greater strength.
§ Mr. ROYCE
I should like in the first place to pay my tribute to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture. I have listened with great attention to his intensely interesting speech. I want to bring three or four 644 subjects to his notice, but before doing so, may I say I noted he told the House that Ministries could do something for the agricultural industry, but that self reliance and action on the part of the agriculturists of this country was necessary to bring agriculture to the high state of perfection to which we hope it will attain. Departments can do something and they can also undo something. I am rather sorry the previous speaker, when he was dealing with milk and other products, did not touch on the question of potatoes. The Ministry in my opinion, so far as regards their action or rather inaction, in connection with the 1918 crop, have been remiss. They have left too much in the hands of, or rather they have made insufficient protest in the matter of the action of the Food Ministry, and the result is that a good deal of dissatisfaction, and what is more important, a good deal of costly litigation seems to be impending in connection with this much discussed question. I ask the Minister to give me an assurance, in order to prevent legal action being taken by dissatisfied growers, that he will, realising that his Department was instrumental in stimulating these people to produce potatoes, and realising also that a good many people, and especially small people, have had to accept settlements which are altogether to their disadvantage, while stronger men will not accept such settlements, I ask him to be good enough to tell me whether he will receive a deputation of growers, with a view of discussing whether some settlement cannot be come to in conjunction with the Food Ministry in this matter. I trust he will take that matter into serious consideration. As there is a tremendous lot of trouble and dissatisfaction in the constituency I represent on this matter, I take the liberty of bringing it before him on this occasion.
I regret that the right hon. Gentleman made no mention in his speech of the subject of agricultural transport, although I know he could not touch upon everything, and, indeed, I wondered that he made such a comprehensive statement. The lesson is that, when a Ministry which deals with so many and diverse functions brings its vote before the House, there should be sufficient time to permit the Minister to make a proper representation, and to permit the House to discuss the matters involved. I should like to ask 645 exactly how the Ministry stands on this subject of agricultural transport. In my constituency we have made exhaustive surveys as regards the lines necessary, and also economic surveys. Roughly speaking, we find that, if these railways could be introduced—and they can only be introduced with the assistance of the Government—we could increase our production by something like £1,000,000 a year. I should like to ask what exactly the Government are prepared to do in this matter, and what particular functions the Ministry possesses in regard to it—whether it is only able to make recommendations to the Ministry of Transport, or whether it has the right to decide what lines shall or shall not be built—what contribution, if any, the Government contemplate making in this connection, and how we stand in relation to this matter. We have expended a great deal of money in making surveys and have obtained information which I think will be useful, not only to my own Division, but to many others. At the present time our average haulage is something like four miles, and at the lowest estimate it costs us from 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d. per ton mile. The House will realise what that means in such a district as mine, which produces very heavy crops. By putting down rails we could save about £45,000 a year in transport alone. It is true that the scheme we suggest would cost something like £500,000, but it would be money well spent, and would be in the highest possible degree reproductive. The Ministry of Agriculture will be well employed in urging and assisting as much as possible in the promotion of agricultural transport facilities.
The other day I had occasion to refer to a drainage scheme that was brought forward, and I think that the Minister and those concerned with him are to be complimented on having brought out a scheme for the improvement, which was sadly needed, of the drainage of this country. If we were in the Soudan or some other remote part of the world, the Government would be promoting or guaranteeing loans for developing the land, but here in the heart of the Empire our drainage is in a condition that is a disgrace to us. When we consider what people did in years gone by, we are very unworthy descendants of them, for we are not keeping our drainage up to the con- 646 dition in which they left it fifty, sixty, or a hundred years ago. I congratulate the Minister on that portion of his work. With regard, however, to the subject of land reclamation, which has been already alluded to, I must say I have not much in the way of praise for the Ministry. They have attempted a piece of land reclamation on the coast of the Wash, and they have not shone as land reclaimers. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the average cost of land for the settlement of soldiers—presumably, and indeed I know, it was good land—was a little over £40 per acre. He has been indulging in a scheme of land reclamation from the sea, and so far as I can judge from the figures the cost will be at least £200 an acre. I should like to know whether he regards that as satisfactory. There is no question that the land is available for reclamation, and that it can be reclaimed, but it wants to be put into the hands of someone who knows something about it, and I am not quite sure that his Department does. At any rate, I am sure he will not argue that to reclaim land that was ripe for reclamation, at a cost of something like £200 an acre, is economical.
A sum is put down in the Estimates for the destruction of fish pests. I represent a constituency which, as well as being one of the greatest agricultural constituencies in the country, and almost in the world, is also a great fishing district. Our port of Boston sends out, as it has in the past, a good fleet of fishing ships. At the present time our fisheries are being destroyed by seals, with which the Wash swarms. The right hon. Gentleman told me in November last, in answer to a question, that the Ministry had no funds with which they could deal with pests, but I find they are now proposing to spend a large sum on the destruction of pests, and if these seals are not pests I do not know how you would describe them. I should like to know what steps the Ministry propose to take to deal with these particular pests. In years gone by a small allowance used to be made, I think of 10s., for each seal destroyed, and perhaps it would be a good thing to institute that again now. We have an aerodrome close by, and it would be excellent practice for the young airmen to drop on the seals some of those surplus bombs which remain over from the War.
§ Mr. ROYCE
There are very few fish there at present. They come up with the tide, and the seals take practically every one that comes up. This is a serious matter, because a number of these very deserving fishermen of whom the right hon. Gentleman spoke so highly, but not too highly, are losing their living through these pests in the Wash. I should be deeply grateful if he could do something in this matter, and he will earn the thanks of my constituency.
§ Mr. E. WOOD
I wish to draw attention to the subject of the slaughter of calves. I am well aware that the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to say that that is a matter more properly for the Ministry of Food, and I only introduce it here because I assume that, if the Ministry of Food acted in this matter, it would do so largely on the advice given by the Ministry of Agriculture. I was a little surprised at the optimism with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Roberts) spoke on this question. Incidentally, I might say that, whatever loss his departure has been to the Government, it is counterbalanced, from the point of view of this House, by his being here again as an independent Member. I should be surprised if, when the figures are produced, they do not reveal a considerable shrinkage in this department of our live stock. The question of any re-imposition of control in regard to the slaughter of calves is one upon which agricultural opinion is very divided, and I only refer to it in order to ask my right hon. Friend what view the Government takes about it. He knows the facts as well as I do, or better. I believe that the position, although not immediately serious, will be shown to be serious by the end of 1921. Its temporary security until then will be due to the supplies that our various Colonies are going to carry over on account of the shortage of shipping and so on, but from information that reaches me I am led to believe that, by the time I have mentioned, the results are likely to be seriously apparent. I am well aware of the natural causes that are in operation, and that the matter is bound up with milk and butter prices and high prices for store cattle, while it will be affected, as will every other agricultural 648 problem, by the question of a stable agricultural policy that would introduce what I may call the happy circle of more cereals, more cattle, more manure, and again more cereals.
In these Estimates, under the head H.1, there is a demand in respect of tuberculosis in cattle. I notice that in 1919–20 the sum taken under that head was £14,000. In 1920–21 a demand is made for £60,000—a very considerable increase. I should be glad if, when the right hon. Gentleman replies, he could say what is the explanation of that increase, and whether we should be right in supposing that it has any relation, and, if so, what, to the suggestion of a rather drastic Milk Bill—or, rather, Act, for I think it is on the Statute Book and in suspense—in the near future. Another subject which has already been mentioned is that of the investigation of plant disease. I am sure, although it may not be an enlivening subject, it is one of the first importance, and one which, in the interests of agriculture, we should be very well advised to investigate.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
With the final suggestions of my hon. Friend I am in complete accord, and I hope to deal with the extremely important question of plant diseases. I hope and believe the Secretary to the Ministry will be able to give me such an assurance as to the policy and administration of the Ministry as will obviate the necessity of going to a Division. The loss suffered in this country by plant diseases, both insect and fungi, is far greater than the ordinary farmer, and still more the general public, realises. I believe they amount to a total of something like £30,000,000 a year, of which a large proportion is preventible by means which we now know, and a much larger porportion would be preventible if our research into the subject was carried further, and that prevention could, I am satisfied, be achieved at a comparatively small expenditure of money. To save pounds we must spend pennies, but as pennies have to be scrutinised carefully by the Treasury, and it is very difficult to get the Treasury to deal with any increase on a subject with which they are not familiar unless there is strong pressure from this House or from those who understand the subject, the Treasury cannot be expected 649 to give us any additional facilities without pressure, and in this Debate I hope we may satisfy the public and the Treasury that the expenditure of money here will effect a saving of food and money. I speak on behalf of the unofficial Committee of Members of the House presided over by my hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Fitzroy). That Committee, I think, is unanimous that this matter ought to be dealt with on really efficient lines. Before the War in the Board of Agriculture very little was done. During the War, for various reasons, it has been very difficult for the Ministry to put administration in connection with this subject on satisfactory lines. They are now taking steps in the right direction. We want to give them strength in their appeal to the Treasury for the very small amount of additional money which is necessary to do the job properly.
The Committee may like one or two figures. There are no really satisfactory statistics in this country of what the loss amounts to. Various estimates have been made by various skilled persons as to the percentage of loss involved. For instance, I believe Professor Biffen has made an estimate of a loss of 10 per cent. in the wheat crop due to rust, smut and certain other similar diseases. Putting it at even 5 per cent., it represents on the crop of 1918 a loss of just upon £2,000,000. Similarly, to take another illustration the damage caused by fritfly, an insect which damaged our crops so severely in the year 1918, taking an estimate of 10 per cent., was £3,500,000. It has been estimated that potatoes, by ordinary potato blight in the year 1918, suffered a loss of not less than 1 ton per acre, representing £5,000,000. Wart disease has been estimated as causing in the previous year a loss of something over £2,000,000, and where wart disease gets into a district it infects the soil, and no crop can be planted in it afterwards without suffering from wart disease, unless it is one of those new varieties which have been invented by breeding which are immune from the disease. But those immune varieties yield a substantially smaller crop than the ordinary susceptible varieties, and in that way from wart disease you not only get the direct damage done by the disease, but the smaller production due to the smaller cropping power of the immune varieties. The Armstrong College in Northumberland estimated that the 650 total loss of crops by various pests, including birds, was 12 ½ per cent. per annum, birds being reckoned at 2½ per cent., leaving 10 per cent. of the total crop destroyed by fungi, insects and eelworm, and similar organisms. Abroad the figures are much better known. In the United States for 1918 in the various cereal crops a loss was incurred of 350,000,000 bushels through various plant diseases—about 6 per cent. of the whole of the crop. In Canada an inspector of our Ministry here has estimated that in one year there was a loss of £30,000,000 sterling on the staple crops alone, and Mr. J. S. Sanders, a director of the Pennsylvania Experimental Station, has estimated that from diseases of all kinds the total loss of crops in the United States is something like £400,000,000. Those figures are sufficient to show that the losses are enormous. In order to deal with them satisfactorily more knowledge of causes, more knowledge as to the real character of the diseases, and more knowledge as to the best methods of prevention are essential.
In order to get our farmers to put the control measures so discovered into practice, you must have men to appeal to the farmers and give them advice in whom the farmers will repose confidence—practical, sensible men equipped with scientific knowledge, and also possessed of a knowledge of the ordinary practice of farming. It is only in that way that we shall achieve real co-operation between the Ministry and our farming population upon which success really depends. We are spending a ridiculous sum on this branch of the Ministry. In the United States, as far as I can follow the figures, they spend between £300,000 and £400,000 in dealing with plant diseases. In this country, so far as I have been able to find the figures in the Estimates, they amount to £3,668. That is absurd. It is a tragedy that the real cause of agricultural progress should be stinted in that way.
§ Captain Sir B. STANIER
I think my hon. and learned Friend will find that it is not £300,000, but only £201,000.
§ Mr. CLYNES
In the case of our own country the hon. and learned Gentleman has given the losses in percentages, and 651 in the United States in weight. Is he able to state them both in percentages?
§ Mr. SCOTT
I have said that the total in this country can be only a rough estimate, because there are no satisfactory statistics. In regard to the United States, I gave the figure of 6 per cent, of cereal crops—wheat, barley, oats, rye, and maize. In this country the figures as to the percentage of loss are only estimates. I gave one which I believe has been given on one occasion by Professor Biffen, of 10 per cent. of the wheat crop under certain conditions. The great difficulty is that these vast losses are not measurable in this country very largely because there has been no sufficiently authoritative Department to produce the statistics. The men who ought to have been there to make these calculations and estimates have not been there. The men who have been there are valuable and devoted servants, giving their time and their great knowledge at utterly inadequate salaries, but there are too few of them.
I now come to the organisation which is necessary in order that the matter should be efficiently dealt with. Let us look at it from three points of view. First, research which can, and must, in practice be divided into pure research and applied research. By pure research I mean the research of men who are seeking knowledge in a particular branch without having their mind on the solution of any particular problem or any particular place or crop. By applied research I mean research work for the purpose of answering particular problems. The next head is the advisory side—advising farmers what they ought to do in order to prevent damage to their crops. The third main point is what I may call administration, the carrying out of control measures in accordance with advice, or, if necessary, under legal powers, such as can be given to some extent by Orders in Council, though not to a sufficient extent, I think, under the Destructive Insects and Pests Acts. It may be necessary to amend those Acts in order that the Ministry may have wider powers for the purpose of control measures. The main points are research, advice and administration. Take research first. A decision was taken about two years ago by the Board of Agriculture to hand the purely research side over to universities and 652 institutions, which are quite independent of the Board, and grants in aid are given to assist in carrying on the work. That is a perfectly sound decision. Men who are doing pure research work would probably do it best if they are left quite independent of Government control and enabled to pursue the problems they want to pursue without the necessity of trying to answer some particular question for some particular purpose. The other side of research has not been adequately dealt with. If you give pure research to independent bodies, then your department or branch in the Ministry must have power to do such research as is necessary for the purpose of forming its own opinion as to what advice it would give regarding particular problems. The staff for research work of that kind in the Ministry should be increased. That being so, I pass at once to the best constitution of the department at the Ministry dealing with the subject. There should be a strong, well-staffed, properly paid and equipped control department under the Board in the pathology branch. It should be the principal advisory authority, and should control and co-ordinate the advisers. It should deal with applied research, and it should be responsible for administrative measures, both control measures, apart from Acts of Parliament, and also for the execution of any statutory Orders in Council, under Acts of Parliament.
It is vitally necessary that there should be the closest connection between the advisory people at the centre and the research people, who may also be advisory people in some cases, on the one hand, and the advisory people and the inspectorate who go out in connection with the control measures, on the other hand. Unless you get that close working harmony you will never make the central station really effective. I am not dealing with the position at the moment, because I believe it is changing from day to day in the Ministry as the plans are being developed, but during the last few years and until recently there have been certain grave defects in the machinery. The central body of the Plant Pathology Department has not been doing the whole of the work. For instance, wart disease has not been dealt with by the central body at Kew; it has been handed over to the Horticultural Department, apparently for the reason that until the War no Orders in Council under the 653 Destructive Insects and Pests Act were made in regard to general agricultural produce, but only in regard to various articles of produce. The inspectors were attached to the Horticultural Department and, therefore, when wart disease had to be dealt with during the War by administrative order, it was handed over to the Horticultural Department, with a result which illustrates the dangers of want of adequate centralisation. Inquiries will come up from farmers and will go to Whitehall or to Victoria Street, or perhaps to Kew. The letter containing specimens of the plant and perhaps specimens of the insect, may be handed about between Whitehall and Victoria Street, and before it gets to Kew, where the technical staff is situated, and where they could identify the insect, the insect may be dead and the plant may have rotted. That kind of thing happens, and obviously it is inconsistent with efficiency.
That illustrates my point that the central station must be self-contained in all its branches. The Kew branch has no executive control over the staff inspectors. A good many of the inspectors, from personal zeal, would go and consult the staff, but there was no administrative rule compelling it, and no reason in law why they should go there, because they were not under the staff in any way. In regard to research, the present position is that at Kew there is no opportunity for effective research work because of the soil and climate and everything else. During the War, two years ago, the pure Research Department was transferred to Rothamstead under the Lawes Trust. It is proposed to transfer the whole Department to Rothamstead also. It is essential that wherever they go, whether to Rothamstead or elsewhere, there should be the right kind of land available in sufficient area, with the right kind of soil, and the right kind of climate, to enable the advisory people to do the research work. These technical details are of real importance. I will give an illustration of this evil of the advisory people not having the money, the facilities or the power to carry out the necessary research work. Take the case of wart disease. It is important that there should be means of sterilising the soil against wart disease, and in order to do that a certain amount of money is necessary. I understand that an application was made that the Plant 654 Pathology Department should carry out experiments to see whether some means of sterilising infected soil could be discovered, but the Department has not been able to carry out any such investigation, because wart disease had been taken from it and handed over to the Horticultural Department, and no financial provision has been made for this important work to be done.
In regard to wart disease, Sir Laurence Weaver, who was responsible for a time during the War for dealing with thedisease, stated at a meeting of the Farmers' Club in February that—
So far little has been done even in the way of establishing the life-history of this disgusting disease, and nothing in the way of finding a cure for it.As regards this Department, it is at present both under-staffed and under-paid. The total staff consists of one head entomologist, one assistant entomologist, one head mycologist, dealing with fungi, rust, etc., one assistant mycologist, two typists, and one old man. It is perfectly absurd to suggest that that staff can deal with the problems that have to be dealt with, and that ought to be dealt with at once. The two head men, the head entomologist and the head mycologist, should, at least, have two assistants, one stationary at the central station all the time, and the other travelling about the country, because it is essential to remember that the real field for experiments is the farmer's field, where the disease is. You have to go to the place and find out what the cause is, in order to advise the farmer how to deal with it, and you want, therefore, a sensible, skilled, practical travelling assistant for this purpose. As the work increases many more will be wanted. On the question of salaries, if hon. Members will look at the White Paper they will see that they amount to £2,167. There is £1,500 for sub-inspectors of plant diseases, etc., non-established. I observe that that item has been reduced by £1,000 from last year, from £2,500 to £1,500, and this at a time when it is most important that we should be increasing the number of efficient inspectors under the advisory department.
The market value of a skilled man or woman who has been through a university career and has had the expense of a university career and has spent some time on a farm in order to get practical knowledge of farming, and who has also done 655 two or three years of research work, is much higher than these salaries. So long as these salaries are paid the nation cannot expect to draw to its service for these purposes a sufficient supply of qualified men and women. It is monstrous. The two head men ought to be in receipt of salaries like £1,200 or thereabouts as a minimum. Probably as the work goes on they will be worth much more, and the assistants ought to have comparable salaries. You cannot expect to get competent men for the present salaries. The Ministry is extraordinarily fortunate in having at the present time three or four very competent men and women who are doing the work at very unremunerative salaries. But that cannot go on as a permanent proposition.
A further important point in connection with the present position is that forestry suffers just as much as agriculture or horticulture from these pests, both insects and fungi, and there is no co-relation at present between the work in connection with forestry and the work in connection with agriculture on this subject. There ought to be. If there is a pest in the orchard it passes from the orchard tree to the forest tree, or from the forest tree to the orchard tree. What is the use of dealing with the pests on the orchard tree if nothing is done to deal with the forest trees and vice versa? That being the position, I would urge the Ministry to make the Plant Disease Branch a really strong body, increase its powers, its staff and its salaries, subordinate the inspectors to the head of the Advisory Staff, centralise the administration, giving due weight to scientific opinion, have the station in the right locality—a locality where the soil and atmosphere are right—and which is sufficiently near to London on a good line of railway to make it possible for the head man from the station to come up with a season ticket twice a week to the Ministry in London. It should also be near a good library—that is very important—and at a place where there is sufficient land for it to expand in the future as the station grows.
Rothamstead is not an ideal spot. It is not very suitable. Communications with London and the rest of the country are not good. Communications with the rest of the country are vital, because inspectors ought to be able to come readily 656 to the central station to discuss what they have seen and ask for advice and instruction. There is great difficulty in getting any land or houses for the staff. I speak with knowledge. I believe that it is impossible to get houses for the staff except at a price which is entirely beyond the salaries which the staff receive. I believe that Cambridge would be the best place for a central station. It would be in touch with the University and with the School of Agriculture there. You have got a library and also communication with London, and the new Institution of Plant Botany, where Professor Biffen has his place—this is important—is there. These questions cannot be discussed in water-tight compartments. You want to keep the men concerned with the other side of agriculture in close touch. If you do you will have an efficient central power. I imagine that at present it would be best to send the Department down to Harpenden without prejudice to removing it elsewhere should it be desirable later on. Let us get on with it. Increase the staff and introduce an organisation of the Department by the Inspectorate as advisory people, giving them research powers and opportunities and making a beginning with this very important work. It is sometimes true that the best way of saving money is to spend it. I believe that this is one of those occasions.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I do not think that any hon. Member will suspect me of a lack of interest in agriculture. I wish that I could have followed up some of the points which have been raised so ably by hon. Friends who have preceded me, but I desire to-night to raise the question of the fisheries—which is of extreme importance—and in regard to agricultural matters that have been raised, I will only say that I desire to align myself entirely with what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Daventry (Captain Fitzroy), and my right. hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Roberts), the late Food Controller, from whom agriculture, when he occupied that responsible position, always had great sympathy. I am sure that I am expressing the feelings of every agricultural Member of this House when I say how glad we were to welcome the speech of our new colleague, the hon. Member for Horncastle (Captain Hotchkin). Coming from such a well-known 657 agricultural district, we heard his opening speech with very great pleasure. I feel strongly on this subject of fisheries. I have put down a motion for the reduction of the vote by £100. I feel some reluctance in moving to reduce the salary of a late colleague like the present Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, but I hope that the reply which my right hon. Friend will be able to give will enable me to avoid pressing this to a division. In what I am going to say, I hope that he will understand that I desire to find no personal fault with him.
Fisheries as well as agriculture has his sympathy, and he devotes his time and talents to it as far as opportunities permit, but the present position of the fishing industry is very serious. There is no industry in the country which is more independent and none which desires less to rely on Government assistance, but in present circumstances nobody can get on without Government assistance because there is so much Government control. The fishing industry feel that they are much more seriously handicapped than the agricultural industry through lack of direct representation in this House. I must apologise for my incompetence to put the case fully. Though I have some practical knowledge of fishing, I cannot pretend to the same knowledge that I have of agriculture, but I have been asked by the fishing industry to put their case on this occasion and desire to do it to the best of my ability on their behalf. The first point on which they feel strongly is this: it is quite impossible in the form of this Estimate as presented to us to obtain any idea of what is the actual situation and the actual expenditure which is allocated to the Fisheries Department. It is also impossible to know what is the actual work which the Fisheries Department is doing. When we look at this Vote that seems to be the more inexplicable because when we look at two other parts of the Civil Service Estimates, when we look at Forestry at pages 70 and 71, in those Estimates which are presented by the Board of Trade, we see a complete representation there of all separate services within a great Department, and we can see exactly what that Department costs, what is the staff employed and the work for which that staff is employed; and we can bring it even nearer than that, because on pages 131 658 to 138, under the Scottish Office Votes, there is a Vote for the Scottish Fisheries Department, where we have all those particulars stated, and we can ascertain exactly who are the Members of the Department, what work they are doing and what they are costing.
When we look at these Estimates it is impossible to ascertain any of those particulars. There are two Estimates that refer particularly to fisheries. There is one on page 77, headed "Fisheries Department," which contains the small number of officers, and on page 82 there is, under "Development Grant," "Fisheries Development." Those are the only separate references to fisheries. I would like to know whether a very large proportion of the work which is done for the fisheries is not scattered about among the other parts of this Estimate. It is absolutely impossible for us to trace it. For instance, I believe that the very competent head of the Fisheries Department is entered on page 74 as a Principal Assistant Secretary. I should like to have gone further into this. I could have dealt with every phase of the matter. I have all the particulars here. But time is too short, and I will not weary the Committee with it. I will only point to the general case, which is very strong, and also to one item under Fisheries Department. On page 77 we have the item, "War Bonus, £39,100. " I do not know whether that War Bonus was paid to the Fisheries Department or divided among a great many other people. It is difficult from these Estimates to form any opinion of what the Fisheries Department costs or is actually doing. The fisheries industry is very much concerned. Although my right hon. Friend says he did not think, on account of the opposition of the Scottish fishing industry, it was possible that there should be a separate Fisheries Department, the feeling of the English industry is that if we cannot get a really separate Department the nearer we can get to it the better. My right hon. Friend has a heavy task in this Debate alone in dealing with agriculture. Is it fair to the fishing industry that such little time as he can spare from agriculture is all that can be given to that most important source of our food supply?
The fishing industry, of all industries of the country, has one general feature which makes it more available as an immediate 659 source of invaluable food supply to this country after the War than any other industry which we possess. No importation of raw material or for any other purpose is necessary. The fish are lying in the sea all about the coasts. Further, owing to those magnificent War services of the fishermen and the fishing vessels, unlike the stock-in-trade of agriculture or manufacturing industry, the stock-in-trade and the material of the fishing industry, in the shape of fishing vessels, has actually increased rather than decreased during the War. Unfortunately, the personnel has not increased because of the heavy losses they incurred in their gallant services during the War itself, but there is still a very large and extremely capable personnel left. There are fully-equipped fishing vessels, and the supply of fish is there, and also, in the financial aspect, which is a point of great importance, any other import which comes to our shores has to be brought from some other country, and a large part of its value has to be paid to the foreign nation from which it has been bought, whereas the whole of the fish brought into our ports inures entirely to the benefit of our own country. From all points of view nothing can be more important than the fishing industry.
Everyone will agree with what has been said in the Debate during the last few nights, that the real problem which we have to face is the high cost of living, and one great cause of the difficulty is the high cost of food. Fish in ample quantity is one of the most wholesome and valuable articles of food available. The House will, I think, be surprised to hear that enormous quantities of fish, particularly trawl fish, are being landed, and—I am speaking on the authority of the Owners' Association of the trawling industry—there is being obtained for them at this moment at our ports, that is, for tens of thousands of tons of fish, a price of less than 2d. per lb. At this time of scarcity and high prices enormous supplies of food are being landed on our coasts at that low cost. But what is happening to that fish? Owing to the lack of proper transport, it is not reaching the people who want it. I want the right hon. Gentleman to tell me what is the average price of that fish to the consumer when he gets it, and where does the difference go between 660 the 2d. per lb. and the 1s.—I do not think that is too high—that the consumer has to pay? Only about ten days ago, at Fleetwood, over 80 tons of prime fish, principally whiting, was actually taken out to sea and dumped overboard, because it was impossible to convey the fish to the consumer. It could not be given away; it was offered, and no one would take it, and, in order that the trawlers might resume their voyage, the 80 tons was dumped into the sea. The trawlers go into port with a limited time at their disposal, the fish is put upon the quay, and there are fish buyers there to buy it. That is the first stage. The buyers will not buy it, they cannot buy it, unless they can pass it on to the fish distributors, who will in turn pass it on to the people.
When the buyer knows that he can buy a magnificient supply of fish for 2d., and that he can sell it perhaps at a very large profit, what is the use of his making a purchase if he cannot get the fish passed on to those who will distribute it to the consumer? That is where the difficulty lies. I may be told that it is the duty of the Ministry of Transport. I deny it. It is the duty and ought to be the duty of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, to appoint officers whose task it would be to remain in constant touch with the local transport officers and to arrange for the immediate transport of large fish supplies to the consumers in our large towns. One need only turn to the example of the Scottish Fisheries Board. On page 136 of these Estimates it will be seen that the Scottish Fisheries Board has actually appointed an "Inspector of Fish Distribution." It it his duty, I imagine, to do everything possible to facilitate the distribution of fish. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend does instruct his officers generally to do what they can towards the distribution of fish, but it is obvious that those efforts have so far been unsuccessful. I do not think that officers of sufficient standing and importance are employed, officers who can go in any district, into the office of the principal representative of the Minister of Transport and demand proper facilities for the carriage of the fish. It has actually been put to me by the representatives of the fishing industry that in despair of being able, under the present organisation of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, to get that separate attention from people who make a life study of this vital industry—not 661 owing to the personal fault of those concerned—they are actually thinking of asking that the English fisheries shall be put under the Scottish Fisheries Board. It is rather an irony. It amuses me, because I am a farmer. It is a term of opprobrium among fishermen to call a fisherman a farmer. If anyone wishes to receive a rough reply or something rougher than a reply, it is necessary only to do that. The fishing industry feels that being tied on to the Ministry of Agriculture puts that industry in an entirely false position.
I could say a good deal more, but I have stated enough to show that it is really a very important question which wants dealing with, not in the future, but at once. I must make complaint of the time allotted to this Debate. It is very unfortunate that it should have been brought forward on an evening when it is well known that after 8.15 there will be little or no time available, owing to the intervention of private business. Not only does it prevent hon. Members from speaking, but it prevents those who think they have an important case to make from developing their arguments. I will, therefore, confine myself to one more point, and that is the question of research. The main object of research, as regards fisheries, is to maintain the supply of fish against over-fishing. I have been a Member of this House long enough to remember the long debates we had on that question on a Bill called the Undersized Fish Bill. There are two schools of thought on this question. One school says you must examine into the life history of the fish. I see from the Estimates that there is actually a department here of ichthyometry. I believe that means the measuring of fish. There is to be a very exact inquiry into the life habits of the fish; you are to examine their habits very closely indeed, you are to judge at what size those fish may safely be taken, and to pass regulations as to their "catching." There is another school which says that it is absolutely impossible, particularly in the matter of trawling, to return fish from a heavy trawl net to the sea, and to say that no man is to catch or sell a fish below a certain size. That is impracticable legislation.
There is, however, another kind of protection which I may, perhaps, christen "protection by sanctuary." I was always 662 an advocate of that system. There are certain areas, particularly in the North Sea, where, it is well known to every fisherman, breeding fish and small fish congregate at particular seasons. When those particular areas at those particular seasons, and in some cases at all seasons, are made into sanctuaries, just as you have a sanctuary in a deer forest, and no one is allowed to fish at those times, I believe the supply of fish in the North Sea will be secured. That has always been in dispute. But we have now, as a result of the War, more important light thrown upon the question than we could have had in any other way. My right, hon. Friend told us as a proved fact that, as a result of leaving during the War, large areas of the North Sea unfished, the boats that now fish in those waters are getting enormous catches, even two, three and four times as much as they ever got before. That proves the efficacy of sanctuary. Therefore, all this research seems to me to be of less importance than before. The really important thing now is that my right hon. Friend and his Department should make arrangements for sanctuary. Such arrangements cannot be made by this country alone; they must be international. There never was such an opportunity for making them as the present. I would urge upon my right hon. Friend the vital importance of this, for protection is absolutely necessary. Look at the position we were in when British fishermen were punished and fined and their gear confiscated for fishing in the Moray Firth, whereas Dutchmen and the fishermen of all other nations could fish there with impunity. How can fishermen be expected to put up with that sort of thing. Attention to the problem is of more practical importance than having a captain and crew upon a trawler, which is to go about the North Sea and catch fish and report how long they are, what they weigh, and scientific matters of that description. That is secondary. The other proposal is of primary and vital importance.
I will sum up the three points with which I should like my right hon. Friend to deal. The fishing industry desires to have as near as possible an independent department to deal with its business. In any case, it desires that when the next Estimates are presented they shall be assimilated in form to the other two I have mentioned, and the House and the 663 industry shall know who exactly are the members of the Fishing Department, and what their salaries are. As to salaries, they appear to be extraordinarily inadequate in some cases. I see that one "collector of statistics" is paid £1 a week. You cannot expect to get a good collector of statistics for that. Fewer men better paid would probably be of much more advantage to the industry. The second point is that the fish, when they get to our shores, should be brought within reach of the people who require them. My third point is the importance of preserving the fish around our shores by sanctuary arrived at by international agreement. I should like to say many other things, but the time is short and many hon. Members wish to speak.
§ Mr. W. R. SMITH
I am afraid I suffer from two disadvantages, one being the short time possible to give to this matter and the other that I had not the opportunity of listening to the right hon. Gentleman's statement. From the discussion there has not been displayed any indication other than a desire to help this Department in dealing with the most important matter of agriculture. Instead of having to face criticism and suggestions of curtailment of expenditure the whole tendency seems to be for greater efficiency and greater effort, which is rather different from the experience of other Departments. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken made a very valuable contribution to the Debate from the point of view of the fisheries, and I think very largely established a case for the separation of that phase of the Board's work from that of agriculture. It appears to me that the Board is hardly left sufficiently free to concentrate upon those matters which are of vital importance to agriculture. That is manifested in many instances by actions of other Departments which had been most detrimental to the interests of agriculture. To-day we are suffering from a shortage of potatoes, very largely caused by the action of the Food Ministry in connection with the 1918 crop. It is lamentable that we should have to draw attention to the fact that the Board of Agriculture has not sufficient power or influence to be able to exercise its authority in regard to such a vital question as food production and the general interests of agriculture. There was one 664 matter with which the right hon. Gentleman did not deal, and that is as to the possibility of the extension of the principle of co-operation in connection with agriculture. The small type of farmer largely predominates in this country, and if we are to continue that class of farmer it must be obvious that there must be co-operation both in the purchase of the requirements of the industry and the disposal of the crop. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could tell us what his Department are doing towards furthering that principle in agriculture. I wish to associate myself with the observations made with regard to the slaughter of cows. What is going to be the future of the industry from the point of view of meat and milk production if this excessive slaughter is permitted to go on? In the result we shall be short of milch cows and store cattle, and the industry cannot be expected to develop upon those lines which are essential for national food production if such slaughter continues.
As to the question of research I wish I had more time at my disposal to deal with it as well as with other matters affecting the industry, and particularly the attitude of the Government towards the recent Royal Commission on Agriculture. That Commission was exceedingly anxious to continue its work in regard to various subjects bearing upon research, but was not permitted to do so. It was stated that the question had been inquired into and the information was at the disposal of the Government. If that is so, how is it that we have so much complaint about the absence of adequate support to the industry in regard to this matter? it is absolutely impossible for the farming industry to develop educational and research work. That must be done by national efforts, and I hope that the Department will regard it in the light of its great importance. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is satisfied that the inspectors engaged by the Wages Board to enforce the Board's orders are adequate for the purpose. During the past year or so a sum of £17,000 has been obtained in arrears of wages and £12,000 has been obtained by one of the organisations, and another organisation has obtained a similar sum. While wages to that extent are being withheld from the labourers of the country one, cannot view with satisfaction the 665 work of the Wages Board, as might otherwise be the case. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give consideration to that matter with a view to more adequate protection being given to the labourer than appears to be the case now. I should have liked to elaborate that point, but time does not permit, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will deal with it.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I am sorry to intervene again, but, as we know, Private Business is to be taken for the rest of the evening, and I am sure the Committee will expect me to give some answer to the various points raised. I am exceedingly sorry to have to rise now when so many hon. Members desire to speak. Let me first deal with the remarks of my right hon Friend (Mr. Pretyman) as to Fisheries. I quite agree with most of what he said. I think the Votes might be so arranged as to show more clearly what is spent on the Fishery Branch, and I hope we may be able to rectify that matter on another occasion. I quite realise, also, the importance of the question of fisheries. We are most anxious to re-organise the Fisheries Branch as far as possible into a separate unit. We attach all the importance which the right hon. Gentleman does to the great value of that industry, but we are really very much handicapped by the want of power, and many of the things to which he referred we would do if we had the power. My right hon. Friend knows I have been busy in drafting a big Bill giving us larger powers, which would enable us, for example, to create those sanctuaries of which he spoke, and to give control for regulating the fisheries generally. When that Bill is presented and passed I hope our Fisheries Branch may obtain power to make it a really effective Fisheries Department of the State. With regard to the question of transport, we realise our duty in that respect, and although we have not appointed an inspector, no sooner was the Ministry of Transport formed than we got into close touch with it, and at the ports our coastal officers are constantly engaged in making arrangements for the transport of fish. The right hon. Gentleman knows the difficulties which arise from want of wagons and locomotives and other obstacles. I can assure him we have been enabled to move fish rapidly on many occasions when without our assistance that fish would have gone bad. With 666 regard to prices, I cannot tell the exact figure, as the retail prices vary from day to day. I do not think the figure he gave was quite correct. I am informed that the lowest price at which fish came to the coast was 4d. in a number of markets.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
The Fishowners' Association informed me that the price for trawl fish landed at the port was three halfpence per pound, and I added a halfpenny to that.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I have no information to that effect, but in any case we are not the Ministry engaged in controlling prices. What I want to see is the complete decontrol of the fishing industry at present. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that all the points he mentioned will have my most careful consideration, and I agree with him as to the desirability of encouraging this industry.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY:
Are we taking any international action with regard to the North Sea? Are we continuing negotiations with other countries which remained in abeyance during the War?
§ 8.0 P.M.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
They are in train. Reference was made to the way in which we deal with plant diseases, and I entirely agree with the object mentioned by the hon. Member who dealt with the matter. We have established a branch with an officer at its head who is no longer only advisory, but is also an executive officer and is in charge of all the work dealing with plant diseases. He has under him an inspectorate. In reply to my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. W. R. Smith), co-operation in agriculture is really going ahead, it is taking hold. We have done all we can by supporting the Agricultural Organisation Society, which has really, under the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool (Mr. L. Scott), made a distinct advance and is teaching the farmers the value of co-operation. That body, which has been subsidised by the State, is now standing much more on its own basis, and I think it will be entirely standing on its own basis financially in three or four years' time. In the meantime, the number of new societies that are being formed and effectively working is growing every day, with the greatest possible good results to the industry generally. 667 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) pointed to the fact that the figure for salaries at the Ministry was up. That is true, and it is due to the increases made by way of war bonuses. The number of employés is down by 42, and it would have been down by a great many more had it not been for the enormous work of land settlement that we have had to undertake. He asked how far corn land had been put back to grass. I cannot give any definite figures, but we shall get our agricultural returns in June. I am afraid the process is going on, but we are doing all we can to stop it. He also spoke about reclamation, and I think the hon. Member for the Holland Division (Mr. Royce) also spoke about that. We were asked after the Armistice if we would undertake reclamation on a large scale, chiefly for the purpose of finding work for unemployed ex-soldiers, and we were granted money for the purpose. We found, however—it was brought to our notice by the Ministry of Labour—that unemployment was much less than had been anticipated, and in the meantime we found that the schemes of reclamation already undertaken were not going to be economically successful. The chief one, which we are still carrying on was at Wainfleet, on the Wash, where we are reclaiming a stretch of land which will have the advantage that it will march with one of our own farm settlements, but there is a considerable loss upon it. The land will not be as valuable by any means as it has cost to reclaim, and in the present state of our finances, although I agree there is much land, both foreshore and sandy wastes on heaths, that might be reclaimed in various parts of the country, we cannot undertake large uneconomical attempts of this sort as things stand at the present time. We think it would be a waste of money which would not be justifiable in the present circumstances.
In reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Daventry (Captain Fitzroy), who talked about the Wages Board and how far its recommendations were taken into consideration when the Government fixed maximum prices of wheat, when the recent decision was taken for prices of the 1920 crop we took into consideration the anticipated rise in wages which has since taken place, and 668 I can only say that if we have again to make any alteration on a future occasion in the maximum prices we shall take the whole of the cost of production into account, and, of course, wages are a very important element in that cost of production. He also asked about the proposed importation of Friesland cattle. I wish to say emphatically that we do not propose to go back in any way upon our general principle that cattle are not to be admitted from abroad. We have not the slightest intention of admitting store cattle from Canada or anywhere else, but here is a breed which is not a new breed in this country, because it exists already, a breed with an extraordinarily high milking capacity, amounting to 2,000 gallons in certain cases, and very high in all cases. The Astor Milk Committee recommended that more Friesians should be imported with a view to increasing the milk supply of this country. The breed is a small one; it is based upon a very small strain. We only propose to admit at the outside 100, and all the progeny of very remarkable animals, yielding not less than 2,000 gallons. I do not think we shall find it very easy to find them, but if they do come they will come under such stringent conditions that I feel certain there can be no fear of the importation of disease into the country, but if we can strengthen a valuable breed of that sort by an importation under strict regulations, it seems to me we are perfectly right to encourage it. An hon. Member mentioned the question of transport in agricultural districts. Of course, the Ministry of Transport is the supreme authority, but what we have done is this. We have ourselves made investigations into something like 200 schemes of improved transport in agricultural districts. We have put up those we thought best to the Ministry of Transport, we have closely investigated some of them with the Ministry of Transport, and I hope that some good results may ensue. But beyond conducting investigations ourselves and making recommendations we cannot go. It rests with them to decide what schemes shall go forward and what schemes shall not, and, of course, they have to be guided largely by the considerations of whether they will be economical or not, and I am sorry to say that at the present time the cost of running railways, and especially the fact that 669 agricultural produce is carried at a rather lower rate than some other produce, makes it difficult to see how many schemes which rely exclusively on agricultural transport can be made to pay. We shall not cease to urge on the Ministry of Transport the desirability of improving transport in the country districts, either by light railways or by motor services or something of that sort.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood) and my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. W. R. Smith) talked about the slaughter of calves. We have had this question over and over again during the War, and great fears have been expressed that our dairy herds would be diminished and that the number of cattle in the country would show a great diminution. That has not been the case up-to-date, and up to the last figures, published last June, notwithstanding the apparent excessive slaughter of calves, the number of head of cattle in the country did not show any diminution, but rather an increase. I believe there has been an extra amount of slaughter lately, and I am a little bit alarmed myself as to what the next set of figures may show. But it seems to me that orders made as a rule have proved to be ineffective. I think, however, the best remedy will be when all meat is decontrolled, as it will be on July 4th this year. By then I hope the matter will right itself and that the excessive demand for veal which exists at the present time will no longer prevail. At all events, I think the present remedy for the excessive slaughter of calves is the decontrol of meat, which will take place very shortly. My hon. Friend the Member for Ripon also asked why we had increased the item for Tuberculosis in Cattle. I can explain that very shortly. In 1914 the Milk and Dairies Act was passed, and at the same time the Tuberculosis Order was issued by the Board of Agriculture to come into operation immediately that the Milk and Dairies Act came into operation. That Act and that Order were suspended during the War We believe it is possible that the Milk and Dairies Act may be brought into operation in the present financial year, and in that case we must also bring into operation the Tuberculosis Order, which provides compensation to owners of stock who suffer in consequence of the provision of the Milk and Dairies Act. Therefore, 670 in view of the fact that we may have to bring that Order into operation, we have put a figure in the Estimate to cover the possible expense of compensation.
I know there are many more Members who would wish to speak in this Debate. So far as I am personally concerned, I did not know there was going to be long private business to-night, and it is not the fault of the Ministry of Agriculture that this Debate has been curtailed. At the same time, it is from our point of view a matter of real urgency that we should get the Vote in Committee this evening, because the Vote contains an item of £250,000, Treasury contribution to the sugar beet scheme, and unless this Vote is carried in Committee to- night, that money cannot be granted, and the whole scheme will be held up, which means delay in getting on with the work, and will very likely defeat the whole scheme. But if the Committee will give us the Vote now—and I must ask for it now, because there may be no time at all after the private business—the Government will be quite prepared, if representations are made to them in the usual way, to give half a day at an early date for the Report stage, and that will enable those speakers, who were unable to catch your eye this evening, to make their speeches and observations on that occasion, which I hope will be at an early date. In view of the urgency of getting this particular item, and in view of the fact that there is no way of putting one item separately from another, I do appeal to the Committee to give me this Vote now.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
In view of what my right hon. Friend has said, representing what I believe to be the general desire, the Vote will now be granted on the clear understanding asked for by the Opposition, that half a day will be granted for further consideration on the Report stage. In those circumstances, I hope the Committee will agree to the Vote.
§ Amendment, by leave,' withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.