§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Captain FITZROY
On a point of Order. Having regard to the fact that the House has just given consent to the Adjournment Motion, and seeing that the Leader of the House has said that to-morrow afternoon he will put down as the first Order the question of War Wealth Taxation, may I ask what will be the position of the Agriculture Bill in that event, seeing that we are allowed from now only until 8.15 to discuss this most important measure to-day?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. and gallant Gentleman should have thought of that before giving leave to the Motion for the Adjournment. There was not a word of opposition when the hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) raised the question; on the contrary, assent was granted unanimously, and the Motion will come on at 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. BILLING
Would it be in Order, having regard to the importance of the agricultural measure, to move to suspend the Eleven o'clock Rule, and to allow the Debate to go on?
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of AGRICULTURE (Sir Arthur Boscawen)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In the month of August, 1916, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) appointed a Committee called the Agricultural Sub-Committee of the Reconstruction Committee with a view to considering the future of agriculture, and the terms of reference to that Committee were as follow:Having regard to the need of increased home growth of food supplies in the interest of national security, to consider and report on the methods of effecting such increase.The Committee was specifically charged that they were to deal, not with War conditions, but with conditions after the War, or, in other words, they were to endeavour to introduce an agricultural 78 policy of a permanent character in times of peace. The Bill, of which I have the honour to move the Second Reading, is based, I do not say in every detail, but in all its main principles, on the Report of that Agricultural Reconstruction Committee. There is scarcely a single Clause in the whole Bill for which justification cannot be found in the Report of that Committee. The Bill represents the definite reconstruction policy as regards agriculture of the Government, not as a temporary War measure, but as the permanent policy of the country. It may be said at the very outset, why should there be any necessity for an agricultural policy, and why should we not leave agriculture alone? Agriculture is our oldest industry; it has gone on since the origin of time; it has had its ups and downs, and up to date there has never been a definite agricultural policy of the Government. It is quite true that up to the War there was no definite agricultural policy. Farmers were left to shift for themselves, and the State stood severely aside. What was the result? I am not going to weary the House with a long history of agriculture in this country, but I may mention one or two salient facts.
From the year 1854 to 1879 agriculture was signally prosperous in this country. Science was applied to it, and a great deal of drainage and reclamation work was done, and we produced a great amount of the cereals consumed in this country. Landlords, tenant farmers and agricultural labourers co-operated to produce the greatest possible amount of food in these islands. About 1879 a sudden change bgan. The year 1879 was remarkable for its most unfavourable climatic conditions. Following on that there came a period of most acute depression for agriculture. Free imports which had been introduced some years before began to have their effect. Corn was brought over and prices tumbled in the most extraordinary manner, and farmers found it was no longer possible to keep their land under the plough. Arable land was put down to pasture from one end of the country to the other, and many bankruptcies occurred amongst farmers. It is estimated that £800,000,000 of capital of landlords and farmers were lost during the period between 1879 and 1906. It was a period of complete and acute depression. The figures which show what the effect 79 on the food production of this country are as follows: In the year 1870 we had 3,761,000 acres under wheat, and in 1910 that had dropped to 1,856,000. Taking it in quarters, in 1870 we produced 13,500,000 quarters of wheat in these islands, and in 1910 that had dropped to 7,000,000 quarters. In the meantime, imports had increased enormously. The imports in 1870 were 8,611,000 quarters of wheat, and that had risen to 27,779,000 in 1910, with the result that whereas in 1870 we produced 60 per cent. of the wheat that was consumed in these islands, in the year 1910 we were only producing 20 per cent.
Take it from another point of view and let us consider the alteration in the character of farming. Arable land fell from 24,000,000 acres in 1870 to 19,000,000 acres in 1910. Pasture similarly rose from 22,000,000 acres in 1870 to 27,000,000 acres in 1910, or, in other words, the arable land of this country, which was 52 per cent. in 1870, fell to 41 per cent. in 1910. Then, again, there is the number of men employed. The number of agricultural labourers in 1871—I am speaking now of males and females—was 1,905,000. In the census of 1911 that figure had dropped to 1,130,000, a loss of nearly 800,000 men employed on the land, of 800,000 less countrymen and women in our country districts in that period of years. In fact we have got to this position. We were producing so little food in this country that, roughly speaking, we were just producing enough to keep the country going from Friday night to Monday morning, while from Monday to Friday we were living on foreign imports, so that we had become agricultural week-enders. It may be argued, and I dare say it will, that this policy of importing foreign foodstuffs and exchanging them for manufactured goods enriched the country. I am not going to deny that that may be the fact. Economically, and judging it solely from that point of view, it may have been sound, but what other results have happened from it? In the first place it made us dangerously dependent on foreign countries for our food supplies. In the next place it depopulated our country districts and massed the people more and more into our big towns. I am not going to say a word against urban populations. I am the representative of a big urban population myself. I have the 80 greatest admiration for urban populations, and I like to hear the hum of industry. But I claim that for the stability of the nation it is most important that we should have a balance between our urban and our rural people. Whether it be from the point of view of recruiting our soldiers for war or recruiting from healthy stock those who are to go out and work in the towns, I say that it is most important that we should maintain a healthy agricultural stock of people in this country. Therefore, I claim, even though granting to my Free Trade friends that this policy may have enriched the country, that its other effects, its social effects and its effects as far as the security and stability of the people are concerned, have been exceedingly bad. We found that out when the great War took place. I come now to the period of the great War. I said that we were agricultural week-enders as regards production. The War came and the submarine menace came. It developed, and the position became perilous about the year 1917. We suddenly woke up to the grave national danger that we had run by neglecting agriculture, and we made frenzied appeals to the farmers to plough up their lands. We appealed to them to grow as much corn as possible. We asked them to upset their rotation and to grow wheat. The Food Production Department was started under the very able and energetic direction of my Noble Friend the present Minister of Agriculture (Lord Lee), and it did effect a wonderful change. Something like 1,700,000 acres were ploughed up during the Food Production Campaign. We did not get back our 4,500,000 acres, but we got some of them back, and we did produce a great deal more food in 1917–18 than we had been producing. An hon. Member asks at what cost. At that time it was not a question of cost; it was a question of avoiding starvation. We come now to the present period. What are we to do? Are we again to neglect agriculture? Are we to let it slip back to the condition in which it was when the War broke out? Are we to say to the farmers, "You must shift for yourselves," in which case, without a policy, they will lay their land down to grass again or let it tumble down and the great efforts of food production will all have been wasted as far as the future is concerned? Can we afford to do it? I agree, of course, that 81 there is no more submarine campaign, and it is hoped that there will not be for many years.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
Or ever, but who can foretell the future? I certainly hope that it will be never, but I should be an unwise man if I said that it was going to be never. Some of the German submarines are under the sea, but another war may come, and are we again to be caught napping as we were last time? If submarines were dangerous during the last war, they will probably be infinitely more dangerous next time, and we may not have the opportunity of introducing ploughing-up schemes and growing the corn that we did on the last occasion. The danger in the future, if we allow things to slip back where they were, is great. That is not all. At the present moment it is undoubtedly cheaper to grow wheat and other corn crops in this country than to import them. The position as regards food supplies in the future is most dangerous. Russia for the time being is out of court and Hungary is out of court.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
My hon. and gallant Friend does not seem to be alarmed when I mention Russia or Hungary, but take Argentina. Argentina is so alarmed at the present food situation that it has put practically a prohibitory export duty on wheat. The whole question is how are we to get our daily bread in the future, and for that reason, if for no other, we ought to encourage food production in this country. Our answer is this Bill. It is not to be called the farmers' charter. That is not the object of it. This Bill is in the nation's interests. From the point of view of putting our land to its best possible use, from the point of view of growing 82 every single ear of corn that we can, from the point of view of the highest cultivation, from the point of view of bringing up in the country as many of that hardy race of agrculturists that we used to have, from every national point of view a policy of some sort is needed, and the answer to the questions, "Are we going to let agriculture slip back," and "What is the need for this policy" is this Bill. The Government do not intend to let agriculture be neglected. They do not intend to let it slip back to the condition in which it was before the War, and they have therefore boldly taken the main headings of the recommendations of the Reconstruction Committee appointed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Asquith), and have embodied them in a Bill of a comprehensive character which aims at putting agriculture in a position security and endeavours to make the best use of our greatest national asset, namely, the land of these islands. That is the object of the Bill.
The keynote of the Bill is security, security all round; security to the farmer who grows corn in the national interest by means of guaranteed prices, security to the agricultural labourer who has not been too well paid in the past that by means of the Agricultural Wages Board he shall have a minimum living wage, and security to the State by giving the State a certain control to see that the land is so cultivated, that the maximum amount of food may be produced for the people. Lastly, there is security of another kind to the farmer, or, rather, I should say greater security of tenure of his farm. There is not anything in the nature of fixity of tenure. We do not believe in it. We do not believe in creating dual ownership. We think that it works uncommonly badly in Ireland, and we are not going to repeat the experience here. We say that there should be complete security to the farmer for the capital which he embarks in his enterprise. If not, he will not do his best or put his back into it. There is particular need for dealing with this class of security to-day. Land sales are taking place extensively all over the country, due to high taxation, to the high cost of repairs, and to the fact that landlords under present conditions find it practically impossible to make both ends meet. These extensive sales have created a feeling of insecurity among tenants that never existed before. They had very little to 83 fear from the old landlords. On most well-managed estates the same families went on from generation to generation, and the last thing that a landlord thought of doing was to turn out a tenant unless it was absolutely necessary. There was a system, undoubtedly imperfect in theory and based on yearly tenancies, which in practice worked exceedingly well, but, with these expensive sales, with a new class of landlord, and with the land speculator, there has followed a feeling of insecurity among tenant farmers with which we are bound to deal. Therefore, without in any way introducing anything in the nature of fixity of tenure or dual ownership, but by giving greater security to the farmer for his capital and by making it very expensive arbitrarily to turn out a tenant we shall attain practically the same result and do an act of justice which is very much needed at the present time.
I now come to the principal Clauses of the Bill. The Bill divides itself, roughly, into two parts. The first part consists of a series of Amendments of the Corn Production Act and the second part consists of a series of Amendments of the Agricultural Holdings Act. We make the Corn Production Act permanent. It was a temporary measure. It was to come to an end in 1923. We make it permanent. The first result which strikes the eye is that the Agricultural Wages Board, which now depends upon a temporary Act, becomes permanently established in this country. I know that the Agricultural Wages Board has been severely criticised. I know that some of my hon. Friends do not like it. I know that many of its decisions have been challenged and challenged from both sides. The Agricultural Wages Board has had a most difficult task, and on the whole, it has performed its duties exceedingly well; at all events, it has prevented a large amount of agricultural unrest which would have taken place among the farm workers if it had not been in existence. I do not think, having regard to the altered value of money, that wages have been unduly raised in agricultural districts. When it comes to a question of hours, I admit that the matter is far more contentious, but the Agricultural Wages Board does not directly deal with hours. All that it does is to say that there shall be a certain minimum wage for a certain period of hours during the week. I do 84 not mind saying, if the Agricultural Wages Board did deal with hours directly and if it were prepared to establish anything like a rigid factory day for agricultural labour, that I certainly should not be in favour of making it permanent, because I believe anything of the kind would be absolutely ruinous to the agricultural industry. As far as it deals with establishing a minimum wage for a certain period of hours in the week, I think that it has done its work well, and it is only right that the agricultural labourers should get the security which is conveyed to them by the Agricultural Wages Board.
By making the Bill permanent, we continue the policy permanently of guaranteed prices for wheat and oats. At the present time there are certain prices put in, more or less arbitrarily, and based upon a certain scale. Those prices have not been in any way effective in practice, because the actual price ruling has always been a long way above the guaranteed price, and a curious thing is this—it shows how fallacious prophecies are—that the guaranteed prices for wheat and oats were based on the supposition that the price would go down. As a matter of fact, the price has gone up, and the present prices, namely, 45s. as the guaranteed minimum for wheat, and 24s. as the guaranteed minimum for oats, are absolutely ridiculous. We therefore propose a new plan altogether. We take a certain year, the year 1919, as the standard year, and we adopt the figures that were proposed by the Royal Commission, and which they thought were just below the actual cost of production, so as to guarantee a man, not a profit, but to guarantee him against any serious loss if he grew corn. The figures for 1919, based upon the cost of production, are 68s. for wheat, for a customary quarter of wheat, and 46s. for a customary quarter of oats.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I do not think rent is taken into account at all. In the variations which we propose we deliberately leave rent out. These figures are merely what is called the datum line. They are figures which would have been applicable to 1919, having regard to the cost of production then, but what is proposed is this, that each year Commissioners should ascertain the costs of production of that year, that is to say, whether they have 85 gone up or gone down since 1919. If they have gone up, the guaranteed price would go up proportionately, and if they had gone down the guaranteed price would go down proportionately. Any rise, any increase in wages, an increase in the cost, say, of fertilisers, an increase in the cost of machinery, or anything else, would get at once reflected in the guaranteed price.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
Yes, certainly, but not rents. My hon. and gallant Friend is quite right. Rates are a very big item and a very rising item, and it is quite right they should be included, but we leave rent out of the matter, because it might be possible that there would be a collusive bargain between the landlord and tenant, the tenant agreeing to a rise in rent, knowing the rise in rent would be reflected in the guaranteed price; so rent is omitted. At all events, we establish this principle that instead of having an arbitrary figure based upon nothing but prophesy, the guaranteed minimum price, which is not intended to guarantee a profit, but which is intended to save a man against serious loss, and which is rather less than the cost of production, will move up or down according as the cost of production moves up or down. That system is made permanent. We have got to give security, we have got to give confidence, we have got to have regard to the psychology of the farmer, and it is no good bringing in a Bill and saying: "These prices will last for 5 or 10 years." We say this system shall last until Parliament otherwise decides. Of course, no Parliament can bind its successor. Parliament can always repeal or amend any Act previously passed, but we put this in, that if the guaranteed prices are to be terminated, they shall be terminated by Order in Council, and four years' notice shall be given. That is only fair, for this reason. A farmer makes his preparations, he has got to look ahead, he has got to consider his rotation, he has got to get his land ready, and we put in the four years' notice as a clear indication of the intention of Parliament to-day that a guaranteed price shall not be terminated unless four years' notice, equal to an ordinary rotation, is given to the farmer.
That is guaranteed prices; then there is the other point in the first part of the 86 Bill, namely, control of cultivation. If the State guarantees prices, the State must have some right of deciding whether a farm is being farmed in a manner which is consonant with the national interests. That matter is very important. I sometimes hear people say, "Why should not the farmers be made to grow wheat, why should they be compelled to do this, that, or the other?" Let me remind the House that the farmer is not risking national capital, but his own capital. He is a small capitalist, with all his capital in the land, on which he only gets a turnover once a year, and he is naturally very anxious about the use of his capital, and if, therefore, the farmer is to farm, not in the way that he thinks would pay him best and be most profitable to him, you must make it worth his while. That is the argument for guaranteed prices. On the other hand, if the State gives the guaranteed prices, we should have the right to say, at all events in emergencies and when we think necessary, that the farmers should grow what is most needed for the nation in the interests of the nation as a whole. We do not propose to exercise powers of control in any arbitrary, extreme, or absurd fashion. No doubt, during the War extraordinary powers were taken, ploughing-up orders were issued right and left, in many cases, unavoidably, mistakes were made, and we gave compensation where mistakes were made.
Now we propose a different system. We take the right to take action, first of all, if a farm is not being cultivated according to the rules of good husbandry, and I do not suppose anybody could object to that. Then we propose, secondly, that we may take action if we are satisfied that the production of food on any land can be increased in the national interest by the occupier, by an improvement or change in the manner of cultivation or using the land which is not calculated to affect injuriously the person interested in the land; and our plan is this. We do not propose to give compensation for mistakes, but we propose to give an appeal in the first instance against the ploughing-up order, or whatever it may be. The appeal would go to an arbitrator. He will decide whether the order is a sensible one or not, and whether it is likely injuriously to affect the person interested or not. If he decides it is not, the order will be made, and no compensa- 87 tion will be given; if he decides it might have an injurious effect, of course, the order will not take place, and the order will not be carried out pending the consideration of the question. Our object is this. We are embarking on a permanent policy. We do not want to have mistakes made, we want the matter to be fully and carefully considered. We do not want to embark upon a policy to change the cultivation which is going to do more harm, from the point of view of production, than good in the national interest. Therefore, every precaution is taken to see that any such order is carefully considered first. Once enacted, we do not propose to give compensation afterwards.
In the third place—and this is new—we propose to take action against an owner who does not carry out such repairs as are required for the proper cultivation of the farm. That particular proposal has been met with a good deal of criticism. It has been thought that we propose to compel the erection of new buildings, unnecessary buildings, and so forth, but that is not the case. It is simply a question of doing repairs, in the full meaning of the word "repairs," of existing equipment, buildings, whatever it may be, which are necessary for the proper cultivation of the farm. An order may be made upon an owner. If he does not carry it out, then the tenant may be authorised to carry out the repairs himself, and when he has carried them out he can recover the cost from the owner, or else, if that cannot be done immediately, a charge can be made upon the land. I venture to say in the interests of proper cultivation that that is a perfectly reasonable proposal, and nobody can defend the owner who does not carry out such repairs of farms as are necessary for proper cultivation. Those are roughly the proposals with regard to Part I. I now come to Part II of the Bill.
§ Mr. TOWNLEY
How do you propose to provide buildings, if you require the ploughing-up of grass land?
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I cannot go into all the details, but I am prepared to deal with that in Committee. Now I come to the second part, which deals with the question of the amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Acts. We do not propose anything in the nature of fixity of tenure, but we proceed upon the lines of 88 security of capital, because we believe security of capital will in its results lead to a great deal of practical security of tenure, and also we believe it is fair to the farmer who sinks his money in his farm, and the main provision of this part of the Bill is to be found in the Clauses which deal with what is called compensation for disturbance. Compensation for disturbance is found in the Act of 1908 and in the subsequent amending Act of 1914, but it is small in amount, and it does not apply in very many cases. We propose that that compensation for disturbance shall be greatly widened, both in its incidence and also in its amount. We propose that in every case where a tenant is given notice to quit for any reason, except that he is actually in default for not paying his rent, or farming badly, or something of that sort—and, of course, those questions will be decided by an impartial arbitrator—we propose that in every single case, except that, there shall be compensation for disturbance, and that compensation for disturbance shall be very substantial in amount. It shall amount to any loss or expense directly attributable to the quitting of the holding, with an addition of one year's rent. That is the proposal.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
My hon. Friend mentions capricious disturbance. I was dealing with the ordinary case where an owner gives notice to his tenant because he wants to farm himself, or where the county council buys for the purpose of small holdings; in all such cases, the compensation I have mentioned—any loss or expenditure directly attributable to the quitting of his holding, and one year's rent—will be given. But there is capricious disturbance. There is disturbance for reasons inconsistent with good estate management. I am glad to say it does not often happen. There are cases where tenants have been turned out for perfectly ridiculous and unjustifiable reasons, but I think there are very few such cases indeed, and by the old landlords I should say practically none. But we are dealing with new landowners, and we are dealing with the land speculator, who does not want to cultivate at all, who wants to buy and sell again with vacant possession, and that gentleman is doing a great deal of harm, and is inflict- 89 ing the very gravest injustice on many most deserving tenant farmers. In cases where the disturbance is capricious, and, where it is contrary to good estate management, where we should say it was thoroughly unjustifiable, in those cases the arbitrator may give, not only loss or expense directly attributable to the quitting, but as much as four years' rent in addition, which you may regard, if you like, as a penalty, but which, at all events, will make it a very expensive operation capriciously to evict a tenant.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
The security which the farmer has is that, first of all, most people would hesitate before turning him out, and, in the second place, he would walk off with a considerable sum of money, and very likely get a better farm than he had before. Let me proceed to the further point. It must be quite clear that this particular proposal would raise a difficulty where a landlord wished reasonably to increase a rent. That is a position of affairs which is very likely to arise, and, in fact, is arising every day. One of the great difficulties of farming in this country to-day is that the greater part of England is under-rented. Rents were brought down during bad times, and they have never been put up, and the reason for these extensive sales which have done so much harm in many respects, is largely because England is under-rented; and if we are to get the farms properly equipped, it is most desirable that the rents should be put up to an economic level. It would be most undesirable that, if a landlord puts up a rent reasonably and notice to quit is given, he should have to pay compensation. We propose, therefore, that he should not have to pay compensation for disturbance, if, in the opinion of an arbitrator, rent is reasonably raised, and if he is prepared to go to arbitration on the question. The converse will also be true. If a tenant farmer claims a reduction of rent, and the landlord refuses, and refuses to go to arbitration, and the arbitrator holds that the claim was a reasonable one, and as a result the tenant gives notice, then, though the tenant gives notice, the landlord will have to pay compensation for disturbance because he refused a reasonable reduction of rent.
90 So far I have been dealing with compensation for disturbance, but now I will come to compensation for improvements. The House will bear in mind that at the present time permanent improvements cannot be carried out by a tenant without leave from the landlord. That is to say, if permanent improvements, other than drainage, are carried out, the tenant cannot get compensation for them unless the consent of the landlord has been obtained. What is the result of that? In most cases no trouble arises, but there are cases where consent to permanent improvements is unreasonably refused. We propose that the County Agricultural Committees, which were set up in accordance with the Selborne Report, by an Act passed last Session, shall have the right to decide whether these improvements are reasonable or not. If they say they are reasonable, they can give consent to their being executed, and if they are executed, either the landlord may do them, in which case he may charge extra rent to represent the cost of the improvements made, or else, if the tenant does them, he will have a right to claim compensation, just as if the consent of the landlord had been obtained. Another point. It has often been put to us that it is very hard on a tenant who has farmed extra well, where there has been what is called continuous good farming, where by his skill, his enterprise, his expenditure of capital and so forth, he really has raised the holding to a state of greater fertility than ever existed before, and where he has farmed better than he is compelled to do by his agreement or the custom of the country, that he is to receive nothing. So the Selborne Committee suggest, and the Bill proposes, that they should recognise continuous good farming and we do that in this Bill, and an arbitrator may award additional compensation in a case like that, where there has been continuous good farming for a period of years. So far I have been dealing with the ordinary mixed farm.
I want to say just one word about a special case that arises in some parts of our country—I mean the case of fruit growing and market gardening. There can be no doubt about it that this is a form of cultivation which it is most desirable to foster and increase. It is an intensive cultivation of the soil. You often get three crops on the land at the same time. You get your standard fruit trees, you get your bush fruit between the 91 standard trees, and the crop on the ground, probably vegetables or strawberries. It is a very high form of cultivation, making the best use of our land in certain places—I do not say all over the country—far from it, but capable undoubtedly of extension—and in some districts there has been a remarkable extension, especially in the Evesham Valley, Wisbech, the Cambridge district, and in parts of the county of Kent and elsewhere. But there is a practical difficulty. In these cases the value of the produce, the value of the fruit trees, the value of all that the tenant has put into the soil, generally equals, and in many cases exceeds, the value of the land, and the pecuniary interest, therefore, of the tenant is greater than that of the landlord. The point is that if the tenant puts all this into the land; ought he not to get full compensation for it when he quits? I think the House will agree with me that he ought. The Market Gardeners' Compensation Act, passed a few years ago, provided that in the case of all holdings which had been agreed were market gardens, the landlord would have to pay out the full value of the fruit or vegetables to the tenant on quitting. But in practice that does not work, because, owing to the very high amount of compensation claimed under that Act, very few landlords now will agree to a holding being described as a market garden. The result is either the tenant will refuse to put in this intensive cultivation, or else, if he does, he will lose his compensation, and, of course, that operates to prevent the extension of this most desirable form of cultivation all through the country. In practice, the difficulty has been got over in various ways to some extent, but not fully. The most remarkable example is what is known as the Evesham custom. The Evesham custom is this: by the agreements which are made in that part of the country, where fruit is extensively grown, a tenant undertakes, if he wants to go, to introduce a successor. If he does, the successor pays out his compensation in full, and the landlord accepts; but if the landlord refuses to accept, or if the landlord gives the tenant notice, and does not provide a successor who will pay the outgoer, then the landlord has got to pay the whole compensation himself. That practice 92 has worked extraordinarily well in the Evesham Valley, and we propose to give it legal sanction, and make it the law of the land. This will be done with the greatest amount of care and circumspection. The matter will have to be inquired into by the Agricultural Committee, and the question will have to go, if necessary, to arbitration. But we shall adopt the system, and, therefore, the landlord will either accept the nominee of the outgoer, or else he will pay the full compensation himself.
There are, of course, many other Clauses in this Bill which deal with other details, both with regard to the first Part and the second Part. I omitted to mention, in dealing with the first Part, one Clause which, I think, is of great importance, where again we have the sanction of the Selborne Committee to support us. The House is aware that, under the existing Corn Production Act, and, under the powers of D.O.R.A., which we have used up to date, we can terminate a tenancy in cases where a farm has been thoroughly badly farmed. But we think we must go further. There are cases—I am glad to say not many—where an estate has been so badly managed that the production of food has been practically stopped, or, at all events, farming operations have been badly impeded upon the whole estate. We propose in that case to take power to take over the whole estate, to put in a receiver and manager—of course, subject to appeal to the High Court—in order that we may put an end to a state of affairs which causes a scandal in the neighbourhood, and wastes a vast amount of the best land in the country.
These are the main proposals of the Bill. Of course, I realise we are dealing with a very difficult subject. I realise we are dealing with matters that in detail are highly contentious. I am not going to claim anything like verbal inspiration in every word of the Bill. I am going to ask the House, especially those members who are interested in agriculture, and know much about it, to co-operate with us to endeavour to make this Bill as good a Bill as possible. I do not propose for a single moment to take up any rigid attitude, or to say we cannot accept this Amendment or that Amendment. I can promise that I will consider every single Amendment on its merits, and try to improve the Bill 93 in every way that we can; but on the main principle, I do claim that this Bill is a big measure of constructive policy. It is the first time a serious attempt has been made by the Government to put this, our most ancient and what is still our greatest industry, in a position of permanent security. I claim that the Bill carries out in the main the recommendations of the Selborne Committee. I claim that it carries out in the spirit, and almost to the letter, every word addressed by the Prime Minister to the farmers at the Caxton Hall last October.
I claim that it endeavours to deal with the policy as a whole; the first part being dependent upon the second. The various securities to the farmer, the labourer, the State are all interdependent, and the policy must be judged as a whole. I am not going to say that this Bill will of necessity make farming prosperous. Nobody can prophesy anything of that kind. All we can do in Parliament, and as a Government, is to lay down such conditions as will give the farmer the best possible chance. As I have said before, we do not propose this merely in the interests of agriculture. The interests of agriculture are indeed very dear to our hearts; we are most anxious to do what we can to maintain our rural population. But we propose this as a measure in the interests generally of the consumers of this country, and in the interests of our great urban population, to whom it is a matter of vital importance that we should produce every ounce of food we can in this country. In 1913 we were importing £200,000,000 of foodstuffs which could be grown in this country. I do not say that by a wave of the wand we can grow all the stuff we are importing into this country, but I do say we can grow a great deal more if we give those who are interested in the land the necessary security and confidence. It is because I believe this Bill will do this, because I think that, at all events, it is a great step forward, that on behalf of my Noble Friend the Minister of Agriculture who has worked with a single eye to bring forward a Bill which will be satisfactory to everybody interested in the land, I ask the House to give this measure a Second Reading and subsequently to endeavour to make it as perfect an instrument as we can for this great industry of ours.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Not for the first time is it my very pleasant duty to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill on the lucid and eloquent terms in which he has performed his task. He has described it to us from the point of view of a real believer in it, and in a spirit of enthusiasm which has made it a delight to listen to him. If I have one word of criticism, and only one, it is this: that at the beginning of his speech he cast what he said slightly in terms of our old controversies, and argued almost as if in the years before the War this country in general would have benefited by having protection for wheat. I do not believe that. The country has several times over said they would have none of it. At any rate, in this Bill, in the method which is adopted in the matter of prices, the right hon. Gentleman avoids those old controversies, and, whatever else we may say about this Bill, we cannot say that it is going to have any effect in increasing, in any possible way, the cost of the food of the people. On the contrary, if the expectations that he has raised before us in the matter of stimulating food production are carried out, it would have, and should have, the effect of lowering the prices of a good many things which our people want to consume. Therefore, without any question of reviving old fiscal controversies, I think what we have to consider is: is there now a real case for guaranteeing minimum prices for cereals? I agree that we ought not to look at this matter chiefly from the point of view of the farmer. I quite agree this Bill ought not to be regarded as the "farmers' charter." Indeed, I go further and say that if one really tries to inquire and goes about among farmers, there are two definite lines of policy amongst them about this Bill. Chambers of agriculture and other places where they talk a good bit are still rather dominated by the older generation of men who remember the old days of the nineties, and who are desperately afraid of going back to anything like the prices of that time. They have always asked for a State guarantee for prices, and, therefore, they are going on asking for it. But there are very many of the younger generation of farmers who are not much afraid of the heavy drop in prices and do not have much expectation that the guarantees of this Bill will become operative, and are able to adapt 95 their farming to any system of world-prices. Many of these would a great deal rather prefer to have to meet world-prices and to be free from interference by the county agricultural committees, and the State officials which they are afraid of under this Bill.
The important fact to be kept in mind is that this part of the Bill guaranteeing minimum prices does not matter to the farmer as much as one might think. In the long run he can adapt himself pretty well, by using modern methods, to any system of farming. He has learned the art of adaptation in respect to systems during the War, and if world-prices drop he can ranch on large areas in grass with a minimum of labour and a minimum of arable cultivation—a method of farming which will give him the least trouble, the least anxiety, and will be just as profitable to him as any other. In many ways it would give him an easier prospect than being forced and stimulated into arable farming with the county agricultural committee always treading on his tail and the agricultural wages board constantly expecting him to pay a higher level of wages. Therefore, I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this Bill has got to be looked at, not primarily from the point of view of the farmer, but from the point of view of the State. Does the State, under this Bill, get a sufficient quid pro quo for the liability which will fall upon the taxpayer under these guaranteed prices? Of course, in anything like normal times, and in general, there are very strong arguments indeed, and I think there are in regard to this Bill—against a State subvention under any circumstances to any industry. It tends from the fact that it is on the Statute Book to make those who may benefit by it rely more on guarantees from the State than on their own unaided efforts in prosecuting their own industry in their own locality. It tends to transfer their centre of industry and influence from their own farms to the House of Commons. It, too, makes candidatures in rural districts or districts affected extremely difficult, because the question always is, "Will you, if returned, pledge yourself not only to maintain but to increase the guarantee or subvention?" or whatever it is which is offered, and you therefore get a tendency, at any rate, that the Members returned shall be 96 pledged to increase the burden put upon the taxpayer in general in the interests of the industry in particular. All that is thoroughly bad. It introduces a bad element into politics, and it is entirely foreign to the best traditions of our politics and public life.
But I cannot think that we are justified in judging this Bill at the present time wholly from that general point of view. We have got to take things as they are, and we have to take them in connection with the Government which we enjoy. We cannot change that Government for the present, so we have got to see what its existence means, and we have to act accordingly. It seems to me that the matters of great importance in deciding on this Bill are these: that we have not got a Government at the present time which can be relied upon at all to keep us out of international difficulties. We have not got a Government which is really in favour of big measures of international disarmament. We have not got a Government which is honestly trying to establish the League of Nations. Therefore, we are likely to live, for many years to come, I am afraid, in a state of wars and danger of wars. It logically follows that our home food supply does become a matter absolutely of first-class vital necessity to our people. I believe that if things had been ordered differently that element in our situation might have been absent, and we might by this time have been so sincerely and wholeheartedly a nation altogether advanced on lines of disarmament and towards the League of Nations, that one really could have put out of account, as a matter of practical politics for the future, the recurrence of great crises in relation to our food supplies. I do not think we can do that now. There is this to be said, apart from the Governments and their policies: European food supplies are undoubtedly going to be very short for some years to come. There is no real sign of the nations of Europe settling down to production. We are going to want more to eat than we can get. So far as food supplies are concerned, we must, unfortunately, regard ourselves as being still in the War period. We should be right in regarding this Bill, in part, at any rate, as a war emergency measure. From that point of view, is it the best way of dealing with the food emergency of the world, in so far as the 97 Bill is put forward as a permanent solution of the agricultural policy of this country? I think I would say, "No!" The Bill, when we examine it, is not quite as permanent as it looks. So far as these guarantees of minimum prices are concerned, it says, as the right hon. Gentleman very well told us, that Parliament, if it wishes to stop the system of guaranteeing minimum prices, has to give four years' notice.
The object of the Bill, no doubt, is mainly to try to establish arable rotation. Therefore, it seems to be fair enough that this four years' notice should be given if you intend to stop that system. I have no quarrel with the greater length of notice of which the Bill speaks. That system of guarantees will be stopped by an Order in Council passed on a petition from both Houses; therefore the agricultural industry may be inclined to think that unless another place as well as this House wishes to reverse the policy of the Bill, the Bill is permanent. If this House, at any rate, wishes to give notice to terminate the Bill, and the other place does not agree, it would presumably follow it up by with-holding supplies, which it controls, at the end of the four years, and no longer providing to make the guarantees effective. In fact, this House would have control over a continuance of the policy of guaranteeing these minimum prices. I think the agricultural industry ought to realise that unless this House is convinced that they are pulling their full weight in the national boat and in the great task facing the world in relation to the need for increasing food supplies, they may very likely have the guaranteed prices withdrawn. The House, I think, will expect another thing, and that is that this country and the rural districts of this country shall not only pull their full weight so far as food production is concerned, but shall also be made in every possible way the best place for rearing citizens, under the best possible conditions of work, healthy housing, and liberty. Granted that you must stimulate food production from the point of view of our duty to the world, and that in the Bill the House will be able to watch the success of that policy and take action accordingly, the question is, does the Bill give sufficient power for stimulating food production, and is a guarantee of maximum prices necessary as a return for the methods 98 adopted in the Bill. Clause 4 gives the county agricultural committees very considerable powers. The words that are so important are that these committees will have power to improve and to change the manner of cultivating or using the land. It will be very essential to maintain those words, and not allow them to be whittled down. Then there is the power to require repairs to be done which are necessary for cultivation. It seems to me that that is perfectly reasonable. There is another power which I welcome, and that is the power to take over mismanaged estates. The only point that can reasonably be made against this is that undoubtedly it will give a great deal of influence to the county agricultural committees, and, on the whole, I feel sure that if you are to have, and I believe it is essential that you should have, wide-powers to see that they were used, it is very much better to do it through committees which depend to some extent upon local opinion and which are composed of men who are trusted locally, who may be trusted to deal fairly between man and man, than to exercise those powers through central officials, although their work during the War has been excellent. Yet somehow they are universally distrusted by the farming community.
If you take powers to compel a man to adopt methods which will produce the greatest amount of food, I cannot get away from the fact that you must see to it that the system you require him to adopt will give prices within which he can make a living, and out of which he can pay proper rates of wages to those whom he employs. I think it will be said if you are going to guarantee prices for wheat and oats, why do you not include other things? I suppose the reply to that is that what you want is, first of all, not so much the actual production of cereals as arable cultivation. If you have once got the land under arable cultivation you can rapidly use it to get more production whether it is potatoes or cereals, and you can do this if you have the land arable whereas if it is only grass you cannot do it. I look forward to very great development of stock raising and dairying from arable land, and it would be a mistake to regard this Bill as being more in the interests of cereal production because, I think it will tend to increase production all round, and it does not matter whether it is milk, 99 butter, stock, cheese or potatoes as long as you get arable cultivation you really have a chance of production on a big scale. The idea of picking out wheat and oats is that they are an essential ingredient of every arable rotation, and you therefore take out wheat or oats as one of the essential elements of arable rotation, and you do it in the belief that it will make the arable rotation reasonably profitable and not unreasonable for the farmers to maintain.
As to the amount of the guarantees, from what I have said it is obvious that I do not think there is going to be a fall, or at any rate a very heavy fall in world prices for many years to come, and therefore I do not think we need anticipate that a heavy liability for some time is going to fall on the taxpayer in this respect, and I look upon these guarantees more as something intended to give confidence amongst farmers to create a more or less favourable atmosphere under which they may be led, and if necessity arises be driven, to increase food production more than anything else. The farmer is a much easier person to lead than to drive, and it will be easier to increase food production if there is something in the nature of these guarantees behind it.
May I refer now to a point which I made before, and that is if this Bill does get established, not only as a regrettable necessity in the time of food crisis, but as a part of our permanent agricultural policy, once you establish the principle that in return for a guarantee given by the State and received by the farmer the State has the right to interest itself in what every acre of rural England is doing, it is a necessary and desirable step to extend your interest from the agricultural to the social side of country life. The question of a rural survey, county by county, village by village, parish by parish, and estate by estate, of the social side of country life was sketched out in an introduction written by my father in the Land Report by the Committee which the present Prime Minister appointed some years before the War. The idea of that was that if the State is really to undertake the responsibility for agriculture through guaranteed prices, it will require to know not only that each acre is productive of food, but really is being used in the best way for the social life of the community, and that we shall under- 100 take the survey and establish an inquiry in each parish into questions of this kind, such as what chances there are for small men to get up to the position of a farmer from an allotment holder; to inquire whether there are unreasonable restrictions with regard to keeping pigs or poultry; to inquire whether there is any common land to help the small man; whether all the farms are in the hands of some particular family, as sometimes happens, where a labourer gets a black mark, after which he has no chance of employment in the parish; and also to inquire what opportunities there are of recretion and so on. All these things really build up social life and make existence for a free man a real pleasure and profit in a rural district. I know that the time for that is not yet; I regard this as a food emergency measure mainly, and I think those things will gradually come to the front. This Bill increases security of tenure, and if an estate is sold and the farm is not bought by the tenant, the landlord has to pay a year's rent in addition to a rather extended scale of compensation, that is, if he gives vacant possession and the man receives notice. If the farm does not continue to be occupied by the sitting tenant, the landlord will have to pay a year's rent.
§ Mr. ACLAND
That is so. I do not know how this Act dovetails in with the new Act, but the point made by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill is that in certain cases it applies where the tenancy is disturbed.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
It applies in all cases where the tenancy is terminated without the tenant being in default.
§ Mr. ACLAND
It seems that where the landlord is compelled to sell, which is so common, that will have the effect of depreciating the value of his property quite considerably by as much as 5 per cent. or whatever the land is worth. I am inclined to think that under the circumstances of this Bill that is not unreasonable, but as a part of this Bill and part of the policy in other parts of the Bill, it seems to me that if the State is going to take powers to stimulate and change the manner of cultivation it is reasonable for them to take these additional powers to give this extra security. 101 It is right, if you are going to compel a farmer to maintain or increase a certain sort of cultivation, to add a provision giving him a greater certainty than he now possesses of enjoying the results of the kind of farming that you compel him to adopt, and to say to him, "We will give you greater compensation if you are not allowed to remain in tenancy or possession of your farm." If those who represent the farmers in this House try to whittle down, in their own interests, the powers of the Agricultural Committees to control the method of farming, then in fairness to the landlord the power which this Bill takes to give compensation ought to disappear or to be whittled down also, because the farmer cannot be expected to have the jam without the powder. If this is not done, the farmer should not be asked to assent to considerable powers being taken to control and direct his cultivation.
The only other point I want to make is that before this Bill is passed, I think this House and the country will require something in the nature of a definition of what it is that the Government is driving at in the way of food production. The county committees will want to know the nature of their task, and the ordinary voters and taxpayers of this country will want to know more definitely than they know now what they are really going to get in return for their liability under this Bill. I do not believe that this measure is going to result in heavy liabilities on the taxpayer for some years to come, but it does contain a guarantee to make up the price of wheat and oats to a definite standard, which will be worked out every year by experts. What are we going to get for that? Is it going to be simply requiring a man to keep down nettles and thistles? Does it mean that you are going to take action in regard to these few things in different parts of the country, where an estate is badly managed? If so, the people may well say, "The game is not worth the candle; we are not going to get any improvement in production, and we do not see why we should spend this extra money." There is really, for some years to come, every sign of a European or world food shortage. The right hon. Gentleman stated the difficulties in regard to Argentina and other places, and that we are determined that the arable area shall be maintained at a certain 102 pitch, and that, at any rate, there will be some external standard by which to judge of the success of the policy of guaranteed minimum prices. We had to watch what the counties did in regard to a big Bill passed affecting agricultural holdings. We had to judge whether they were doing their best, and it was the present Prime Minister who was the chief advocate for more ginger to be applied to those counties which were not doing their best. We want something in the nature of defining what the "bit" is which the Minister of Agriculture expects the counties of England to do. This thing is a bargain, and I think, in the long run, the nation will only make this bargain a permanent part of its agricultural policy if it is convinced it is getting value in methods of food production and in the amount of food produced. For that purpose we really do need to have at distinctly defined stages periodical careful reports as to the way in which the different authorities are carrying out their task, such as we had in regard to the Small Holdings Act and such as we now desire to have in respect of allotments and other matters. In conclusion, I may say that I shall not be here when the Vote is taken on the Second reading of the Bill. But I should not vote against the Second reading if there is a well-defined, definite degree of food production fixed which the nation may expect in return for the guarantees which it is called upon to give. But unless there is that definition it will be extremely difficult for me and my friends to vote for further stages of the Bill.
§ Captain FITZROY
In view of what took place this afternoon, and the consequently altered position in regard to the allocation of Parliamentary time, I hope we may have an assurance from the responsible Minister in charge of this Bill that we shall have another day on which to debate this Motion for its Second Reading. In the few remarks I propose to make this afternoon I speak entirely on my own responsibility. I do not claim to represent anybody but myself, as the agricultural Members of this House with whom I am accustomed to associate myself have not had sufficient time or opportunity to get together to consider this Bill and to crystallise their views for or against its various details. In the remarks I pro- 103 pose to make I shall deal very generally with the Bill, and not go into questions of detail. I think the Government have made a great mistake in delaying until what I may call the last moment the introduction of this Bill. They have thereby lost a great opportunity. Political memories, indeed, the memories of all, are notoriously short; but had the Government taken the great opportunity which arose as soon as possible after the War was over, they would have taken advantage of the public feeling with regard to the supply of food grown in this country, and thus have had an opportunity which I am afraid they will never get again. I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Ministry of Agriculture on the Treasury Bench in the remarks he made with regard to the origin of this Bill. No doubt, the difficulties which confronted us at the time of the submarine menace brought home, as nothing else could have done, to the Government, the dangers which we were living under as a result of having neglected the agricultural industry in this country for a generation, thereby reducing the food supplies of the country to the smallest possible proportion. No doubt that is the origin of the Bill.
The only way in which we can contemplate the Bill is to see whether we think it will, if it becomes an Act of Parliament in its present form, be likely to increase the food production of this country. That is the only way to look at this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman did say that the Bill should not be looked upon as a farmer's charter, as it was a national Bill to meet national needs. That is really the only point from which one can consider it, and if we consider it in that way we can only consider it from the point of view whether it will achieve the results at which we are aiming. I will go so far as to say this, that, as far as I understand the Bill, and I speak for myself only on this point, if it passes into law in its present form I do not think it will have the slightest effect on increasing the food supply of this country. On the contrary, it will have an exactly opposite effect by creating a general feeling of uncertainty throughout the whole agricultural population, and therefore I welcome the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman 104 that he will very favourably consider any Amendments which are proposed to this Bill. I should have liked him to go even further than that, and to assure us definitely that he will accept drastic Amendments. As far as I am concerned, unless he will do so, I cannot promise him my support of this Bill on the Third Reading stage.
The principles underlying this Bill are perfectly sound. Those principles are four in number. First, there is the guaranteed minimum price; then there is the principle of the guaranteed wage; thirdly, there is the principle that the country will be secure of good cultivation; and, finally, there is the proposal to give greater security for the capital of those engaged in the industry. If we can be quite sure that those four principles will really be carried out in the provisions of this Bill, I think we might be content to believe that it will do something to put agriculture on a sound footing and to increase the food supply of this country. But, as far as I can understand it, none of these four principles will be secured by this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech this afternoon, spoke of "the farmer." I should like to ask him what he meant by "the farmer"? Does he only mean the tenant farmer, or does he mean the farmer who is owner as well as occupier? I think this Bill carries on its face too much of the hall mark of the National Farmers' Union. I do not want to speak in any derogatory way of that body—very far from it. I have the greatest respect for it. I have had many dealings with it. It is, however, a society set up for their own protection and their own advantage.
But under the conditions under which agriculture has been carried on during recent years, a change has taken place in the direction that there are many more owner-occupiers of land, and, as far as I can see, the owning-occupier of land under this Bill get no advantage and no security whatever. There are proposals by which the tenant farmer may get his repairs done for him at someone else's expense, but what about the owner-occupier? He is just as important to the production of food in this country as is the tenant farmer. The right hon. Gentleman seems to forget that in agriculture there are three distinct classes engaged in the industry. There is the owner, there is 105 the occupier and there is labour. The class considered most in this Bill, the one that as a matter of fact if you look at the question from a fundamentally sound point of view is the least necessary for the industry as a whole, is the tenant farmer. Look at the history of agriculture during the worst times through which it passed at the end of last century. How was it kept going? It was not by the tenant farmer. He had his rent reduced to pretty well nothing at all. There were many owners of considerable estates who had to occupy their whole estates and to farm their own land. The people who carried on agriculture in those bad times were the owners and the labourers of this country. Those are the two classes which are given the least consideration in the whole of this Bill. Unless some further consideration is given to them, I am convinced that the Bill will do harm, and will lead to less production in this country by giving less security than is the case now.
Let us consider the question of the guaranteed minimum price. I do not pretend to know upon what basis the prices suggested in the Bill are laid down. They are taken from the Report of the Royal Commission which was set up to consider this question, but, after a very careful reading of the Royal Commission's Report, I cannot make out on what ground the price of 68s. for a quarter of wheat is fixed. Certainly the majority of the Commission, who made that Report, did not give any reasons for it themselves. It is obvious that, if that were, the minimum price fixed under this Bill, it could not have the effect of inducing any farmer to cultivate one single more acre of wheat than he cultivates now, and I doubt very much whether it will induce him to keep in arable cultivation that which he is now growing. What about the agricultural labourer? Does anyone suppose that wages in this country are going down to any great extent, and does anyone wish it? I do not know of any class of the community that is anxious in the near future to lower the wages of the agricultural labourer; but what is to be the position of the patriotic agriculturist who is asked to increase the food production of this country, if wheat should go down to anything like the minimum price, and he is called upon to pay the wages which now exist? It is true that there is an attempt to set up a parity between wages 106 and prices, and that it is said that the minimum price is to be fixed upon the cost of production, which, naturally, includes wages. How does that provision of the Bill affect the labourer? He is given no security that he will be paid a wage at all. You give him security that he will be paid a minimum wage when he is in employment, but you give him no security that he will receive any employment at all.
I do not pretend to criticise the methods of those who specially claim to be looking after the interests of the agricultural labourer. I should be the last to attempt in any way to tell them what is their business. It seem to me, however, that the result of this kind of legislation, making permanent the Wages Board, if it operates in the manner in which it is operating now, will be that in the very near future the question will not be one of getting wages, but of getting employment. The only way in which agriculture can be carried on at the present time is by employing the fewest possible men of the highest possible skill. In cultivating a large arable farm, a farmer used to have, say, 20 horses, and to employ 10 men. In the future he will have 2 horses for doing a certain amount of carting, and he will keep two highly-skilled mechanics to do his ploughing with a tractor. The result will be that there will be three men employed where there were ten before. That is all very well for the farmer, but I cannot see that it is to the advantage of the agricultural labourer. In this Bill we are promised four years' notice of any cessation of the minimum price, but we are not told that, when the minimum price comes to an end, the Wages Board will come to an end at the same time. It is obvious that, if the Wages Board continues when there is no minimum price, a large number of men will be put out of employment in agriculture. I do not think that that is to the advantage of the agricultural labourers of this country, and for that reason I do not see that this Bill gives them any security whatsoever. We are told that the Bill gives the country—that it to say, the taxpayer, who may be called upon should the minimum price come into operation—security that the land shall be properly cultivated. It is very desirable that, if the taxpayer is called upon to contribute to the minimum guaranteed price, 107 some guarantee should be set up by which it can be ensured that the land is properly cultivated, that is to say, to ensure good husbandry. As the Bill stands, it not only claims to ensure good husbandry, but it claims the right to dictate to the farmer the methods by which he shall bring about that good husbandry—what crops he shall grow. You cannot make any man in this country, whether he be a farmer or anyone else, carry out a definite form of operation in a certain way by coercion, and for that reason I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance that that part of the Bill will be dropped, and that any compulsion that may be put upon the cultivator of the soil will be confined to the question of good husbandry, and will not extend to the methods under which he carries on his cultivation.
So far I have been dealing with Part I. of the Bill. Part II. deals with the question of giving greater security to the capital of the tenant farmer. Several remarks have been made, I think by both the speakers who have preceded me, as to the fact that up to the present, on good estates, farmers have had all the security they require. On good estates, I think, that is undoubtedly the fact. No landowner, as far as I am aware, has ever either dismissed or wished to dismiss any good farmer from his estate, and I should be very much surprised if an authentic case of that kind could be given. I make no complaint that further security is given in this Bill, because I do not think that any landlord who manages his estate in a proper manner would suffer in the least from any of the provisions in Part II. of this Bill. To my mind, however, that is not the point. If we want to increase food production in this country, if we want to carry on the agricultural industry in the best possible manner for the good of the country, and to increase its production, it is not so much a question whether the good landowner would be benefited by the Bill or not. What we want to do is to attract fresh capital to the land. At the present time nothing is more necessary to promote good husbandry in this country than the attraction of capital. Agriculture has been suffering all through the last 50 years because no one has been, shall I say, foolish enough to put more capital into it than there 108 already was. We want fresh and more capital put into the land, so as to improve the farming position and produce more food. Does anyone suppose that the kind of regulations that are contained in Part II. of the Bill is going to make anyone put money in agricultural land as an investment? It seems to me that it will have exactly the opposite effect, and that, if this Bill becomes law, anyone considering the investment of any money they might have would say, "At any rate, I am not going to invest in agricultural land, because I am not master in my own house, and have no real security. I am at the beck and call of some Committee which is set up in the county to dictate to me the methods by which I am to manage my estate." I have no particular complaint to make about Agricultural Committees. No doubt some are good, and some are bad, as is the case with all bodies made up in a similar way. I question very much, however, whether it is to the interest of agriculture in this country that so many and such large powers should be put into the hands of Agricultural Committees, unless the safeguards against their abusing those powers are made very secure. In cases where they can dictate to landowners as to what some people may consider to be improvements, but which may not be considered by others to be improvements, their decision should be subject to an appeal to some other authority. Unless this Bill be amended in the directions I have indicated, we are, I repeat, running the risk, if it is passed into law in its present form, of defeating the very objects we have in view, and of stopping the food production of this country instead of increasing it. I am certain that, as this Bill stands, it will not result in one single extra acre of land being put under arable cultivation, and I am pretty sure that the process, which is, unfortunately, going on now all over the country, of putting recently ploughed up land down to grass, will continue. That is being done now, under present conditions, with a pretty high price for wheat, and with that experience I think we ought to be very careful that we do not encourage the taking of more land out of arable cultivation. I know that there are those in this country who hold the view that, in this industry as well 109 as in other industries, the cure for all evils is some form of nationalisation. I am pretty convinced that the people who put forward that remedy have not a very clear idea in their own minds as to what nationalisation means, and have a still less clear idea of what it would mean if it were put into operation. I do not mean to say this Bill is nationalisation, but there are elements of bureaucracy in it which at any rate tend in that direction, and I verily believe that it is this playing with the fringe of nationalisation in all these various different directions which is really responsible for a great many of the troubles from which we are at present suffering, and I do not want that to creep into agriculture as it has done into other industries.
With regard to prices, it is quite easy in such an industry as the railway industry to put up wages to any extent and promptly to put up fares. How long that will go on I do not know. It cannot go on for ever because people are getting to travel less and therefore it may defeat itself in that way. But railways have a monopoly. Railway transport must go on, and you are not competing with any foreign country. It is the same with coal. They can put up the cost of production and you put it on to the consumer. You cannot do that with agriculture. You cannot apply the fringe of nationalisation to agriculture. You have to compete with the whole world, and our difficulty is that on the one side you have an industrial population clamouring for cheap food and on the other side an industry which cannot provide it under those conditions. And while we all want to give the agricultural labourer a good wage and see no reason at all why he of all the workers of the country should be sweated in order to provide cheap food, in other industries sweating will not be allowed. You will not allow the railways to be sweated in order to provide cheap trips to Blackpool. Why should you allow the agricultural labourer to be sweated to provide cheap food for the same people. It is one and the same thing. The only thing is that in the one case you have no competition whereas in agriculture you have the competition of the whole world. Therefore under these conditions you must to a certain extent have some other means of bringing about the result, that is by interference with the industry—by setting up an uneconomic system of guaranteed prices, 110 and guaranteed wages. For the first time this Bill sets up a parity between cost of production and guaranteed prices. But let us be very careful that in doing that we do not set up a bureaucratic machinery which paralyses initiative in the industry and prevents private enterprise doing what it can. I hope before the Debate comes to a conclusion we shall be given an assurance that the Government are prepared not only to consider sympathetically but drastically to amend the Bill in several directions, otherwise I cannot promise my support to the Third Reading.
§ Mr. W. R. SMITH
It is with some amount of hesitation that one rises to take part in the Debate, if only because of the very complex nature of the subject. But its importance, perhaps, is an additional reason why an endeavour should be made to express opinions from the different points of view. There is, perhaps, one point upon which there will be general agreement, and that is the fact that it is a question of very great importance to the country, and we on these Benches recognise most fully how important this question is to the country as a whole. From the purely Labour point of view the past condition of industry has been very black. It has been the one industry in the country which has stood out, so far as low wages are concerned and the bad conditions under which men have to live connected with the industry, and therefore naturally we feel that if anything can be done towards changing the conditions and putting the industry upon a footing which will ensure to the labourer conditions of life that harmonise with his responsibilities this House will be engaged upon a very useful task in bringing that state of things into existence. But I am not sure that the Bill is going to take us very far in that direction. One recognises that there must be prosperity in the industry for any section in connection with it to have any standing worth speaking of, and I feel that the principles upon which the Bill is founded are not of a character which are going to permanently improve the industry in the way the promoters seem to think. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Fitzroy) touched upon the question of land nationalisation and warned us of the dangers which might be concealed within that term, but one cannot help thinking that if a Bill of this description 111 is needed, which seems to recognise the great importance of the land to the nation, whereby we have to establish such elaborate machinery in order to determine the particular relationships of those associated with it because of its importance, one fails to understand why land should remain in private ownership as against the principle of public ownership and control. If land is so important, if agriculture is an industry which should cause such grave concern, if national interest is to be the basis from which we approach the subject, surely the land itself ought to be under the control of the nation in order that its use might be determined upon lines that follow and completely meet the national interest. Therefore I cannot conceive how it is possible to go on for any length of time dealing with the problem of agriculture if it is going to be viewed from the standpoint of national interest unless the nation gets control of the land which is essential for the industry. I was somewhat surprised that the right hon. gentleman (Sir A. Boscawen) made very little reference to the recent Royal Commission. He seems to base the various features of the Bill upon a previous inquiry, although it is rather significant that the figures, so far as the guarantee is concerned, are taken from the Majority Report of the recent Royal Commission. I wonder whether the absence of any definite reference to that Commission is due to the fact that it never was intended to serve any useful purpose when it was appointed.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
Any omission there may have been on my part to refer to the Commission was quite unintentional. On the contrary, in my view and that of the Government, the Commission served a most useful purpose. First, it supplied us with the figures, which we adopted precisely as they are; and secondly, it suggested the plan of varying the guaranteed prices according to the cost of production from year to year, and I wish to pay my tribute to that most important contribution made by the Majority Report of the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. SMITH
I am glad to know that the Government takes that Commission seriously. But as one who had the privilege of serving upon it I have never been persuaded that it received from the Government the treatment it deserved. 112 There was great delay in fixing it up, and then, after members had accepted the invitation extended to them the terms of reference were altered without any consultation with any one of the members composing the Commission—and that is not the usual method, I hope, of treating these bodies—and then the Commission was rushed along in its work because it was urged that the matter was of such great importance that an early pronouncement was essential. The Commission when it commenced its duties was fully under the impression that it had to determine whether the principle of guarantees should or should not become the policy of the country. Had the Commission been left free to determine that point, guarantees would not have formed part of its recommendations.
§ Mr. SMITH
If the hon. Member feels that I am stating anything contrary to the facts he will have an opportunity later of correcting me. I know as a positive fact that one member of the Commission told the President of the Board of Agriculture that if it had been an open question for them to determine he would not have signed the Report in favour of the principle of guarantees. Other members of the Commission definitely stated that the policy had been decided by the Government and all they had to do was to accept it and fill in the details. The statements were made by members of the Commission in the discussions that took place leading up to the drafting of the Report. If that Commission had been left free to determine, on the evidence that came before it, whether or not guarantees should form the policy for the future, the majority of the Commission would undoubtedly have recommended against the policy of guarantees.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SMITH
Therefore one is rather concerned to know exactly what has prompted the Government to continue this policy, because, after all, it is a policy that they have the responsibility for and not the Royal Commission. We are told the cause of anxiety at the moment lies in the fact that land is being put down to grass and reference has been made at 113 different times to the fact that much of the land which was ploughed up during the War has gone back to grass. That was inevitable having regard to the fact that much of the land that was ploughed up never ought to have been ploughed up, although the orders were made. It was land entirely unsuited for arable cultivation, and was bound to fail. Merely because from the practical point of view of agriculture that land is now reverting to grass is no argument to bring forward to-day as evidence that the industry is in any sort of decay or needs the methods of this Bill by which it can be propped up. Reference has been made to the large number of acres that were ploughed up during the War. It is known to every person who sat on the various Agricultural Committees, or at least to a very large proportion of them, that the principle upon which they operated in regard to the breaking up of land was not the suitability of the land, but rather the basis that every farmer should do something in that particular respect, and land that might have been ploughed was allowed to go by while land that never ought to have been ploughed was broken up, with the result that it must inevitably revert to grass at a very early period. That was stated in evidence by a number of witnesses who came before the Commission, and, therefore, in itself it cannot be taken as a substantial reason for saying that the industry is needing in any way the props that are sought to be given to it by this Bill.
We are told that another reason why this land is reverting to grass is because the farmer has no confidence in the future; that he does not consider he is justified in continuing in his industry in the way he would like, because of the absence of any security or conditions which enable him to meet the future with any amount of confidence. There was no evidence brought before us on the Commission which would warrant that contention. It is true that farmers argued in favour of a substantial guarantee, but when they were asked to produce their balance sheets in order that the position might be properly and adequately tested they refused to do so. There is one particular farmer in this country whose name was mentioned to me as one who had kept accounts for years, and that if he gave evidence before the Commission he would 114 be only too willing to submit his accounts whereby he could test the whole question from the practical point of view. He came before the Commission as a witness, but the only figures he produced were figures from one side of the ledger—figures of costs. When I asked him if he would produce the other side in order that we might test the position, he absolutely refused to do it, and stated that the position had been so abnormal during the past two years that to produce his balance sheet would not be a fair position to be put in. At least, we ought to have had that knowledge. It is not unfair for us to ask for both sides of the balance sheet to be presented if we are to be able to express a proper opinion upon the matters affected thereby. When we come to witnesses who are in a position to do it and who admit that they have kept accounts for a period of years, and fairly accurately kept them, they refuse to submit a balance sheet whereby we could test the position from the standpoint as to whether or not agriculture was a remunerative industry or whether it was likely to continue one. We found in the evidence that farmers preferred to pay income tax on double rent rather than on their profits, even where they kept accounts. In one instance a farmer was prepared to pay income tax on the basis of £1,200, although he denied that he made £1,000 profit. In his figures it was shown that on 66 acres of wheat he cleared clearly a profit of £346. With evidence of that description it is difficult for anyone to say that agriculture as an industry has reached such a stage that it is necessary to subsidise it in the way provided by this Bill.
There is another test that we can apply so far as the prosperity of the industry is concerned. I know it is very difficult to prove these matters, but there are general indications which can be taken. A great deal of land has been sold during the past two years. It has fetched abnormally high prices, and in a very large measure it has been purchased by the farmers themselves. Where men are prepared to invest the whole of their capital in land it shows, not a lack of confidence, but a very great confidence in the future. One gentleman, well-known in the agricultural world, told us that he had sold thousands of acres of land, and that 90 per cent. of it had been bought by the farmers. This obtains all over the 115 country, in practically every county. We have been informed by the daily Press of farmers holding up sales until they received an assurance that they would have a chance of buying their own farms. If that is correct, and I suggest that it is, it does not show a very clear indication that they have any lack of confidence so far as the future is concerned. There is another aspect of the case. A society, well-known to Members of this House, the Agricultural Organisation Society, has for one of its objects the securing of land for small-holders and returned ex-service men, and if the records of that society are referred to, I believe it will be found that they have the greatest difficulty in getting land. Whilst farmers on the one hand are arguing that they are farming at a loss, they are not prepared to surrender the land in order that other men might have a chance of cultivating it. Consequently, this society, through its representatives, has come in contact with opposition in that respect.
I am not convinced that guarantees in the way suggested are a right and proper basis on which to re-establish agriculture. How is the guarantee contained in this Bill going to affect land that will not produce more than three-quarters of wheat per acre? Does anyone suggest that it is going to bring any more land under wheat because of the security we are going to give to the farmers? If the aim and object of the Bill is to increase food production, the representative of the Government ought to show how it is to take place, and how it is going to bring a measure of prosperity to the industry. The possibility of production varies considerably as between soils. One witness gave evidence that he had some land which produced nine quarters of wheat per acre, and other land which only produced 2¼ quarters per acre. How are you going to adjust the position between these different classes of land? How are you going to make it possible for land of that description to come into arable cultivation as a result of the guarantee in this Bill? Look at it how I will, I cannot see how this proposed guarantee is going to bring into cultivation, so far as wheat production is concerned, a single acre more than is cultivated at the present moment. I do not see where the security comes in in that respect. We were told, in respect of some land, that to grow 116 wheat upon it they would want a guarantee of 100s. Another witness told us that with 75s. he could pay existing wages and make a very good profit for himself. Therefore, further evidence is needed, in order to show that this principle is going to produce the results that are aimed at.
One of my objections to the principle of the guarantee is that it provides no incentive for better methods in agriculture. It will be better for us as a nation instead of approaching this question of food production from the standpoint of this Bill, if we approach it from the standpoint of trying to get a higher return per acre of the land. I am astounded that in a Bill which we are told is a permanent measure so far as policy is concerned, there is no reference to agricultural education, research, transport, co-operation, or the abolition or reform of the game laws. All these are matters which have a very distinct bearing upon the industry of agriculture, and yet in a permanent measure there is no reference to any one of them, although I believe I am correct in saying that in other countries where they are concerned with food production these are aspects to which they have turned their attention in more recent years, by improved educational facilities, by research work, by organisation, and by the better marketing of produce when it is produced. Witnesses told us that produce was wasted to a very large extent by the absence of adequate transport, and I have been told recently of cases where through the lack of organisation in the marketing of produce, strawberries grown within two miles of a town in Kent are carted to that town, railed to London, bought in Covent Garden by a retailer from that same town in Kent, and they are then carted to the station, railed back to Maidstone and sold there.
§ Mr. SMITH
Yes, there is no doubt about it. It seems lamentable that at this time of day we are failing to concentrate our minds upon these questions, and that instead of paying proper atten- 117 tion to educational research, organisation and co-operation we are pretending to help the industry by establishing this principle of guarantees which will not bring a single acre into cultivation nor add a single quarter to the wheat production of the country. A further fact was this in regard to those strawberries to which I have referred. They were retailed two days after they were gathered, in a condition that made the grower of them ashamed of them, and the price I am told nearly made him weep. You have middlemen coming in. In agriculture particularly you ought to see that the middlemen are eliminated as far as possible. Every county market town to-day keeps going a large number of agents, auctioneers and dealers, all living on the industry, and to-day, when we ought to be applying our mind to some method of organising the industry, not merely in producing the food that is wanted, but in distributing it to the consumer, without too many people intervening—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or too many inspectors!"]—I quite agree. That is one of my objections to this Bill. I cannot conceive how farming can be carried on according to order, but I cannot see how you can have grants unless you have something of that sort. The two things more or less go together. If the nation is going to pay its money to those who cultivate the soil, then it must have some measure of control over this public expenditure, but I cannot conceive how it is possible for the land of this country to be cultivated by inspectors—that is what it will mean in the final result. You may form your county committees. They will be composed of busy men. The mere fact that a man has been prominent in agricultural matters in the county will be a reason for choosing him, but he will not be able to give a great deal of time to deal with these matters, and the final factor will be the wishes of the officials. I do not believe that farming can be carried on with, or that farmers will tolerate, the position of having to cultivate their land according to what they are told by the inspector. I believe that we ought to insist on the rules of good husbandry, which is another matter. Once the form of cultivation has been determined, then in the national interest it is quite right to insist on that form of cultivation being carried out. But here is another point, and how far is this Bill 118 going to deal with it? One of the witnesses connected with the Department who had a great deal to do with the investigations carried on in the country during the War told us that there was an enormous amount of second-class farming. How are you going to alter that by this Bill? If a man shows that he is making a reasonable attempt to farm his land and not neglecting it in any way that permits the restrictive Clauses to become operative you can do nothing with him. It would be far better at present that we should be doing something towards improving the class of farming from another standpoint and helping the industry in a fashion that will not put clogs upon it.
If there ever was a time when we want to give agriculture a chance and when conditions permit this being done, it is now. The right hon. Gentleman in moving the Second Reading told us that there is no wheat coming from Russia or from Hungary, and that in the Argentine restrictions on the export of wheat are being imposed. That means that the price of corn must keep up, and during those years when prices are going to be high is the very time when you ought to be able to develop a system of agriculture upon educational lines and possibly upon lines which are self-supporting, by co-operation and things of that description. Other countries are developing upon those lines. I was surprised at some figures in this respect. In Prussia, with a population one-ninth smaller than our country, there were 5,664 teachers of various kinds for agriculture in 1,227 district establishments. These are the official figures for 1914. The United States is a new country compared with our own with not perhaps the same kind of problem, and yet we find them applying themselves to this question of agricultural education.
§ Mr. SMITH
It seems to me to be absolutely inadequate for what is wanted. It is far better to develop upon those lines and on lines in harmony with them than on the lines contained in this Bill. In 1906 the United States spent £2,000,000 on agricultural education and research. In 1907 they had 4,000 students in agricultural colleges; in 1908 they had 10,000, and in 1914 they had 69,000 students and 6,317 instructors at 69 colleges, and, whether as the result of this work or not 119 I do not know, but according to the official returns of the production of wheat the yield of wheat increased from 14.5 to 45.9 per cent. up to the issue of the 1908 report. If these other countries find it so necessary to pay so much attention to this question of education, research work, organisation, co-operation and all that educational work that goes on, we cannot escape the same lines of procedure. It is rather strange that in a Bill which lays down a permanent policy there is no reference whatever to these questions so far as the future is concerned. With regard to artificial manures, is the Government able to assure us that the by-products of some of our biggest industries are being developed to the fullest extent? I have been informed that in the industry of gas production it is possible to produce the enormous quantity of potash. At any rate, I think we ought to know whether the by-products of some of our greatest industries cannot be used to help agriculture, and if we can get these artificials here it will be a distinct advantage as against importing them from other countries. I want to know whether we have a system of research going on which is developing to the fullest extent the resources of the country whereby the industry can be helped in this way?
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I do not want to interrupt, but I must explain, when I am asked why these matters as to agricultural education are left out of this Bill, that the reason is that the work is being done without the necessity of putting them into this Bill. If my hon. Friend had been present during the discussion on the agricultural estimates, he would have realised that we are row spending a very large sum of money by administrative action on agricultural education and research, and that it is quite unnecessary to put these matters into this Bill.
§ Mr. SMITH
It may be possible that I am to blame for not being fully acquainted with all that was considered on the Agricultural Estimates, but I suggest that there is at this moment no adequate provision for developing education and research upon the lines which I am suggesting now. What I feel in regard to the Bill is that the principle of guarantees upon which the whole thing 120 rests is a most insecure basis for the industry. At best it can be termed a political basis subject to alteration from the political situation of the country and change in the near future, and is it possible that the industry as a whole will feel any real security in a basis which is purely political and liable to be changed following a General Election or something of that description? What we ought to aim at is to give industry an economic basis. It has been said that the rents should go up to an economic level under a Bill that has not got a sound economic basis. If the Bill will achieve what is claimed for it, you are going to make agriculture prosperous on the basis of State subsidies, and upon that basis you are going to establish future economic rent. That is not sound, because once you have succeeded in doing that and getting the rent of the land higher, you have recreated your problem and the majority of the guarantees and rents that suffice to-day will have to be arranged upon an entirely different basis.
Some of the people connected with agriculture claim that the average profit per acre is not more than 10s. It is easy to imagine 10s. an acre going on to the rent of the land as a result of the industry being bolstered up in this way. If that takes place, where is the security there? You have got the whole problem over again, and up goes your guarantees and up goes your rent again, and there is no end to the process. The right hon. Gentleman may say the rent does not enter into this question, but you cannot ignore it. You may claim that it is not to be a factor taken into consideration so far as the adjustment of the guarantee is concerned; but once your guarantee fails to have this effect it ceases to serve the purpose for which it is established and you have got to adjust it. Otherwise it serves no useful purpose. Therefore, if in the development of the industry land goes up as a result of this system of guarantee, you are not solving the question of agricultural prosperity. You are merely carrying the problem to a higher level. It is because I believe that it fails completely in that respect that I regret, so far as I am concerned, that I cannot support this measure. I would have liked to see the matter approached from another standpoint to secure the 121 industry by developing a system of transport and offering all the assistance on the lines which I have indicated. It seems to me to be quite right that we should provide assistance of a character that the industry cannot provide for itself, and which ought to be national in its aspect. I believe that if we approach the subject from the point of view of developing education, from the point of view of organisation, of co-operation, of improved transport and of the reform or the abolition of the game laws, and review the question of local taxation, we shall do better. I notice right hon. and hon. Gentlemen smile at my reference to the game laws, but it is the fact that some farmers say those laws are a very big handicap to them in their business, and after all, it is inconsistent to urge upon the country the necessity of a greater production of food if at the same time you allow the produce to be destroyed by game. If we apply ourselves to those lines of development, I believe we could help the industry. It would be possible, in the first place, to increase the production per acre, and, secondly, we could effect economy in marketing produce and in the purchase of the implements and materials necessary, and ultimately we could lead up to the elimination of all those middlemen who now come between those who produce and those who consume. The Bill fails completely to help the industry in the way that the right hon. Gentleman has claimed, and I regret that I cannot support it.
§ Colonel Sir ARTHUR HOLBROOK
I understand that the main obect of this Bill is to put this country in a position to supply a larger proportion of its own food than it was able to supply during the recent war. That seems to be the main issue before us. I believe that the main principles of the Bill will be generally approved when hon. Members appreciate what they mean. Landowners will be called upon to give encouragement to good husbandry, and at the same time they will have a remedy against the farmer who makes no effort to cultivate his land efficiently. The farmer gets legislative sanction to security of tenure, and full compensation in case of disturbance. The labourers get Government recognition of the Agricultural Wages Board as a permanent institution. I was rather surprised to see that in some directions this 122 Bill has been referred to as the Farmers' Charter. I think the address given at Reading last week by the Noble Lord (Lord Lee) who is Minister of Agriculture, must have dissipated that suggestion. The Noble Lord made it clear that when put into operation the Bill will be as advantageous to the consumer in urban districts as it will be to the farmer. It seems to me that the Bill gives evenhanded justice all round. In the past the farmer has been very much handicapped. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading gave us a historical record showing the way in which agriculture gradually receded in this country during the years 1860 to 1879. That was because the farmer was faced with foreign competition, and, the market being flooded with foreign wheat, he was unable to make any profit out of his home-grown wheat. In those days, in my recollection, there was a great agitation in this country for some subsidy to enable the farmer to grow his wheat at a profit, but at that time the farmers were not bold enough. They were very lethargic and took no action to push their own interests, and those of us who tried on the platform to arouse some sort of public feeling in the matter could never create an atmosphere, because the farmers would not combine, and, as has been said, did not trust each other. Now the farmers have formed a union, and are alive to the importance of combination.
I think that the proposed guarantee giving farmers some security to produce wheat will have a very sound effect in increasing the acreage under arable cultivation. That, at any rate, is the opinion of all the farmers in the large agricultural division which I represent. The main feature of their demand struck me as being that they should have some guarantee that while they may not make a large profit they should at any rate be guaranteed against loss. In dealing with the question of the supply of national food—it is a national question—surely no one can dispute the fact that the farmer is entitled to ask for that guarantee in order that he can produce our food without loss. The difficulty in the past has been that we have given too much encouragement to the importation of foreign flour. There is nothing in the Bill in regard to the importation of wheat, as opposed to flour. I am told that it is much easier to tranship wheat, 123 that is the grain, than to tranship flour, because the space occupied is not so large. You get this advantage, that if you import wheat you restore an industry which is almost dead. When I was a boy one found in almost every village a thriving man, the miller. He does not exist to-day, because the constant importation of flour has destroyed the industry. If we imported wheat and could get it ground in this country we should have the benefit of the offal, and that would give us a greater supply of food for pigs, and at any rate we might get rid of one curse, American bacon. There are plenty of people who would be very glad to take up pig-breeding if they were encouraged in some way.
While I recognise that the fixed minimum price established under the Bill is intended to secure the farmer against loss, there does not seem to be any guarantee that the price will be fixed on a par with the market value of the same quality of imported wheat. The farmer wants to be protected in some way or other against the large quantity of wheat imported from abroad, which practically pushes him out of the market. I quite agree with the observations of the hon. Member who spoke from the Labour Benches (Mr. Smith) as to the importance of effecting improvements in marketing methods. I suppose the House is aware that in almost every county in England to-day there are being formed associations of farming interests, which I hope will enable the farmers to get their goods to market on a better system. While that is true, we must look for some better support from the Minister of Transport in regard to the conveyance of produce. We have been told over and over again that cheaper facilities would be afforded for the transport of agricultural produce, but nothing has been done so far. During the War there were lines of light railways which were of great value in agricultural districts. These were torn up and the rails and materials sent abroad. These railways are not being relaid, and the result is that hundreds of acres of arable land are passing out of cultivation because the people have no means of getting their produce to market. That is a subject which might have been dealt with in this Bill. The provision that the farmer must have 124 12 months' notice to terminate a tenancy is fair, and removes a very great grievance, but I see no provision to deal with the requirement that the tenant must give notice in writing within two months of receiving notice to quit or forfeit his claim to compensation. That has been a burning question in many districts. Thousands of farmers have been displaced from their holdings, and in many cases the fact that they are not lawyers and are not careful in some details of their organisation has caused them to fail in regard to the notice and has deprived them of any claim to compensation. I think that that might be considered in connection with this Bill. There have been many cases of great injustice to the tenant owing to non-compliance with this Regulation.
The Bill gives an incentive to good farming, but it also confers on the Government the right to interfere in the conduct of a man's business. I think that requires very serious consideration. The appointment of this Agricultural Committee which has to decide whether or not the farmer is cultivating his land according to the proper system, seems to me to raise a very difficult and dangerous position. It is true that the farmer has the right of appeal to an arbitrator, but it is conceivable that the man who is farming the land knows better than anyone can tell him what he can get out of his land, and if you bring in outsiders, who are not acquainted with the actual conditions under which a man is working, it is conceivable that both the Committee and the arbitrator may decide that he is wrong, while all the time the farmer may be perfectly right. I think there should be some precise definition given to the phrase "national interest," which seems to be the governing factor in guiding the Committee. The improvement of transport to which I have referred is most important in connection with market garden produce. I was on Salisbury Plain during the five years of the War, and there we had great difficulty in getting vegetables and fruit into our camps. It so happened that I was in a position to assist with transport, and in the small district to the north of Salisbury Plain we were able to organise by a system of village helpers the collection of market produce and fruit from the various market gardens and allotment holders in the vicinity, and we paid as much as £800 125 or £900 per week to those small people for produce which otherwise would have been wasted. Would it not be possible in this Bill to bring in some scheme for the collection of this garden produce and fruit of the smaller growers. Every allotment holder and market gardener grows a great deal more than he is able to get into the markets owing to the want of transport facilities. If we could organise some way by which all that could be carried to market, it would be an immense saving to the nation and would go a long way to assist in the present shortage of food.
With regard to the agricultural labourer, I think that the scheme which is put forward under the Agricultural Wages Board for giving the labourer a living wage is quite sound, but it has to be borne in mind that whilst the labourer gets full consideration, the fact that he is drawing these high wages must be considered in fixing the price of wheat. I am not at all sure whether a system of limiting the hours of the agricultural labourer in any way is sound. I have found in consultation with farmers in the district which I represent that the limitation of an eight hours' day for agricultural labourers would be disastrous in many cases. A cowman, for instance, told me it would be impossible to confine his day to eight hours. He had to milk in the morning and again in the evening, and if he were limited to an eight hours' day and another man had to deal with the cow in the evening, who was going to be responsible in case anything went wrong? The labourers recognise that. Therefore I think that the agricultural labourer should be kept outside all this legislation as regards hours. I do not know if it is necessary, but if it is there should be some provision releasing agriculture from the provisions of a Bill of this kind. Generally, I think that the farming interest, and the landowners, farmers and labourers generally, will approve of the Bill as an honest effort on the part of the Government to do something to promote the interests of agriculture. For that reason I hope the House will give the Bill a Second reading, and that any Amendments will be such as not to interfere with the scheme for assisting the progress of agriculture in this country.
§ Mr. J. GARDINER
I desire to speak from the point of view of a tenant farmer, as I happen, as far as I know, to be the 126 only tenant farmer in the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I endeavoured as far as possible to find out the accuracy of that statement before I made it, and if it be wrong I withdraw it, and am delighted to know that there are so many tenant farmers in the House. At any rate, we want to approach this subject, not from the point of view of the landlord or the tenant farmer or the labourer, but from the national point of view. Although I have been a tenant farmer all my life, and hope to die one, and have been so without the purchase of any land, I want to say, so far as the landlords are concerned, the fine old aristocratic landlords we have had in Scotland, I have no complaint to make. I found them to be perfect gentlemen and, so far as they were able, ready to consider on every possible occasion any complaint or difference which came between themselves and their tenants. Looking at this whole problem, surely it is the duty of the House, irrespective of party, to do its best to procure a Bill satisfactory to the country and likely to bring about the desired results. I presume that the most important thing to be considered is how to procure the greatest amount of foodstuff in this country. The ideal, of course, would be that Great Britain and Ireland should produce sufficient cereals to meet the requirements of the people in the country. Some people will say that is absurd and a dream beyond any chance of realisation. I am not quite so sure about that. If you take the acreage under cultivation in the year 1871, and if you remember that there were then none of the modern appliances for producing additional foodstuffs, I have always had the dream, though I hope it may become an actual fact, that if the land of this country was intensively cultivated and every acre of it possible was put under crop, we might be able to produce such a quantity of foodstuffs as would surprise those who have been pessimistic on this subject in the past. This is a Bill which is supposed to materialise the promise made by the Prime Minister at the Caxton Hall meeting, where he said:There are two cases in which the farmer and the labourer stand in need of protection. The first is where the farm is sold over his head to another landowner and where the new man may either want it himself or want to sell it or make money out of it. Therefore it is proposed he should be secured in his tenancy unless the land is 127 sold either for public purposes or that a case can be made out for his being a bad cultivator. The second is the case where notice to quit is given in order to raise the rent. What is proposed is when notice of that kind is given the tenancy shall not be affected, but the new rent shall be fixed either by agreement between the parties or, failing agreement, by an arbitrator appointed for the purpose.7.0 P.M.
I do not think that the Bill fulfils the promise in the letter and in the spirit. I quite frankly admit that Part 2 is helpful in this direction, but it is not security of tenure and the expression "fixity of tenure" has never, so far as I am aware, been advocated by any person, whether tenant or landlord. Nobody desires fixity of tenure. What is wanted is security of tenure with certain conditions attached. The Bill itself is complex and difficult, and to the ordinary agriculturist its interpretation is exceedingly difficult. The Agricultural Holdings Act, which was called, as this Bill is called wrongly also, the "Farmers' Charter," provided certain compensation for unexhausted improvements, but I think that for every £1 paid to farmers for claims of that kind some thing like £1,000 went to lawyers for legal expenses. It led simply to a crop of litigation, and I fear this Bill will continue in its steps. The agriculturists of the country wanted something far more simple. One hon. Gentleman said that this Bill had too much of the National Farmers' Union flavour about it. I am speaking more from the Scottish than the English point of view. The complaint of the Scottish Farmers' Union and of the other organised bodies which represent labour in Scotland is on the very opposite lines, namely, that they were not consulted about the Bill, and had no opportunity of indicating what their desires were, and therefore they can be in no way responsible for any portion of the Bill. I think I am speaking correctly the sentiments of the Scottish National Farmers' Union when I say that they have no desire for Part I. of the Bill. The only thing they ask is security of tenure without guarantee, and they are perfectly willing, as I understand, as individuals, to run the risk of anything that may come to agriculture in the days ahead, but many of these men desire to look at this, not only from their own point of view, but from the national point of view. They say that if the Government consider it is absolutely 128 necessary that every acre of land that ought to be cultivated should be under the plough and producing foodstuffs, and if that is the policy, and they say they want to protect the country from any possibility of shortage in the future, then rather than imperil the supply of foodstuffs they would accept the first portion of the Bill, not because they desire it themselves or love it, but in the national interest. In regard to Part II., if it is to be accepted and supported by the House and the country, it must be very materially strengthened. It is quite true we hear about compensation at the rate of one year's rent and the possibility of it being at the rate of four years' rent. Having read the Bill carefully, I think there are quite a number of loopholes which would enable the avoidance of any such award. Therefore, in Committee we must be very careful what is done to make the position absolutely clear and distinct.
Some of the omissions from the Bill are rather remarkable. In the Bill there is, for the first time, a reference to the fact that some estates are not properly managed and administered, and I am going to couple with that the other side, and that is that many of the farmers do not cultivate the land in the best possible way either. If there are landlords who neglect their duties, there are also tenant farmers who do the same. I am exceedingly glad that on these two points the Bill does give some remedy, and I look for an improvement in this direction in the future. Take the case of a landlord who, through stress of circumstances, is reduced financially. It is a sad case, and we feel for that man. His family has been in possession, it may be, for centuries, but he gets to the place where he has got no money. Have you seen such an estate? I am sure I have. As the money was not available, practically there was a deterioration of buildings, fences, drains, everything that was essential to the cultivation of the land in the best possible way, and the landowner himself got poorer, the tenant farmers got poorer and were in a poorer position to pay the agricultural labourers, and all round it was a pitiful exhibition. However hard it may be for such a man to give up being the proprietor of such an estate, for his own sake, I think, as well as in the national interests, the Bill makes it possible that that man should be dealt 129 with. In Scotland, speaking generally, the cultivation is more advanced than it is in England generally. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I admit that, so far as certain portions of England are concerned, which are practically the Garden of Eden, nothing better could be desired than the cultivation there attained, but there are great areas of England that are not so cultivated, and the proof of that is in the quantity of grassland that you have lying in this country uncultivated, when it ought to be under the plough. Even in Scotland, we have many farmers who have not cultivated as they should do, and they should not be retained in the occupancy of the land.
The Bill in these two cases is a helpful Bill, and should in the future do considerable good, but is it in the interests of the country, a country where the land is exceedingly limited in extent, that so much land should be possessed by one proprietor? It may be that the land is in different parts of the country, one estate far away from another, and it is under the management of what we in Scotland call a factor and what you in England, I believe, call an agent. There is one Noble Lord in the adjoining House who owns three or four very large estates. If you go to one of the estates, everybody connected with it will tell you that he is the nearest approach to an angel that ever lived, and if you go to another of his estates, they will say he is just as near a devil as it is possible for a man to be. The whole secret is that he has so much land that he is not able personally to give it the attention and supervision that the ownership of land in these days demands, and the man who is administering in each case is a different type of man. The owner himself, no doubt, wishes every man, either as a farmer or a farm servant, to enjoy every comfort that it is possible for them to have. I know that a great many people assert that the owning occupier—I am talking now about the one that farms and owns the land—very soon finds himself in a state of bankruptcy. I have heard that stated in this House and elsewhere, but I cannot admit it at all. My experience has been that the moment a man was able to purchase a farm and put his whole heart and soul into the business, that farm began to improve, and that the experienced agriculturists who drove along the road or travelled along the railway began immediately to discover that 130 improvements were being made there and an intensive state of cultivation that had never existed before, and I think that for the safety of this country we should have, not a few large landowners, but a multitude of occupying owners. Security of tenure, in my opinion, is not at all antagonistic to that idea. You have got the two avenues of escape, the one by purchase and the other by security of tenure.
If the ideal that I have in my mind, namely, that this Bill should be made such that it would be possible to encourage cultivation in such manner that this country of ours could produce its own cereals were attained, what about some of the other products? If you are going to guarantee wheat and oats, why not guarantee the other crops and produce of the farmer? I am assuming just now that the House accepts the principle of the Bill and agrees with Part I of the Bill. If so, why is it that such produce as potatoes, meat, milk, and other things should not be included? The foundation of all agriculture is green crop. I am speaking again more from the Scottish point of view than anything else, but I think that applies to England as well as to Scotland. The largest sum of money that is spent in relation to any portion of farming is certainly connected with potato growing, and this is the only crop that you can grow in this country to an excess. We cannot only supply all that is required, but in a favourable year we would have an immense surplus. It is also the most precarious of all crops, and you have evidence of that in the two years which have just passed. At the present moment you are suffering from a scarcity, and you do not know where to get the next lot of potatoes. They are exceedingly scarce, but last year you did not know what to do with them, and you had to compensate the men who grew them. If there is such variation in that particular crop, and if there are such wonderful possibilities, supposing there is a superabundant crop this season, it would be no impossible thing to think of potatoes going back to the old level of 50s. or 60s. per ton.
Again, if you want the foodstuffs, and if that is the national viewpoint, you have to consider that; but whether you agree with my argument or not, I do assert, without fear of contradiction from the men who really know agriculture, that 131 you are either in equity to guarantee all or to guarantee none. Individually, I do not want a guarantee; I am absolutely prepared to do without it as an individual, but, at the same time, it must in equity apply all round. Wheat is a thing we hear about constantly, but there are large tracts of the country where wheat cannot be grown. I heard an hon. Member making a very fine speech from the Labour benches, and he pointed out that there were certain places where you could not grow more than three quarters of wheat. That is absolutely true. I happen to be a farmer on a farm where that holds good, but that does not mean that we cannot grow nine quarters of oats or ten tons of potatoes per acre. If the land is not suitable for wheat, it is suitable for some other purpose, and if you are going to recompense the man with good land who is growing wheat, you must think about the man with poor land who in adverse circumstances can grow a crop sufficient for the requirements of the country. One hon. Member said that the farmers were constantly grumbling about their losses and at the same time were purchasing their farms. I am going to say to this House that if there is a farmer who knows his business who does not admit that during the last few years he has been making a profit, then either his veracity is not altogether accurate or he has been a very poor farmer.
The hon. Gentleman opposite who spoke of the lack of capital to develop the land was absolutely right. The farmers of the eighties had not two shillings to rub on each other. Those of us who can recall those days and remember the condition of the farm labourer and of the farmer would never wish our friends to pass through such a period again, and I understand the object of this Bill is to make such an experience impossible, and therefore I welcome the intention of the Bill. Whether it will bring about what it intends to do or not remains to be seen. Farmers now are not only desirous of putting their brains and their money into the business and developing the land in the highest possible way, but many of them are anxious to purchase their holdings, and this would be one solution at least of the whole question. Are you in this Bill making it easier for amicable arrangements to come into being between the parties interested, or are you not? I 132 would like to see the possibility of litigation eliminated as far as possible from this Bill, and mutual arrangements that are so beneficial fostered as much as possible. The three parties connected with agriculture are the landlords, the farmers, and the farm labourers. We have heard about the wages board and about the guarantee of wages. In my experience, and the experience of my friends in Scotland, the minimum wage has not affected us one single bit, any more than the guaranteed prices in the Corn Production Act have, and if this Bill should become law to-morrow I do not anticipate for a moment that the guarantee in the Bill will become a necessity for many years to come.
To go back once more to the three parties connected with agriculture, I will begin with the labourers and recall the facts as they were in the 'eighties and prior to the 'eighties. It is not so long ago since in parts of England the labourers' wages were anywhere from nine shillings to eleven shillings per week. It is not so long ago that in East Anglia these wages were the rule and not the exception. We do not want to go back to anything of that kind. I want to see the labourers—and again I am speaking from the Scottish point of view, because the conditions in Scotland are absolutely different so far as the labourers' houses are concerned—housed in cottages that are worthy of the class of men who work on our farms. We hear in these days about slackers, and about the fact that many of the tradesmen have set up a ca' canny policy. I am glad to assure this House that my personal experience is along a different line, and that our labourers are working as they never worked before, and are putting heart and soul into their work, and doing it well. It is quite true we are giving them substantial wages, and very much higher than the minimum wage, but a good workman is always worthy of a good wage. About the landlords, I wish them, from the bottom of my heart, well under this Bill or without the Bill, but I would like to point out that many of the men who occupy very large estates or grass lands have never lifted a finger to improve these grass lands of 200, 400 or 1,000 acres in extent. The grass has been deteriorating ever since I can recollect. I remember one particular estate where grass land let at £5 an acre when newly- 133 laid down, and has been allowed to deteriorate many years, and in pre-War days it was impossible to get 7s. 6d. an acre for it. Great tracts of land in the country are in the same condition. Surely the grass land ought to be improved as well as the arable, and I do consider that the landlord or tenant, whoever he may be, holds the land as trustee of a sacred trust in the national interest, and, whether he be a landlord or a tenant, he ought immediately to cease holding land that is not used in the national interest. I believe that the Prime Minister, when he made his Caxton Hall speech, meant every word he said. As to whether or not he has had his meaning interpreted truly in the Bill, I have very grave doubts, but, at any rate, we will wait until the Committee stage.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
I am intensely disappointed with this Bill. I had hoped the Government would have seized the opportunity to have brought in some simple, easily understandable, and effective measure for improving the production of cereals in this country, while at the same time providing a means of dealing with the difficulty caused by the establishment of a Wages Board. They have done neither. In my firm opinion not a single acre of land will be brought under cultivation by this Bill as it now stands. On the contrary, it will not even stop the diminution of arable land that is now going on in this country, while at the same time I regard it as the death-knell of the tenant farmer. In saying that I do not speak on behalf of the tenant farmers. I have no authority to speak for tenant farmers, but in what I am going to say to the House I speak as a tenant farmer of many years' standing, and I speak as one who has got the farmers' interests at heart, who has made more speeches in recent years in this House in the interest of tenant farmers than almost any other Member, who, at any rate, has appreciated their difficulties, and who, with the co-operation of the hon. and gallant Member for Daventry (Captain Fitzroy) and the hon. and gallant Member for Faversham (Lieut.-Colonel Wheler), introduced the Agricultural Land Sales (Restriction of Notices to Quit) Bill, which would give more security of tenure to tenant farmers than any measure introduced in recent years. I also speak to-night as 134 a member of the Agricultural Commission, and I would like the House to understand exactly what that Commission did report. The majority reported that guarantees were essential, and that these guarantees must be on some sliding scale. A majority of that Commission reported against any interference with the farmer's initiative or power to farm his own land in his own way, and I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill why the Government have departed from that majority Report? No majority reported in favour of the figure of 68s. I personally, think it is not the right figure, and I am perfectly certain the majority of farmers—in fact all farmers—in this country are certain it is not the right figure.
Having said that, may I ask the House to consider what was the problem before the Commission, and what is the problem before the House? Owing to the establishment of the Wages Board by the Corn Production Act of 1917, the principle was first established that wages should be fixed by persons outside the business altogether, and on a basis that had no reference of any sort or kind to the selling price of the articles which the men and their employers were engaged in producing. I agree with that principle. I am firmly convinced that in no other case was a minimum wage so necessary in the interests of the farm workers and in the interests of society and production as it was in the case of farms and the agricultural industry. But it must be borne in mind that, in establishing that basis, and in the carrying out of it, wages have been raised from 19s. in 1914 to an average of 45s. 7d. for the ordinary labourer, and, I think, about 51s. 5d. for the skilled man. That does not include a further rise of 4s. which has just been contemplated, and it does not allow for the reduction of hours that has been secured by the farm-worker, because the hours have been reduced from 60 in the summer and 54 in the winter to 50 in the summer and 48 in the winter, and if, therefore, you take into account the other ten hours which the labourer does not work, you will find that, on the whole, the wages for farm-warkers have been increased on the average about 200 per cent., or to three times what they were in 1914. The first problem we had to decide on the Commission, and which has to be decided here, is, how are those wages to 135 be paid if agriculture is to continue on the lines it hitherto has done? In considering that problem we have also to consider this. I, amongst others, realise that it is essential in this country that arable production shall continue, and be increased as far as possible, first of all as a protection against starvation in time of war; secondly, it is established beyond controversy that for every 100 acres of land under arable cultivation four men are employed, whereas for every 100 acres under grass cultivation only one man is employed. Therefore, the more arable land you have cultivated in this country the greater the source from which you can recruit your Army, if you ever need to make good the wastage of war, or from which to recruit your industrial army in time of peace.
Another point which weighed very considerably with many members of the Commission, including myself, was that, in view of the serious position of the exchange, the more produce you could grow at home, the less shipping would be required to bring food here, and the greater the effect upon the exchange. I was astonished at the only other representative in this House who sat on the Commission suggesting that the issue before us was not whether guarantees should be continued, and what the guarantees should be. It is the only issue upon which we really ever came to any conclusive decision, and there was not a single witness before us—and we sat from 20 to 25 days—who ventured to say that the English farmer, if he continued to grow cereals, could pay these wages fixed by the Wages Board without a guarantee, or was likely in the future, if there came any fall in prices. Labour representatives who sat on the Commission were challenged many times to produce some expert or practical witness whose evidence could be cross-examined, as we knew at that time that Labour was opposed to guarantees, and there was not one witness called or tendered by them who came to show us in any way how these wages could be paid by a farmer unless there was a guarantee to secure him in case of a fall in prices.
The Commission therefore came to the conclusion—and rightly came to the conclusion—apart from the minority, that guaranteed prices were necessary, and 136 that the Corn Production Act should be continued. Of course, no one suggests that the Wages Board should be discontinued, and this Act continues the Wages Board. My Memorandum, which accompanies the report of the Commission, I made too long, but I was determined that townsmen who read it should thoroughly understand the agricultural position. The findings of fact therein, I think, it will be agreed, were thoroughly judicial. That being so, we were agreed, and rightly agreed—and I think the House will agree—that a flat-rate guarantee was impossible. We had to look after the interests of the taxpayer. If you gave a flat-rate guarantee and there was a sudden slump in the world prices the burden on the taxpayer might be very high. So the obvious thing was to secure the protection of the taxpayer. While I am on this point, may I digress for a moment to say that the main consideration after production was the necessary protection of the taxpayer? If you once get the right method of fixing the guarantee it will be well, because the Corn Production Act provides that the guarantee shall not be payable if there has been negligent cultivation. The Board of Agriculture and the Agricultural Committees have express power under the Corn Production Act of refusing to pay that guarantee or any part of it if they think fit and in case there has been unsatisfactory cultivation. The wages question made it difficult for us to fix a basis for the guarantee. A flat-rate was ruled out Everybody was agreed it must be ruled out, because the cost to the taxpayer might become enormous. The only alternative to that was a sliding scale that would fix the figure for each year. The right hon. Gentleman is misleading the House, I venture to say, when he suggests that he is fixing a sliding scale. He is doing no such thing. The figure is fixed by the worthy gentleman that he is going to propose shall be entrusted each year with ascertaining the cost of the growing of the wheat and the oats. I tell the House that that is an impossible proposition.
You cannot in this country find out what is the cost of growing an acre of wheat or oats. The evidence before us differed as to the cost of growing an acre of wheat from £4 16s. 5d. to £21 5s. 6d. The evidence— 137 given by respectable men, all trying to do their very best—as to the cost of a quarter of wheat varied between the figures of £1 6s. 5d. and £7 3s. 6d. I find as a fact that it is impossible to fix the average cost of growing wheat and oats in this country owing to reasons into which I shall not go at any great length. The twelve members of the Commission arrived at the figure of 68s. as being the average cost, apart from interest on capital and remuneration to the farmer—not including profit—as being the average cost for the year up to the growing harvest of 1919. I fixed 75s. for a quarter of wheat, which would give to the farmer the net cost of growing the wheat, including some remuneration for himself and the interest on his capital, but no profit. Therefore by a different process we arrived at practically the same figure. It was proved certainly that the capital involved is at least from £15 to £20 per acre at the present day. If you take interest on that at 5 per cent., at 15s. or 20s., say with 8s. to 13s. per acre for remuneration—which is only a slight remuneration—you will find that that 28s. for the four quarters of wheat, which is to be assumed the quantity grown, you get 7s., which makes the difference between the 68s. and the 75s. Therefore you may take it that in this Commission which sat for twenty-five days the majority arrived at the proper figure, as near as can be, for that particular year.
The Bill proposes that the 68s. only shall be taken as a basis, and that these worthy gentlemen are to find each year what variation there has been in the cost. That is a blind. They cannot do it. The right hon. Gentleman was asked how much was included for rent. He said, "Nothing." He is quite wrong. There was something included for rent, otherwise you would not have got the cost of an acre of wheat at all. It is true that there is a provision in his Bill that you must not add anything for variation in the increase of the rent, otherwise it would be said this Bill was endowing the landlord. There is something to be said for that. But until it is known how much of the 68s. represents rent, how are these three gentlemen who are to be appointed to tell how the figure varies? How much is allowed for labour in the 68s.? How much for the keep and hire of horses? How much for fertilisers and all the various items that go to make up the cost? There is not a single item specified, or the propor- 138 tion of it! Yet these three persons are ordered by this Bill to ascertain how much the increased cost has been and to fix a price. It cannot be done. There is not a single farmer who would have any confidence or belief in the price fixed by these three gentlemen.
Look at the matter again. The farmer starts his plans for growing wheat in February or March. The bulk of the land upon which he proposes to grow wheat is then fallow. It is sown in the autumn and grows during the following year till the harvest. It is sold between August and the following January or February. The Bill provides that these three men are to act when harvest is completed, which it is not until the end of October, and then to consider all the different items of increase on the cost during the time this wheat has been growing, so that they cannot possibly arrive at a figure till towards the end of the year or the beginning of the next year. The right hon. Gentleman really asks the House to believe that farmers will be induced to grow more wheat at a figure that they have no means of ascertaining or estimating, the price being fixed by somebody in whom they have no confidence, and nearly two years after they have taken their steps to grow their wheat.
I am not vain enough to believe or to ask the House to follow my suggestion, but I did make a suggestion in my report which was simple and which would have satisfied the farmer, because it would have given him a considerable idea of what he was going to get. One thing that was proved before us was—and I think the proof was practically satisfactory to everybody—that on a cereal-growing farm the cost of labour equals about 40 per cent. of the cost of the other outgoings; that about 40 per cent. is rent; the rates and interest on capital make up the other 20 per cent. I rule out the land and the rates, although they are likely to vary later very considerably. But the other two items are confirmed by many accounts, not only in one year, but over a series. If the labour bill is equal to and varies with the other, then if you have the initial price fixed, you can make a sliding scale which will make the price of wheat vary according to wages. I suggested, and I do how sug- 139 gest, that a very much better system would be to make the price of wheat follow the average minimum wage—the guaranteed price for a sack of wheat should be the average weekly minimum wage, and that for every shilling rise in the minimum wage there should be a 2s. rise in wheat and 1s. 6d. in the price of a quarter of oats. An old standard well known all over the east coast of England, is that the labourer's wage should be the value of a sack of wheat. That was right in the old days, and if it was adopted here it would show an improvement in the labourer's position. The actual wage is more than the minimum, and when agriculture is prosperous it is likely to be still more so, and, in addition, the labourer having ten hours less work to do for the minimum wage than in the old days, he has this ten hours, if he wishes, to augment his wages by working overtime. Agricultural statistics show that four men are employed on every hundred acres of arable land. They show that one man is employed on every hundred acres of grass land. Four men on the hundred acres with a shilling per week comes to, roughly, £10 8s. Of this hundred acres you have thirty under wheat and thirty under oats, and working that out at 2s. and 1s. 6d. you will find it gives £23. Half of this is very near the increase of wages and the other half the increase of other outgoings. The scheme I propose would have the merit of simplicity, the merit of telling the farmer exactly what he would have to pay, and letting the authorities know how much land was likely to come to under cultivation.
I should like to make one or two observations about other parts of the Bill—the provisions relating to the enforcement of cultivation or control. We have had a White Paper setting out exactly what that purports to do. I strongly protest against any attempt to force cultivation in this way. I ask all those engaged in any commercial enterprise to consider what is the power which is being given to the Board of Agriculture, who are so saturated with the powers they have exercised under D.O.R.A. that they think they have only to threaten to bring up a man and subject him to all the indignity of a police court and then they will be able to coerce the farmer. I have no hesitation in saying that cereals will 140 not be grown unless it is made profitable to the farmer to grow them, and he is not going to grow them upon the threat of the right hon. Gentleman or anybody else bringing him before the police court. The powers given to the Board of Agriculture were all right during the War, and the Agricultural Committees and everybody else did their best to get the most they could out of the land, but even then the Board of Agriculture promised to pay compensation where the farmer acted upon orders which the Board forced upon him.
What does this Bill propose? First of all, if the land is not being cultivated according to the rules of husbandry, they can fine the farmer if he does not do as they tell him. Secondly, if they think they can advise him of a system by which production can be increased by means of improvements or change in the method of cultivation or using the land, they can order the farmer to adopt their system. This power can be carried out by the Agricultural Committee, and if their order is not obeyed it can be enforced at the police court. The majority of the Agricultural Commission found that this was not a practical policy, but even if it were, is there any reason why these gentlemen who come on to the farmers' land and say, "You are to do so and so," if they make a mistake they should not pay for it? Why should the farmer suffer from orders given by the Agricultural Committee?
Lastly, the Bill gives power to determine the tenancy, and in the case of the occupying owner it gives the Board of Agriculture power to enter into possession of the land and turn out the owner, letting it to anybody else to farm it, and then the Board can walk out and leave the owner, if he wants possession to farm it again himself, and make him pay full compensation for wrongful disturbance. This provision permitting interference by the Board of Agriculture must disappear because it is unworkable, impracticable and unjust. I ask any hon. Members of this House who carry on businesses of their own, how it would be possible for them to carry on if they were constantly interefered with by committees of the County Council telling them what crops they are to grow or, if they were grocers, telling them what they were to stock and how they were to sell. Under those conditions I say there would be an end to all 141 business, and such interference would be intolerable.
My next point is in regard to the position between the landlord and the farmer. I have already stated that my sympathies are with the tenant farmer in matters of agriculture, because I regard him as the backbone of agriculture. I am convinced, if this Bill passes in its present form, that there will be no tenant farmers. I think, if Sir Howard Frank, the expert on the value of agricultural land, were consulted, his advice to owners would be, "Get the land into your own possession as soon as you can, farm it yourself, and then, if you do not want to keep it, sell it and put your money into some better investment." I think Sir Howard would agree with me that this part of the Bill reduces the value of all agricultural land in this country at least 20 per cent., and it will endanger the ownership of a great part of the agricultural land of this country, much of which is held on mortgage.
This Bill is a cruel injustice to those farmer occupiers who have been compelled to purchase their holdings, very often with borrowed money, and where the mortgages will be likely to be called in. Under this part of the Bill the landlord is bound to pay for wrongful disturbance a year's rent certain if he gives notice to his tenant for any reason except the four which have been specified. One is that he has been farming not according to the rules of good husbandry; two, that he has committed some breach of his lease or agreement and refuses to remedy it; three, that he is a bankrupt; four, because he has been called upon for an increased rent and has refused to go to arbitration. If a landowner thinks that his tenant is farming badly, according to this Act he can get rid of him without paying compensation. As a matter of fact, he cannot do so, and in no case, except one, have I ever known any jury to give a verdict that a farm has been farmed badly and not according to the custom of the country. In the only exception I know of where an opposite verdict was given, the man was not a farmer, but a speculator. No arbitrator will find that a man has been farming contrary to the practice of good husbandry. If a landlord gives notice to a farmer because of bad farming, it is more than likely that he will not only 142 have to pay one year, but more than one year, because if he goes to arbitration he will probably lose, and then he will have to pay all the costs. If it is held that it was not bad farming, then it becomes a capricious eviction, and four years' rent falls upon the landlord.
The Bill means both to good owners as well as bad living in a continual atmosphere of arbitration. If the owner gives the farmer notice there can be an arbitration. If he wishes to have a higher rent or his tenant desires a lower rent, at every two years' interval there may be a fresh arbitration. If the tenant wishes permanent repairs to be done, which are required under the first part of the section, such as the erection of silos or alterations of buildings, he can go before the agricultural committee, and the landlord can be ordered to do this work, and if he does not do it they can do it themselves and charge him with it. Lastly, the landlord is subject to a continual threat of arbitration as to alteration of rent and a threat about repairs. The tenant can go to the agricultural committee and get an order if the landlord does not do the repairs, and they can charge the landlord with them after carrying them out themselves. All through there is this continual trouble in dealing between landlord and tenant. I ask any hon. Member to say whether a state of affairs like I have described will not lead to an increased sale of agricultural properties, because people will not be content to live under such conditions and every inducement to spend money on their business or put money into the land will have disappeared.
Agriculture is a poor investment at the best of times. It is not necessary for me to say that you cannot have tenants unless you have a landlord. Supposing a tenant dies, under this Bill his executors become the tenant and the landlord will be saddled with people who never were his tenants, and he will have to pay them a year's compensation or it might be held to be capricious. Take the case of a man who has bought his own holding. If he wishes his son to have his farm, the son cannot get possession without paying anything between one and four years' compensation. I think I am quite justified in saying that the tenant farmers have not yet realised what this Bill means to them. I think the statement I made at the beginning of my observations that this 143 Bill, unless there is the most drastic alterations made in it, will not secure the addition of a single acre of arable land to the number of acres at present cultivated is quite justified, and it is a measure which places serious difficulties in the tenant farmer system of this country.
§ -8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SEDDON
I have listened carefully to the whole Debate, and if there is one point as to which there has been general unanimity, it is that we are dealing with a very serious and important question. We have had a variety of opinions expressed, to one or two of which I should like to draw attention, before dealing with the more or less friendly criticisms of the Bill itself. The hon. Member for Willing-borough (Mr. W. R. Smith), in a very able speech, tried to prove too much, and in answer to an interruption, I think he certainly did injury to the argument which he advanced. He started with a very able argument in favour of the nationalisation of the land, and then, in answer to an interruption, he began to attack this Bill because it contained provisions for inspection. Everybody knows that under nationalisation, be it good or bad, there would be inspectors in even greater number than is possible under this Bill. I had the same idea as the hon. Member, until I got into conversation with a number of New Zealand farmers. They have had this Government benevolence so far as the ownership of the land is concerned, and I would not like to repeat the language which they used on this point. They were in favour of it, until they became the victims of the inspectors. The New Zealand farmers were so inspected that they got sick to death of it, and left the country. Be that as it may, this Bill will afford an opening for inspectors, but I think that evil could be modified, and, later on, I will suggest how. In his attack on the Bill, the hon. Member said it would not bring one single acre extra under the plough, and, giving his reasons for that statement, he asserted that, under the Corn Production Act, land had been brought under cultivation which was not suitable for the growth of wheat. But the hon. Member apparently forgets that there was a period in the history of this country when the land did produce wheat sufficient for 144 24½ millions of the population. At the present time it only produces wheat for 17½ millions. Therefore the mistake has been, not that there is not land in the country suitable for cultivation, but that people have not selected the right land for operations under the Corn Production Act.
Then we had the landlords' dirge. It was a funeral chord. The last speaker joined in it with other speakers, one of whom who sits for the Daventry Division of Northamptonshire, seemed to imagine that the only people who mattered in agriculture were the landlords and the agricultural labourers. In fact the hon. and gallant Member said that in the latter part of last century the only people who kept agriculture alive in this country were the landlord and agricultural labourer. He seemed to assume that they did so as philanthropists, and as such were entitled to high appreciation for what they have done. I am not going to say a single word against the good landlord, but I do know this, that when such things were being done, they were being done for a variety of motives. Ownership of land has more than a monetary value, especially to our old feudal families. Ownership of land gives a sense of power—a sense of custodianship for the good of the country. Many landlords during the bad periods of agriculture were prepared to lose their rent so that agriculture in this country should not be entirely destroyed. There was another motive. After all human nature being what it is, and we being a sporting race, there was some value attached to the sporting rights on the land. I am not making any complaint against the sporting instincts of other people. My only regret is that I have not had the chance of deriving the same amount of pleasure as they have been able to do, so far as sport is concerned. But undoubtedly many of them did hold on to the land because of the sporting rights as well as because of the status it gave them in the country, and in claiming that they are the only people who matter the hon. Member did a great disservice to the tenant farmer. The tenant farmers of this country as a whole are a body of men of whom any country might well be proud; whether in regard to raising stock or in the cultivation of the soil, if they have not succeeded undoubtedly it has been because of the unfair competition to which they have been subjected.
§ Mr. SEDDON
I am open to correction; I thought the hon. and gallant Member said that the only people who mattered were the landlords and the labourers. Of course, I accept the correction.
§ Captain FITZROY
I said the tenant farmer was not an essential class, whereas the other two classes were essential.
§ Mr. SEDDON
If I have done the hon. and gallant Member an injustice, I am sorry. I accept his correction. Then we have had a criticism from the Front Opposition Bench, and I was wondering whether the right hon. Gentleman who indulged in it is the exponent of what remains of the Liberals who have got the tabernacle without the hosts behind it. I remember sitting on a Committee with the right hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland)—a Committee known as the Milner Committee, and on that Committee we had as great a variety of fiscal ideas as can be found in this House to-day. The right hon. Member persistently on that Committee, and consistently as well, with Lord Inchcape, who is well-known for his fiscal proclivities, and his interest in shipping, resisted the idea of a fixed minimum price for corn, and indeed viewed with very little favour the proposal for a fixed minimum wage. They signed a Minority Report, which came to the conclusion that there was no need to deal with agriculture either by means of a minimum wage or minimum price, because the Government had got the submarine menace well in hand. That Report was dated 1915. We all know what happened in 1917. There had been a change of Prime Minister, the submarine menace was not merely not in hand, but was very much out of hand, and the super-submarines had brought real peril to the people of this country, with the result that the recommendations of the Milner Committee were placed on the Statute Book in very great haste. My charge against the right hon. Member for Camborne and his colleagues who sit in this House is that they delayed for two years the operation of the Corn Production Act, and denied to agricultural labourers the minimum wage for that period. Had the Government, in 1915, with the time at their disposal, laid down proper Regulations such as the Government had to do in 1917, many of the difficulties which arose under the Corn 146 Production Act might have been avoided. So much for the critics of the Bill.
I want to say a word or two next with reference to the Bill itself. We have to admit, so far as the present position is concerned, that the War has left a legacy that we cannot avoid even if we wish to. A minimum wage cuts right across economic consistency as we understood it in pre-War days, and upsets all the Cobdenite ideas. A minimum wage has been established in the agricultural industry. It has been said, I think, on every side, that there is no desire on the part either of the farmer or of the general community that the agricultural labourer shall go back to the conditions under which he existed in pre-War days. It is now conceded, not only that the agricultural labourer was badly paid, but that his was a sweated industry. There is no place in a healthy or well-organised community for a sweated industry. no matter what it may be. Having accepted the principle of the minimum wage, and thrown to the winds all the old ideas of supply and demand, we have to ask ourselves whether farming can be made to pay without any security. I have here a copy of a speech of the Prime Minister in this House with reference to this subject. He said:You must give the farmer confidence. … He has got to think of the years ahead, otherwise he is a loser. It is no use promising him big prices for next year and then dropping him badly for the next few years. He has got before his eyes a picture of accumulated crops across the seas, ready to be dumped down in this country the moment the War is over. He says, 'Prices will break. I shall have to cut up my pasture, and I shall be done for.' He thinks of 1880 and 1890, and what happened then." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1917, Col. 1600, Vol. XC.]It has been stated that we cannot expect a break in prices this year or next year. That may or may not be true. We have heard about the bursting bins of Russia. I shall believe it when I see them, or see their contents. The recuperative power of people, however, is prodigious. You only need to read the history of great wars to find how soon people do recover when the will is behind desire. It is idle to say that it will take twenty years, or ten years, or five years; the fact is that recovery will take place some day. I can conceive the possibility of going back to pre-War conditions, and if we go back to pre-War conditions, not only will the minimum wage be in danger, but the em- 147 ployment of the agricultural labourer will go as well. We are spending a lot of money in domiciling returned soldiers upon the land. There are many agencies for training them, and I think the Government has already purchased several thousand acres for this new class of cultivators of the soil. Is it fair to the returned soldier, who is asked to go on the land, to leave the position in the future as insecure as it has been in the past? I say it is grossly unfair. The soldier who is induced to go upon the land should at least have some reasonable hope of security in the days to come. Then there is the further proposition, which has been already referred to—I strongly believe in it myself—that no nation has the elements of continuity and progress that is purely relying on an urban population. It is according to the eternal fitness of things, and is even a question of fate, that unless a nation has a strong, virile, rural population it is doomed to decay. Therefore, we have to take a larger view. I think that, notwithstanding our climate, which has not many friends in other parts of the world, we can claim that we live in an A1 country. We have had, however, a C3 population. It is one of the revelations of the War that the population of this country was declining in physique, and, if we are going to repair in the days to come that condition of affairs, I am convinced that we shall have to give careful attention to the rural population and to agriculture as a form of employment.
§ It being a Quarter past Eight of the clock, and leave having been given to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10, further Proceeding was postponed, without Question put.