§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys to be provided by Parliament of the remuneration and expenses of the Commissioners to be appointed under any Act of the present Session to amend The Corn Production Act, 1917, and the enactments relating to agricultural holdings, and of any expenses incurred by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and by any other Department in meeting payments in respect of wheat or oats of the year nineteen hundred and twenty-one or any subsequent year under Part 1. of The Corn Production Act, 1917, as amended and continued by such Act of the Present Session, and any expenses incurred by such Minister or Department or any other body under any other provision of the said Act as so amended and continued.
§ Provided that—
- (a) for the purpose of the payments aforesaid the minimum prices of any year shall not exceed such sums as bear the same proportion in the case of wheat to sixty-eight shillings per customary quarter, and in the case of oats to forty-six shillings per customary quarter, as the cost of production of the wheat and oats respectively of that year bears to the cost of the production of the wheat and oats respectively of the year nineteen hundred and nineteen and
- (b) without prejudice to the rights of any person in respect of anything done or suffered before the commencement of such Act of the present Session, compensation under Section Nine of The Corn Production Act, 1917, as amended and continued by such Act of the present Session, shall be payable only in respect of loss suffered by reason of the taking possession of land under that Section."
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of AGRICULTURE (Sir Arthur Boscawen)
I need not waste very much time in speaking myself since I have circulated a White Paper, which goes very fully into the whole subject, and in which the whole policy and commitments involved are set out with considerable elaboration. There will be no payment 1110 whatever under this Resolution in the current financial year. Whatever payments there may be will occur in subsequent financial years, and certainly not in this one. The payments involved will appear in the Vote for the Ministry of Agriculture, and will be subject therefore to the consideration of this House. The payments range themselves in two categories. First of all there are certain necessary expenses. They are very small. There may be expense involved in additional staff for the Ministry for the purpose of carrying out the guarantee and checking the totals, but we anticipate that the greater part of this work will be carried on by the Agricultural Executive Committees, and we do not think the payment under that head will be at all a large one. Then there is the payment of the Commissioners who every year after the harvest are to estimate the variations in cost of production of wheat and of oats, and consequently of the amount of the minimum guarantee from year to year. We estimate that at quite a small figure, only about £2,000 per annum, because this will not be a whole time job at all. We shall probably make use of the services of existing officials of the three Departments named and they will merely be taken off their regular work; some special work will be given them and there will be certain payments in respect of that special work, and certain costs involved in carrying it out. We put that figure at less than £2,000 a year. A bigger payment by far, if and when it arises, will be the guarantee for wheat and oats, and the earliest time at which any such payment could take place would be in April, 1922, that is to say, in the financial year 1922–3. Of course, this guarantee is an essential part of the Bill. The whole of Part l—and Part 2 really, to a large extent, is dependent upon Part 1—depends upon this system of guaranteed prices, and without this system of guaranteed prices the Bill would be meaningless and we could not proceed with it.
In the Resolution we very carefully confine the guarantees to wheat and oats. We do not include barley. I know many of my hon. Friends who represent agricultural constituencies wish to include barley. We cannot see our way to include barley. It would entail a large additional liability on the State, and, in our opinion, it is not necessary for the purposes of 1111 the Bill. The reason why we ask for this liability is that we wish to promote and increase arable cultivation—tillage—whether that tillage be used for the production of wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, or arable dairying, or any other purpose for which arable land might be used, and we hold that, if we take two crops like wheat and oats, one of which, at least, can be grown on all arable land, one of which at least is, I will not say an essential, but at all events a possible element in rotation, we accomplish the point we require, namely, obtaining greater arable cultivation, and therefore greater production, without including barley. Therefore, much as I sympathise with my hon. Friends who wish to include barley, I have not put it in this Resolution, and I could not agree; in fact, it would be out of order if I agreed to its inclusion.
With regard to the guarantees, they are necessary to the Bill. They are indeed part of the very texture and essence of the Bill. Without the guarantees the Bill would be meaningless. The policy that we have at heart would not be carried out. I wish to make it perfectly clear what the guarantees seek to do. We do not propose by them to secure the farmer a profit. It is no part of the duty of the State to guarantee a profit. What we have regard to is that in years gone by, in the eighties and the nineties, there was a tremendous break in prices, with the result that, not only did arable farmers get no profit, but they were involved in very heavy loss, and the memory of those disastrous times has lingered, and especially now, when the cost of labour is high, farmers are unwilling to embark on an enlarged programme of arable cultivation unless they are secured against those disastrous losses that overtook their predecessors in the eighties and the nineties. The object of the guarantee, therefore, is to secure them against tremendous losses, while, at the same time, giving to the farmers the opportunity of obtaining the best prices possible, which, under present conditions, rule a great deal above the guaranteed prices. Although I have said the first possible payment can take place in the financial year 1922–3, I do not anticipate that it is likely to take place then, because from all the information at our command, especially as regards 1112 wheat—I agree the question of oats is rather more speculative—there is every reason to suppose that prices will continue to rule for some time a great deal above the guaranteed prices. What is the position of the farmer? He has an opportunity of getting something like the world prices, which would be a good deal above the guaranteed prices, and there is also this guarantee, which is covered by this Resolution, that if a break in prices takes place he is secured against disastrous loss. In this connection, I would like to make an announcement which I think is of great importance. Having regard to the present situation, we are anxious to extend the production of wheat. We realise that there may be a wheat shortage all over the world, and we think it is most important that we should try to induce the farmer to sow as much wheat as possible this autumn and next spring, so far as there is any spring sowing.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I will come to that. We wish to induce the farmer to sow as much as possible, but the farmers are being deterred by the fact that they cannot get the world price, that is to say, the price of imported wheat, and the Government, in order to overcome that, have come to a new decision only yesterday. It is not proposed to make any change in the maximum price for homegrown wheat of the 1920 harvest. That will remain at 95s., as already announced.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
No, not for the 1920 crop. As regards 1921, there was a similar undertaking. That crop is the first crop with which we deal in this Bill. With regard to home-grown wheat harvested in 1921, that is, wheat sown in the coming autumn and spring, the maximum already announced, that is, 100s. per quarter of 504 lbs., will be cancelled. The effect of this will be that, so long as the import of wheat is still controlled, and the farmer is thereby deprived of the full benefit of a free market, he will receive for his home-grown wheat, of sound milling quality, harvested in 1921, an amount equal to the 1113 average, c.i.f., cost price of imported wheat of similar or comparable quality. The farmer will have the advantage of the price of imported wheat, and if there is any break in prices he will have a guarantee against serious loss provided by this Bill. What we want to do is to stimulate the production of wheat in the national interests, and I would appeal to hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies to do everything they can to get as much wheat sown as possible in the coming autumn, in order that the nation may have the advantage and the farmer may have a protection against loss.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Have we any power to fix a maximum price? Have we power under the Defence of the Realm Act?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Can he explain how he is not going to fix a minimum price? I do not see how he can do so. It has that effect.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
Certainly, there is a power under the Defence of the Realm Regulations which have not yet come to a conclusion, and some of these Regulations may be extended under the powers of the Food Controller.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
Yes, unless some other arrangement be made. But some of the restrictions may remain. I would like to deal with one or two other matters relating to this guarantee. Some hon. Members have questioned the amount of the guarantee; some think we ought not to have a guarantee at all, and others say that it is too small. If they think there should be none, they should have voted against the Second Reading, and on that occasion there was no Division. With regard to the amount, there has been misapprehension and misunderstanding. It is assumed that the maximum would be 68s. for wheat and 46s. for oats. That is the amount fixed by the Royal Commission for 1919, having regard to the cost of production. They fixed a datum line from which variations will be made from year to year as the cost 1114 of production goes up or down. I do not want to prejudge what the Commission will do or what they ought to do, but it is quite clear that what they will do will be to take particular items in order to find out the cost of production. They will take them one by one and ascertain what the variations have been. These items will, of course, include rates, manures, seeds, labour and such other various items associated with production. They will see whether these things go up or down and will take an average throughout the country. They could not deal with particular farms. Upon that they will be able to say whether the guaranteed prices should rise or fall. Without prejudging what the Commissioners may do in the future, I have had calculation made and worked out as to what the 68s. guaranteed price of wheat would amount to in this year, and the 46s. on oats. According to that calculation the guaranteed price for 1920, if there was a guaranteed price, but there is not a guaranteed price, instead of being 68s. should be something between 80s. and 85s., and instead of 46s. for oats it should be 53s. or 54s. That is a very different matter from 68s. and 46s. which have been assumed to be the guaranteed prices this year. Of course, I admit that this involves the State in considerable liability. We realise that that is so. It is part of our policy. I cannot give any estimate of the amount because I do not know what prices are going to be the rule. Several elements in the calculation are uncertain. We do not know what is going to be the cost of production, and upon that depends the guaranteed price. Certainly there is uncertainty as to the price that will rule in future years, but I have taken out certain figures for the calculation as far as I can. Assuming that the acreage for 1919 is the figure, and taking that as the basis, although it may be greatly increased, the payment under the guarantee in respect of the difference between the maximum price and the average price would be £434,000 on wheat and £1,279,000 on oats for every shilling of difference. But, as I have said, several of the elements of this are uncertain. There is not only the cost of production, but there is also the question of acreage. So that it is quite impossible to give a definite figure at this stage, or to say what 1115 might happen in future years. But what I want to say is that the House has passed this Bill on the Second Reading without a Division. It has accepted the principle of a guaranteed price, which is a principle inherent in the Bill. Part I of the Bill rests upon the guaranteed price, and there are other things, such as the continuance of the Agricultural Wages Board and the control of cultivation, which also depend upon the guarantee. I think that the House, having passed the Second Reading, must feel bound to pass this Resolution, and that on that basis its justification is quite easy to find. It is the policy of the House thus accepted and the policy of the Government to stimulate arable cultivation and to increase production, especially the production of wheat, indeed of all foodstuffs in this country. We can do that only by giving this guarantee. We do not want the farmer to embark upon this extra risk and expense without some protection or inducement. It will mean greater cost and trouble, because every farmer knows that the cost of running a grass farm is much less and gives less trouble. The cost of labour is also less than on arable land, and that cost at present is high. If we want the farmer to increase cultivation in the national interest we have to give him this guarantee. It is, in fact, a sort of State insurance for the purpose of seeing that the land of the country is put to the best possible cultivation. On all these grounds I ask the Committee to carry this Resolution. I have only gone into the matter very briefly, but I shall be prepared to answer any questions.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The Government's position with regard to this Bill is clearly defined. They are in favour of a subsidy to agriculture. Some of us who listened to the Second Reading Debate on the Bill take a different view. I consider that this Bill ought to have been divided into three parts—one dealing with the question of subsidy, the other with wages, and the other with such questions as fixity of tenure and compensation. That I am not discussing now, but I wanted to explain in one short sentence why it was technically difficult to vote against the Second Reading of a Bill which included many things of which many of us are in favour. This, however, is a Financial Resolution, which raises the issue in a much more clearly defined manner, because money is 1116 required for the purely protective purpose of subsidising agriculture in this country, and on that point I myself and many others of us have a quite clear view, and we intend to oppose this Resolution. My right hon. Friend, in the remarks he made to the Committee encouraging us to vote for this Motion, said he had supplied us with a White Paper which did away with the necessity for him to make a long speech. In the course of his speech he made one or two comments upon this White Paper. Before I give my own reasons for opposing this Resolution, I should like to deal with those comments. He pointed out that there is no payment in the current financial year, and apparently tries to suggest that the fact that we are committing ourselves to nothing this year is a substantial reason why we should commit the country to expenditure in future years; that it was not going to touch our particular pockets this year, and that that was a sufficient reason for glossing over this particular Resolution which may establish quite firmly a protective scheme in this country. He pointed out that the bulk of the work would be done by the agricultural committees, and that the expenditure would not, therefore, be large. He put it at under £2,000. That expenditure of £2,000 is explained on page 4 of the memorandum—It is not anticipated that the total expenditure in any year for the remuneration and expenses of the Commissioners will exceed £2,000.We have heard that story before. My right hon. Friend opposite, in dealing with this very question of corn production, when we were discussing the Supplementary Estimates for this year on the 9th March, pointed out, with regard to an expenditure of £105,500, that nearly £10,000 of that was due to extra costs in connection with the Corn Production Act. We now have the same story given to us as when that was brought before the Committee, but when we come to meet the bills we have been accustomed to discover great discrepancies between the Estimate as made by the Minister and the actual amount we are called upon to pay. Then my right hon. Friend pointed out that the larger part of the money required is for a guarantee for wheat and oats, and that it did not include barley. He did not tell us that the Agricultural Commission recommended the inclusion 1117 of barley. I am going to suggest that if he makes out a case for wheat and oats, he must obviously defend, as he will be called upon to do, the exclusion of barley and a great many other things in which the agricultural community are interested, and I suggest that his partial explanation was not sufficient to cover this particular point. Then he pointed out that the guarantee did not seek to secure a profit for the farmer. There is one simple question that might be addressed to my right hon. Friend, to which, I daresay, the Committee will be glad to have a direct answer: Can he give the Committee any evidence at all of any single practical farmer saying that as a result of this Bill he will plough up an extra single acre of land? If he will look at his own White Paper, he will see a significant fact in the figures dealing with wheat. In the year 1914–15, the first year of the War, he will find the acreage under wheat was 2,333,354 acres, and, despite all the encouragement and all the grants to the farming industry inside that time, by 1919 there were only 2,370,367 acres under wheat.
§ Mr. HOGGE
In 1918 there were 2,793,049, an increase of less than half a million acres on 1915. My right hon. Friend shakes his head. He might do a little sum in arithmetic. One figure is 2,300,000, the other 2,700,000. The difference is inside half a million. That is in spite of all that has been promised to the farmer. 1918 was the year in which the War closed, and immediately the War ended, down dropped the acreage by nearly the same figure as the increase between 1915 and 1918.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My right hon. Friend interjects that the reason is that they had no effective guarantee. In reply to that, there is the obvious retort that they had the Corn Production Act of my right hon. Friend's Government. If that was not an effective guarantee, then it shows that the Government are ineffective in their efforts to protect the farmer.
§ Mr. HOGGE
It shows that the Government measure has been a failure. That is all that that proves, and I am quite willing 1118 that my right hon. Friend should have that point, free, gratis, and for nothing, in view of the reiteration from that Bench that this is the only competent Government for dealing with the affairs of this country, and that in them resides all the wisdom by which these things can be determined. Now we see that the Corn Production Act was so ineffective that it explains the decrease in this acreage between the years 1918 and 1919. I think I have covered the points made by my right hon. Friend in his supplementary remarks to his White Paper. My position is quite clear, and I can state it quite briefly. I object entirely, I do not mean entirely, but strongly and definitely, to any policy of guarantee at all, and I object strongly to this guarantee being made to the farmers, because, amongst other things, of the demands from other industries that it will lead to. In Scotland you are going to have a crisis in the herring industry. The herring fleet, which consists of some 700 to 800 boats, with 7 to 8 men for each boat—a male population of between 7,000 and 8,000—are refusing to catch fish, to hunt the herring, unless the Government will guarantee a minimum price. I say deliberately that this policy, by which everybody is attempting to secure themselves at the expense of the whole community, ought to stop. It not only applies to agriculture and the fishing industry, it applies all round to these demands that we have for increased wages, one trade against another. Everybody seems to have his hand in his neighbour's pocket, and, so far as the conditions of industry are concerned at the present moment, we are becoming a nation, one might almost say, of pickpockets. What we do not realise is that all this money, all this subsidy given by Governments, has to be paid by the ordinary taxpayer, and that it is coming out of large sections of the community who cannot afford to pay it, and that the burden upon that section of the community is becoming absolutely intolerable. If it is said one must give a sufficient reason for not according a guarantee to the farmer, my answer is that the farming industry is doing extremely well at the moment. Agriculture in this country was never doing better. Agriculture is making huge profits. Everybody who moves about the country in touch with the agricultural industry knows the difference in the social status of the 1119 average farmer in this country. I have noticed it, and so have other members of the community, and it is ridiculous to suggest that the farming community of this country require this kind of inducement to grow food. It is a monstrous theory that there is a particular industry in the country that will not do its obvious duty unless it is given financial support by the Government. Agriculture is in a much more favoured position than any other industry. Agriculture does not have anything to do with the Excess Profits Duty.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I was not talking about maximum prices. I am pointing out what has not been denied, that there is no liability to Excess Profits Duty in the agricultural industry, and I am also reminding hon. Members of the great opposition to the Excess Profits Duty as a tax upon industry and as a restriction upon the energy and vitality of business men in the ordinary industries of the country. Agriculture does not suffer from that, and these farmers are therefore in a favoured position. My further point is this; if this liability is incurred under the guarantee, it may come at a time when the taxpayer is in a less effective position to meet it. In that connection the Committee will remember that my right hon. Friend gave a new Cabinet decision with regard to the maximum prices in 1921. The White Paper says:The Government have already announced that after the harvest of 1920 British wheat will be saleable at the same price as the average monthly c.i.f. cost of imported wheat, subject to a maximum of 95s. per customary quarter for wheat harvested in 1920, and a maximum of 100s. per customary quarter for wheat harvested in 1921, if control continues so long.My right hon. Friend says the Cabinet have altered that and that he has cancelled the 100s. for the wheat harvested in 1921 and that he substitutes for that an amount equal to the average c.i.f. cost of imported wheat. That is to say, the British farmer will be able to take the same price as could be obtained by the c.i.f. imported wheat at a date in 1921.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
As long as the import of wheat is still controlled and the farmer is thereby deprived of the benefit of a free market he will receive for home- 1120 grown wheat harvested in 1921 of sound milling quality an amount equal to the average c.i.f. cost price of imported wheat or of similar comparable quality.
§ Mr. HOGGE
You substitute for the maximum price of 100s. this c.i.f. which means that the farmer gets it both ways. If the c.i.f. imported wheat price is higher than 100s. he gets that. If the price in this country were the price of a free market in this country he would not get that, but he would get his 100s. maximum, so that he is sure of the 100s. and he may take the alternative of a c.i.f. price which may be higher. There again, you give the farming indusry in this country, as against the average taxpayer, a privilege which I as an ordinary taxpayer who represents a large urban ocmmunity think they have no particular right to get. I do not believe in pledging the credit of the taxpayer without knowledge of the economic situation in which we may be. This money is being averaged as at April, 1922, but it is only 1920, and we have to consider what is going to be the graduation from this artificial prosperity in which we find ourselves to the slump in employment and in business which will come in those years, and also to what we are committing the taxpayers of the country. I object to that strongly. My fourth and last reason for opposing this Resolution is that it means, in spite of what my right hon. Friend says, the employment of a large horde of officials for inspection purposes. I know my right hon. Friend has tried to minimise that by giving us certain figures, but if he remembers his own supplementary figures which we debated in March, he will find under sub-head (a) that we spent £10,000 on the Corn Production Act, £30,000 on temporary clerical staff, and £46,000 on additional war bonuses; over £100,000 for a purpose which I have heard hon. Members, with whom I seldom agree, say is not necessary. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman), whom I should imagine will take a different view from myself every time on a question of this kind, said that that inspection was absolutely unnecessary. He saidFrom the agricultural point of view I, for one, attach very little value to the minimum price, and to put inspectors on to discover whether or not the State was likely to be liable to pay this minimum price is unnecessary.1121 That is the statement of an authority with whom my hon. Friends opposite agree, and with whom I disagree on question of principle. I am not making a party point but a financial point when I say that this expenditure to which we are committing ourselves, and this power which we are giving to the Ministry of Agriculture, does inevitably mean the appointment of a large number of officials who will be a drain on public money. For this reason I object strongly to this financial Resolution, and also on the grounds which I have urged against it, and those of us who are opposed to the protection of a particular industry in this country will have an opportunity to give a clear vote on a subject which cannot be misconstrued.
§ Captain FITZROY
The hon. Member who has just spoken, if he has done nothing else, has shown us quite clearly that legislation of some kind is necessary to increase the food production of this country. He quoted figures at some length to show that under the conditions which now prevail the amount of wheat grown in this country since 1918 has considerably fallen. Therefore, that leads me to suggest that the Government is perfectly right in introducing legislation now and trying to make it law as soon as possible in order to remedy the lamentable condition of things which now prevails. I agree, and I stated so on the Second Reading, that the Bill as now introduced will not bring about the results which are desired; but the announcement which the right hon. Gentleman has made to-day with regard to the de-control of the maximum price in the near future has, at any rate, so far as regards Clauses 1 and 2 considerably altered my opinion in that respect. I do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman does not tell us that the Government will remove the control for this year's harvest as well as the 1921 harvest. The average farmer would be much more satisfied if control was removed at once, and if he was able to get on the harvest which will be gathered this autumn whatever the world's price may happen to be at the time. In the White Paper which has been issued explaining this Resolution we are given figures of the average world price for a statutory quarter of wheat at the present time, and the average comes out, I think, I am right in saying, at about 1122 100s. a quarter. The control price for this year's harvest is 95s. and the difference appears to me to be so small from the Government's point of view that they are more likely to get wheat sown this autumn by de-control of the price for this year's harvest and that it is well worth their while making an announcement now, instead of deferring de-control until the harvest of 1921.
The hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) finds fault with the guaranteed price on principle. I am very much inclined to agree with him that guaranteed prices or subsidies are very bad things in themselves, but, unfortunately, we have already embarked upon that slippery slope, not only with regard to agriculture, but with regard to other industries and it is very difficult to turn back. Once you embark on the dangerous ground of interfering with economic laws, you land yourselves in all sorts of difficulties. The hon. Member suggested that we were leading the way in this respect. On the contrary, we are only following others. This interference with economic laws has been started with regard to the railway service and with regard to coal mining. As regards the railway service, that is a service the wages of which very much affect the wages of agricultural labours, and it is very difficult for us not to be influenced by what has been done in that direction. My hon. Friend seemed to forget and to ignore the necessity for this Bill, which is the increased food production of this country. It is not a measure for the benefit of farmers. It is a national Bill for the benefit of the nation, to try to increase the food supply of the country, and when in the same breadth the hon. Member told us that during the last three years the number of quarters of wheat which had been grown have declined by something like 600,000, surely that in itself is evidence enough that something is required to stimulate food production in this country. Who is interested in this financial resolution and in establishing a system of guaranteed prices? First of all the nation, secondly, the labourers, not the farmer. If the hon. Member would read the Interim Report of the Royal Commission when dealing with this question of guaranteed prices he will find that they quote the evidence put before them, and in paragraph 19 they say:A considerable body of evidence given by farmers went to show that in the opinion 1123 of many of them no measure for assisting the farming industry by means of guaranteed prices for cereals is necessary solely in the interests of farmers themselves.They go on, quite rightly, to say that the farmer has changed his method of husbandry so as to make his farming pay. He can lay his land down to grass and get just as much profit out of it with the expenditure of a great deal less capital than would be necessary in turning it into arable cultivation. It is not a farmer's question at all. It is purely a measure to effect an increase in the food supply of the country. The method of guaranteed prices may be economically unsound, but no other method of increasing the food supply of the country that I know of can be suggested. There is no other method which will give that confidence to the agricultural community to invest their capital and alter their methods of cultivation, short of guaranteed minimum prices, if the world's markets go down as they were before the War.
As regards labour, you have upset ordinary economic laws by establishing wage boards. Of what value is a wage board to an industry unless by some means you guarantee a price which will enable the wages when established to be paid? The natural corollary of a wage board must be guaranteed prices. Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to do away with the wage board? If not he must vote for guaranteed prices. The more one sees of the working of wage boards the more one sees that it is absolutely necessary to establish some means by which the wages can be paid. I have here an account of the proceedings which have recently taken place at the wage board during a discussion of the further increase on the minimum wage of the agricultural labourer. The Clause dealing with this question in the Corn Production Act of 1917, lays down that the wages are to be such as will enable the worker to maintain himself and his family in accordance with such standard of comfort as may be reasonable in relation to the nature of his occupation. That is a very difficult thing to define and no consideration is given, and perhaps ought not to be given, as to the means of the industry to pay the wages that were raised in those industries. Therefore those who represent labour at this wage board say, "It is no concern of ours to consider whether the 1124 industry can pay it. All we have got to consider is fixing a wage which will carry out the intention stated in that Act." If that is so, and I have no doubt it is so, it must follow that if you have wage boards which are carrying on the work in that manner it is absolutely necessary to establish a guaranteed minimum price by which those wages can be paid.
The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hogge) did not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. As this Bill is founded on the principle of guaranteed minimum price it seems to be a little inconsistent, having as good as voted for this Bill by not voting against it, to oppose bringing into practice the principle which you accept. The hon. Gentleman would be very inconsistent if at any rate he did not refrain from voting against the resolution now before the House. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give further consideration to the suggestion which I have made that control should be removed from the 1920 harvest as well as the harvest of 1921. I was hoping when this Bill was introduced that the guaranteed price and the guaranteed price alone would effect an increase in the food supply of the country. I do believe if the farmer has confidence that he will be allowed to take advantage of the world's market, when in his favour, and guaranteed against financial loss when they go against him, that this will go a long way to encourage him to put his capital and labour into the land in order to provide the food necessary for this country.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
No doubt the proposal made will have a considerable effect in giving confidence to farmers that it will be worth their while to grow wheat in the future, but I do not want to make too much of that, because the fact is that a very large number of farmers are discouraged by the suggestion that the minimum should be taken at the figure of 68s. It may be to a certain extent mitigated, but it is not met by saying that there shall be decontrol. I had hoped that the Parliamentary Secretary would have given us full figures in dealing with the method by which he and the Commissioners arrived at the datum line of 68s. Perhaps he will do so at some future time, though I am afraid that this is the last occasion on which this particular subject can be discussed. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. 1125 Hogge) talked as if enormous sums were going to be paid to the farmers, and said that the farmers should not have it both ways; but the hon. Gentleman should remember that before the minimum price is put in operation the world's price has got to fall, and that if it is simply a case of the farmer benefitting by the higher world price this country will pay nothing, and it is to the advantage of the country generally to get it one way, and that is what this Bill proposes to do. As the hon. Member who has just spoken (Captain Fitzroy) has said, it is absolutely necessary for this country that wheat growing should be encouraged, and this is the only possible suggestion. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hogge) made no suggestion as to any other means by which wheat growing can be encouraged. On the other hand, if his suggestion were carried out, in all probability no wheat would be grown in this country and proper wages paid to the labourers, because we do not see why agricultural labourers should be worse paid, when they are just as valuable as the workers in any of the other industries.
The right hon. Gentleman repeated the statement that the guarantee was not intended to be a guarantee of profit. I still think that the Government are making a mistake in that. I think that by merely giving a guarantee which will not do more than save serious loss, they are not going to give the encouragement to which the farmer is entitled, and which would induce him to put more money into the growing of wheat. With regard to barley, the right hon. Gentleman said that if barley were included we should have to include a great many other things. I think that there is a great deal to be said about including other things. Market gardeners are not encouraged. Forestry is one of the things which are affected by the Agricultural Wages Board. Nobody is going to put any money or effort into it in present conditions. The same thing may be said of various forms of food production, but in view of the very large acreage of which barley is the main cereal crop in this country, it would have been a very encouraging thing if the right hon. Gentleman had seen his way to include barley. I know that the argument is that barley is not absolutely necessary in every rotation, and that there is no rotation which does not include wheat or 1126 oats. That, of course, is true, and by securing a sufficiently good price for each of those two things you do also secure that there shall be some inducement for growing them.
The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hogge) gave a description of what has happened in the way of decreased production, but it is a mistake to think that wheat decreased merely in the conditions to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The real reason is that a great deal of unsuitable land was ploughed up for wheat, and while so much wheat was grown during the War the farmers got out of the old rotation. Now they are all busy trying to get back to it. There has been so much wheat grown during the last two years that, obviously, in the rotation there is less wheat grown now, and it is not a matter of the guarantee having failed. It is a matter of production by the ordinary rotation of crops. I believe that these guarantees will have a considerable effect. I do not believe that the farmer will fail to respond to appeals of this sort. I believe that they will have considerable effect, and that the announcement which has just been made will have more effect, but I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not given the process by which he arrived at those figures.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ACLAND
The hon. and gallant Member for Daventry (Captain Fitzroy) has said that the guaranteee of a minimum wage carries with it as an essential consequence a guarantee of minimum prices. I do not admit it. I never have admitted it and I never shall admit it. I think that any industry ought to pay reasonable rates of wages or disappear. I do not think that it has any claim, because it is required to pay reasonable rates of wages, that the taxpayer should step in with a subvention. It that had been admitted the country would be brimming over with industries getting subventions, which would disappear in five minutes if those subventions were withdrawn. I think the necessity of stimulating production from the land, from the point of view of the State, is sufficiently great that it becomes, as in this case, in return for value received, namely, extra production, necessary to guarantee a certain minimum price. But I do not admit that because the State has, at long last, through the 1127 Wages Board, tried to see that the agricultural labourer gets a decent rate of wages, the industry has a right to demand that high prices should be given to it out of the National Exchequer. With regard to the finance of the Bill, let me say at once that I am much more afraid of the bill the nation may have to pay in respect of oats than I am in regard to wheat. The point arises at once that you are not only giving a guarantee which will, to some extent, one hopes, encourage the production of oats as a feeding stuff for human beings, but you are giving the advantage of a guarantee to thousands of farmers who very probably never had sold, and never will sell, a single bushel of oats, and who use it as a feeding stuff for their stock, and reckon to make a profit out of the sale of the stock, against which there is not any effective foreign competition. Those people who grow oats, and need it as a feeding stuff, will be given money on account of the oats they grow, and the lower the price of oats goes in the open market the cheaper feeding stuffs are to them for their stock. I do not think it has been explained to us why, with regard to stock production, into which oats goes, we need give guarantees, when the real object of the Bill is to keep up the arable area. I agree that you have to give guarantees with regard to wheat and oats as crops entering into all arable rotation. But I want the Government to consider whether it is necessary, not only to give a guarantee on account of all oats and wheat that come into the market, but also to give a guarantee on all oats which are grown simply in the course of the ordinary man's business of turning out stock, on which he reckons to get his profit.
I think it not unlikely that there may be a rise in 1921 of 25 per cent. in excess of 1919. As is stated, the minimum price would be for oats 53s. 4d. The world price of oats may not unlikely fall to what it was in 1918, namely, 46s. 8d. There is a difference of 6s. 8d., but the bill would be, if the area remains practically what it was last year, five times five million acres; that is to say, 25 million acres at 6s. 8d. per acre, giving a guarantee which would fall on the taxpayer of over £8,000,000. That is a pretty large sum to have to face for oats if the price goes back, as I think it may, to 1128 46s. 8d., and the cost of production rises, as is here more or less anticipated, to 53s. 4d. Will the money be well spent, and is it necessary to spend it with regard to that very large class of farmers who never dream of putting their oats on the open market and are not affected by the fall in the price of oats? It seems to me that with regard to those people, you are offering them money just when they want it least, and that it is quite unnecessary to offer them any money at all because we are not supposed by this Bill to be doing anything to guarantee secondary profits to farmers on account of stock raising. I hope that the matter will be reconsidered before we finally part with the Bill, because very serious charges to the taxpayer are clearly involved in it.
Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER CLAY
The right hon. Member who has just spoken has made an interesting point, but I cannot help thinking that there is a serious objection to the proposal he makes, because if you differentiate between oats grown for consumption on the farm and oats sold in the open market, it will be necessary to have a very large number of inspectors to see how the oats are grown and to check the figures given.
Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER CLAY
The right hon. Gentleman recognises the difficulty. Personally I do not consider there is likely to be a fall in world prices. But supposing there is, surely the net loss to the country would not be so great as would appear at first sight. I would like to express my gratification at the announcement made by the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon with regard to the removal of the maximum price. It is a psychological fact that there was a grievance felt by farmers because they were not allowed to have the play of the open market. I am sure the announcement will do more than anything else to increase the acreage under wheat. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) objects to subsidies. Most people object to them. He asked, Why not subsidise the herring industry? I would reply that, desirable as herrings may be for the breakfast table, they are not a necessity. All those who have studied the question are at 1129 this moment in considerable anxiety as to where the wheat is to come from in the near future. Much as we dislike the proposal to subsidise any article whatsoever, still we recognise that it is very poor economy to risk starvation and to go so far as to oppose a financial resolution such as this. The hon. Member said that the farmers would grow wheat in any case. I hope that the hon. Member will never have any power of control in the agricultural world, because he does not seem to realise that the farmer will grow what pays him and will not grow wheat if it does not pay him, unless it is a case, as during the War, of a vital necessity for the safety of the nation. Then his patriotism leads him to do things that he would not do at ordinary times. I am sure that all of us on this side of the Committee are most anxious that there should not be an increase in the number of officials. I think that, with the guarantee promised and the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary, there is a prospect of an increased acreage of wheat which will do away with or reduce the risk of a shortage of feeding-stuff.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary asked me why I made a certain interruption during his speech. I will apologise to him for having interrupted him. The only reason I did so was that we might save time and that I might gain some information. I understand my right hon. Friend says that the controlled price for this year's wheat will remain at 95s., but that the price for the 1921 wheat will be uncontrolled. I asked him under what authority he has any power to control wheat. Of course, I was perfectly well aware that under the Defence of the Realm Act certain powers were given, but those powers come to an end when peace is declared, or on 31st August this year, whichever is the sooner. I should think it will not be very long before peace will be declared. The object of my question was to find out whether there was any intention of continuing the control in another form. My right hon. Friend says that in 1921 the control will be taken off, but I did not understand that there is any guarantee that in 1922 a Bill will not be brought in which will reimpose control. I know quite well it would be impossible now to give an undertaking that no Bill will be brought in with that object in view, but I would like to warn farmers 1130 who may think they are going to get a great deal out of this Bill that what I have indicated is always a possibility. An hon. Member has pointed out that the price of wheat is too high to enable the ordinary person to obtain bread at a reasonable price. There is this possibility of control being reimposed, and in that case the farmer will have the whole of the disadvantage. That is why I interrupted my right hon. Friend. I thoroughly agree with the remark that there has been a good deal of nonsense written in the papers and talked about the diminution of the wheat area. An hon. Member opposite said that it was owing to the failure of certain undertakings given by the Government. My own belief is that one very considerable cause was the amount of wages paid to the agricultural labourer and the short hours worked. I think the main cause is that the rotation of crops went wrong during the War, when a large number of farmers grew wheat two years running on the same ground and sometimes three times in the four years' rotation. The farmers are now trying to get the rotation back. That is my own case, and I feel sure it is so in other cases.
There is also the statement always made whenever an Agricultural Bill is introduced that there is going to be a famine and that it is absolutely necessary that something should be done. The Parliamentary Secretary used that argument on the Second Reading. My hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Gretton) secured the Adjournment of the House subsequently, and the Prime Minister produced a telegram from some friend of his in Poland pointing out that in the Ukraine wheat was overflowing. Which of the two authorities is correct? I have been a Protectionist all my life, but I think subsidies are the very worst form of Protection you could possibly have. We embarked on that method in the case of the railways with very little success either to the public or the shareholders, and the same remark applies to coal. Now we are trying it with regard to agriculture. I quite recognise that it would be impossible to oppose this Resolution if control in the various forms, and especially as to the Wages Board, is to continue. My own belief is, if you did away with control, including the Wages Board, and left the farmers to make their own arrangements as to the terms and conditions of work, you would have a great 1131 deal more food produced in the country than you will have in this particular way. That is not proposed, and the only thing that is left is this Resolution. There is in the Resolution a very extraordinary change from the majority of Resolutions which have been brought in during the years I have sat here. In the old days Resolutions were unlimited in amount. I have often endeavoured to limit them, sometimes successfully, but more often not. I have never seen a Resolution which prevents any alteration whatever in the Billl. Where the Resolution has been limited it has been done in such a way that an increase might be made in the Bill. During the Second Reading Debate Members who represent agriculture complained that 68s. was too low a basis, and apparently they have now acquiesced in a finance Resolution which will prevent any Amendment being moved in Committee to increase that amount. I do not say the Government should have proposed a Resolution which would have committed the country to an unknown expenditure, but when Members representing what I may call the agricultural interests objected to 68s. as too low, I am rather surprised the Government did not put in a larger figure, say 78s., with a corresponding increase for oats, in order that there might be an opportunity in Committee for those Members to give their reasons and endeavour to obtain some reasonable increase in that basis. I presume that the undertaking of the Government to take away control in 1921 is the reason why no arguments to that effect have been brought forward. I am rather afraid that the mere fact that in 1921 there is not going to be control will not be sufficient to make up for limiting the basis price to 68s. I do not want to prophesy, but agriculturists hold the view that we shall have a repetition of what we had in the Eighties and Nineties, and if that were to happen the guarantee of 68s. would not be of very much use unless there was a very large reduction in wages and other expenses. As to the question of oats, there are many cases where the farmer does not sell his oats, but there are cases also where they do sell. If we are to embark on this slippery slope then let us do it whole-heartedly and let us have a good slide and do it pretty quickly, and if we do so we may beat somebody else who is on another slope.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) looked on this White Paper and Finance Resolution with a microscopic eye. He found fault with the results achieved by the Corn Production Act, which was purely a war measure. That Act resulted in an increase of over one-fourth in the wheat acreage between 1917 and 1918, which was the most important period of the War as regards the submarine menace. That increase achieved its object and saved the situation. The hon. Member has also a short memory as to why the Government are endeavouring to increase the amount of arable land in this country. The War revealed that we were vitally dependent on imported food. This increased cultivation saved the situation, together with the British Navy, and I do not think either could have achieved it alone. Thereupon the Government made up their minds that that situation must never recur, but naturally the Corn Production Act introduced during the War did not fit in with the present peace situation. I confess, if I had been a Member of the Government introducing the Agricultural Bill, I would have confined myself absolutely and entirely to the vital necessity of increasing the arable land of this country. I would not have ventured on any forecast as my right hon. Friend did to-day when he said that we have every reason to suppose that prices will continue a great deal above the guaranteed prices for some time to come. That meant beyond April, 1922. Nearly all agricultural prophesies have a way of going wrong. I think every single forecast of importance that Cobden made went wrong. So far as the vital necessities of the case were concerned when he demanded the repeal of the Corn Laws he was on sure ground. My hon. Friend was wrong in saying that no subsidies are given to other industries. My right hon. Friend the Member for the City has just now mentioned the case of railways and the coal mines. There is a great difference between agriculture and other industries. The manufacturer can slow down, reduce his output and discharge his workmen. The farmer cannot do that, but has got to keep his land in a state of good cultivation. He cannot let the land run down, and that is a vital difference. I referred just now to forecasts. In the White Paper there is a similar forecast to 1133 that of the Parliamentary Secretary in his speech:There seems no likelihood of prices falling at any time to anything approaching the pre-War figures. The earliest date at which any payments could become due under the Bill will be April, 1922, and assuming that the costs of production in 1921 are found to be 25 per cent. in excess of those of 1919, the minimum prices per statutory quarter would then be for wheat, 80s. 11d., and for oats 53s. 4d.The reasons why I think it is unsafe for us to make any forecast in the matter are several. There are negative reasons and positive reasons. The negative reasons are these. On the destructive side in this War and in connection with this War, we first got in the Argentine a prohibitive export tariff. The available Argentine supply is reckoned as one-fifth of the total import requirements of Europe. That export duty will not last for ever, and it will probably not last more than another twelve months. We then have Rumania refusing to export. The Rumanians are dependent for their main industry, apart from oil, on their agricultural exports, and that again cannot last. Hungary at present is out of the question. Russia used to produce one-fifth of the wheat supply of the world. No one doubts that the Russian situation will improve, and that Russia will once more enter the wheat export market. Then there is the reduced purchasing power of the sovereign. I think most believe that the sovereign will recover its full purchasing power within a very short period of years. We have seen its relation to the dollar go up considerably in the last six months. As regards the United States of America, there has been a great shortage of labour there, and farmers have been unable to obtain farm workers because of the way the workers have flocked to the towns, but the latest immigration reports from the United States of America are very favourable, so that that factor will soon be eliminated too. The submarine war resulted in high freights. The shipping that is being turned out throughout the world now is phenomenal, and the shipowners themselves, I believe, think there will be a slump in shipping, which, of course, means a reduction in freights. There has been a great destruction of land transport which is being replaced.
1134 On the positive or constructive side, there is naturally a tendency, owing to the demand for food, to a larger production of wheat per acre throughout the world. Every Member will acknowledge that the average of 13 bushels per acre, which is the average for the world, is a very small production indeed, and European experience shows that to be a very small yield. The other reason why I think production throughout the world is going to be considerably stimulated is that invention has been greatly increased by the War, especially in economies in agriculture, and the result will be that transport will be cheaper. My right hon. Friend when he pointed out that agriculture has suffered a diminution in capital value of £800,000,000—a figure which does not agree with Sir Reginald Palgrave's Estimate before the War of £1,700,000,000, but I take it my right hon. Friend's Estimates were based on present-day values—
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
That was the figure given by the Eversley Commission which inquired into the condition of agriculture in the 'eighties and 'nineties.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I accept the figure of £800,000,000. He at the same time referred to what the causes were and stated that the break in agriculture took place from 1879 onwards. That break in our agriculture took place following an enormous stimulation of transport both by land and by sea. It was then that the steamer began to supplant on a large scale the sailing vessel, it was then that we got the compound and triple expansion engines succeeding each other, and there is no earthly reason why a similar and perhaps very much increased development should not take place in regard to transport to-day. At any rate, I think the farming industry were wise in regarding with suspicion anything that did not give them a guarantee for a number of years to come. The Government took a long time to consider their position, and found that they could not induce the farmers to cultivate more land unless they brought in a Bill of this character. When my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London talks of this Bill as being protective, of course it is protective, but it is vital to get the food supply of the country. What other means would he suggest? You may sub- 1135 sidise according to the acreage you lay down, you may give a bounty on production, or you may introduce what most of the countries of the world have, and that is protection by taxing food. Those are the three alternatives.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
That is the simplest form of protection. That is a reasonable proposal, but my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Hogge) would accept that less than ever, and it is obvious that the Government have taken the course of least resistance in endeavouring to obtain what is vitally necessary, a similar industry to what Adam Smith regarded as vitally necessary when he said he would take any measures to preserve our shipping, so that we in this House, with the lessons of the War behind us, will take any measures to preserve the cultivation of the land and raise as much food as possible for the country.
The right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary, speaking earlier, said that the expenses, as far as management was concerned, were limited to £2,000.
Lieut. - Colonel WILLOUGHBY
If that is all that the control and management are going to cost, it is a very pleasant surprise to me, and I only say that I hope the estimate will prove right and is not going to be the enormous sum which food control has cost us in the past. We know that the expenditure that has been laid out to force people to grow corn, if it had been expended in other ways, would have produced far more corn, and it has been my view of this Bill from the very first that the expenditure which is likely to be incurred by the Government to see that we are all farming properly is never going to bring what we all hoped would be the result, the greater production of corn. Figures were given by the hon. Gentleman opposite, who said what the guaranteed price for corn last year cost. If those are the lines on which this guarantee is going to be given, I maintain that we are not going to get a greater production of corn. The increased production would have been far 1136 better obtained if the announcement made to-day had been made a year ago, but now I am afraid it comes too late. This Bill may or may not get an increased production of wheat, but if the announcement made to-day had been made a year ago, I am convinced that this year a vast deal more wheat would have been grown in England, and also there would have been more likelihood of its being grown next year. The longer that has been put off the less the profits are likely to be to the farmer, and what the farmer farms for is profit. I think that when we have the guarantee that we are getting now, I can see no encouragement to the farmer to grow more corn.
I am certain that the rich land in this country will always grow what pays best. The best land will produce the most paying crops. That land, if other crops fall away very much, will no doubt produce wheat, because it is good land and will always produce a good crop. The difficulty is, and what I am afraid this Bill will not fulfil is, the growing of wheat on those lands which cannot now afford to grow it. If you want more wheat grown you want to give encouragement to the bad land, that is, to the farmer who has to farm bad land. That is the man who suffers big losses when the prices fall away, and I do not believe the guarantee in this Bill is any real assistance to him. I shall, of course, support the financial resolution, but I am afraid from what the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London has said that it is not going to be possible in Committee to improve the Bill, so that it should give more assistance to the man who farms bad land against the man who farms good land, and who does not require any assistance.
§ Captain Sir BEVILLE STANIER
I feel that the agriculturists in this country have waited at least eight months for this financial resolution which is now before this Committee, and I think that the only reason why it has come now is because of that extraordinary statement that was made in this House only the other night by the Minister for Food, which I think was very little noticed in the country, that we only had wheat in this country that we could put our hands on up to Christmas of this year. That is a very serious statement that was made from that box. We know very well there is a shortage of wheat, but I go further than 1137 that, and I say here exactly what I said when the Corn Production Bill was being argued in this House, and that is that the Corn Production Act never increased the wheat supply of this country by a single bushel, nor I believe will this Bill if it is carried out in the same way. The increase in the acreage of the wheat supply of this country was through the patriotism of the farmers, and certainly not through the Corn Production Act, because those who do not fathom this Bill do not understand that this 68s., which we contend is absolutely insufficient at the present time, is only 68s. on the first four quarters that are grown on the land. The rest of the crop is thrown away to the farmer to market in the best way he can. That is the reason why to-day we see the area of wheat in this country less by 330,000 acres in England and Wales. If you really want wheat in this country, follow the example of what the right hon. Gentleman has just told us the Cabinet have done for 1921—sweep it away now immediately, and you will get the land prepared this autumn for wheat being sown which will be put on to the market in 1921. I thought it was very interesting, if I may say so with all respect, to hear the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) use the ingenious argument that this should not be done because the farmers were not being taxed under the Excess Profits Duty. His memory is very short when he likes to have it short, and it is very long when he likes to go the other way. If he was a business man, would he go into a business that, though there was no Excess Profits Duty, had all its profits curtailed by a maximum, and that over and above that had to pay double Income Tax on it for doing it?
We are told that this proposal that is made is taken out of the Royal Commission's figures that they produced sometime in 1919. The date of the Majority Report is 10th December, 1919, but what we as farmers want to know is, what is the exact week in 1919 at which these figures were arrived? It is only fair that we should know, because during 1919 wages varied, rates varied, labour varied, the price of manure varied, and the prices of seeds varied. It is on the rate that was guaranteed in some week in 1919 for rates, labour, manure and seeds that this figure of 68 was arrived at, and if that is so, it is only fair and businesslike that we 1138 should have that statement made to us before we either agree or disagree with this figure of 68. I think this House will agree that is only fair that we in Committee should demand it, and, in all seriousness, I ask for it, because if we do not have it, we cannot arrive at what 68 now means. We were told that 68 means about 85. I have been told that it means a lesser figure than that, and I have been told also that it means a larger figure. There ought not to be any doubt at all about it. We ought to be told so that we can work it out for ourselves.
I should also like to answer the right hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland). He complained that only the oats which were put on the market should be paid for in this way, but, again, the whole crop is not being guaranteed. It is only the first forty bushels of the crop. It is this first forty bushels that are generally put on the market, and the rest are used for feeding the cattle, horses and chickens which usually come along. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of this will not agree, but I tell him that where land is suitable for wheat, and where it is growing oats, that that is so. You cannot grow wheat every time, nor can you grow oats every time. You get oat sickness in the land just the same as you get wheat sickness in the land. Because of the old pernicious arrangement—an arrangement which I have always denounced in the Corn Production Act—of having all your payments on acreage, and not on the crop, you will continue to have these anomalies in everything that passes along in this direction. I am one of those who deplore that barley is not mentioned, because it is the barley crop that indirectly helps the wheat crop. It is the barley on a great many farms that is grown and used for cattle food, which creates a high-class manure, which is always put on the clover land and ploughed in for the wheat crop that follows it—at least, that is so in the four-course rotation in the Midlands, which I chiefly know, and we want that manure to be of good quality in order to produce a high standard of wheat.
At the present moment, I think every Member of this House will agree that all land in this country has diminished in its quality. One of several reasons is the very high price of cake, and another is the very high price of artificial manure, and the farmers put into the market corn which they ought to have put through the 1139 beasts and into manure for the succeeding crops. We believe that if barley had been helped along, it would take the place on land which is oat-sick. It is required for feeding the animals for making this manure, and you would have gained in the quantity of wheat which is grown on that land by a tremendous amount, which is exactly what we are asking for to-day. Barley will not affect the area of wheat, because wheat is either sown in the autumn, when it ought to be sown, or to a lesser extent in the spring, and barley is sown at a later period in the spring than you could put in either wheat or oats. I think that the Ministry of Agriculture, not being practical men, and not being farmers, but being scientific gentlemen, might look into these matters, and see for once if they cannot go more deeply into these questions. I contend that we are to-day in a far more serious position than perhaps we even know of a great shortage in the wheat supply, not only of this country, but of the world, and I am one of those who believe that if you could only sweep away that maximum, and allow the farmer free play, because you have got it in many other ways, you would gain the object you have in view; but, so long as you stick to these maxima and stick to the pernicious way in which these guarantees are arranged on acreage, and not on the quantity that is grown by the crop, I believe I am right in saying you will not add to the quantity of wheat grown in this country. You say that this Bill is brought in for the production of wheat for the people of this country, and not for the farmers. We know it is not for the farmers, because it says straight out in the Report that it is at a sum less than the actual cost. Paragraph 20 of the Majority Report says:We are of opinion that the principle of guarantees is somewhat below the bare costs of production (i.e., not including interest on capital or remuneration for the farmer himself).It is neither one nor the other, and yet it is below, and I believe you will not get the wheat, but you will get the farmers looking at all this in a businesslike way, and not being humbugged with a Bill which is only to hoodwink the farmers and people of this country.
Lieut-Colonel Sir J. HOPE
A large majority of Members of this House, I think, approve the principles of the Bill 1140 on which this Financial Resolution is founded, but I think equally a very large majority of Members of this House are not satisfied that the application of those principles in the Bill as regards details will effect the object desired and aimed at, namely, to increase the acreage of arable cultivation and food production throughout this country. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture has already expressed his intention to consider every reasonable Amendment in Committee, and, as far as possible, meet the views of those interested in agriculture; but I should like to remind the Parliamentary Secretary, and also the House, that he is not an entirely free agent. He is bound by the rules of procedure, and I am somewhat afraid that, as it has been found in Committee on Bills before, when we come to certain Amendments, they are ruled out of order by reason of the Financial Resolution on which the Bill depends. To my mind, it is vital that in Committee there should be an opportunity of putting forward and discussing all Amendments dealing with this Bill. Part I, of course, is the only part that is affected. Part II, no doubt, provides security for the capital of the occupier, but the responsibility for providing that security is placed on the owner, and if the occupier and owner—as is often the case, and we hope will be more so in the future—happens to be the same man, you are offering the agriculturist a dinner off his own tail.
Part II will not be interfered with by this Financial Resolution, but the whole essence of Part I depends on this Financial Resolution, and it seems to me that much of the effect of this Part I, and the question as to whether the amount of guarantee suggested is sufficient to induce the farmer to increase cultivation, will depend on the exact means by which the cost of production is to be ascertained. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, in answer to questions, has said that this is a Committee point. Yes, but I should like to know whether, when that question is discussed in Committee, it will be possible to move Amendments laying down the method and rules by which this cost of production is to be ascertained. I wish specially to raise the question with regard to agricultural housing, and to find out whether the largely increased cost in the last few months of agricultural housing will be 1141 included in the cost of production. I suggest it is a very important matter. Unless it is taken as a substantial item of the cost of production, I am somewhat apprehensive that this whole Bill will even adversely affect agricultural houses and the standard of comfort which this House rightly desires to give to all those engaged in agriculture. Agricultural housing is still far from satisfactory, especially in Scotland.
I should like to remind hon. Members that agriculture is almost the only industry which in the past has borne the whole burden of housing the workers engaged in that industry. Recent Housing Acts have done nothing to assist the agricultural housing matter. Recent Housing Acts, I suggest, subsidise every other industry but agriculture when providing at the public expense houses at uneconomic rents for those engaged in them. This question will become more acute every day. On some farms where the houses—I am not speaking of the buildings, but the houses for the workers—were built shortly before the War, the position is not so serious, but there are many farms in which the enlargement of houses to meet the new standard which this House insists upon urgently requires to be done; and in many other farms it is impossible to enlarge or to reconstruct the houses to bring them up to the standard. New houses will, therefore, have to be put up. Take the average farm of 120 acres, bringing in about £120 rent. Obviously, when rates and the ordinary current expenses are paid, the owner is very fortunate if he gets £60 a year. Two farm workers' houses will have to be provided on such a farm. Before the War these two houses could have been provided for £500, and they could have been enlarged and improved, if necessary, for £150. Now the building of two such houses for farm workers would cost £1,800, and enlargement or improvement would cost £500. Will this Bill encourage an owner to expend, say, £1,800 capital on a property which only brings him in, at the present moment, £60 a year? I submit, in connection with this Bill, that this problem must be met. The Parliamentary Secretary, speaking the other day, said the Bill does not touch new buildings or improvements. Does he mean—
§ The CHAIRMAN
We are not, I would remind the hon. and gallant Member, discussing any other part of the Bill than that which comes up in this Resolution, namely, the guarantee.
Sir J. HOPE
Would I not be in Order in asking from the Minister whether the building of houses for farm workers is, in fact, to be included in the cost of production, which is mentioned in this Resolution?
Sir J. HOPE
That is the only point I want to put. I suggest that these questions must be dealt with by another series of measures giving liberal assistance to agricultural housing, or, if the standard of comfort for workers is to be maintained under this Bill, the cost of production must include a substantial additional amount for the farm workers to enable them to pay an economic rent for their houses. This is a point which must be considered in the interests of the farm workers engaged in agriculture, especially in Scotland. There is only one other point that I desire to put to the Parliamentary Secretary, and that refers to the second proviso of this Resolution, which states the limits of compensation which may be paid for actions done in the past under the Corn Production Act, 1917. I gather that for actions done in the past by this Bill compensation may be paid, but there are certain cases in which compensation would have been provided, and will be provided for actions taken under the Corn Production Act, 1917, by the passing of the present Bill into law, and after that it will not be paid. I should like to know the practical object of proviso (b) of this Resolution? I hope, however, that the Parliamentary Secretary will seriously consider whether he cannot complete the concessions which have already been commenced in regard to giving world prices for the 1921 crop. I am sure it would not cost the country or the Government very much to give the farmers at once the benefit of world prices. It would have the very substantial effect of giving the farmers absolute confidence that the Government, and the country, meant to stand by them and see that they did not suffer loss. It would give them confidence and a sense of security which I believe would 1143 have more effect in the sowing of more arable land this autumn than almost any other part of this Bill.
After all, there does not seem to be very much difference of opinion in hon. Members on this side and the opposite side as to the value of this Bill. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) did not think it would do very much to advance the objects sought, and so far as I can gather, hon. Members opposite are of the same opinion: that the Bill qua Bill is not going to do anything to increase production, and carry out the object for which it was brought in. My hon. Friend here on my left said that the Corn Production Bill did not add a single bushel to the crops of the country, neither was this one likely in the way it is to be administered or as the hon. Gentleman expects it to be administered. That certainly seems to support the hon. Member for East Edinburgh in his opposition; because if this Bill is not going to do what it is intended and hoped to do, why should we waste the time of the House upon it? I think my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh did not command the language of the hon. Members on my left, for he could not have found a better phrase to describe the Bill than that which was employed by the hon. Member who described it as a "scientific whirligig of a Bill, designed to hoodwink the farmers." The hon. Member for East Edinburgh must have been consumed with envy that he had not thought of that phrase himself and employed it to describe the Bill. What has really cheered up hon. Members opposite is the fact that the Minister in charge of the Bill has promised the English farmer access to the world's markets. It is that, not this Bill at all, that encourages them to look hopefully to the future. I do not wondr at it. The right hon. Gentleman is going to put the British farmer in a position that all of us would like to be put in. As the hon. Member for the Daventry Division (Captain Fitzroy) said: "If the British farmer could take advantage of the world-market when it is in his favour, and can be guaranted against loss when it is against him, it would stimulate production." I quite agree! I am quite sure that the same process applied to every 1144 other industry in the country would also stimulate production. It is a method which is described roughly and briefly as: "Heads I win, tails you lose." That is the sort of policy or position in which the British farmer is to be placed.
There was one thing said by the Minister in charge with which I profoundly agree, and it was that if the country determined that the land was to be cultivated in a certain way that guarantees must be given to those who have to cultivate it. I entirely agree with him. I agree if we go and say to the farmers of this country, "you must cultivate your land as we desire, and grow on the land that which we think should be grown," then the farmer is entitled to ask for guarantees. What, however, I am not at all sure about is that the country is asking that? When I look to the quarters from which I might get information I find nothing to convince me that this is the case. Take the people engaged in the industry itself. Take the agricultural labourer. The President of the Agricultural Labourers' Union sits in this House. He is not in favour of this Bill. He thinks this Bill is wrong, and wrong because it is going to put the interests of agriculture on an uneconomic basis. Let us come to the farmers. We have been told over and over again in the course of this Debate that this is not a farmers' Bill. I think one hon. Member said it was the death-knell of the tenant farmer. So far as the farmers' opinions were gathered up by the Royal Commission on Agriculture, they are not in favour. The President of the National Farmers' Union and other leading members of that Union were pressed before the Commission on this point. They were asked whether they wanted this Bill. What did they say? They said: "If the country wants the land to be cultivated in this way, we are prepared to subordinate ourselves to the wishes of the country." But they said further: "If the country says that we have got to till the land in the way the country thinks best, then the country must give us guarantees." They were further pressed as to whether they really chose to have the Bill or be left alone, and they said they would prefer to be left alone. If they had to choose, they said, between guarantees on the one hand and having people appointed by, heaven knows who, to go and tell them 1145 how to cultivate their land, they would rather be rid of the Bill, although, and nobody can blame them, as patriots, if they were forced to take control and they were forced to carry out what others thought best, then they must have these guarantees. That is a perfectly sound position to take up.
What do we arrive at? The agricultural labourers do not want the Bill. The farmers do not want the Bill. The landlords do not want the Bill, because they are not going to get any economic advantage out of it, for rents are not to be raised. The net result is that, so far as the industry itself is concerned, they do not want this Bill. Then who does want the Bill? I should be very much surprised if the great urban populations of the country want the Bill. They do not want a measure passed which in any event is bound to increase the cost of food stuffs. What the people want in the country is good bread and cheaper, not dearer. When one comes, therefore, really to the question as to who is behind this Bill, the only conclusion one can come to is that those who are behind the Bill are those who are preparing for the next war. That is the class behind this Bill. Here we have an agricultural policy which is prepared by the War Office. That is the real position. All I will say in regard to that is that, if this policy is going to be developed, there is no reason why it should be confined to agriculture. As a matter of fact, it is not, because we have got another Bill before the House dealing with such matters, and in which I think the House will come to see that the same hand is at work. If we are going to pursue this policy of preparing for the next war by making the great industries of this country to be carried on in particular ways, then we are going to pay for the next war long years before ever we arrive at it.
It is suggested that there is some inconsistency on our part in voting against this Resolution. We have been told plainly, however, that this is a protective measure, and I say the very worst form of protection. My right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London is not here, but that is what he said. He said that subsidies were the very worst form of protection. It is frankly said, and it is all the better for being frankly said. Something further was said about subsidies, and the extraordinary plea was 1146 made that this particular subsidy was not the only one. That was put forward, I think, by the hon. Member for Daventry against my hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge). He said that it is true that this is a subsidy, and subsidies were bad things; but he said: "We are not the only people who have taken subsidies. There have been railway subsidies, and coal subsidies. There would not be much in adding this one." But the very people who are supporting it opposed the others!
We have been asked what our constructive policy is and what we suggest ought to be done to increase our food supply. We say that reports ought to be kept, and every effort should be made in every direction to bring about a settled state of affairs in Europe, so that the great wheat producing country of Russia may come once more into the market, and in order that we may get more food supplies from the Central Empire. Why are they putting on an extra duty on the exports from the Argentine? Either they fear that their own supply is not going to be sufficient, or else it is being done with the object of forcing up prices.
This is a memorable Session, because we are repealing a great deal of our past policy, but of all the memorable things we have done, I think this is the most memorable, and I congratulate the Minister of Agriculture upon the position which he occupies. It is now 76 years ago since Sir Robert Peel repealed the Corn Laws, and it is left for the Minister in charge of this Bill to take the first step in the direction of substituting a corn law. I see that the minimum price fixed is to be 80s. 11d., which is not so far from the figure fixed under the old Corn Laws. I understand that the price of wheat cannot go below that.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
Apparently, the hon. and gallant Member has not studied either this Bill or the Corn Production Acts, in fact, he does not appear to know the A B C of those measures. If he did, he would realise that wheat would be sold at the market price, and if that is less than the guaranteed price, then the State makes it up, and this does not affect the market price in any way whatsoever.
Supposing the price is 50s. in the market, the producer gets another 30s. 11d. from the State, and the cost to the British consumer is 80s. 11d.
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down said one thing with which I think everybody will agree, and that is that what we really want is to get bread cheap. I should like to ask how the hon. Member thinks that without these proposals we are going to get bread at any price. Something has been said about world conditions of wheat production, but this is not a question of getting bread cheaply but of getting it at all, and that is the main object for which I understand this Bill has been brought forward. The hon. and gallant Member (Mr. Barnes) thinks it will not have that effect, but at all events, if he thinks it is not likely to produce that effect at any rate he did not make any suggestion of his own which woud be more likely to have that effect. Therefore we are driven to the conclusion that he does not regard it as either necessary or desirable to do anything in this country to produce a greater supply of necessary food stuffs. That is a very clear dividing line between the hon. and gallant Member and those who agree with him, and those of us who recognise that it is not a question of preparing for the next war, but of preparing for the coming peace, and having got rid of one of these we may not in the coming years be reduced to war conditions permanently, and have famine largely due to the war conditions of the past. It is in order that we may not be brought to that state of things that it is necessary for us to do something, and until some hon. Member brings forward a proposal more likely to promote that object, I think the Government proposal holds the field and deserves the support of this House.
The hon. Member, so far as I can see, left entirely out of account another object which this Bill has in view. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of this Resolution was very thorough-going, and he said boldly he was opposed to all guarantees, and I think that is a perfectly logical position. He is opposed to guaranteeing prices and wages; in fact, he wants us to go back to the free trade position. The hon. Member who has just addressed the House is the only one who has addressed us who boldly referred to 1148 Sir Robert Peel and the Corn Laws and those old matters of controversy. Does anybody imagine that however much we may desire to go back to free trade conditions, it is impossible to do so at the present time either with regard to agriculture or any other industry in this country? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) made a speech the other day, and I understand that he is a stalwart defender of free trade principles. What did he say? He said, referring to the guaranteeing of wages with an air of relief, that at long last the State has stepped in to secure decent wages for agricultural workers. I agree that that has been done, but it is absolutely subversive of free trade principles, and when the right hon. Gentleman expressed his satisfaction with that principle, I repeat that it is absolutely subversive of free trade principles. (Laughter.) The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) laughs, and I have often wondered if he really has any familiarity with the history of free trade or not, for if he had any knowledge of the subject upon which he poses as an authority he would have known perfectly well that all the great writers on the free trade movement denounced the State interfering with wages or prices. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman laid down that he would not consent to regarding a guaranteed price as a necessary corollary of a guaranteed wage.
§ Mr. ACLAND
In this case the machinery exists for fixing wages, and, if the wages are such that the industry is not profitable, the State must guarantee the price.
§ Mr. McNEILL
If you do not accept our proposition with regard to any industry, then you must allow that industry to disappear. Are you prepared to allow agriculture to disappear?
§ Mr. ACLAND
It is because I think that the State has a peculiar interest in seeing that agriculture should not disappear and in stimulating production from the land, that I am a supporter of this Bill on the whole, and it is not because of the wages.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Then so far as that economic proposition is concerned the right hon. Gentleman is merely an 1149 academic defender of it, and to that extent we all agree. But what about the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) beside him? He challenges the whole policy of this Resolution because he objects to having either a guaranteed wage or a guaranteed price, and that is perfectly consistent. The hon. Member opposite is prepared to give free trade to the farmer, allow the whole agriculture of this country to revert to grass, and to see the progress of unemployment on the land which would be the necessary consequence of his policy. I think my hon. Friend opposite is rather like a voice crying in the wilderness in that respect, and I do not think he will find many supporters. If the consequences of free trade are the gradual disappearance of labour from the land and a surrender of all our efforts that there should be a return of labour to the land, and at the same time that we should recognise, in face of the prospect of a world shortage in the food supply, that we should make no attempt whatever in this country to increase our food supplies by the cultivation of our own soil, if that is the contention of the hon. Member opposite, then I agree he is consistent, and I recognise him as a free trader. I cannot believe that those who realise that the circumstances are such as I think they are, and which I have endeavoured to describe will follow my hon. Friend into the lobby in the face of the very great danger from food shortage with which we are confronted at the present moment.
We all recognise the extraordinary and difficult position in which the Minister for Agriculture finds himself placed in regard to this particular Bill. Very few of us like the idea of fixing prices in this way, and there are still fewer farmers who like the idea of any form of control at all as regards their own business. The fact remains, and it is a fact which cannot be got over, that during the last few years there has grown up in this country a very strong determination that the land which during the War was brought back into tillage should not return to grass if it can possibly be avoided. Realising as we do to-day that we are faced, not merely with a shortage of corn due to the War, but also with a permanent shortage of corn because many nations which used to be rice-eating nations are now wheat-eating nations, it is up to this Government to do something to stabilise 1150 the position of that part of the country which is at present under wheat. I have listened to a certain amount of criticism of this Bill. I have listened to the hon. Member for Newcastle - under - Lyne (Colonel Wedgwood), who makes many speeches in this House, many that are interesting, and who seems in every speech to be possessed by a determination to drag in the word "war" in relation to every kind of subject. I do not know why he should have so peculiarly bloodthirsty a nature as to find it necessary to bring this word "war" into connection with every topic of which he speaks. No doubt he has his own ideas on the subject, but his speeches really do not help us forward in dealing with agricultural or any other problem.
The point I would like to put to the opponents of this Bill is this: I am willing if they can find a better policy to adopt that better policy. But what other policy could possibly be arrived at? You guarantee to the farmer, if you interfere with his business, as you are going to do under this Bill, that you will not allow his losses to exceed a certain amount, or, indeed, that you will prevent, if possible, any loss at all. You force his business into certain channels, and, consequently, he must be guaranteed the actual cost of growing the wheat. That is the whole substance of this Bill. Another point has been raised by the Amendment, which has been much more ably supported than I can hope to do, and that is that it would be advisable in the interests of agriculture and of the nation, and of good farming as well, that barley should be added to this list. I would like to urge again on the Government that if they would place barley on the list as well as wheat and oatsȔand I am not certain that barley is not almost as important as oats—it would be an enormous benefit to the land. It would encourage cultivation. Therefore, I think the Government should endeavour to add barley, and thereby do something to make the Bill rather more popular than it is to-day.
Mr. C. PALMER
As one representing in large measure an agricultural constituency, I want to give my hearty support to this Resolution, and at the same time to thank the Government for the Bill to which it gives financial sanction and stability. I entirely disagree with the hon. Member who said that this Bill 1151 was to prepare for the next war. I should rather say it is to prepare against the next war if such a war should come upon us. We know perfectly well that during the great struggle through which we have just passed one of the gravest dangers of this country was the failure of its food supply. Any Government would be lacking in its duty if at the earliest opportunity it did not bring in some measure such as this—and I wish this had been brought in a year ago—to protect the country against what is and would be a grave national emergency. As one who believes solidly in the agricultural labourer, I hold that this Bill, primarily intended as it is to safeguard the nation against trouble and danger in the future, will also give security to the farmer and security to the workers on the land. If the State guarantees wages it must take some responsibility towards those who have to pay the wages. I am of opinion that this Bill, although I possibly may object to some of its details, is in its broad principles one for which the country has waited long and one which, in spite of the political opposition of certain hon. Members, will receive the unanimous support of the country. To-day we are unconcerned with politics in these great national matters. We care nothing for Tariff Reform or Free Trade. We say that this is a Measure which is in the interests of the whole nation, and we who are here as independent Members ready to support the Government in any right policy, are heartily and enthusiastically in support of this proposal.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I should like to appeal to the Committee to come to a decision as soon as possible, and I will only keep it a very few minutes while I reply to one or two of the points which have been made in the course of the Debate. I entirely agree with the remark which has fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for the Wrekin Division (Mr. Palmer) that this is not in any sense a war measure. It is brought in in order to establish a better peace by getting over our immediate food difficulties which are likely to be serious in the near future, and by showing that consideration for the agricultural population which I believe is necessary to the stability of the country.
1152 With reference to the criticisms which have been offered, I think the most serious was that made by the hon. Member for Barkston-Ash (Mr. Lane-Fox), and other Members, that we have taken too low a minimum. I can only say this, that the Royal Commission of 1919 was appointed for the express purpose of trying to find a figure which would be sufficient in the case of cereals to give a guarantee to the farmer against serious loss in the event of a break in prices. A large minority of the Committee reported against guaranteed prices altogether. The majority reported in favour of guaranteed prices and gave this particular figure, and I do not see how, having appointed that Royal Commission for that express purpose, and having enabled it to take a great deal of evidence, their principal object having been to establish this very figure, I do not see how at this stage the Government could be expected to throw them over.
Let me point out another thing. The eleven members of the Royal Commission who recommended this figure included every single agriculturist on the Commission, with the solitary exception of the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley). [An HON. MEMBER: "They said it was too low a figure."] No, they did not say it was too low; they said it was just below the full cost of production, the object being to guarantee the farmer against serious loss in the case of a break in prices. I have said time and again that we do not propose by this Bill to guarantee a profit to the farmer. We propose to ensure him against a serious break in prices such as occurred in the 'Eighties and 'Nineties. The Royal Commission fixed on these figures, and the eleven members who adopted those figures included, as I have said, every agricultural member with one exception on the Commission; there was also a chartered accountant, a member described as an economist, a banker, and a representative of Labour. Of the rest, three were agriculturists, and in some cases land agents, and four were tenant farmers. How on earth, in view of that recommendation, can we go back on these particular figures?
Perhaps I should tell the Committee something as to the method pursued by this Commission. I am given to understand that they took certain items which have been already mentioned, such as 1153 rent, rates, manures, cleaning, labour. etc. The evidence before them was evidence of cost in the year 1918. I am given to understand that on that basis they brought out a figure of 60s. for wheat. They then applied the necessary corrections due to changes in cost in the year 1919. They made certain additions, especially in regard to labour, and for the year 1919 they raised the 60s. for wheat up to 68s. We must take their figures. We do take them. There is no other figure we are justified in taking. No hon. Member could suggest any other figure, and that being so, we authorise the Commissioners who are to be appointed under this Bill to vary these figures from year to year in subsequent years, in the same way as the Royal Commission varied them from the year 1918 to the year 1919, and having done that, we shall have for each year a certain guarantee which will safeguard the farmer against loss.
I should like to say one word with reference to the point made by the right hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) in regard to oats. He took the point that in different parts of the country a considerable percentage of the oats grown on the farm are not sold off the farm, but are fed to stock on the farm, and he suggested that we ought not to give a guarantee in respect of that proportion of the oats which are not actually sold off. There are reasons why we cannot adopt that course. In the first place, administratively it would be almost impossible to carry it out. We are proceeding on an acreage basis. What we want to do is to secure, in the case of all arable land in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, that there shall be a guarantee in respect of one of the crops in rotation. If we left oats out, or if we limited the guarantee in respect of the oats, a very large part of the arable land in this country, particularly in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and in the North of England, would be deprived of the guarantee, and probably we should not get the amount pf arable land under cultivation which we wish to secure. That is not all. The guarantee that we give represents only the bare cost of production, and whether the oats are subsequently sold in the market or whether they are fed to stock on the farm, the cost is just the same to the farmer. Surely it is only fair to him that we should pay on what is produced, whether he sells 1154 it or uses it for his own purposes. It is a question of the greater production of food generally, and not merely these two crops, a greater production of potatoes consequent upon having a larger amount of arable land or a greater production of meat or milk, for which purpose the production of oats for the stock will be a very valuable matter. Having regard to that fact, I do not see how we can with justice discriminate between those oats which are sold and those which are kept for the stock. My hon. and gallant Friend (Lieut. - Colonel Willoughby) objected to the Bill because he said we were assisting the good land and doing nothing for the poorer land, and he said, quite rightly, "What you want to do is to get cereal crops grown on the poorer land which will not, as a rule, grow them." By taking an acreage basis, by not paying for the actual amount grown in each case, but by saying, "We will pay on an average of four quarters of wheat to the acre, whether six quarters, four, or only three are grown," and, similarly, in regard to oats, "We will pay on an acreage basis of five quarters to the acre, whether you grow six quarters, as they do in some part of Ireland, or only three, as in some of the poorer land of England," you encourage the poorer land.
§ Sir B. STANIER
I quite agree with that point, but that will not produce a large amount of wheat. Playing into the hands of the poor land, which is not suitable for wheat, and which ought to grow barley or oats, is not the way to get a bulk supply for the people of the country.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I do not altogether agree with my hon. Friend. Good wheat land will always grow wheat, and the more wheat it will grow to the acre the more they will get for. On the other hand, if you encourage some of the poorer land to grow wheat you will add to the production. That is our argument, and it seems to be a sound one. In reply to the question put by my hon. Friend (Sir J. Hope) about the manner in which the variations were to be calculated by the Commissioners, though I cannot speak as to what precisely may be the ruling of the Chairman, I should think there could be no objection to the moving 1155 of an Amendment dealing with the manner in which the Commissioners should calculate the variations, that is to say, what items should be taken into account, provided always that no additional charge is thereby put upon the State. With regard to a further point, he asked as to the meaning of the second proviso of the Resolution. It is simply this: Under the Corn Production Act as under the D.O.R.A. Regulations before it, where a mistake had been made in a ploughing-up order, and where loss subsequently ensued, compensation was payable. But in this Bill we give an appeal in advance against the ploughing-up order, or whatever it may be, and the question to be decided is, is it reasonable, having regard to the pecuniary position of those interested in the land, to enforce the order? Having done this, there will be no compensation afterwards. The effect of the proviso is simply that, whereas it safeguards all claims made before the passing of the Bill, which have been perfectly properly made under the existing Corn Production Act, it makes it impossible to bring forward a claim after once this Bill has been passed into law. Having regard to the objects we have in this Bill, I think we shall have accomplished all we set out to accomplish without introducing barley, and I am sufficient of an economist to say I do not see why we should extend the liability of the State by including barley if we can accomplish what we want without doing so. I hope after these explanations the Committee will be willing to pass the Resolution.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
I cannot allow this Resolution to go through without uttering my protest against it. It is perfectly clear that when the Resolution is passed the House gives up all power to consider the adequacy of the guarantee and the form in which it exists. It is common ground now that the Royal Commission, or at least 12 members of it, reported that barley should be included. The question whether or not it should be included is to be taken away from the purview of this House. The only possible value of this Bill at all is in its power to get corn grown in this country and no other. I warn the Committee that in my opinion the form of the guarantee and the limit of the guarantee are insufficient to induce one single acre of wheat to be added to the present production.
1156 On the front Bench one of the most knowledgeable agriculturists in the House sits and he agrees with me. I have dozens of letters from leading agriculturists all agreeing with that point of view, and yet we have the Government forcing the Bill through the House of Commons and depriving us of the one opportunity we should have of considering the adequacy both of the amount and of the form of the guarantee. It is playing with the subject, and I protest against it because to my mind, by due consideration and due care, the taxpayer would have been protected, the worker would have been protected, and the tenant farmer would have been protected. I firmly believe, from what I have learnt from the evidence we have taken before the Commission, that we should have induced an increase of arable land without undue cost and without really too great difficulty, without all this compulsion and interference that the Government thought fit to introduce. I had not the pleasure of listening to the speeches of the Proposer and Seconder of the rejection. I know perfectly well it was moved on totally different grounds from what I should have supported the rejection on, because I think this Resolution ought to be rejected. Let me ask them to read the voluminous evidence which was taken before the Royal Commission, and let them bear in mind that although we endeavoured to get witnesses, although we advertised for wit nesses, we could not get one single man, expert, layman, or practical person of any sort or kind, to come and give evidence before our Commission to show that the present rate of wages of agricultural workers could be paid without a permanent guarantee as to the price of corn.
We are told we are transgressing Free Trade doctrine. Is not the institution of the Wages Board a big infraction of the Free Trade doctrine in itself? Yet there has been set up, and I approve of it, a Wages Board which fixes the wages of a particular industry absolutely regardless of the selling price of the article. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) to say if the industry cannot pay proper wages let it go under. So far as sweated industries are concerned, I should absolutely agree, but even he sees that the main industry we have in the country 1157 to-day, that is, the tilling of the land and growing what we can out of the land, cannot be treated on that footing. Is the Committee aware that, even at present, men are being discharged from agricultural employment because the industry at the present moment will not enable these wages to be paid? What is the outlook in the future when we have the Labour leaders demanding increased wages? I want Free Traders thoroughly to understand the position that we are in in agriculture. I understand and appreciate the objection that there is to subsidies. This is a subsidy, and there is no getting away from it, and I do not feel inclined to hide it or camouflage it. But the reason we want the subsidy is that we want to keep our men employed on the land. In East Sussex, with heavy, yellow clay, we can grow an average of three quarters of wheat to the acre. We struggle and strive, and our farmers have made small livelihoods and have kept going, but we are having these constant increases of wages put upon us. It is not that the labourers want it in the sense that they are not well maintained, well clothed and well paid, but they say rightly, and I sympathise with them, if the railway porter in a country village, who is the least skilled man in the village, gets £3 a week, does it not stand to reason that the skilled ploughman or carter—
§ The CHAIRMAN
This is going really beyond the scope of a Money Resolution. The hon. Member is stating the relation of the cost of labour and the cost of production. He must not go into details.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
I do not want to go too far into it, but I submit that it is perfectly germane. My argument is that the Resolution ought to be rejected because it prevents us increasing the guarantee that is necessary to pay the wages given by the Wages Board, because even now the wages are insufficient. I was showing why the wages now are insufficient and are being raised.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member may state the fact, but he must not go into details about the methods of the Wages Board.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
To continue shortly, the trouble has been created by the fact that there are men in village life who are receiving higher wages than skilled agri- 1158 cultural workers. We have seen it in almost every trade in the country. There is an immediate demand for higher wages by the skilled men on our farms. And yet by this financial resolution we are going to be prohibited from bringing forward these reasons why this guarantee that is being given is insufficient. I am rapidly being driven to the conclusion that this Bill is going to be of little use to agriculture. It is against my will, but I am rapidly being driven to the conclusion that we had very much better go on for a year and have the maximum prices removed altogether. Let us depend on the play of the market for a year and then let us come back to this House when it will more understand the position and understand the difficulty of agriculture.
Question put, "That it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys to be provided by Parliament of the remuneration and expenses of the Commissioners to be appointed under any Act of the present Session to amend The Corn Production Act, 1917, and the enactments relating to agricultural holdings, and of any expenses incurred by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and by any other department in meeting payments in respect of wheat or oats of the year nineteen hundred and twenty-one or any subsequent year under Part I. of The Corn Production Act, 1917, as amended and continued by such Act of the present Session, and any expenses incurred by such Minister or department or any other body under any other provision of the said Act as so amended and continued.
(a) for the purpose of the payments aforesaid the minimum prices of any year shall not exceed such sums as bear the same proportion in the case of wheat to sixty-eight shillings per customary quarter, and in the case of oats to forty-six shillings per customary quarter, as the cost of production of the wheat and oats respectively of that year bears to the cost of the production of the wheat and oats respectively of the year nineteen hundred and nineteen; and
(b) without prejudice to the rights of any person in respect of anything done or suffered before the commencement of such Act of the 1159 present Session, compensation under section nine of The Corn Production Act, 1917, as amended and continued by such Act of the present Session, shall be payable only in
§ respect of loss suffered by reason of the taking possession of land under that section."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 248; Noes, 18.1161
|Division No. 137.]||AYES.||[7.2 p.m.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. C.||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Molson, Major John Elsdale|
|Allen, Lieut.-Colonel William James||Gilbert, James Daniel||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John||Morrison, Hugh|
|Armitage, Robert||Glyn, Major Ralph||Mount, William Arthur|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Goulding, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward A.||Murray, Lieut.-Colonel A. (Aberdeen)|
|Atkey, A. R.||Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Neal, Arthur|
|Bagley, Captain E. Ashton||Gretton, Colonel John||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Grundy, T. W.||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Banner, Sir John S. Harmood-||Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth)||Nield, Sir Herbert|
|Barker, Major Robert H.||Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Hon. W. E.||Oman, Charles William C.|
|Barnett, Major R. W.||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||O'Neill, Major Hon. Robert W. H.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Hailwood, Augustine||Ormsby-Gore,Captain Hon. W.|
|Barrand, A. R.||Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Palmer, Charles Frederick (Wrekin)|
|Barrie, Rt. Hon. H. T. (Lon'derry, N.)||Hambro, Captain Angus Valdemar||Parker, James|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Hamilton, Major C. G. C.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Hancock, John George||Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Hanna, George Boyle||Pearce, Sir William|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Henderson, Major V. L. (Tradeston)||Peel, Col. Hn. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)|
|Benn, Capt. Sir I. H., Bart. (Gr'nw'h)||Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Bennett, Thomas Jewell||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Bigland, Alfred||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Pickering, Lieut.-Colonel Emil W.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Hills, Major John Waller||Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles|
|Bird, Sir A. (Wolverhampton, West)||Hinds, John||Pollock, Sir Ernest M.|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Hirst, G. H.||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Boscawen, Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith-||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Purchase, H. G.|
|Bowles, Colonel H. F.||Hood, Joseph||Rae, H. Norman|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Hope, James F. (Sheffield, Central)||Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel N.|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. A. (Midlothian)||Rees, Capt. J. Tudor (Barnstaple)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hope, J. D. (Berwick & Haddington)||Reid, D. D.|
|Britton, G. B.||Hopkins, John W. W.||Remer, J. B.|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Hotchkin, Captain Stafford Vere||Richardson, Alexander (Gravesend)|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Hurd, Percy A.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Bruton, Sir James||Inskip, Thomas Walker H.||Robertson, John|
|Buchanan, Lieut.-Colonel A. L. H.||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Rodger, A. K.|
|Campbell, J. D. G.||Jephcott, A. R.||Roundell, Colonel R. F.|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Jesson, C.||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Johnson, Sir Stanley||Royden, Sir Thomas|
|Casey, T. W.||Johnstone, Joseph||Royds, Lieut.-Colonel Edmund|
|Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H. Spender||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Clough, Robert||Jones, Sir Evan (Pembroke)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert A.|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool Exchange)|
|Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Keilaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George||Shaw, Thomas (Preston)|
|Coote, William (Tyrone, South)||Kerr-Smiley, Major Peter Kerr||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.)||Kidd, James||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Craig, Capt. C. C. (Antrim, South)||Knights, Capt. H. N. (C'berwell, N.)||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)|
|Craig, Colonel Sir J. (Down, Mid)||Lawson, John J.||Simm, M. T.|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales)||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Lewis, T. A. (Glam., Pontypridd)||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander|
|Dawes, Commander||Lister, Sir R. Ashton||Stanier, Captain Sir Beville|
|Denniss, Edmund R. B. (Oldham)||Lloyd, George Butler||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. G. F.|
|Dixon, Captain Herbert||Lloyd-Greame, Major Sir P.||Stephenson, Colonel H. K.|
|Dockrell, Sir Maurice||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Stevens, Marshall|
|Donald, Thompson||Lonsdale, James Rolston||Stewart, Gershom|
|Doyle, N. Grattan||Lorden, John William||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Duncannon, Viscount||Lowe, Sir Francis William||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Lynn, R. J.||Sugden, W. H.|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||M'Guffin, Samuel||Surtees, Brigadier-General H. C.|
|Edwards, John H. (Glam., Neath)||McLaren, Robert (Lanark, Northern)||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Swan, J. E.|
|Elveden, Viscount||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Sykes, Colonel Sir A. J. (Knutsford)|
|Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M.||M'Neill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)||Sykes, Sir Charles (Huddersfield)|
|Falle, Major Sir Bertram G.||Macquisten, F. A.||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Fell, Sir Arthur||Maddocks, Henry||Taylor, J.|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)|
|FitzRoy, Captain Hon. E. A.||Mallalieu, F. W.||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Ford, Patrick Johnston||Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Forestier-Walker, L.||Martin, Captain A. E.||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (Maryhill)|
|Forrest, Walter||Middlebrook, Sir William||Tootill, Robert|
|Gange, E. Stanley||Mildmay, Colonel Rt. Hon. F. B.||Townley, Maximilian G.|
|Ganzoni, Captain Francis John C.||Mitchell, William Lane||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Gardiner, James||Moles, Thomas||Turton, E. R.|
|Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)||Wills, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Gilbert||Yate, Colonel Charles Edward|
|Walton, J. (York, W. R., Don Valley)||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, West)||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Waring, Major Walter||Wilson, Colonel Leslie O. (Reading)||Young, Lieut.-Com. E. H (Norwich)|
|Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.||Wilson, Lieut.-Col. M. J. (Richmond)||Young, W. (Perth & Kinross, Perth)|
|Whitla, Sir William||Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)||Younger, Sir George|
|Wignall, James||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)||Wood, Sir J. (Stalybridge & Hyde)||Lord E. Talbot and Mr. Dudley Ward.|
|Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry||Kiley, James D.||White, Charles F. (Derby, Western)|
|Bramsdon, Sir Thomas||Lunn, William||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Davies, A. (Lancaster, Clitheroe||Macdonald, Rt. Hon. John Murray||Williams, Col. P.(Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Entwistle, Major C. F.||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Spoor, B. G.|
|Hayward, Major Evan||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)||Mr. Hogge and Major Barnes.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.