HC Deb 04 May 1920 vol 128 cc1972-2030

Resolution reported, That a sum, not exceeding £1,899,862, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1921, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, including Grants for Agricultural Education and Training, a Grant in Aid of the Small Holdings Account, and certain other Grants in Aid; of the Agricultural Wages Board, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


Before we agree to this Vote, I think we should gather from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture a little more information as to the research work for which he is asking a very formidable sum in this Vote. We do not criticise the amount, because, during the twelve years I have been in this House and have heard this Vote called in question, I believe I am right in saying that on every single occasion we have complained of the smallness of the sum asked for by the Minister of Agriculture as compared with the amount voted for similar work in many other countries not of such importance in regard to agriculture. Particularly, I wish to gather information as to a disease which is sweeping the gardens of this country and is rather gathering ground in the fields, and that is the wart disease in potatoes. The other day we were told in the newspapers that the gentleman who carried on the great experimental station at Ormskirk had suddenly died. It seems a great pity that in connection with a disease like this, which has been creeping on this country little by little, there is only one experimental station, so far as I know, in this country. When the Board of Agriculture twelve years ago was cross-examined on this question, I remember perfectly well being jeered at for bringing it up. I was told it was only a disease of a passing character due to climatic conditions. But little by little the disease has grown. The Board of Agriculture took hardly any notice of it, but experimental stations were started with private means. There were, even in my own county, experiments carried on which brought out, first of all, that there were immune varieties of potatoes. The experimental stations were closed down because the Board of Agriculture would not take sufficient interest in the matter. What we want to know is, what is going to happen to the experimental station at Ormskirk? Who is going to be put in charge of it? Does the Minister intend to utilise other places in the United Kingdom for carrying on these experiments? We want to know further what new experiments are going to be carried out? It is of absolutely vital importance that this should be done, because it has been found that, although you have these immune varieties of potatoes, it does not follow that they remain immune, and it is necessary to go on creating new varieties by crossing present varieties with a view to preventing this disease spreading. I hope we shall be given a more satisfactory reply than we had on the last occasion in regard to a disease that may prove even more serious in its character than it is to-day.

I pass from that to another research which I think the country is much interested in. It is only right that the country and that this House should know what is going to be done on behalf of the National Poultry Institution, and whether the research work advocated by the National Poultry Council is to be carried on. During the War we knew, to our cost, how poultry and eggs rose in price, and we knew the reason was that the great supply countries failed to give us what we most needed. On the other hand, we are perfectly well aware that the more poultry we breed the greater will be the egg supply of this country, which could be made very nearly self-supporting if only more were done to educate the people. We are told there is going to be an institute established for doing this. What I want to know is whether here, again, as in the case of the wart disease, experimental stations are to be shut down in some places and started in others? Are you going to do away with that great experimental station, the Harper-Adams Agricultural College in Shropshire? If you do, you will have to start over again from the beginning, and if you move to Methwold, in Norfolk, as suggested, I venture to assert you will go to a place to which the public will never go, because it is one of the most inaccessible spots in Norfolk. The Harper-Adams Agricultural College in Shropshire has been reported as a most successful institution, carried on with great skill and at great cost. Why is it to be changed? We all know perfectly well that the National Poultry Council are asking for more re-search in the matter. The old maxim was that you should grow two blades of grass where one grew before, and we say that, by means of the research which we advocate, which will enable us to get the best variety of fowl, we may produce 50 eggs where only one was produced previously. We want research work in regard to the breed so as to get more birds on the ground. We want research work into the matter of incubation, which is likewise of great importance. We also want research into the question of food for poultry and into the manner in which that food should be given to the birds. We want, indeed, feeding experiments on a big scale. That has been called for by the Poultry Council, and I think it may be found to be an important means of reducing the cost of living. I hope that the Minister in charge of the Vote will give us a good deal of information on this subject. I had the pleasure of telling him that I was going to bring it up. I was asked by a very influential member of the National Poultry Council to do so, and I do it with the greatest pleasure, because I think we are very far behind in regard to our knowledge of poultry keeping.

I will carry my questions with regard to research from the poultry-yard to the stockyard. We never seem to be able to gather information from the Ministry of Agriculture except on those few chances that we have in this House of putting direct questions to the Minister in charge. We listened to a very able speech from the right hon. Gentleman when the Vote first came on, in which he dealt with many questions, but he never touched on the question of the Cattle Testing Station, which is of the greatest importance from the point of view of our highest grades of live stock, which are in such demand from foreign countries. A great deal of money has been spent on this station. What has been the result? The animals are sent from farms where they are carefully watched and kept under supervision for a considerable time. What diseases have been found, and how many animals have passed through the station? That would give us a good idea of the number of animals that are being exported from our best herds. More important is the question of who is in charge there. I know that the Minister will say it is Sir Stewart Stockman, who is the Veterinary Officer. He is the supreme head, but we want to know who is actually in charge of this station, where are the reports that are made as to its work, and can we have more information thereon? There is another part of the veterinary work about which we want to know, namely, the Veterinary Laboratory. A wonderful work is going on there in the production of the sera for inoculation against disease, and especially against epizootic abortion in cows. At isolated places in this country, small associations have been formed for inoculating animals in the district. We have had one in North Shropshire, and I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for North Shropshire has just walked out, because he would probably have been interested to hear what I was going to tell him. The result of that inoculation has been so successful that on many farms where this abortion was rampant, and for which considerably less rent was obtainable on that account, now, through the use of the serum supplied by the Ministry from the Veterinary Laboratory, the cases of abortion, instead of being about one in six, have come down, on a large number of farms, to only one in sixty. I think it will be agreed that that is a very good result. Why cannot we hear more about this laboratory and the work it is carrying out, why is it not more advertised, and why are the Ministry of Agriculture not blowing their own trumpets a little more? We have a gentleman now who is perfectly able to do that, and we are going to give him a chance of doing it.

I will only ask him one more question. I want him to tell us a little more of what is being done to counteract the extraordinary outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease that are occurring in different parts of the country. Farmers are not satisfied with the Ministry on this question. It deeply concerns them, and they feel that the Ministry are not playing quite the right tune with regard to their experimental work in trying to find out what is going on. The other day they created a Committee, and they chose several gentlemen well known in the world of science, although some of them have never been heard of by the practical agriculturist. We have these scientific gentlemen in the form of a Committee, but we never hear what they are deliberating about, or even if they are doing anything at all. We do know that there is not one practical agriculturist on that Committee, and the consequence will be that when it reports, its report will be so scientific that the ordinary practical agriculturist will look upon it with disgust, and will hardly believe what is written in it. I think the money would have been better spent if with those scientific gentlemen there were a practical farmer—one who has had the disease on his farm, and has gone through the racket of having his cattle destroyed in consequence. All that we know is that outbreaks occur; we are not told if the Ministry of Agriculture ever find out anything—whether, for instance, the disease has been brought over on soldiers' boots, or by a dog in an aeroplane, or through imported food, or anything of that kind. All we are told is that the Ministry have drawn a ring, and have closed the markets and slaughtered a large number of cattle. The time is coming when the agriculturists of the country must be taken into the confidence of the Ministry of Agriculture, and when a vote like this is put forward it is only right and fair that we should demand to know what is going on in this direction. There are several research matters of importance that I have not touched upon, but when reading through this Vote the other day I came across this:

"Miscellaneous inquiries, Experiments, etc., conducted by or on behalf of the Ministry £1,500."
What is that £1,500 for? If it is to be used as a little pocket-money for anything that comes along, I would ask that a second experimental station should be immediately started for wart disease, so that this disease, which I think is more serious than any other that occurs in our food-bearing plants, may be attacked in a serious way. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman winds up the Debate he will be able to give us information on the subjects about which I have asked, because I believe that by doing so he will be satisfying a considerable amount of criticism that is going about the country at the present time.


My hon. Friend who has just sat down has pressed the Ministry to give us more information with regard to research, and I join with him in thinking that there is no more valuable side of the Ministry's activities. He has done a public service in bringing it so prominently before the House. In regard to this matter, I think that the Ministry, so far as they can, should endeavour to enlist and elicit the confidence and interest of the agriculturists themselves. The difficulty in these matters has been too much that the information given has been far above the head of the practical agriculturist, and that he is not able to understand it, though I know how difficult it is to get men who are competent both to conduct scientific research and also to give the results of their researches to the practical agriculturists of the country. I congratulate the Ministry on having at any rate made a commencement in this very important matter, and also on having dealt so promptly and drastically with disease. The question of rabies was a very acute one a year ago in the West of England, but I am glad to say that rabies has now been extinguished there, and the Muzzling Order, with all its inconveniences, has gone. We have had attacks of foot-and-mouth disease there, and here again I would re-echo what my hon. Friend opposite has said. Cannot we be given more information as regards the origin of this disease? It comes down in the middle of a district which, apparently, has no communication with the outside world; it is stamped out at great expense, and we know nothing more about it. If the right hon. Gentleman could give us some information on that, I should be very much obliged.

I want to make one or two criticisms, which I hope my right hon. Friend will accept in the part in which they are made. The old Board of Agriculture has been turned into a Ministry. I do not know what the exact advantage is, except that the name is rather more high-sounding, but I observe that in regard to the departmental staff there has been a very large increase. I make no apology for calling attention to these increases in staffs of Government Departments, because I believe that, before the country can tackle the question of economy, it must begin with Government Departments. I observe that the Board of Agriculture in 1913–14, the year before the War, spent in salaries—apart from research work, and simply on salaries in Whitehall—just £121,000. This year the Estimate is £450,000—nearly three times as much. I am very dubious as to the benefit the country will derive from this large accretion to the Government servants. The right hon. Gentleman talked of slippered limpets. Apparently there are still some slippered limpets left in the Government Departments. I understand the Ministry has ground them up to be used as poultry food. I wish him all success in the Government Departments. He told us the Ministry was engaged in the constructive development of agri- culture, whatever that may mean. There, again, I am a very old-fashioned person. I do not believe you are really going to make farming or agriculture prosperous or profitable by endeavouring to cultivate the land from Whitehall. Farming from Whitehall is a poor business. Over and over again in the old days we were told by the gentlemen in Fleet Street how to cultivate the land. I did not much believe in the Fleet Street farmer, and I do not much believe in the Whitehall farmer, whether he is in the Ministry of Agriculture or elsewhere, and I do not think, going back over a few years, that any agricultural system has stood the test so well as our own during the dark years of depression that existed between 1880 and 1900.

I want to ask my right hon. Friend a few questions about the control of agriculture and the orders which are going about. The food supply is going to be a matter of grave and anxious concern. I do not think anyone realises how dependent we are upon foreign production for the supply of our food. My hon. Friends had a May Day demonstration in London, but all the demonstrations and all the resolutions and all the oratory will not deprive us of being dependent upon the foreign farmer for a large amount of the food that we consume. Next year, unless one is gravely mistaken, the wheat supply of the world will be very short, and there will be very considerable difficulty in supplying the world. At present the price of the loaf is camouflaged, so to speak, by the Government subsidy. I do not know how long that will go on, but I am informed that if the loaf were sold at its proper price, without the Government subsidy, it would be something like 1s. 4d. If we are to have agricultural progress and agricultural production we must have a certain amount of security. You cannot have this security with all the changes and orders and controls which are going about. If you want wheat grown in this country you must be prepared to pay the price for it. There is no escape from that. If wheat is to be grown here you must make it profitable to the farmer to grow it. Unless it is made profitable it will not be grown. There were something like 400,000 acres of wheat less grown in 1919 than in 1918. This year, I believe, the acreage will be down again. Now you are controlling the price of wheat. I am not advocating anything like an increase in the cost of living. To my mind the great overwhelming necessity of this country at present is to reduce the cost of living, which is inflicting intolerable hardship upon the suffering thousands who have not profited by the War. When the Food Controller makes Orders, does he consult the Ministry of Agriculture? Does the Ministry of Agriculture agree with all the dictums and Orders that he issues? The Food Controller may control, but before you can control the price of any article you must produce the article, and the Ministry of Agriculture is the authority who is responsible for food production. I am rather wondering whether Government Departments act in a kind of water-tight bulk-heads, whether they ever consult one another, because I cannot believe that some of the Orders which have been issued lately can have had the assent of the Ministry of Agriculture. I ask this as a matter of curiosity and for information I am wondering whether the Board of Agriculture agreed with this recommendation. The other day there was a scarcity of potatoes. Down comes the Food Controller and fixes his price. I do not object to the price being fixed, but we have to remember that if you fix a controlled price you will be perpetuating an artificial scarcity. If you had let the farmers have the full price they would have planted a larger acreage of potatoes. Instead of that, the Food Controller, I presume with the consent of the Ministry, fixed a price. The farmers say, "We will not put in potatoes." Therefore what we are really doing is to ensure scarcity for next year, and scarcity means dearness.

There is another school of thought which says that the State must take over all the land—that it must be farmed from Whitehall. If you interfere with the individual initiative and enterprise of the farmers, this country will grow far more thistles than cabbages. It will be a fine country for asses, for I understand donkeys thrive on thistles. The right hon. Gentleman told us he wished to increase the arable area of the country. I quite agree with him. He told us that more milk could be produced on a given area of arable land than on grass land. Again I agree. But there is another subject which is of vital importance on this question of arable land and that is labour. Agriculturists want to know with some certainty what is the labour policy of the Government. I know it is a delicate matter, but it is essential that the Minister should make his voice heard in the councils of the Government when dealing with this vitally important subject. The wages of agricultural labourers have been low—before the War far lower than ever they ought to be. They have been increased lately, and rightly so. The farmers can well afford to pay the increased wages, but they will not pay them unless they are earned. They cannot. An answer was given yesterday as to the intentions of the Government with regard to labour and the Ministry of Labour. Has the Ministry of Agriculture made any representations to the Ministry of Labour about this question of agricultural hours?


Oh, yes.


Does the Minister of Labour take any notice of them? I understand there is some idea in the mind of the Government that you ought to make the work in the factory the same as the work on a farm. If you are going to try to make the hours on a farm the same as in a factory you must prescribe the weather also. I cannot help thinking that there is great confusion of thought in this matter. Therefore, I want the right hon. Gentleman to impress it upon the Minister that he must not do anything which will interfere with the productive capacity of the land. I hope he is doing it. Assuming that it was made illegal to work more than 48 hours a week and there was a field of corn or hay the food would be wasted if it was left. I want the Minister to use his influence with his colleagues in the Government. There is no more vital subject than that. I quite agree if men work overtime they should be paid for it, but there must be some elasticity in the question of hours on a farm. I hope that will be pressed home upon the Ministry of Labour.


So far as hours are affected at all, it is not done by the Ministry of Labour, but by the Agricultural Wages Board.


That is true, but I understand the Government is contemplating a new policy. We were told yesterday that it had not been decided whether they could put this in the Bill or not. The right hon. Gentleman should be very careful about that matter. Another matter I wish to advert to is the question of land settlement for soldiers. Everyone of us has the greatest possible sympathy with the ex-soldier who wants to settle on the land. You are endeavouring to do it from Whitehall, through the county councils. I suggest whether you cannot put some little responsibility on the man who wants to be settled. Endeavour to give him some interest in the matter. I would much rather that you should give a sum of money to the man who wants to be settled on the land, because it will be cheaper in the long run and probably more satisfactory to him than the policy which is at present being pursued. The Ministry has practically compelled local authorities to buy a large amount of land. We in Devonshire have something like 3,250 acres now bought and there will be another 5,000 acres which yill come into hand soon. We have not been able to get the labour nor the means to adapt this land for the use of smallholders. The proper buildings are not there. They have to be put up or the present buildings adapted. Does the Ministry of Agriculture discuss matters with the Ministry of Health as regards building?




Then how is it there is such chaotic muddle? I was present at a conference of the county authority the other day and we could not make head or tail of the business. The Ministry of Health is pressing one way and the Ministry of Agriculture is pressing in another way for the erection of these buildings. It is impossible to erect buildings at a reasonable cost if you have two Ministries competing one against the other. That is perfectly hopeless to expect. After listening to the builder, the architect and others we were all in a state of absolute blank as to what was going to be the result. The clerk of the county council told us that a Ministry of Health inspector had been down and his solution for converting these dwellings all over the County of Devon and adapting them for agricultural purposes was that if we could not get the work done locally by the local builders we might bring down a London builder to do it. A London builder? Where is the money coming from? Who is to pay for it? It is easy to say the Government will pay for it. The ratepayers can never undertake anything like the expense of doing it to-day. Is it not possible to get things done a little less extravagantly and a little more quickly? I want to bring in the ex-soldier. If he has a good character, give him a certain amount of money and let him do the work himself. The men cannot pay the rent that will be demanded if you are going to equip these holdings in these extravagant times. You must recollect that if you are going to build upon the plan that the local authority does build upon, it will be quite impossible to obtain an economic rent. Cannot the Ministry of Agriculture persuade the Ministry of Health to adopt a different policy in regard to housing in country villages. In our own parish the inspectors came down and selected a site for six cottages; an excellent site with a beautiful view, but the cottages were to be all in a group. It would be far better to put these cottages in country villages—and here the Ministry of Health can intervene—where the men can get a bit of land attached to the cottage. That will give the woman an interest, and the man will be able to work at home on a small field of two or three acres.

Colonel ASHLEY

Am I to understand that they are going to build houses in the country villages without any garden?


In this case they are being built in a group. There will be a small garden. I am suggesting that instead of building the cottages in a group, it will be far better to put them at a reasonable distance away from each other so that they might have more land, and, of course, in places where the children could get to school. We had certain plans before us the other day and they were examined by practical men on the parish council. There was provision for a beautiful parlour; all on paper. We suggested that we would rather have a pigsty than a parlour.


Is this a matter for the Ministry of Agriculture?


I am suggesting that you should intervene and get the Ministry of Health to deal with this question on better lines.


Do you only want a pigsty or a parlour?


If you can have both, by all means, but a pigsty is preferable to a parlour in agricultural districts at the present time. The two Departments should work together. We are all interested in the production of food, and if you can only give these small cultivators a bit of land in connection with their cottages, you can bring together the Ministry of Agriculture's policy and the Ministry of Health's policy. There is also the question of rates. I hope that the Ministry of Agriculture are not going to pursue any policy which will increase the rates. There is nothing that is exciting the rural ratepayer so much to-day as rates. We are constantly complaining that we have burdens thrown upon us by the Government. Rates have a very hampering effect upon agriculture and its productivity. No one can erect a cottage by private enterprise without considering the question of rates. Therefore I hope my right hon. Friend will look into this matter and will not impose undue rates upon the local authorities, which the ratepayers very strongly resent. I have tried to put my views frankly, because there is no subject which is more interesting to this country to-day or for the future than the quesion of food producion.

8.0 P.M.

Colonel BURN

I make no apology for diverting the discussion from agriculture to the fishing industry. I represent a constituency in which there is a fishing community and many people who are interested and employed in the fishing industry. I represent Brixham, which is certainly the hope, or rather the nursery, of trawling. It was the first town that started trawling, and though they rather stand by their antiquated methods, everyone knows that the Brixham fishermen are fine men. They have proved their gallantry not only in the War, but also in bad times on the sea, and they certainly have saved lives year after year. A finer lot of men have never gone on a trawler. The fishing industry is in a somewhat parlous state at the present time, and I do not see how it can ever be put on a proper basis until we have a Minister or someone who is entirely responsible for the fishing industry. At the present time fishing is mixed up with agriculture, and it is only natural that in this country where agriculture is, as it always has been, the first industry, that the Fishery Department should be looked upon as somewhat of a bye-product.

There are so many persons connected with the fishing industry that someone ought to be responsible for them, and ought to answer questions in relation to the industry. The fishing industry is now mixed up with four different Ministries: the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Health, the Board of Trade and the Admiralty. At the present time no one knows what amount of the Estimates is to go to fisheries alone. The salaries paid to certain representatives of the fishing industry at the Ministry are quite inadequate. We see by the Estimates that there is a third-class collector of statistics who gets £52; a laboratory assistant who gets £75; an assistant analyst who gets £150, plus War bonus of 30 per cent. Then there is a temporary inspector with £270, with six assistants, three at £250 and three at £200, without War bonus. These latter are said to be the outdoor staff, who do most important work, and who must be judged by that work. A taxi-driver can make £12 a week in these days, and a crossing-sweeper can make as much as some of the minor officers in the Fisheries Department. If a man is expected to give his best work, you cannot get that work unless he is adequately paid for it. Apparently the Ministry considers that there has never been any such thing as a great War, and that we are living as in the olden times when prices were very different from what they are to-day. The work cannot be done on these salaries, which are absolutely inadequate.

The fishing industry is one that concerns us as a nation very deeply. I believe that what I may call the five years' close time on the sea has been very beneficial to the breeding of fish. It was considered that before the War some of our waters were being fished out, but that cannot be said now, for fish can be caught in great quantities. One question that comes before all others is that when the fish is landed the transportation to our inland towns is very defective. At the present time the cost of catching the fish and bringing it to land is inadequately paid for by the price that is got when the fish is brought to shore. That is because hundreds of tons of fish that are brought to shore cannot be transported to our markets inland, and have to be destroyed and used as manure. That is a serious matter in regard to our food supply today. Until we have a Minister who is responsible for fisheries alone we cannot get fair play for the fisherman. There are many matters which ought to be taken up and ought to be settled defininitely by the Ministry, but at the present time they belong to some other Department, or they are not anyone's child. There is the policing of the deep sea and inshore fishing grounds; the disposal of fishing vessels to be returned to the industry from the Admiralty; the manning of the fishing vessels, and the dealing with wrecks and clearing of fishing grounds. In Devonshire the fishermen have suffered very severely from the wrecks sunk by enemy action off our shores and in the best fishing grounds, and the Admiralty before the War were trying experiments regarding certain explosives and sank an old hull in the best fishing ground. I talked to the Admiralty for some time before the War and eventually I got a gas buoy placed to mark this wreck, but not before much gear had been lost, because the men trawl there and in the short days of the winter, when much of their work is done in the dark, it was impossible until this gas buoy was placed there to see where this wreck was concealed, and several of the boats lost their gear. That all means money, and to-day the cost is far greater than it was before the War. The gas buoy was removed from this wreck at the commencement of the War, and during the War there was nothing to be said. It was perfectly right that all marks should be removed. But since the War that gas buoy has not been replaced, and to-day we have a repetition of the old grievance of gear being lost there. No steps have been taken up to the present by the Admiralty to remove or blow up, as may be considered best, the wrecks that are lying off Berry Head and the channel of the Devon coast.

The Board of Trade is another Ministry that has a large number of functions which affect the industry and which ought to be transferred to a Minister responsible for the fisheries. These functions include the survey and registration of fishing vessels, the granting of certificates to skippers and second hands, the signing on of crews, discipline, and the settlement of disputes, fishing harbours and docks, wrecks and the salvage of fishing vessels, casualties, the regulation of sealing and whaling, the prosecution of offenders against international or municipal fishing laws, and the regulations as to boarding fish at sea, rewards for life saving by fishermen, administration of international fishery conventions, life saving appliances at sea, and apprenticeship regulations. Those are all important matters and should be in charge of the Ministry of Fisheries. Most important of all in these days is the Ministry of Transport in connection with the fishing industry, because until a system is organised by which fish caught can be transported to the markets at a fair price, the fishing industry will never be secure and the fish will be wasted.

Then the Ministry of Health has certain duties to perform with regard to the fisheries which were vested in the local board. That is to say, the control of pollution in the sea, estuaries and rivers, and the obstruction and storage of waters, weirs, etc., for weirs certainly do make an obstruction as they prevent the fish from getting up the rivers. Then shellfish regulations, and responsibility for the sanitary regulations and control of wet, dry and fried fish shops, and certainly that is very necessary in these days. These functions ought all to be transferred from these different Departments. This is not asking for more money at present, for we all know that economy is the order of the day, and the Treasury naturally closes its doors to an appeal for money. But I believe that what would be saved from the Agricultural Department by transferring these powers to a Ministry for Fisheries would pay for all that we ask to be done, or, if there was any question of a grant, that it would be a very small one. A Fisheries Council Bill was brought forward, but that does not find favour with those who are interested in fishing, because the council is not considered to be sufficiently representative—


The Bill is passed.

Colonel BURN

I did not know that. That was because they considered that it was so useless and so unrepresentative that they scorned it. In making this appeal to the Government we feel that we have got a good case, because in this country more than in any other the actual development of the fishing has not been anything approaching what it ought to be. I am not complaining about the action of the Minister in his dual capacity. I am certain that he has got more than he wants to attend to the necessities of agriculture, and it is not conceivable that he would have sufficient time to give to the fishing industry. I believe that if this is only undertaken, and undertaken in the proper spirit, the fishing industry could be developed very largely. The matter should be taken up and taken up now, because summer is coming, and this question of transport is more than ever vitally necessary. When the hot weather comes the fish must be transported at once, or else it will all have to be destroyed. Last week we had time only for a very short discussion of the Fisheries Vote. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) then set forth what he considered were the great grievances of the industry, and though he is, as everyone knows, well versed in everything concerning agriculture, I claim also that he knows all about the fishing industry and is interested in that industry. That discussion continued only for, I think, about an hour, and the Debate closed for Private Business. I only wish that we had more supporters here to urge the Government to take action and to see that the fishing industry of these islands is once for all put on a proper basis.


I am very pleased to find that the House is taking a greater interest in the fishing industry than it has taken for years past. That is good from two points of view. The industry is very important, and the Government should do all in its power to encourage it as an industry per se. The Government should also regard the inexhaustible resources of the sea as a great source of food supply. If fish occupied a more prominent position in the dietary of this country, and especially South of the Tweed, we would be a very much healthier race than we are. I would like to endorse what the last speaker said with reference to the value of a recruit to the ranks of those who take an interest in fishing matters. I take it as a good omen that the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) is taking such an interest in this question. I recall that he became much interested in another question many years ago, and I saw him the other day present at the obsequies of the land taxes. From his success in that direction I anticipate that he will be a great source of strength to those who identify themselves with the fisheries question. I support the suggestion that there should be a Ministry of Fisheries. We could dispense with a few of the Ministries, and I would suggest that, instead of having a Minister Without Portfolio, a Portfolio for Fisheries might be established. It is sometimes thought that the fishermen acted only in connection with the sea forces during the great War, but from my part of the country a large proportion of the men went into the Army, and we all know the splendid work they did. As was natural, while the great bulk of them were away the industry almost collapsed, and it is taking a long time to get on its legs again. I think the industry deserves the very close attention of the Government. The conditions have so changed with regard to markets and with regard to the cost of boats, gear, material and labour, that it is exceedingly difficult to restore the industry to its former importance.

I wish to refer more especially to the pickled herrings' industry. Before the War, Russia was the first great market for this food; then came Germany and then the United States. The conditions of these markets now are such that it is exceedingly difficult for private enterprise to cope with them. The Government, very sensibly, came to the help of the pickled herring industry last year and guaranteed the curers a certain price. Although on the face of it that may appear to have cost the Government £1,250,000, I understand that as a matter of fact the guarantee has not cost the Exchequer a single penny. The Government acted merely as bankers for the industry. The curers having been enabled to face their difficulties with a certain sense of security, some progress was made in reinstating men in the industry last year. When the guarantee was promised by the Government there was a condition that the industry would not apply for the guarantee again. Those concerned expressed the hope that it would not be necessary to renew their demand, but the conditions are not one whit better this year than they were last year, and a continued guarantee this year is essential if there is to be any attempt to reconstruct this branch of the industry. It is a matter which affects Scotland as well as England. A great number of Scottish fish-curers come down to the English coast; they have no prejudice against the English herring, and they show Englishmen how to carry on the trade. As against that, I may say that I have seen English fishermen at Stornoway and sometimes within the three-mile limit. I understand that there are some beautiful buildings in Hull which have been built upon the proceeds of illicit fishing on the West Coast of Scotland. So that we are quits with regard to that matter. The cured-herring industry on the English and Scottish coasts is very important, and if the Government want to do anything in the matter of reconstruction, so far as the men are concerned, this is the best way to do it. Otherwise the herring industry will approach a state of collapse and the population along the coasts will be plunged into poverty and distress, which would be a great and undeserved calamity on those who have done their bit in the War. Even last year with the security of the guarantee the fishermen only made a wage of something like £2 a week. The fishermen will insist, and rightly, on something more like a living wage, and the consequence will be that the cost of the herring will be more, and with the state of the labour market and the exchanges, and the condition of Russia and Germany, the situation this year will be even more difficult than it was last year. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will keep these things in mind, and will not regard the pledge that was given as absolute and like the laws of the Medes and the Persians, and that he will consider the matter sympathetically this year again and help this industry.

Colonel ASHLEY

I desire to reinforce the very weighty arguments which fell from my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Colonel Burn). I speak for a very considerable fishing industry in the town of Fleetwood, where, even since the War, 130 steam trawlers have been working out of it, and where great quantities of fish have been landed. I am glad to say that in my corner of the country fishermen are doing fairly well, and perhaps that is owing to the superior qualities and great enterprise of Lancashire men over Scotsmen.


In the herring industry?

Colonel ASHLEY

We do not confine ourselves only to herring fishing.


White fishing is all right.

Colonel ASHLEY

I desire to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the note on page 2 of the Estimates, where I see that a sum of £10,000 is put down for the construction of fishing vessels to be transferred to fishermen on repayment terms. Surely that is a very meagre and miserable sum to put down for such an important purpose. I do not know how much it costs to construct a trawler, but I think you would get very few ships indeed for £10,000. I imagine that this must be a token Vote. The idea is a very excellent one if only the proper amount of money is spent on it. That idea is that you should enable individual fishermen, whatever their status, to become owners in partnership of one of these steam trawler vessels and to repay the cost on easy terms to the Government. I commend the idea very much, but would like some further information as to the amount to be spent on it. For many years there has been a long standing grievance among my fishermen and I expect in other ports as well, that owing to the three mile limit Regulation they are not allowed to fish in many of the most thickly populated bays on the coasts of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, while any foreigner can go into those bays and fish where the local fishermen cannot go. Moray Firth is an example. Donegal Bay is another. The entrance to Donegal Bay is very narrow and the Irish authorities are able to prevent Irish steam trawlers from working there in the three mile limit, but any German or Norwegian or Dane can come and is allowed to fish at his own sweet will, because where he is fishing is actually outside the three mile limit.

I quite see the object of the Regulation which is as far as possible to prevent fairly shallow bays from being overfished. It is a very good idea if you keep everybody out, but surely it is most irritating to keep your own fishermen out and let the foreigner in, and to see the foreigner land his fish at the port of the men who would be prosecuted if they fished there. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman either to do away with the restriction on British fishermen or by international agreement secure a sanctuary for the fish and let nobody come in. This is a case which I think a separate department of fisheries would take up and would get some arrangement made. The Parliamentary Secretary is, we all know, a very hardworking man, but 90 per cent. of his work must be devoted to agriculture which is primarily his duty. Fishery is to him naturally only a half-time work or even less, and no man can properly attend to the two subjects. Therefore, I wish to urge upon the Government the real necessity, from every point of view, of at once appointing a separate Minister of Fisheries. We heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), that in his opinion next year there will be a shortage of wheat in this country. I do not pretend to have expert knowledge, but from what my friends tell me I understand there is a very grave possibility at any rate of that happening, and if that is so, surely we ought to do all we can to increase our fish supply. Nothing is more important to the food supply than a cheap and large supply of fish. What is being done to transport the fish when it does arrive? Only three weeks ago in the port of Fleetwood some 80 tons of fish were not even used for manure, but were taken out and dumped into the sea, as was stated, I think, by the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) on the last occasion on which this Vote was discussed. The fishermen were not to blame, nor were the townspeople, but it was the Ministry of Transport that was to blame. The right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary has not time to fight the Ministry of Transport in order to get proper fish trains arranged for from Hull, Fleetwood, Grimsby, and so forth; but if we had a Minister whose sole job it was to look after this industry there would be a far better chance that something would be done, and that we should get a move on in getting the fish taken inland from the ports.

I see several hon. Members opposite who represent what they call labour, and I put it to them that this is a matter in which their constituents are vitally interested. The more quickly the fish is transported inland the cheaper it will be. If it is allowed to remain at the docks it deteriorates, and nothing is nastier than stale fish, especially if it has been on the ice ten days before it reaches the port. Therefore, I ask the Labour party to assist us in trying to get this Ministry established. It would be useful too in regard to freshwater fish. Salmon appeals to everybody's palate, but not to everybody's pocket, because it is very expensive, but I am quite sure that the rivers of this country are capable of increasing their yield of salmon enormously if they were properly looked after, if the spawning beds were looked after and the obstructions were removed. Hon. Members know that hundreds of years ago the Thames was so full of salmon that the apprentices insisted upon a clause being put into their indentures that they were not to be fed on salmon more than twice a week, because it was so common that they got tired of eating it. The Thames is now largely free from pollution, except in the very lower reaches, and if we had a Minister whose duty it should be not only to look after the sea fishing bat also the freshwater fishing, I am sure we should have a very substantial addition to the food supplies of this country.


I am sure we farmers know that in the Noble Lord who is head of the Ministry of Agriculture and in the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Ministry in this House we have two gentlemen who are doing the best they possibly can for agriculture; but there are a few items in the Vote of which I should like to have some explanation. There is an increase in the Vote of £1,028,000. I am not complaining of the amount of money that will be spent by the Ministry, providing it is spent in the best possible way and that there is no waste, but I am rather doubtful about these numerous and increasing appointments that are being made. On page 76 of the Estimates we see that 16 district land commissioners are appointed, in the place of three last year, and that there are 35 district sub-commissioners. What they all have to do I do not know.


They are appointed under the Land Settlement Act.


On page 82 we notice that on land drainage and land reclamation the Ministry are only spending £97,200, against £260,000 last year. Therefore, I take it that they are doing considerably less work, but when we turn back to page 77 we find that they are for the first time appointing two engineers and one engineering assistant for land reclamation, and one commissioner and one engineer for land drainage. They had none of these officials last year, when they were carrying out work to the extent of a quarter of a million, but this year, when the works are. considerably less, they have appointed this large number of additional officials, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies will give me some information about that also. A large number of additional inspectors have been appointed, and I hope they are not being appointed similar to a good many who were appointed last year. Inspectors were appointed last year whose duties were, I believe, to go round and check the returns of farmers' crops, prncipally wheat, and we were told by the right hon. Gentleman in this House that the reason was in case the Corn Production Act should come into use and the Government should have to pay something under it to farmers because the price of wheat did not reach the guarantee. I think every thinking man who knew anything about agriculture knew very well that the price of wheat would not fall to the price inserted in the Corn Production Act, especially when the Government had fixed the mnimum price of wheat at 76s. 6d., so that the farmer could not receive less than that, yet in spite of that they appointed a huge number of officials to check the acreage on the farms because of the possibility that the farmers might receive less than they were guaranteed under the Act. In regard to agricultural research, we all welcome that, providing the money is properly spent, and I have no doubt that is so, for if there is one thing that farmers benefit by, it is the experiments that are carried out by the various experts and the knowledge that is sent round as a consequence. Grants are being made for research work other than the research work which is being carried on by the Ministry itself, and I hope that such experiments as I have in mind will be encouraged, namely, the experiments of the Royal Agricultural Society. The work has been done under the direction of that Society, which I am sure stands very high in the estimation of farmers, and I think I may say that that Society, in the experimental farms and other experiments it has carried out in different places, has been of the greatest service to agriculture in general. I am sure the farmers attach a great deal of importance to those experiments, which are plain, practical experiments, and not spectacular, as are, I am sorry to say, a lot of demonstrations carried on by the Ministry. Nothing of that sort is carried on by the Royal Agricultural Society, and I do appeal to the Ministry to think that over, to think of the good work the Society is doing for farming and agriculture in general, and see if it is not possible to increase the grant for research work by the Royal Agricultural Society. I am sure they are the people in which the majority of farmers have every confidence, and they have received a great deal of assistance from them in the past.

I want to endorse what was said by the right hon. Member on the front Opposition Bench, that we are confronted, from an agricultural point of view, with very serious times. It is very surprising that, as the cost of the Ministry of Agriculture is going up, so is the wheat production of this country going down. The wheat production went down considerably last year, and I do not hesitate to say, from my own observation, going round the eastern counties—one of the principal cereal-growing districts in this country— that our wheat acreage will not be down 400,000 acres this year, but nearer 1,000,000 acres, and it is a peculiar coincidence that that should be happening when the cost and increased staff of the Ministry should be going up by leaps and bounds. What we want as agriculturists is for the Ministry to get the Government to give us some settled policy. Let us know where we are. We do not object to paying good wages, but we do not want another Department coming in, which is not in touch with wages, and saying what we shall have for our produce, as has been done in the past, and then for another Department, which the right hon. Gentleman represents in this House, to issue orders and regulations so that we do not know where we are to-day, and certainly do not know where we are likely to be to-morrow.

There is one other item to which I should like to call attention, and that is an item for compensation for land under Part IV. of the Corn Production Act, 1917. So far as I know, under that Act the Ministry were given certain powers in case they were of opinion

that any land is not being cultivated according to the rules of good husbandry; or that, for the purpose of increasing in the national interest the product of food, the mode of cultivating any land, or the use to which any land is being put, should be changed. And it goes on to say that the Ministry can take this land in hand. The Ministry have acted on that power, and, finding land which has not been properly cultivated, they have taken that land in hand, and they have so damaged the land that they have to provide in the Estimates £250,000 for the purpose of paying compensation for land which they have taken over for the purpose of improvement. If that is the way that they have improved the cultivation of land, I agree with my right hon. Friend opposite in saying that it is no use trying to farm from Whitehall. I should be very glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Ministry here whether that is not the meaning of this £250,000 payable under Part IV. of the Act of 1917, because, if that is so, it bears out what was said by my right hon. Friend opposite, that the less the Ministry of Agriculture interfere directly with farming, the better. The more advice, the more instruction, the more assistance they can give to the farmer, the better for agriculture and the production of corn in this country; but undue interference, as we have had in the past, can do nothing but tend to reduce production, and probably be a serious menace in the near future.

Considering the serious position in which this country is very likely to be through the shortage of food, and the high prices which must necessarily result if there is a shortage of food, the Ministry should take every step they possibly can to ensure national production, and it is their business to point out to those who are engaged in agriculture the danger of letting production in this country sink to a very low level. Even in time of peace if we are going to let our production shrink, as it is shrinking every year, until we have to rely to a very much larger extent than we do at present on foreign supplies, we shall find ourselves in the very near future at the mercy of some combine or ring, in the countries of production, over which we have no control, and then the people of this country will have to pay very dearly for the neglect of an industry which, if properly encouraged, might have prevented them from being at the mercy of rings or combines. If we were to pro- duce, as I believe we could, with proper help from the Government, from one-half to three-fifths of the whole of the corn that is required in this country, then if any combines or rings in foreign countries should try to hold up our food supplies, we should have sufficient stock in this country, with a little tightening of the belt, to break those rings or combines. But the policy has never been pursued by the Government of giving sufficient encouragement to agriculture. We are producing a very much smaller amount—between one-third and a half— and will soon shrink below one-third, and the combines would have us at their mercy, because we should be starved in a few weeks, if they got into operation. Therefore, it is in the interests of all to assist in preventing that calamity, which would be a very serious calamity should it occur, and I am afraid it will occur if the Ministry do not encourage agriculture more in the future than they have in the past.


The condition of the agricultural industry at the present time warrants more attention being given to it than is apparent here to-night. In the figures before the House we see the details of expenditure in which the Ministry are engaged for the betterment of the industry. Many of these figures will not be cavilled at by agricultural Members. In the first place, we recognise that money spent upon agricultural research is money wisely spent, because we see that, not only on the Continent, but in America and in our own overseas Dominions, the expenditure of money has effected an enormous improvement in methods and results. When we know how much we have remained behind the good work done abroad in the last 20 or 30 years we are glad to see the beginning of an improvement here. But it is not enough merely to spend money upon agricultural research. What is absolutely essential is that the work carried on by the Department should be carried on in accordance with practical agricultural views. It is very much to be enjoined that the Department should pay heed to the views of the farmers. It is all very well for the Department to think that they can teach the farmer his business, but agriculture as practised in this country—and as a Scottish Member I think I may say, as it is practised in Scotland—has been developed to a high degree of perfection that is not easily beaten. If, therefore, there is going to be research work—and I hope there will be—it is essential that the farmers should be taken into the confidence of the Government, and that the work should be done in accordance with the views of practical agriculturists.

Reference was made, and I think very properly, by the hon. Baronet the Member for Shropshire to the work which has been and is being done in the great Dominions in respect of wart disease in potatoes. The work of the Government in this respect has been a bungling work. Farmers have been told to plant nothing but what are termed "immune" varieties. I think I may say without fear of correction that the majority of immune varieties are very much inferior to the good quality potatoes that were being previously grown. Wart disease is not a new thing. I knew of it thirteen years ago. Farmers took what steps they could to avoid any recurrence of it, and I think that the farmers did then what was just as good for the stoppage of the trouble as anything which the Department has done since. We see in the Estimates that expenditure is put down for seed-testing. Enormous good can be done at the seed-testing stations to increase the productivity both of grain and of all other plantings. The question is one that deserves the closest attention. We have seen varieties of oats introduced from Sweden and elsewhere which have enormously increased the productivity of the areas, and in other directions the Government might do good work in introducing and propagating improved varieties of grain which would largely increase productivity. In all this work it is necessary that the practical farmer should be taken into account and carried along with the Government.

On the question of foot-and-mouth disease, I think the Department might show more activity. We have had the disease now existing for quite a long time. In pre-War days we knew what urgent steps were taken to stamp out an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. I rather think that the farmer is not so active as he used to be in this matter. The importation of store cattle has been prevented. Although that is the law of the country, yet there have been a certain number of Friesian cattle introduced which, as a breed, are prone to this disease. The Department are open to a good deal of criticism in allowing the landing of these cattle. The attempts made to improve the grass of the country are to the good. The application of phosphatic manures has had a great effect; the basic slag, which was the cause of much improvement of grasslands in the past, is now apparently altered in composition, for the basic slag of the present day is nothing like what the basic slag was in pre-War times. Therefore a very serious obligation rests upon the Department to try and meet that difficulty. We have Seen what bad work the Government has done in regard to bringing in phosphates from the shores of the Mediterranean and we have very little encouragement to think that the loss of the Lincolnshire slag will be made good. I do hope that the Department will use all its powers to procure phosphates, because there is no manure which will have a greater effect. In all these directions there is much room for improvement. When we see at the present time that the acreage under cultivation is largely decreasing, I cannot but think that we ought to warn my right hon. Friend, and tell him that agriculturists expect a little more activity on the part of his Department than it is showing at the present time. We see how the industry is living in a state of suspense. We have been told that legislation was going to be passed which would have the effect of putting agriculture on its feet. Farmers are afraid that something is going wrong with the Agricultural Bill, and unless we get an assurance at the present time that a settled agricultural policy is going to be carried out as promised, I think there will be a serious reduction in the quantity of land under cultivation. I hope my right hon. Friend in charge of the Department may be able to press upon other Ministers the need of a forward policy, and if he can do that he will do a good deal for the agricultural industry.


I think it has been clearly emphasised that the chief need of the country is the production of wheat. One of the chief causes of the small production of wheat is improper drainage. I see in the Estimates for land drainage last year the amount was £135,000, and this year it is £72,000. This is a question which requires very serious consideration. On this matter I can only speak for my own locality. We have the River Witham, which is the main artery of the drainage. We have local authorities who pump their water from this river, and we have the higher land that drains by gravitation. Nearly all our waterways are being choked up and it is important that a grant should be made to deepen the main channels in order to get rid of the water naturally, I think they should, urge on the various local bodies the necessity of carrying out their duties in this respect. When you come to the upland waterland there are often no drainage authorities at all, and some of these smaller bodies on the main arteries have to take the water from the upper lands. This is taken by various channels artificially by gravitation, and the result is that, unless these channels are properly cleaned out, the water from the upper land cannot get away. That would not happen in the part of the country I am talking about, where there are thousands of acres waterlogged which ought to be under wheat, if the smaller stream which takes the water down could be drained and deepened, and this happens because the Commissioners and drainage authorities do not do their work properly. I ask that the Ministry should consider the whole question of drainage seriously, and if it is possible, devote larger sums to what is one of the most important means of increasing production in our country.

With regard to land reclamation, I know what is taking place on the Lincolnshire coast, and I see that £100,000 last year was devoted to this policy. I am very glad to see that it has now been reduced to £11,200, because this land, although it has afforded employment to men who otherwise would have been unemployed, is not a practical scheme, and is not one which the local inhabitants consider sound because the cost of the land, when reclaimed, will be very much more than it is worth. Therefore, I am very pleased to see that only £11,000 this year is being put down for that purpose. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us an assurance that this will be the end of the money spent on reclamation in this locality, because now, when money is so very valuable, it is not really necessary, and the cost of the land when reclaimed is very much more than it is worth. What we do want is a consistent line of policy outlined by the Ministry of Agriculture. Hundreds of farmers are going out of business because they do not know where they are or what the policy of the future will be, and in order to get more production and get the very best results in agriculture for this country, it really is necessary to have a clear and definite policy, when I feel sure every farmer will do his best to produce all the grain he can and everything that is possible.


I do not wish always to appear in the role of a critic of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, but, frankly, speaking as I do for a purely agricultural division, I cannot to-night adopt any other attitude. We have before us the Estimates of this Department, and they represent a large expenditure. The total amount involved is between £4,000,000 and £5,000,000, which, according to the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Department, is a great increase on pre-War Estimates. I believe that in 1913 the total expenditure of the Department was only £519,000, and it is up to all of us in this House thoroughly to survey the whole field of operations of the Department, and to ask ourselves the simple question: Is the nation getting full value for this enormous expenditure? We have created a new Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, we have brought into existence a large and, let us hope, a competent staff of Government officials. We are told that they are filled with enthusiasm and energy. I do not doubt that for a single moment. The Parliamentary Secretary the other day told us of some of the various duties which the Department are undertaking. He told us, for instance, about their agricultural education and research work, the organising of demonstration plots, their scheme in connection with the improvement of livestock, their grass land improvement scheme, their horticultural scheme for educating and instructing smallholders and allotment holders, the experiments which they are carrying out for the purpose of mitigating the wart disease in potatoes, their lactose factories for dealing with whey, their experiments in connection with sugar beet growing, their duties in connection with such animal complaints as rabies and foot-and-mouth disease, their training schemes for ex-officers and soldiers, and for disabled men, and, finally, their duties in connection with fisheries; but I regret to say that he did not deal with that about which those of us who take an interest in agriculture are waiting to hear something. He did not utter a single word as to the intentions of the Government in making known their agricultural policy.


I could not possibly do that; it would have been out of order on a Vote which dealt only with administration in present and past years.


We have before us the Estimates of this Department which is costing the nation between £4,000,000 and £5,000,000. I maintain, if the Department has not a policy, that it is certainly not worth £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 of the taxpayers' money.


It is not fair to say that it has not a policy. You, Sir, I am sure, will realise that I am not in a position to discuss questions of policy on the Estimates.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir E. Cornwall)

Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will keep to the Estimates.


The delay of the Government in introducing any policy at all is causing widespread discontent among all those interested in this industry throughout the country. It is causing farmers to turn existing arable land back to grass; it is bound to affect the food supply of this country, and it can have only one result, namely, to increase the cost of living to all people in the country, whether they be the rich, the middle class, or the poor. The other day I received a very important letter from the National Farmers Union, asking me if I had the opportunity to bring to the notice of the House a Resolution passed unanimously by the Council of the Union on 21st April. I need not apologise for taking this course, because, after all, the National Farmers' Union is a very important organisation. They have at present over 80,000 members scattered throughout the length and breadth of the country and employing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, and I do say that the enormous amount of money which they have sunk in this industry certainly entitles them to receive sympathetic consideration. The Resolution reads as follows:— That this meeting of the Council of the National Farmers' Union views with the gravest apprehension the continued delay on the part of the Government in introducing the Agricultural Bill.


The hon. and gallant Member is not entitled to discuss legislation. He can only deal with the administration of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.


Of course, I bow to your ruling, but I want to take this opportunity of urging my right hon. Friend to make some statement on this all-important question. I have repeatedly asked his Department questions. On one occasion we were told by the Leader of the House that every question asked by hon. Members costs the State something like 30s. I can only say that I have never received an answer from the right hon. Gentleman's Department which is worth anything like that sum. I should put it at about 9d. I maintain that this resolution, deliberately drafted and passed by the Council of the National Farmers' Union, bears out my previous remarks. It would appear that, at the present time, this Department, which is costing the State between £4,000,000 and £5,000,000, is causing a state of chaos and anxiety throughout the whole farming industry. Perhaps some hon. Members may think that agriculturists are demanding something without reason or justification, but all those interested in this industry base their expectations on definite promises and pledges which have been made by both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture.


May I ask if, on this Estimate, it is in order for the hon. and gallant Member to discuss the policy of the Government, or should he not confine himself to the Estimate?


Of course, the hon. Member must confine himself to the Estimate, but there is some latitude allowed to hon. Members when discussing the administration of the Department. To refer to policy is, of course, out of order, but I gather the hon. Member's argument to be that the policy pursued by the present administration is bringing chaos and anxiety to the farmer. He must avoid discussing general questions of policy, when asking the Minister to reply on that point. I will ask the hon. Member to keep strictly to the Estimate.


I have been doing my best to keep within the bounds of the Estimate, but I want to repeat that we are asked to vote a very large sum of money, and the Ministry of Agriculture, as a great State Department, is not worth the expenditure of so much money unless it has a policy. It is up to it to produce a policy, otherwise it ought not to have the money for which it is asking. The farmers, I was saying, base their expectations on definite promises. May I inquire if I would be in order in giving two short quotations, one from the Prime Minister and the other from the Minister for Agriculture, dealing with those pledges?


I do not know until I hear them.


The Prime Minister said: I cannot, as one who was associated with the conduct of the War in those days, remain responsible another year without taking every measure that is necessary in order to make it impossible that there should be a repetition of those perils in the story of our native land. When the right hon. Gentleman said that he was dealing with the food supply of this country for which, after all, this Department, whose administration we are discussing, is to a very great extent responsible. Three weeks later Lord Lee, the Minister for Agriculture, who, I believe, under these Estimates, receives £2,000 a year, speaking at Gloucester used these words: I have got a perfectly definite mission to carry out, and that is, in the interests of national safety, to do all the Board of Agriculture can do to reduce the dependence of this country upon the supplies of essential foods from Overseas. This policy is essential not in the interests merely of this or that section of the agricultural industry but in the interests of the whole nation, and more particularly of the urban population. I submit that from these declarations the country are entitled to assume that this State Department has got some sort of policy, and I would say, in conclusion, that if they cannot produce that policy they are not worth the money they are asking the taxpayer to pay.


I fully agree with the remarks which fell from the hon. and gallant Member for the Sudbury Division of Suffolk (Major Howard), and I hope the Ministry will take them to heart. I am not going now to criticise the Ministry. I want rather to ask its assistance. I have been assisted so often by the right hon. Gentleman who sits on the Treasury Bench and his staff recently over matters connected with fisheries that he will forgive me, I am sure, if I go back to that subject. There is at this moment a peculiar trouble in the fishery world. It exists in connection with the distribution of fish from the shores where it is landed to the consumer inland. I know my right hon. Friend will say that this is a matter for another Ministry, but, in spite of that, I ask his assistance in putting pressure on that Ministry as, between them, I hope that they may be able to alleviate a trouble which is becoming very acute indeed. The trouble affects particularly the Division which I have the honour to represent. I do not know if the House is aware that there is in the borough of King's Lynn a very old and a very interesting fishing community comprising some 700 families, who live in a quarter of the town entirely by themselves, who live their own lives and who have their own customs and manners and their own means of livelihood. These people have a small tiny creek, a tributary of the Ouse, which is full at high tide and empty at low tide, and this is their only harbour. In it are crowded a number of small smacks which are run by a very needy, yet a very hardy and a very valuable type of man, for no people in the War served the country better than those who swept the North Sea in these small smacks. They are now faced with a shortage of trawl fish, herrings and mackerel, the reason for which we do not know. What these people really depend upon is the crop of cockles, mussels and whelks. Mussels have to be sent right across England and even as far as Scotland. The cockles are a very large source of food in the Midlands, and in towns on the East Coast. I should explain that, as long as the cockle is in his own shell he will keep on shore for some days, but the freight on a bag of cockles has been so increased since January that it no longer pays these people to send these cockles inland at all. The result is that they are taking the fish out of the shells and selling them in that way in bags. I need not point out to the right hon. Gentleman, not only the loss of valuable food to which that gives rise, but also the danger that is likely to ensue. Again, the demand for mussels, on account of the increased freight, has so decreased that there is no longer any such sale for them as would pay the fishermen for sending them inland. Therefore whole cargoes of them have been taken and put back on the beds in the Wash. In this matter I would ask the sympathy of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Captain Hotchkin). He looks across the Wash at my constituents, and I know that he is watching the interests of a similar class on his own side. With regard to whelks, it is generally understood that these are a coarse class of food, but as a matter of fact they are largely consumed in the Manchester district, and they are a very nutritious and palatable food.

I want to ask the special attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the great increase which has taken place in freights. For instance, a twelve-pound parcel of shrimps or prawns cost 6d. before the War to take to Newmarket. It was 11d. during the War, and now it is 1s. 4d. Before the War the railway companies collected from door to door, charging 1d. a bag. This charge is now raised to 6d., and sometimes 8d., and on this account the railway lorries going down to the docks at the north end of Lynn, which used, on returning empty, to take up these bags, now do not do so, because it does not pay, and the whole industry is at a standstill. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford will sympathise with me, seeing that his constituents have been customers of my constituents in King's Lynn, when I tell him that the cost of a bag of mussels is 3s. for the mussels themselves, 4s. 2d. for carriage, and 7d. for the bag, making 7s. 9d. in all, whereas his constituents only wish to pay 6s. 2d. These figures have been given to me as recently as the end of April, and the position is getting very serious for these 700 families living at the north end of King's Lynn. A sack of flour can be sent for a much less amount than can the same weight of fish. The cost of fishing tackle, as we have already heard in this Debate, has also been a great factor, and it has risen enormously. Rope, which cost 6d. per lb. before the War, now costs 1s. 4d. A prawn net before the War cost £6 10s., and now it costs £25. There was a gale three weeks ago, which carried away the mainsail of a small smack, which is the sole means of livelihood of its owner, who happens to be a well-known fishing woman of the district. She paid £27 10s for that mainsail, but to get a new one she had to pay £97 14s. All this is pressing terribly hardly upon these people, and, if there is one thing that my right hon. Friend could do to alleviate their position, it is to put pressure upon his colleagues at the Ministry of Transport to ease this matter down, and make it more possible for this community to live.

I should like to draw his attention to a matter of which I think he is already aware, namely, that this same creek in King's Lynn, known as the Fisher Fleet, is a prehistoric harbour, which used to extend right through the town and out into the country on the other side. In the early 'seventies, however, the Dock Company was formed, and cut this harbour in two. I do not say it was not necessary, but it left this fishing community merely two or three hundred yards of this most impossible harbour. They cling to it for old association's sake and because it is among their homes. Under the Act of 1877 certain arrangements were made by which the Fisher Fleet was to be properly flushed with water from the docks, and also that certain lights should be kept burning. These were put out on account of the War, and I consider that they should now be relighted. It was also arranged that certain landing stages and sheds should be kept in good order. I ask the right hon. Gentleman's assistance in this matter. I am given to understand that an official from his office has quite recently been sent down to investigate some of these points, and I must thank him for the rapidity, courtesy and efficiency which he and his office have shown in attempting to deal with these very difficult matters. I would, however, ask him to drive it home, for there are other offices concerned besides his own. We have great confidence in him on the coast of Norfolk, and I am perfectly happy, on behalf of my long-suffering constituents, to leave the matter in his hands.


That is a time when, very rightly, everybody is considering economy, but the one Department which, I think all sections of the community are agreed, might well have rather more money spent upon it in the future is the Department of Agriculture. It is universally admitted that for many years past our agriculture, as compared with that of other countries, has been desperately starved and under-staffed, and that its work, therefore, has necessarily been inadequate to the requirements. I do not think the House is likely to question the increase under the head of salaries, although it is an item which, in other Departments, would naturally call for serious and detailed criticism. We do, however, expect that, with this increase of salaries, there shall come an increase of activity, and we hope that from this increased expenditure we shall see larger and more complete results in the future. I do not suggest that these salaries or personnel are excessive. All who know the Ministry of Agriculture know that at this moment it is still very much under-staffed. Some of its principal officials are greatly overworked, and I hope that, in spite of the call for economy, it will be possible to supplement the work of some of these valuable men, because I feel very anxious lest some of them may break down, and not be able to continue their work. I am sorry to say that at the present moment there seems to be no immediate prospect of any improvement in the premises in which the Ministry of Agriculture is housed. One of the earliest questions I remember beng constantly asked in the House was when there was going to be a possibility of the Board being better housed. At present they are housed in, I believe, 17 different buildings. With such intricate and detailed work as the Ministry has to carry out, involving so many different subjects and different branches of science, it is urgently necessary that all these subjects should be brought together and coordinated in one building as far as possible. This question has been talked about ever since I have been in the House, and though we actually got to the stage of having new premises built, no sooner were they ready than the Ministry of Munitions put in a prior claim. No one can say that at present that Department is not very important, but I hope at a very early date the Ministry will cease to have any particular value, and we shall be able to use those buildings for the far more productive and valuable process of producing food rather than munitions. At present the Ministry is in a most uncomfortable condition, and one cannot at this particular time suggest any increase in anything which may be called luxury buildings, but I hope before long the Ministry will be properly housed.

I am not quite sure what the position of the Ministry may be as regards the Agricultural Wages Board, but I want to know what is the reason why there seems to be a complete change of policy on the part of that Board, and what position the Ministry occupies in controlling any changes which may take place. When the Wages Board was first set up it was part of the arrangement that there should be a Central Wages Board in London, and that the necessities of the various parts of the country should be represented by District Wages Committees. The scheme involved that the initiative should come from those District Wages Committees, so that the needs of each particular district should become known to the Central Board, which would then be able to deal with them. But the policy has now been completely changed. I do not know why it was sanctioned, or whether this came under the control of the Ministry, or whether it has been by their suggestion, but at this moment it seems that the Central Wages Board in London issues instructions and suggestions to the District Wages Committees, and, after they have been considered, fixes a flat rate to become statutory for all the districts. That may or may not be a good policy, but it entirely reverses the scheme under which the Wages Board was set up. The old policy was that the requirements of each district should be reflected and brought up to London to be decided, while one thing was avoided which everyone desired to avoid, namely, that the thing should be controlled from London, and should not represent the requirements of the district. I should like to know whether the Ministry have any control over the matter, whether they have sanctioned this change of policy, and whether they cannot do something to ensure that in future the districts have a better opportunity of being heard rather than have the wishes of the London Executive imposed upon them and the original policy entirely reversed.

Something has been said about the drainage requirements of the country. Anyone who has travelled through the country in the last three months will have noticed its deplorably waterlogged condition. We have seen acres under water; we have seen what would otherwise be a promising wheat crop standing in water and gradually dwindling away. There is nothing that causes more deterioration in agriculture than the waterlogged condition of many districts. A short time ago the House passed an Act to deal with drainage. It seemed to me by no means a heroic measure, and I regretted very much that the powers given to the various authorities were not greater. Many boards have been set up, but so far they have not been able to do anything which could be considered as work of any serious value. It is too early yet to judge of the results of the work they are doing. It will take time. But I should like to know what the view of the Ministry is and whether they think any improvement can be made or that any legislation is required to improve the existing condition of things which is very unsatisfactory and very harmful to the crops.

Another point is the difficulty of getting basic slag. The Ministry has been sending round a most able lecturer on the value of slag for the improvement of crops. Everyone who has studied agriculture knows what a large acreage there is under grass very often of a poor, neglected quality, particularly in pasture. Professor Somerville has a reputation second to none in this matter. He has conducted a series of very valuable experiments in the North of England on the improvement of pasture. There have been a great many experiments carried out previously for weighing the hay grown on plots variously treated. He directed his" attention to trying to improve pasture and he did it by having large plots fenced off and a certain number of sheep put into them which he weighed after the experiment and made a comparison between the increases of weight of the sheep on the different plots. He obtained very valuable results which he is now explaining to his audiences It is no use sending round a gentleman who very strongly advocates the use of basic slag if those who want to use it cannot. get it. This is very largely due to difficulties of transport, but it is up to the Ministry to try to improve it. All the Ministries will be pressing for various things, and unless the Ministry of Agriculture keeps its own end up and asserts itself against the other Ministries we shall not get our basic slag and agriculture will go down. I urge the Minister to be courteous but very firm, and not to adopt the attitude which has too often been adopted of being so perfect a gentleman that you have nothing given to you at all.

I should have liked to deal with the question of plant diseases, but that has been dealt with. I am glad to see that there is a considerable increase in the Vote for the purpose of smallholdings. We should, however, like to know what is happening. At the present time, great tracts of land are being bought by various county councils who are being encouraged by the Ministry of Agriculture, but in the present condition of housing, and in consequence of the difficulties of getting labour, the holdings cannot be equipped. We are all sincere in wanting to see soldiers settled on the land, and in wanting to encourage the system of smallholdings, but if there is to be a great disturbance of the existing tenant farmers and smallholders cannot be put upon the land, it is obvious that valuable tracts of country may tend to become derelict, with a consequent loss to food production. I should like to know how far the Board are encouraging county councils to buy immediately land which might otherwise be occupied by tenant farmers, who are certainly producing a considerable amount of food. It is obvious that smallholdings cannot be created until there is proper means of equipping them. I understand that the Ministry of Agriculture are perfectly happy on the subject of money, and that they are encouraging the authorities to go on buying by saying that there is plenty of money in the till. I hope that they are not encouraging them to buy beyond the actual probabilities of the situation. We all desire a full and complete and satisfactory system of food production, and that is the reason why we welcome the changes we see in the increased activities of the Ministry, and we hope the food production will be considerably improved thereby. The whole House appreciates the work which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry has done. We all know that he is a whole-hearted supporter and well-wisher of agriculture, and we also know that he has very great knowledge on the subject. In regard to the points we have raised, we trust that he will be able to meet us, and we know that he will do his best in that direction.

10.0 P.M.

Lieut.-Commander WILLIAMS

I should like to ask the Ministry of Agriculture to re-define its policy as regards the future of smallholdings During the last few months there has been a considerable amount of unsettlement in the minds of the agricultural community as to what is exactly to be the final policy to be pursued. Coming from a part of the country which is almost entirely one of small farms I have always held, and there is a very great body of support in this House for it, that we should encourage the men to get back to the land, to farm a small quantity of land such as they and their wives and families could cultivate, where it is possible economically and conveniently to do so, and where it is handy for the markets. I cannot see any use, with the extraordinary cost of building at the present time, in taking large farms and splitting them up and re-splitting them up again and making them into smallholdings, but where you have a market close to the town and where it is possible to find the land and to take it economically from a farm which has an insufficient amount of buildings, and where it is close to a village where the men can be housed, I do think it is sound that you should follow as closely as you can the policy of getting your ex-service men back to the land.

In these Estimates there are one or two points of detail on which I should like to have some explanation. You have an increase of approximately £750,000 for training ex-service officers and men. There you have an excellent and first-class expenditure of money, and I should be the last to criticise it. Under the other head you have approximately £1,000,000 being spent on smallholdings. If that is expended judiciously, and if the Parliamentary Secretary will explain how it is being spent, I am sure we shall vote willingly for the expenditure. There are, however, other forms of expenditure which are not quite so satisfactory. There is an increase from £6,300 to £50,000 for temporary clerical assistance. This may be necessary in connection with the smallholdings estimates or in connec- tion with any further increases which the Department have found necessary in the re-settlement of soldiers on the land, but I do think that it is the duty of the Ministry to explain to what that large increase of salaries is due. It is only by taking the details of the salaries paid in this way that the House can possibly hope to have any control over the expenditure. I find that for technical outdoor staff inspectors you have an increase from £53,000 in 1919–20 to £95,000 in 1920–21. There is also an item for a woman inspector. She may be very useful, and my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Dr. Murray) suggests that she may be very ornamental, and I have no doubt that she may be, but when you get a single individual in the Estimates as a separate item, that individual is likely to grow into many in a few years' time, and we have some reason to ask for an explanation as to the policy that is being followed in this respect. We find that assistant inspectors have been increased from 39 to 59. It is all very well to let inspectors increase in this way. They may be doing excellent work, but I have heard during the last 18 months considerable criticism of Government inspectors as regards agriculture. I have heard of farmers continually being worried as regards their farming by men who suddenly arrive and tell them what to do. As a general rule, these inspectors create a great deal more dissatisfaction than convenience in the districts to which they come. I would not like to repeat some of the remarks which I have heard passed in reference to Government inspectors in this matter, but I do ask the Minister, knowing that he understands thoroughly the mind of the farmer and remembering how greatly the farmer dislikes having his affairs interfered with in any way, that when you come to increase inspectors, unless you are particularly careful, you are probably tending to compel farmers to take less care because they are worried, and when they are worried they will pay as little attention to their farms as they possibly can.

I would like to get a few more details as regards the £250,000 which is being expended on the growth of sugar beet. I have always heard that sugar-beet growing was an exceedingly profitable industry, and I am convinced that if you get a large sugar-beet-growing industry in this country, which would employ an enormous number of hands in agricultural districts, give a great amount of work to factories in producing the machinery required and yield certain feeding stuffs for our stock, it would be encouraging not only to labour in the country districts, but also to labour in the towns. I would like to have full details, if possible, of all that has been done to encourage this particular industry, and as to what efforts are being made to secure that the results of experiments which were carried on in country districts before the War are being co-ordinated and used, so that we may grow sugar in the best and most suitable climates. It is only right that any Member who is interested in a large agricultural community should press the Government as soon as they can—I mean before any preparations have been made for the harvest next year, before the autumn sowing comes in—to lay down a very clear constructive agricultural policy. You have at present corn-growing land going back into pasture. You are losing a good deal of the progress which was made in country districts during the War, and unless you can define exactly what the Government will do in future as regards agriculture you are going to see it go back, which will be bad not merely for country districts, but for the towns as well.


I have been asked so many questions in the course of this Debate that I think it better to take the opportunity of answering some of them now, though I do not propose to occupy all the time that remains, so that this need not necessarily close the Debate. A great deal has been said about the fact that I have to represent in this House not only agriculture, but also fisheries, and perhaps it is just as well that I should say a word about the fishery question first. We have been pressed very hard to get rid of this unholy combination of agriculture and fisheries, and to set up a separate Ministry. There is very great difficulty in the way of the proposal. I do not think the House or the country is particularly anxious to set up new Ministries at the present moment.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

You have just set up one, without portfolio.


The hon. Member is quite wrong. It was set up some time ago. But that has really nothing to do with it. If there is to be a really comprehensive Fisheries Ministry it must deal with the whole of the United Kingdom. Are my Scottish friends prepared to have one Ministry of Fisheries for Great Britain and Ireland? It would mean the disappearance of the Scottish Fisheries Board. I have never yet been able to ascertain that my Scottish friends are prepared to do that. If they are not, it is obvious that to set up a separate Ministry in Englannd would be quite futile. The two fisheries go together. We go and fish to some extent in Scottish waters, and Scottish fishermen poach a great deal more in our waters. At all events, they fish together, and the difficulty is that if you are to have a really strong and competent body it must be one Ministry for the whole of the United Kingdom. There are other difficulties, and they are international. Our fishermen travel the whole world over; they fish from Iceland to the coast of Morocco, and it would be very difficult to devise any Fisheries Ministry who could have the power now wielded in international affairs by the Foreign Office and other great Government Departments. I fully realise that our powers as a Ministry of Fisheries are altogether too small, and that there are certain powers which might with great advantage be handed over by the Board of Trade and other Departments The matter is now being considered. We have a large Bill under consideration, and I hope I may be able to introduce it this year. It would have the effect of strengthening greatly the powers of the Ministry in dealing with fisheries generally. The other powers that might be handed over with advantage are matters for inter-departmental negotiation.

I am entirely at one will hon. Members in this—that owing to cur lack of powers, and owing to the fact that fisheries have been, in a sense no one's child up to the present, they have not received that attention at the hands of the State that they ought to have received. A great deal more could be done, not only in connection with the ordinary fisheries, but in connection with the great trawling industry, which really is the backbone of the whole thing. I realise that there are grievances We have done our best and we hope to do still more. We have improved the status of the Fisheries Division, and we are taking every possible step to deal with the question of transport. It is a grave misfortune that valuable food should have to be destroyed for want of transport at the ports. When you talk about the Fisheries Ministry dealing with all these things, you do not suggest, I assume, that we should take from the Ministry of Transport their powers as regards the transport of fish? That would be making a cross division in administration which would be impossible. We are calling the attention of the Ministry of Transport to our present difficulties, and we shall continue to do so. When attention is called to the difficulties which the industry experienced during the War, and to the great falling off in the landing of fish, may I give as a proof of the re-establishment of the industry that the catches for the first quarter of this year have been a record. Our officers of the fishery branch in innumerable ways, and often without sufficient legal powers, and acting on their own initiative, have been able to assist very materially in the re-establishment of the industry. With men coming back from the War and getting back to the fishing industry and with the shortage of everything, coal for trawlers, salt for curing, we have been able to get over many of those difficulties, and I think the industry is being re-established on a firmer basis than ever before. With regard to the guarantee to the herring industry, I am afraid I should be travelling outside anything in these Estimates if I were to deal with that question, but I realise fully that it was of enormous advantage to the herring fishery that we were able to give that guarantee last year. We entered into a very solemn promise to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we would not ask for it again, but, of course we have got to consider the present situation; but beyond promising to give it the fullest consideration, I cannot go further into the matter. With regard to the hon. Member (Mr. Jodrell) who spoke of the difficulties of his constituents owing to the high cost of the carriage of shrimps and whelks and cockles, especially out of their own shells, I can only say that I have been endeavouring to assist in the matter, as he was good enough to say; and I will certainly make further efforts to do so. The hon. Member for Torquay (Colonel Burn) spoke of the insufficient salaries paid to officers in the Fishery Department. We are quite aware of that, and we would be glad to have them put on a better footing. We have been able to secure the War bonus for a good many who had not got it before. Apart from that, in the organisation of a staff, and especially a scientific staff, it is not good economy for the country to pay insufficient salaries to men of high scientific attainments and men who are of the greatest value to the country, but whose services the country will inevitably lose unless they are paid at a proper rate.

I come to the question of agriculture of which we have heard a good deal tonight. I was exceedingly glad that so much of the Debate was taken up with questions of education and research. I have always held that the future of British farming depended largely on knowledge, and we have got to encourge research in the first instance to the utmost of our power on the most approved and up-to-date lines, and, secondly, we have got to take what steps we can to disseminate that knowledge among the farmers of this country. We are trying to do that, and I think we are doing it not unsuccessfully. When comparisons are made, as they have been made to-night and at other times, between what we are doing and what other countries do, it is absolutely true that a few years ago what we were spending on agricultural education and research in this country was a miserable figure. It was no more than £13,300 a year, while Canada was spending £840,000 a year and the United States of America, on their Federal allocations only, £4,000,000. We are now spending in these Estimates £523,600, a very large increase, which I think is fully justified, and I believe that money will bring in a very handsome return in the future. The hon. Baronet the Member for the Ludlow Division (Sir B. Stanier) asked about the wart disease in potatoes, and the hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. H. Hope) also spoke about what is being done in the matter of research into the wart disease. The position is this. This is an old disease. It has not lately come into this country, but it has become infinitely worse in the last 10 years, and if we were not going to allow practically the whole of our crops of potatoes to be destroyed by wart disease, we were bound to take active steps. A research station was set up at Ormskirk, in Lancashire. It has been Very successful. It discovered certain varieties of potatoes which were immune.


They were discovered long before that.


My hon. Friend objects to the word "discovered," but it certainly carried the discovery very much further and has enabled us to provide seed potatoes of an immune character which can be planted in infected soil, thereby preventing the spread of the disease. We are bound to carry on those experiments and to maintain these restrictions, unless we are going to lose our crops of potatoes in great parts of the country. I am sorry to say that the very able superintendent died recently, and I am not yet in a position to say who his successor will be, but I have no doubt we shall be able to get a very good man. In the meantime, the hon. Member asked me if we were going to set up another research station. No, I think not, because our policy is as far as possible to concentrate research on specific objects at particular places, and in that way we think we get the best work done. He also asked me about a poultry institute. I agree that a great deal of research could be done in the matter of poultry; there is an immense field for poultry in this country. The imports of poultry and eggs before the War were enormous in amount, and they chiefly came from Russia. No longer can they come from Russia, and probably that source of supply is closed for a good many years to come. There is the greatest opportunity for the development of this great industry at home, but we want to provide poultry rearers with the best knowledge and information and so forth. I am glad to say we have obtained a provisional guarantee from the Development Commissioners to find a certain amount of funds in order to establish a poultry institute. Where that poultry institute will be is not definitely settled, but probably at Methwold, in Norfolk, where we have a large amount of land regarded as being entirely suitable, whereas I am informed that there would not be the same amount of land available at the Harper-Adams College.

Then my hon. Friend asked me about the cattle-testing station. The cattle-testing station was set up at Pirbright in order to comply with the regulations of the South African Government, who insisted that all cattle for export to South Africa must be tested at the Government testing-station before embarkation. We have been criticised because it is said there is not sufficient accommodation. We are trying to get additional accommodation, but it is not our fault that this has got to be done. It is simply for compliance with the regulations of the South African Government. I think up to date something like 250 cattle have been tested there, but that is no test of the amount of cattle exported generally, because it only applies to South Africa, in whose interests the station was established. Then my hon. Friend asked about the Veterinary Laboratory. He knows that there is a very able Chief Veterinary Officer in charge, Sir Stewart Stockman, and I am very glad to say the Laboratory is doing very efficient work. A good deal of work has been put on it lately. It had to test practically every suspected case of rabies. The head of every dog suspected of rabies was sent to the Laboratory and tested there, but, apart from that work, which has been, on the whole, very satisfactory, because rabies has now been stamped out of the greater Part of the country, most valuable work has been constantly done in making up serum for various diseases, and I am sure that part of the work of the Ministry is well worth recording.

My right hon. Friend opposite asked me a good many questions about foot-and-mouth disease. We are taking, and have taken, every possible means to stamp it out, and wherever foot-and-mouth disease has shown its head, we have come down upon it heavily, and we have stamped it out there and then. It is an expensive process, occasioning the slaughter of a lot of cattle and involving a lot of compensation. When we are asked if we know what the origin of the disease is, I must say we do not. If we had known the origin we might have prevented it coming in. Unfortunately, it has come in, and made its appearance in a sporadic manner all over the country, and it has been almost impossible to find any clue—this is the opinion of my scientific advisers— of what has been the real cause of it. But we have done the best thing we can. We have appointed a highly scientific and technical committee to inquire into the matter. My hon. Friend objected that there were no practical farmers on the Committee, but really I suggest to the House that this is a matter of science and technical knowledge, and it is only science which can ascertain the cause. Of course, they have not reported up to the present time, as the Committee has only just been set up, but I hope we may get an answer before very long.

My right hon. Friend then spoke about what he called the farming we are doing from London. It is perfectly true, as he said—and nobody subscribes to the doctrine more than I do—that you cannot make agriculture prosperous by cultivation from Whitehall. But that is not our policy. Our policy is to lay down such conditions that our farmers can make it prosperous. I really think we are doing very little in cultivation from Whitehall. He spoke about control. I agree that many of these controls have been a hindrance to agriculture, but I suppose they were necessary during the War, and some of them are still necessary; but we are getting rid of control as quickly as ever we can. We have got rid of the control of milk and milk products. We have got rid of the control of pigs and pig products. The whole of the control of meat will disappear, I hope, on 4th July.

My right hon. Friend asked what was the position and the relations between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food. When it is a question of food control the ultimate decision lies with the Ministry of Food. But they always act in consultation with us, and I am bound to say that, at all events recently, we have had little complaint to make against them. They have treated us with every courtesy and consideration, and have paid attention to our representations. My right hon. Friend suggested there was no co-ordination between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture in the matter of housing. If it be rural housing where there is less than half an acre attached they attend to it; if there is more than half an acre attached, we do. The whole question is whether it is really rural housing, or land settlement in the nature of a cottage holding, or a smallholding. If the right hon. Gentleman will give me examples of where there has been a lack of co-ordination, and where a county council has, in consequence, found the position difficult to carry out, I shall certainly inquire into the matter.

One or two criticisms were made by the hon. Member for Sudbury as to the actual Votes and the figures appearing in the Estimates. My hon. Friend fell into one error when he suggested there was a big increase in the amount of money we are spending this year as compared with last year. That is not the case. It is quite true there is a net increase of something like £1,000,000, but that is accounted for simply by the fact that the Appropriation-in-Aid this year is very much less than last year, when we were engaged in a very big scheme for the sale of tractors, ploughs, and other things which brought in a very large sum of money which was taken as an Appropriation-in-Aid. Practically none of that appears in the present Vote. Consequently, instead of there being an increase of £1,000,000, as appears if you take the net Vote, there is, as a matter of fact, something between £250,000 and £300,000 less spent this year than last. Owing to the fact that the food production Department is being demobilised, a great deal of work the Ministry was doing through that Department during the War has not been done, but an enormous amount of new work has been put upon us in the matter of land settlement, which is very costly. Some hon. Members asked as to what the figure in the Estimates for land settlement represented. It represents many things. There is a loss on the smallholdings, as we all realised would be the case. The rents the ex-Service men pay will not pay the loan charges. There must be annual losses, as were contemplated when the Act of 1919 was passed. That annual loss appears on our Vote. There is a large sum in the Vote for the additional purchases of land for our farm colonies.

In comparing the Vote this year with previous years it must be remembered that this large additional cost for land settlement was put upon us. I am not saying we object to it. We are only too glad to help in the settlement of soldiers on the land, but it is a costly process. In it we are merely carrying out the policy which Parliament, in its wisdom, has imposed upon us. There is another very big item of £750,000 for the training of ex-service officers and men. That may go on this year and next year, and there must have been a very much bigger reduction in our Votes, had it not been for the expenditure of large items in connection with land settlement and the training of ex-service officers and men. It has been suggested that the cost of the staff is more than it used to be, and more than it ought to be. There has not been any actual increase, but a reduction in the staff, and the additional cost is due to the fact that we have to pay £93,000 war bonus this year as against £36,000 last year. It is suggested that last year our temporary staff cost £6,000, and this year it is £50,000. Last year the greater part of the cost of the temporary staff appears in the Vote for the Food Production Department, and if this is taken into account it will be found that last year we were spending a good deal more than £50,000.

A question was asked about inspectors. We have not appointed any additional inspectors at all. It is quite true that the land settlement problem has cost more, and we have been told how slow we are in settling ex-soldiers. All I can say is that if there has been an increase in the Commissioners and sub-Commissioners they are very hard-worked gentlemen, and I am sure there has not been an appointment of a single man whose work has not been fully required, and who is not fully engaged in his work at the present time. I would like to say a word or two about the matter which was raised by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Lane-Fox), and that is the question of the Wages Board. It is said that there appears to have been a change of policy in the conduct of this Board, and it has been argued that the Act never contemplated an alteration in the minimum wage unless it was suggested by the District Wages Board. In a sense, that is perfectly true. The original minimum wage was fixed by the Agricultural Wages Board on the suggestion of the District Boards, and this is the provision laid down by the schedule: Where a District Wages Committee has been established in any district, it shall be the duty of the Committee to recommend to the Agricultural Wages Board a minimum rate of wages for that particular area. In the early part of last year the Labour leaders on the Agricultural Wages Board asked for a considerable rise in wages, and this proposal had not come from the District Wages Committees. As the matter had been pressed upon the Board by the leaders of the Labour party on the Agricultural Wages Board, they thought it was incumbent upon them to go into the whole matter and increase the minimum wage Practically, the same thing has occurred in the present year, and very likely will occur again. I do not think, however, that there is anything in that which is in any way contrary to the Act, for not only did the Act in the paragraph that I have already read say: Where a District Wages Committee has been established for any area it shall be the duty of the Committee to recommend minimum rates of wages applicable to that area"— but the schedule also said: No variation or cancellation of such a rate shall have effect within that area unless either the rate or the variation or cancellation thereof, as the case may be, has been recommended by the District Wages Committee, or an opportunity has been given to the Committee to report threon to the Agricultural Wages Board, and the Agricultural Wages Board have considered the report (if any) made by the Committee. That really contemplates two classes of proceeding. The Central Body either proceed on the recommendation of the District Board or they refer a suggestion of their own to the District Board and get their assent. It seems to me, therefore, that the action that the Wages Board have taken—I am not saying whether it be right or wrong—has been strictly in accordance with the Act and within their own power. In view of the fact that it was known all over the country that an agitation was proceeding for an increase in the minimum wage, I do not see what other action the Agricultural Wages Board could have taken. There are one or two other points about which I ought to speak. One hon. Member asked about the item of £250,000 for compensation and suggested that if, when we farmed from Whitehall we had to pay no less than £250,000 in compensation, when we handed the land back, we were indeed very bad farmers. That is really a misunderstanding. This £250,000 is not compensation which has been paid in respect of land taken over by Agricultural Executive Committees and farmed by them. It is compensation which has been paid or may be paid this year to persons who have had ploughing orders served upon them, not from Whitehall, but by local committees and who have claimed that there has been damage done to their land and that therefore they are entitled to compensation. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. H. Hope) spoke about two matters which are of interest at the present time. He objected to the importation of Friesian cattle at a time like this when foot and mouth disease is very prevalent. No Friesian cattle have arrived up to the present time, and therefore they cannot be responsible for any foot and mouth disease which has occurred. Apart from that, as I have said on a previous occasion, we have been induced to allow an importation of about 100 pedigree Friesian cattle, all to be the progeny of 2,000 gallon cows, which is a very severe test; and to be brought here under the most strict regulations of the Department with a view of improving and broadening the particular breed in this country which has the very highest milking qualities. We were recommended to do it by the Astor Committee on Milk, and I think we were thoroughly justified in trying to strengthen the breed already here and make it of still greater value to the community. But apart from such an exceptional case as that, we have not the slightest intention of departing from the general policy of refusing admission to cattle from abroad. We have not the slightest intention of admitting store cattle generally as demanded in some quarters. Another hon. Member spoke about our sugar beet experiments, and asked for further explanations. The sum of £250,000, which appears in the Estimate, is half the subscribed capital of the company which is establishing a sugar mill at Kelham in order that experiments may be carried out under the best possible conditions.

Something was said about drainage and reclamation. It is not true that we are spending less on drainage than we were in the past, and it is not true that we do not attach the greatest importance to land drainage. We know how important it is, and have done a great deal in the matter of land drainage during the War. I was asked whether further legislation was necessary? I do not think it is. I think the Act of 1818 gives us practically all the powers we need. At the present time work is going on under that Act. Ten new drainage authorities have been established, with jurisdiction over 76,000 acres, and nearly forty more areas or extensions of areas, covering a quarter of a million of acres have been arranged. I quite agree it is important we should take properly co-ordinated steps to deal with drainage, and I may point to the Provisional Order Bill for the drainage of the Ouse, by which it is proposed to set up practically one authority for the whole of that vast area, instead of the one hundred authorities now existing. That is an example of the work we are doing in the matter of land drainage. Something has been said about the cost. The cost cannot fall on the Ministry or on the taxpayer. It must be reclaimed, and quite properly, from the land benefitted by the drainage, and that may explain the very small sum that appears in the Estimate at the present time. With regard to reclamation we were asked by the Ministry of Labour to undertake big schemes of reclamation in order that we might provide work for soldiers out of employment. The number unemployed was found to be less than was anticipated, and the work, in many cases, was not very suitable for them. Moreover, when we got to work, we found that the value of the land, when it was reclaimed, was very much less than the cost of its reclamation, and in these days of rigid economy we felt that we must confine our efforts in that direction to the narrowest possible limits. We, therefore, do not propose to undertake further works of reclamation at present.

There is just one thing that I must mention, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Lane-Fox). He spoke about land settlement, and asked what our policy was, and whether we were not buying too much land, and were not disturbing existing tenants who were farming well, without placing smallholders on the land. Our policy is quite simple. We have a certain number of approved applicants among ex-service men, and we cannot stop buying the land or equipping the holdings until we have carried out our promise to every one of those approved ex-service men. The land we have bought up to the present is very nearly sufficient to deal with those who have been approved up to date, but new applications are constantly coming in as men are being demobilised, and we shall have to buy more land. We are trying to do it with a minimum of disturbance. Though we may buy land to-day, it does not follow that we get possession of it. We never disturb a sitting tenant if we can possibly help it, and when we have to do so in order that we may begin the work of equipment, we perhaps enter upon a small part of the farm and allow him to farm the rest as long as we possibly can. A definite pledge was given to the ex-service men of this country, that those who were suitable, who had the knowledge, the capital, and the capacity, if they were approved, should have the chance of cultivating a bit of the land, and we are bound to carry that out to the utmost limit.


My point was whether the Board are taking land before they can really make use of it.


Possibly we may have to buy it, but we are not entering into occupation. At all events that is my information. If my hon. Friend can give me cases in which we have actually entered into occupation of land before we have equipped it, I shall be glad to inquire into them. We buy the land, and make our initial preparations, and then are able to get to work at once as soon as we get possession. It is a very difficult problem, and is being carried out with the greatest possible consideration to existing tenants; and I should like to take this opportunity of commending the work that is being done generally by the county councils in this matter. I regret more than I can say that I cannot announce, and I should be entirely out of order if I did, any legislative policy, although I know that my hon. Friends are most anxious to learn about it. It is entirely outside the purview of the Estimates. It must not, however, be thought, because I do not, and did not on the previous occasion, mention any legislative policy, that we have not got one.


Can the right hon. Gentleman not tell us when we shall hear about it?


I wish I could, but it will be at an early date. In the meantime, dealing with the subject strictly before us, without entering into the question of policy, we have to see that this great Department, in every way that it can be, is of real assistance to the two great industries for which it was founded. I know it is easy to criticise, but our task is a difficult one. We are dealing with a very old and complex industry, an industry which, after all, must be dependent particularly upon its own resources, an industry which has weathered many storms, very often without the slightest assistance, and in the future of which I have the greatest confidence. All we can do is by research, by education, by giving the best possible chance to our farmers, by stamping out animal diseases and guarding their flocks and herds, and so forth, as far as possible to lay down the best conditions under which they can carry out their industry. I agree entirely that the attempt to farm from Whitehall would simply spell disaster. I want to see our farmers, and for that matter our fishermen, relying on their own resources, knowing that in all difficulties they will have the help of the Ministry which has been established for their benefit.

Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS

I am sure the House is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the sympathetic and comprehensive reply he has made to the numerous points which have been raised. I do not think he has neglected to reply to anyone. His agricultural heart, I am sure, is in the right place, and we have very great confidence in him. He referred to the negotiations which were taking place with other Departments. He also said they were trying to do certain things. I hope he will not forget that of late his Department is no longer a Board, but a first-class Ministry, representing the greatest industry in the land, and I hope in the course of those negotiations and the efforts he is making in the interests of that industry he will not forget that he represents a first-class Ministry. His Department not only represents the greatest industry, but all interests in that industry. Negotiations in connection with the agricultural policy seem to be taking place between the Minister of Agriculture, the Prime Minister, and the National Farmers' Union. A secret conclave seems to have been held between those persons in February last.


It is true the Minister of Agriculture met members of the National Farmers' Union in order to ascertain their views, but he also met representatives of the landowners to ascertain their views.

Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS

I do not know of any meeting with the landowners. If it took place I conclude it was also a secret conclave.


Neither of them was secret, as far as I know.

Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS

I have a copy of the "Morning Post" of 17th February— The deputation of the National Farmers' Union remained with the Prime Minister and Lord Lee for about an hour. On their departure the President of the Union, Mr. Herbert Padwick, said he was not at liberty to say anything except that 16 farmers of the Union had been engaged with the Prime Minister, each of them representing very large farms, and an equal number representing small farms. They were obviously engaged in discussing the agricultural policy. The agricultural policy does not concern the National Farmers' Union only. The Union started in my constituency and I was an original member of it. On about six occasions out of ten I disagree with the steps they take, but I generally agree with the individual members. The policy of the Union is at times different from the policy of the general body of the farmers of England. It only represents a section of the farmers, but the Ministry seems to be obsessed by the notion—I hope the Prime Minister is not—that the National Farmers' Union represents the whole agricultural interests of England. They do not represent all the farmers of England, and nobody recognises that better than the National Farmers' Union themselves. That is the position, and it is somewhat unfortunate. Many Members of this House seem rather afraid to tell the Naional Farmers' Union what they think—I am not in the least afraid. It is much better to tell them. They respect you much more if you tell them what you think. The National Farmers' Union do not represent the whole agricultural interests of England, and the sooner the Minister of Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary know that—if they do not know it already—the better for the interests of agriculture. Agriculture consists of owners, occupiers, and labourers. The Members of this House who repre- sent agricultural constituencies represent all those interests. If we had not the support of the agricultural labourer I and my agricultural county colleagues would not be here. The bulk of the agricultural labourers support us and send us to this House. Ninety-five per cent. of the farmers support us and send us to this House, whether they are members of the Farmers' Union or not. I raise this point because we have an exceedingly strong Agricultural Committee in this House which represents not only agricultural labour, but all the agricultural interests, and if there are any matters to be discussed affecting the agricultural policy of this country, instead of discussing them in secret conclave with certain members of the National Farmers' Union, they should be discussed with the Agricultural Committee of this House, in the first instance. I wish to draw attention to the £50,000 for temporary clerical assistance this year, as compared with £6,300 last year.


I have dealt with that.

Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS

I was not here. I understood it had not been dealt with. With respect to the question of the Wages Board. I cannot agree with the view taken by the right hon. Gentleman. I support the view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Captain Fitzroy). This new policy seems to sweep away the powers which were vested in the District Wages Board by the Corn Production Act. If any alteration was to be made, or any proposal was to be put forward for altering wages, it was to be on the initiative of the District Wages Board. That was what I understood when the Bill was discussed. I cannot accept the view put forward on behalf of the Government, and I hope they will reconsider the position, because the whole intention was that on all these questions of wages the position in every county should in the first instance be put forward by the representatives of employers and employed in that particular county.

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.