§ Section nine of the Act of 1917 shall be amended as follows:—
- (i) After the word "opinion," in Subsection (1), there shall be inserted the words "after consultation with the agricultural committee for the area in which the land is situate":
- (ii) For the words in Sub-section (1) from "(b) that for the purpose of" to "as the case may be," both inclusive, there shall be substituted the words—
- "(b) that the owner of land in the occupation of a tenant has unreasonably neglected to execute the necessary repairs (not being repairs which the tenant is liable to execute) to any buildings on the land being repairs required for the proper cultivation or working thereof,
- (iii) For the words in the proviso to Subsection (1) "or whether it is undesir"able in the interest of food produc"tion that the change should apply "to any portion of land included in "the notice" there shall be substituted the words "or whether the pro"duction of food on the land can be "increased in the national interest by "the occupier by means of such an "improvement or change as aforesaid "or whether the repairs required to be "executed are necessary for the "proper cultivation or working of the "land, or whether the time specified "in the notice for the execution of "such repairs is reasonable":
- (iv) The following new Sub-sections shall be inserted after Sub-section (2):— "(2A) Where a notice other than a notice under paragraph (b) of Subsection (1) of this Section has been served under this Section on the occupier of any land requiring him within a time specified in the notice to execute some work in connection with the cultivation of the land and that person unreasonably fails to comply with the requirements of the notice, he shall be liable on summary conviction in respect of each offence to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds and to a further penalty not exceeding twenty shillings for every day during which the default continues after conviction:
§ Provided that—
- (a) proceedings for an offence under this Sub-section shall not be instituted except by the Minister; and
- (b) the Minister shall be entitled, notwithstanding that proceedings have been instituted under this Sub-section, to execute any work specified in the notice, and to recover summarily as a civil debt from the person in default any expenses reasonably incurred by him in so doing, and the right to institute any such pro
456 ceedings shall not be prejudiced by the fact that the Minister has executed the work specified in the notice":
§ "(2B) Where a notice has been served under paragraph (b) of Subsection (1) of this Section on the owner of any land requiring him within a time specified in the notice to execute repairs and the owner fails to comply with the requirements of the notice, the Minister may authorise the tenant to execute the repairs, and a tenant so authorised shall be entitled to execute the repairs accordingly and at any time after the repairs have been executed to recover from the owner the costs reasonably incurred by him in so doing, in the same manner in all respects as if those costs were compensation awarded in respect of an improvement under the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1908":
- (v) For the words in Sub-section (3) "make such order as seems to them "required in the circumstances, "either authorising the landlord to "determine the tenancy of the hold"ing, or determining the tenancy by "virtue of the order" there shall be substituted the words "by order deter"mine the tenancy of the hojding or "of any part thereof":
- (vi) The following new Sub-section shall be inserted after Sub-section (3):— "(3A) Where it is represented to the Minister by an agricultural committee that the owner of any agricultural estate or land situate wholly or partly in the area of the committee, whether the estate or land or any part thereof is or is not in the occupation of tenants, cultivates or manages the estate or land in such a manner as to prejudice materially the production of food thereon, the Minister may, if he thinks it necessary or desirable so to do in the national interest, and after making such inquiry as he thinks proper and after taking into consideration any representations made to him by the owner, by order appoint such person as he thinks fit to act as receiver and manager of the estate or land or any part thereof:
§ Provided that—
- (a) an order made under this Sub-section shall not, except where the person appointed by the order to act as receiver and manager of the estate or land is appointed to act in the place of a person previously appointed under this Sub-section, take effect until a period of six months has elapsed after the date on which notice of the order having been made was given to the owner of the estate or land, and the owner may at any time during the said period appeal against the order to the High Court in accordance
457 with rules of court, and where any such appeal is made the order shall not take effect pending the determination of the appeal; and
- (b) an order made under this Sub-section shall not, except with the consent of the owner, extend to a mansion house, garden, or policies thereof, or to any land which at the date of the order forms part of any park or of any home farm attached to and usually occupied with the mansion house, and which is required for the amenity or convenience of the mansion house; and
- (c) the older shall not operate to deprive any person, except with his consent, of any sporting rights over the estate which do not interfere with the production of food on the estate; and
- (d) any person appointed to act as receiver and manager of any agricultural estate or land under this Section shall render a yearly report and statement of accounts to the owner or his agent and to the Minister;
- (e) the powers conferred by the foregoing provisions shall be in addition to and not in derogation of any other powers conferred on the Minister under this Section:
§ The Minister may by an order made under this Provision apply for the purposes of the order, with such modifications as he thinks fit, any of the Provisions of Section twenty-four of the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act, 1881, which relates to the powers, remuneration and duties of receivers appointed by mortgagees, and authorise the receiver to exercise such other powers vested in the owner of the estate or land as may be specified in the order and may be reasonably necessary for the proper discharge by him of his duties as receiver and manager:
§ Provided that the receiver and manager shall not have power to sell or create any charge upon the estate or land or any part thereof except with the consent of the owner or with the approval of the High Court obtained upon an application made for the purpose in accordance with rules of court":
- (vii) In Sub-section (4) for the words "if "within three months after the Board "have entered on any land the per"son who was in occupation of the "land at the time of the entry so "requires" there shall be substituted the words "if within one month after "the Minister has entered on or "appointed a receiver and manager "in respect of any land the owner "of the land so requires"; and for "the words "person so previously in "occupation" there shall be substituted the word "owner":
- (viii) In Sub-section (9) the words "in "respect of which any notice is served "or order made under this Section "or" shall be repealed, and after the word "Section," where that word last occurs, there shall be inserted the words "in that behalf":
- (ix) The following new Sub-sections shall be inserted after Sub-section (10):— "(11) For the purposes of this Section the rules of good husbandry shall include—
- (a) the maintenance and clearing of drains, dykes, embankments, and ditches:
- (b) the maintenance and proper repair of fences, gates and hedges:
- (c) the execution of repairs to buildings, being repairs which are necessary for the proper cultivation and working of the land, and, in the case of land in the occupation of a tenant, are required to be executed by the occupier of the land under the contract of tenancy:
§ Provided that nothing in this Subsection shall be taken to impose upon a tenant the obligation to maintain or clear drains, dykes, embankments, or ditches where such maintenance of clearance is prevented by subsidence of the land or the blocking of the out-falls which are not under the control of the tenant, or to make a tenant liable for such maintenance or clearance of drains, dykes, embankments, or ditches, or the maintenance or repair of fences, hedges, and gates, where such work is not required to be done by him under his contract of tenancy or the custom of the country."
§ "(12) Where the Minister is satisfied that there are injurious weeds to which this Sub-section applies growing upon any land he may serve upon the occupier of the land a notice in writing requiring him to cut down or destroy the weeds in the manner and within the time specified in the notice, and where any such notice is given the provisions of Sub-section (2A) of this Section shall, with the necessary modifications, apply us if the land were land which was not being cultivated according to the rules of good husbandry, and as if a notice had been served on the occupier under Subsection (1) of this Section.
§ "The expression 'occupier' in this Sub-section means in the case of any public road the authority by whom the road is being maintained, and in the case of unoccupied land the person entitled to the occupation thereof.
§ "Regulations may be made under this Act for prescribing the injurious weeds to which this Sub-section is to apply."459
§ Amendment made: In Sub-section (i), after the word "Committee," insert the words "(if any)."—[Sir A. Boscowen].
§ Captain FITZROY
On a point of Order. I understand that my right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) is going to move an Amendment to omit paragraphs (ii) and (iii). These include most of the principles of this Clause, and while there are many Members anxious to defeat the whole of the Clause, there are some of us who do not hold that view, and if there is going to be a general discussion on the omission of paragraphs (ii) and (iii), I hope that will not preclude a general discussion on the Amendment of my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary (Sir A. Boscawen) in his Amendment to leave out paragraph (b) and to insert three new paragraphs (b), (c) and (d).
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not propose to allude to the Amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretnry.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If hon. Members follow the example of the right hon. Baronet, no difficulty will arise.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
These paragraphs deal with obligations which are to be imposed upon the owner of the land. The two paragraphs (ii) and (iii) in view of their great importance are very badly drafted, and they can only be understood if you have in your hand a copy of the Corn Production Act of 1917. They are extremely bad examples of legislation by reference. No one who has not made a careful study of the Bill will know what is meant in paragraph (1) by the wordsafter consultation with the Agricultural Committee for the area in which the land is situate.It is essential for my argument that the Committee should understand what that particular paragraph means. Sub-section (1) of Section 9 of the Corn Production Act, 1917, says:The Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, if in any case they are of opinion—may do certain things. 460 We have amended it so that it will read:
- (a) that any land is not being cultivated according to the rules of good husbandry"The Board of Agriculture and Fisheries if in any case they are of opinion, after consultation with the Agricultural Committee for the area in which the land is situate, that any land is not being cultivated according to the good rules of husbandry, etc.,may do certain things. That is all that is necessary for the House to pass. It is not necessary to give the Minister any further powers than those which have already been given to him under the Subsection which we have just passed. That paragraph confers extraordinary powers upon the Minister. It enables him to come in and interfere with the cultivation of the land. It is quite true that under the Corn Production Act, 1917, which is to a certain extent re-enacted in paragraphs (ii) and (iii) of the present Bill, for the first time in the history of this country, or, at any rate, so far as I know, in the history of the last 200 or 300 years, extraordinary powers are given to the Minister of Agriculture to deal with the method in which both the landowner and the farmer cultivate what is their own. Now, paragraphs (ii) and (iii), not content with saying that if the farmer or the landowner who farms his own land does not cultivate the land in accordance with the rules of good husbandry the Minister may do certain things, but another complicated paragraph is added, which says:(b) that the owner of land in the occupation of a tenant has unreasonably neglected to execute the necessary repairs (not being repairs which the tenant is liable to execute) to any buildings on the land being repairs required for the proper cultivation or working thereof,may serve notice, in the case of neglect by an owner to execute repairs, on the owner requiring him to execute the necessary repairs within such time as may be specified in the notice, and in any other case on the occupier of the land requiring him to cultivate the land in accordance with such directions as the Minister may give for securing that the cultivation shall be in accordance with the rules of good husbandry or for securing such improvement or change as aforesaid in the manner of cultivating or using the land, as the case may be":
Such a mix up either of words or of purpose has never been put into a Bill. You mix up repairs with directions for securing cultivation in accordance with the rules of good husbandry which you have already got under the Sub-section which has just been passed. Why repeat them? My right hon. Friend only last night remonstrated with me for en- 461 deavouring to put in something which was superfluous. If this not superfluous I do not know the meaning of the word. It is not in the interest of the landlord or the farmer, or, still more important, the consumer and the nation, that the Government should be interfering continually in the management of their business in the way indicated in this Clause. Is there anybody in this House, except prejudiced people who are already committed to this Clause, who does not believe that the less the Government interferes in the management of our business the greater will be the prosperity of the country? That elementary fact is beginning to dawn on the people.
Here the Government propose to interfere in the management of farming in a way in which they never dared to interfere in any other business except during the period of the War. Can anyone conceive the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying, "I am going to pass a Bill which will permit me, after consultation with a finance committee, which shall consist of customers of the banks, to go down to a bank and say, 'You are not conducting your business in a way that my consultative committee and I think right. Therefore we are going to tell you how to conduct your business, and if our directions are not observed there will be certain penalties'"? Such a Bill would not have the remotest chance of passing either in this House or in the House of Lords, which, thank God, still exists. If it is not right to interfere with the business of banking, how can it be right to interfere with the business of farming? It was only the other day that we found out that the interference of the Government during the War with the business of farming—an interference which these, two Sub-sections would perpetuate—resulted in the expenditure of £4,000,000 by the various agricultural committees, and everyone who has any knowledge of the subject will agree that in all probability the result was nil. There were in some cases additions to cultivation. That is, land which was in grass produced certain corn crops, but other land—arable land—which would have been cultivated efficiently, having been ploughed up, was neglected, with the result that it produced very little. The grass disappeared altogether, and therefore, while you lost in hay and grass from arable land, which was not properly cultivated, you have to set against that 462 only a very few cases where the ploughing of the land resulted in a certain crop.
Then, as to repairs. Is the Clause limited to the ordinary repairs which the landlord has to execute under his agreement? If so, there is already a remedy at law. Therefore there is no necessity for this particlular provision, which can only complicate matters. I must protest against the habit of having in one Clause five-and-a-half pages and twelve Subsections. There are a good many more, because each of these Sub-sections has a good many paragraphs. It is almost impossible to discuss a Clause of this sort, but the Clause goes very much farther than executing the ordinary repairs. Paragraph (iii) ends with these words:or whether the production of food on the land can be increased in the national interest by the occupier by means of such an improvement or change as aforesaid or whether the repairs required to be executed are necessary for the proper cultivation or working of the land, or whether the time specified in the notice for the execution of such repairs is reasonableSuppose that I am of opinion that the best way of farming land in accordance with the national interest under the direction of the Minister of Health, who is continually impressing on everybody the necessity for more milk, is to work it as a dairy farm, and therefore I request the landlord to erect a cowshed with the necessary accessories, say, for 70 to 80 cows on a 300 acre farm, which is not an unreasonable number. The rural district council, directed by various officials who are being appointed continually under some Act which this House was sufficiently foolish to pass, will say that there must be a certain amount of light, and the bulidings must be of certain material, the cost of which is very great, especially at the present time. If the landlord erects these buildings the tenant may find, when the tenancy is under a yearly agreement, that he is losing money, and if by any chance he finds that he can get another farm which is suitable for dairy cultivation, on which buildings are already erected, he may give a year's notice.
The tenant may always give the landlord a year's notice, whatever the landlord has done to induce him to remain on the holding. The only time a year's notice does not apply is when a landlord wants to get rid of a tenant. It is a case of "heads you win and tails I lose," and is not likely to induce the 463 application of capital to land. A new tenant may say to the landlord, "I am not going to use this as a dairy farm. The Board of Agriculture is asking for more wheat and there are guaranteed prices. I am going to use this as an arable farm or a farm for breeding fat stock." It is no use for the landlord to go to the Agricultural Committee. The chances are the Agricultural Committee will listen to what the tenant says. I am not exaggerating what may happen. Before we go any further in this direction we should know clearly from the Government what it is they intend to do. I do not question the intentions of the Government, but I question their power to bird their successors. Whatever we get from the Government, or whatever the Government wish to do, must be put in clear language in the Bill, so that it can be understood by the three classes affected by the Bill, namely, the landlord, the tenant, and the labourer. I would very much have preferred if paragraph (i) as well as paragraphs (ii) and (iii) had been left out. The ostensible object of the Bill is to increase production, and these are the paragraphs which are supposed to enact that production shall be increased. It is a most excellent idea, but I should go about it in quite a different way from that of these paragraphs—I should leave it to the classes concerned to manage their own affairs in their own way. Their own interests will compel them to manage their affairs in the best and most profitable way.
Attempts by the Government to interfere in this way will result in an increase in the number of sales of land. Who will care to hold land, or who will invest capital in land, if he is put at the mercy of a Government Department, representatives of which can come down and impose upon him irksome conditions at the will of some committee, actuated, as such committees have been in many cases, by petty quarrels with their neighbours? The Government will say to a man who has either inherited an estate or invested money in an estate: "You are not to be the judge as to how you are to manage your own affairs. We are to come in and tell you what you are to do. We are not to be liable for any mistakes which may ensue if our advice is wrong. You must suffer for those mistakes." Under 464 the Corn Production Act of 1917 there is a Clause which says that if the action of the Minister results in a loss to the person whose business has been interfered with, that person can go to an arbitrator and obtain compensation. That was not an illusory Clause, because I have obtained compensation under it. Such protection disappears from this Bill, so far as I can see. In 1917, when we were at war, and it was necessary for all classes to make sacrifices—none made those sacrifices more readily than the landowners, the farmers, and the labourers—we were paid compensation for losses, but now in the time of peace, when we are told to look forward to a new world, we find that we are being treated worse than we were treated in the terrible years of the War.
§ Lieut. Colonel ROYDS
I desire to support the Amendment of my right hon. Friend. The broad lines upon which my right hon. Friend objected to this proposal is that it places permanently under control the greatest industry in the country. Every other industry that has been controlled is now in course of emergency from control, to the great satisfaction of all those concerned. Here we have now a very bright outlook for agriculture, if we are left to manage our own affairs, and it is just at this moment that we are invited by the Board of Agriculture to place our heads in a noose for all time. I want to know who has asked for this. It has certainly not been suggested by any representative of agriculture. When the Parliamentary Secretary replies, I hope he will tell us definitely who has made these suggestions and why the whole strength of the Government has been brought to bear on us to force this scheme down our throats. It has been said that we are now in control under the Corn Production Act. That Act terminates in 1922, and as long as it lasts the Government are responsible for any loss occasioned in consequence of the notices that are served or the orders that are made, but this Act clearly provides, or attempts to provide, for the making permanent of all these notices and orders, and no compensation is available for any loss occasioned thereby. Is it to be contemplated that any person in any ordinary business would submit to such a measure? Is it likely that we shall attract capital to land if we are to be placed under the control of a body which knows nothing whatever about 465 the business in which we are engaged? The right hon. Gentleman says, "Oh, have confidence in the Minister, even if you have not confidence in the local county committees. The Minister need not delegate to those committees any powers that he does not choose to delegate." I have less confidence in the Minister than I have in the county committees. I have no confidence in the Minister at all. As far as I am personally concerned I should very much like to see the Board of Agriculture abolished. Ever since I have been engaged in agriculture I received no support whatever from the Board, nor do I know anyone who has, but I have been living in continual dread of any orders they may make, and I am living in very much greater dread now, and my alarm will not be diminished if this Bill becomes law. That is a most serious matter.
I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will say, "Oh, these orders and notices and these powers conferred on the Minister are meant only for bad owners and bad tenants." Then it will be said, "We have complete confidence in the old owners; they are good mostly. What we are afraid of are the new owners, and land is changing hands so frequently that it is best for us to make these provisions to protect tenants against the new owners." Who are the new owners? In the main, they are the late tenants and they are increasing in numbers daily, and these late tenants in most cases are the most active, enterprising, and capable farmers in the country. Other persons who have bought land are men who are well off, who have embarked money in land in the spirit of the times, with the whole object, in the words of the Prime Minister, of "making the desert rejoice and blossom as the rose." They mean to do what they can for the benefit of the estates they purchase. Those are the only two classes of persons who have bought land, as far as I know, and it is against those classes that the right hon. Gentleman says it is necessary to protect the poor tenant. In my belief, not another quarter of corn will be produced by reason of these Clauses. On the contrary, I think production will be greatly diminished. That is the only matter of importance we have to consider. I wish to oppose the Clause with all the strength at my command.
§ 7.0 P.M.
Sir A. DOSCAWEN
The action taken by my right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banury) is just about as inconvenient as it possibly can be. He began by telling us that he would confine himself strictly to moving the omission of two particular Subsections. In reply to an interruption, he said he would not raise the whole question.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
At all events, he has raised the whole question of control, which is practically a debate on the Clause, although he has confined it to two particular paragraphs. Therefore I take it that I am entitled to reply upon the whole broad question of the control of agriculture. He proceeded then to deal in detail with certain provisions of the Bill and Amendments which have been put down. He dealt in considerable detail with the question of repairs. I am quite prepared to discuss with him the proposals contained in the Bill and certain Amendments that I myself have put down to the Bill, but I do submit that, on the general question of whether what is practically the Clause itself shall stand part or not, to discuss details as to repairs to be done, how they are to be done, and what control there is to be, is exceedingly inconvenient, and a course that the House should not be invited to undertake. I will not go into these details now. I do not think this is the proper place, and I think the hon. and gallant Member who seconded the Motion (Lieut.-Colonel Royds) agreed it was not the proper place; but I will deal with what I believe to be the aim and object of my right hon. Friend, and that is to get rid altogether of any kind of control of agriculture.
Where do we stand? We have already passed Clause 1 of this Bill. That Clause gives to the farmers substantial guarantees in respect of their cereal crops. It says that if the price of wheat or oats drops below a certain figure, the difference between the guaranteed figure and the actual market price shall be made up by the Government. We have given those substantial guarantees, and we have done so because we believe they will stimulate the production of cereals in this country and maintain arable land, which we think 467 to be essential to the nation's interest. These guarantees involve a big responsibility upon the taxpayer. My right hon. Friend did not attempt to move the rejection of Clauses 1, 2 and 3. He did not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill, although the guaranteed prices were probably the main feature of the Bill. Yet now, when the guarantees are passed in the Bill on the Second Reading, when they have been passed in Committee, he comes here and says that the State is to have no quid pro quo in return for the guarantee.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
My right hon. Friend must not misrepresent me. I specially said at the beginning of my speech that paragraph (i), which we have already passed, enabled the Government to see that cultivation was carried out under the rules of good husbandry. It is quite true that I said afterwards I would rather have nothing, but I pointed out that that was in the Bill, and that that was sufficient, and that you ought not to introduce these further Clauses afterwards.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
That may have been the technical effect of my right hon. Friend's Amendment, but what about his speech? He said, "Why should we have these ignorant fellows deciding whether it is good husbandry or not?" Therefore, even if my right hon. Friend by his Amendment did leave in "good husbandry" and nothing else, the whole object and aim of his speech was to take it away and to destroy any kind of safeguard. That is not all. Are we going to insist, in return for these important guarantees which the Government have given to tenant farmers, upon nothing but rules of good husbandry? My right hon. Friend has spoken at some length on the question of repairs. I put it to him, and I put it to my hon. and gallant Friend who seconded the Amendment, and I put it to the House generally, are they prepared to say that, in cases where a landlord refuses to do repairs which are essential in order that the tenant may cultivate according to the rules of good husbandry, we are to have no power whatever to compel the landlord to do those repairs? I say that is a position which is absolutely untenable. I claim that, in addition to telling tenant farmers to cultivate their land in accordance with the rules of good husbandry, and in addition also to compelling landlords to 468 do such repairs as are really necessary, we ought to go still further. We are bound to insist that there shall be such, conditions of farming as will guarantee the production of the, maximum amount of food from the land. We are bound to say that farming shall be carried on to the best possible advantage to the nation; that where necessary we should have the right to insist, on improved methods of cultivation; that where, for example, you have got the very poorest grassland, and by such a simple process as the application of basic slag, that grassland can be improved, and carry a much bigger head of cattle than it carried before, we surely should have the right to say to those farmers who are getting a guarantee for their cereal crops that they must make the best use of the grassland? I give that as one illustration.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I appeal to the House whether I have not been pressed times out of number by hon. Members who sit here—members of the Agricultural Committee—for these guarantees. How many times have not we been asked what is our agricultural policy? How many times have not we been asked by my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley), "When are you going to give us suitable guaranteed prices?" He has asked me over and over again whether the prices in the Corn Production Act are not entirely inadequate.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
I asked about prices under the Defence of the Realm Act—prices fixed by the Food Controller.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
No, my hon. Friend cannot take refuge in that. The very first speech I ever made in the House after I was appointed Parliamentary Secretary was in reply to a Motion on the Address moved by my hon. Friend demanding amendments and extensions of the Corn Production Act in order that guaranteed prices might be brought up to a suitable level. I need not go into that. The fact is that times out of number I have been pressed in this House for guaranteed prices based on cost of production. There is a further fact. None of my hon. Friends—neither my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London, nor my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Grantham 469 (Lieut.-Colonel Royds)—have ever suggested that in this Bill the guaranteed prices should be left out. They have never voted against them. Over and over again we have been asked to insert guaranteed prices in the Bill, and it is really playing with the thing for my hon. Friends to turn round now and say, "We do not want the guaranteed prices."
§ Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS
If I might interrupt my right hon. Friend, the point is this: Guaranteed prices were suggested, and we thought that they might help the production of food, but the Government have coupled with those guaranteed prices conditions which are impossible, and which will diminish the production of food.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
My hon. and gallant Friend cannot take that line. He cannot expect this Government or any government to give guaranteed prices to tenant farmers, and other advantages such as the extension of the Wages Board to labourers, unless the State gets a quid pro quo; and the quid pro quo is that the State shall have some right to see that the land of the country is properly cultivated. In his Caxton Hall speech, in which this policy was first adumbrated by the Prime Minister, he referred to this very point, and speaking of slack farmers he said:They disgraced their class; they reduced the wealth of the country; they diminished its security, and therefore there is no room for them.I believe that that doctrine is assented to by everybody. If we are going to give these guarantees, if we are going to try to assist farmers by guaranteeing them against the disaster which overtook them in the eighties and nineties when there was a break in prices, the State in return must have the power of some control, and it is that control which is contained in this Clause. I understand the point of my hon. Friends to be this. They cannot refuse to assent to control of some sort, but they say that in this Clause it is the wrong sort of control. It is irksome control. May I point out that the control in this Clause is infinitely less irksome than the control which exists under the Corn Production Act. And may I point out to my right hon. Friend that one of the effects of his 470 Amendment, which apparently even he with his great Parliamentary experience did not observe, would be that the existing provisions of the Corn Production Act would remain, whereas we abrogate them by putting in the Sub-section which he proposes to omit. These are the words which we abrogate, but which would remain if my right hon. Friend's Amendment were carried:That for the purpose of increasing in the national interest the production of food, the mode of cultivating any land or the use to which any land is being put should be changed.That is a far greater power than we ask for under this Bill. In this Bill, as it stands, we have no power to change cultivation. In an Amendment which I propose to move later, I suggest a certain power of changing cultivation, but only this—an improvement in the existing methods, and the maintenance of a certain amount of arable land. And look at the safeguards with which it is surrounded. Before any change of cultivation or any improvement in the existing methods can take place, there is a right of appeal to an arbitrator; that is to say, the people interested have a right of appeal to an arbitrator. They can appeal, first, on the point, Is it in the national interest? They can appeal, secondly, on the point, Will it injuriously affect the interests of the parties interested? Until the arbitrator has given his award, there will be no cultivation Order carried out at all, and the award will only be given if it is proved that the change proposed is in the national interest and that it will not injuriously affect the interests of those who are interested in the land. I say that the power is infinitely less than that which exists to-day under the Corn Production Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "That was a War measure."] I quite agree, and because this is a peace measure we have limited the control, and I maintain that the control we propose is essentially reasonable. My right hon. Friend makes a great point about the payment of compensation. It seems to me that one objection he has to this Clause is that, being enabled to get a cheque under the old Bill, he will not be enabled to get one under the new Bill. That is so. I can explain precisely why it is so. In the War we were acting under the stress of difficult circumstances, and there was hurry. The submarines were at work, and we had to 471 plough up as quickly as we could. It was inevitable, absolutely inevitable, that under those conditions mistakes should be made. Mistakes were made, and I am sorry to say one mistake was made on the estate of my right hon. Friend, and for which he got a nice cheque. It was inevitable under those circumstances that we should pay full compensation where mistakes were made; but in this case, where we are adopting a permanent peace policy, we hope to avoid mistakes. Instead of ploughing first and compensating afterwards, what we propose to do is to give an appeal in the first instance as to whether the order is a reasonable, one or not. I have been obliged, much against my will, to deal with the whole question. I maintain that this particular Amendment is really an attack on the Clause, and that anybody who votes for it is voting against any kind of control of cultivation. I maintain that in so doing he is denying to the State that advantage to which the State is entitled in virtue of the guarantee that it gives under Clause 1. I maintain further that there are many points of detail in the Subsections which are the legitimate subjects of discussion, and if it can be shown that some details are wrong, I am quite prepared to listen and consider such representations. But I do plead that we should, at all events, proceed with what is to all intents and purposes Clause 4, and afterwards consider the details, and, putting aside the broad question, which must be granted, discuss those Amendments on those matters in which hon. Members are naturally interested.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has defended the policy of the Government with regard to control. Compulsion, insistence, Prussianism ran through the whole of his argument. I understood that we were to be freed from compulsion, insistence and Prussianism, but apparently the new world is to commence with the compulsion and control of the most important industry in the State. Agriculture is probably the most technical industry in the country.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
It depends not only upon the market price of the products, but so largely upon the climate that if a 472 man sows two bushels of wheat it is impossible to say how many he is going to take out, as it will depend entirely upon the weather. We are to have Government officials coming down to tell those who understand agriculture how best to conduct their business. To me the whole of this control and compulsion is objectionable. This Bill has been founded upon the Corn Production Act of 1917. Let us see how that has worked, because practical experience of its working is far better than all the prophecies than can be made. In 1918 the amount of wheat cultivated in England was 2,556,000 acres. We have had the Corn Production Act, that wonderful Act with its wonderful system of guarantees in operation, and the acreage of wheat this year has declined to 1,877,000 acres.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The acreage of 1914 was 1,807,000 acres. Thus your wonderful Act has brought about an increase of 70,000 acres.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
The object of this is to secure arable cultivation, and we have a million acres more arable land to-day than in 1914.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
You may, but all the land ploughed up during the War has not been able to get back to grass again yet.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Because it pays the farmer better. There is no man going to engage in an industry unless he gets a profit out of it, and the man who is engaged in it knows better how to get a profit than any Government official. It is an amazing thing that we have this curious combination of the Coalition and Labour. I stand here as an old-fashioned individualist—
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Who believes that the individual citizen knows best how to conduct his own business? Here we have a kind of amalgamation between the Government and the Labour party.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I do not understand that interruption. Some hon. Gentlemen are used to street corner oratory, but I 473 am not in love with it. I say it is a most amazing thing to see a Coalition Government, which rests largely upon the idea that the industries of the country have been built up by individual enterprise, joining with the Labour party in endeavouring to compel the agriculturists to cultivate their land, not as they wish, but as Government officials wish. I do not understand that, and I do not believe in it. The Parliamentary Secretary said that they had given substantial guarantees to the farmers. We have never asked for those substantial guarantees. I understood the substantial guarantees were for the advantage of the State, and you have always told us so, to get a larger amount in cultivation. That is the reason for your guarantee. If you imagine you are going to get a larger percentage of land put into arable cultivation by reason of these guarantees, you have been told over and over again by the most practical agriculturists that you will not increase your arable area. As a matter of fact, the arable wheat area has gone down by 600,000 acres. You are simply giving a guarantee for wheat and oats and for that guarantee you say we are going to control the whole agricultural industry. You are going, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to make the farmer sow basic slag on grass land because you have given some other farmer a guarantee for wheat. The thing is so ridiculous that it is unarguable. The Government believe that they have the country behind them in thinking that the Government official understands the agricultural question better than those engaged in it.
I am glad to see that the Prime Minister has come in, and it really does me good to see him. I have sat at his seat for a very long time, and I have tried to follow him. But it is a little difficult in these days when, as I have been pointing out, along with the Labour party they are supporting the principle of Government control leading on to nationalisation. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has always been a home ruler, and I have heard him supporting home rule for Wales and Ireland, and now he is actually going to control agriculture from Whitehall. The Welsh members came here yesterday and said: "We do not want anything more to do with Whitehall on the Wages Board, let us get rid of it." To-day the right hon. 474 Gentleman comes down and says: "I am not going to have any of these home rule schemes. I am going to control this industry of agriculture from Whitehall." I know that the Prime Minister is an individualist, and I do ask him to let the agriculturists of the country have freedom. My mind goes back almost thirty years when I first came, to this House. We had very grave agricultural depression. The farmers and the landlords were losing their capital, and land was practically unsaleable. That depression was weathered by the owners of the land and the farmers pulling together under their own system and without Government control. When agriculture was at its very worst there was no question of Government control, and now that we have weathered the storm you are to-day really breaking up the agricultural system which has worked so well. You are putting nothing in its place but Government control, which in every case has worked badly. I appeal to the Government not to force this through. I do not believe in Government control; I do not believe that this Bill will add one single acre to the wheat of the country, and it is because I believe that I object very strongly to this question of control. If my right hon. Friend goes to a division, though he and I do not often agree, I shull support him.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I can sincerely say that I never give either my voice or my vote in this House against the Government except with extreme reluctance, and I have been trying to see if there was any possibility of my supporting the Government on this Amendment. I am afraid I have utterly failed to find any ground on which I could do so, and I feel compelled to support the Amendment, but in saying that I do not in the least tie myself to its technicalities. My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has said that if this Amendment were carried it would bring into operation a method of control which would be still more objectionable. That may be so, and, therefore, if I support the Amendment, it is-really upon the broad grounds that the contents of these Sub-sections as they stand appear to me to be utterly impossible. Just let me read to the House what appear to me to be the material word that the Government are putting before the House. They say that the Ministry are to have the power to serve a notice 475on the occupier of the land requiring him to cultivate the land in accordance with such directions as the Minister may give.If any hon. Member will consider what that would mean as applied to any other industry in the country, it will enable him to appreciate the meaning of these words. What would be thought by any gentleman engaged, we will say, in the cotton industry if a Bill was suddenly brought into this House which said that the Board of Trade or some other Ministry should be able to give directions that that industry was to be carried on in accordance with directions to be given by the Ministry? We have been hearing a great deal recently about the industry of mining and about control, but no one has ever said that the actual administration of that industry could possibly be carried on by detailed directions from day to day as to how it was to be carried on from some Ministry in Whitehall.
My right hon. Friend made a very indignant speech just now in opposition to the Amendment. He said that we have already passed Clauses giving substantial guarantees to the farmer in regard to prices. I entirely agreed with my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Lambert) when he said just now that whatever may be said about the policy of guaranteed prices, they were never asked for by the farmers, and, as I understood it when the policy was first promulgated, there never was any suggestion that they were being given as a boon to the farmers. The whole object of them was in order to carry out the policy outlined more than once by the Prime Minister—a very sound policy too—that it was necessary to put agriculture on such a footing that we should not be so dependent in the future as we have been in the past upon the fluctuations of supplies from abroad. The whole object of the guaranteed prices was to give a larger supply of home-grown food.
The Parliamentary Secretary went on to say that, having given those guaranteed prices, there must be a quid pro quo for the State, but surely that is entirely a wrong way of looking at it. It is not a question of giving on one hand and giving on the other to various competing interests. The object, whether you do it by guaranteed prices or in any other way, is to improve the industry if you can so as to promote a greater supply of food, but I agree to this extent with the right 476 hon. Gentleman. Having given the guaranteed prices, the State, I quite agree, is entitled to say that in return for those guaranteed prices, not as something given as a boon to the farmers, but as a balance to the policy, that the State is entitled to take such steps as are possible for securing tho object of the policy, namely, the largest amount of food production. The reason why I object to the control contained in this sub-section is that I do not believe it will have that effect. If it would have that effect, I agree there would be nothing unreasonable in insisting upon it, but it can hardly fail, as I see it, to have the opposite effect, and so far as I have been able to hear the opinion of a great number of experts, both in this House and outside, who understand this industry thoroughly and have been engaged in it all their lifetime, it is that the effect of this control will not be a quid pro quo for the State at all, but will, if anything, tend to counteract the effect of the guaranteed prices.
There are right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite who from time to time still profess their adherence to what they call the principles of Free Trade. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland), is very fond of assuring the House and the country that he is still a believer in the principles of Free Trade, and I believe the Labour party are too. Do those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen bear in mind when they speak in that way that the fundamental proposition underlying the whole policy of free trade was and is that you get the best results in any industry by leaving those who are engaged in it to the action of the principle—to use a very old-fashioned phrase—of enlightened self-interest? Although I am not, in the modern sense of the word perhaps, a free trader, I always have believed, and I do believe still, in the truth of that doctrine, that in any industry in which men are engaged you will in the long run get the best results by allowing free play to the principle of enlightened self-interest. My right hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Secretary says, in this respect, "Why not trust the Minister of Agriculture?" Well. I do not go so far as one of my hon. Friends, who said he had no confidence whatever in the Minister of Agriculture. The Minister of Agriculture, after all, is an abstraction. He may be my Noble Friend (Lord Lee) at the 477 present moment, but we do not know who he may be to-morrow. He may be a great expert, or he may not, but I would suggest to my right hon. Friend when he exhorts us to have confidence in the Minister of Agriculture, that there is someone else that experience teaches us we should have confidence in, and that is in the British farmer.
My own belief is that the British farmer, take him for all in all, is infinitely more competent than any Minister of Agriculture is likely to be to know how he can conduct his own business in his own interests, and therefore in the national interests, because it is impossible to separate the two. If a farmer carries out his own business so as to promote his own enlightened self-interest, that will be to get out of his land the greatest amount of produce of which that land is capable, and it is perfectly idle to suppose that some bureaucratic department in Whitehall—let them be never so expert, let them have a staff at their disposal of archangels and super-men—to suppose that they, over the great variations of soil and of climate of which the British industry is made up, can dictate or even offer advice to the farmers of this country which is likely to produce better results than those farmers can produce for themselves. There might be something to be said for this control, if my right hon. Friend came down here as the representative of an industry which he could say was a backward or a badly-conducted industry, but I have never heard such a suggestion made against British agriculture. I have always understood that British agriculture is the glory of the country, and it is probably the most efficiently conducted agriculture to be found in the world. Therefore, for a Ministry to come down here now and say that they are likely to benefit the national interest in regard to food production by putting in such words as these, that they may give any directions that the Ministry may choose to offer, appears to me to be the height of folly. I say nothing on the question of repairs. I think there is more to be said for that, and I think I should probably support the Government there, but I feel strongly that so far as this part of the Bill is concerned, it is so fatal to the best interests of agriculture and of the nation that I cannot possibly support the Clause as it stands, and if it remains in the Bill, I 478 shall be very doubtful, indeed, whether I can support the Third Reading.
§ Mr. WINTRINGHAM
Whenever the Prime Minister has a moment of spare time, and cares to muse on the perversity of human nature, he might be rather interested to consider how it comes about at odd moments that his supporters on that side of the House occasionally leave him, so that his Minister in charge of a Bill has to rely for some measure of support on this side, and how it comes about that a very modest Member, rather disposed to vote against the Government, has occasionally to give a vote on the merits of the case for this Government. I do not see that the Minister in charge of the Bill has had his arguments faced. We all hate control, and the farmers in my Division hate it and loathe it, and would willingly dispense with it, and I think that they would willingly dispense with the guaranteed prices. If you gave the farmers security of tenure and, to use a vulgar expression, washed out guaranteed prices and control, they would be perfectly happy; but this is the point of the Minister in charge of the Bill, that, having given guarantees, and assuming that some day the Government of the day will be paying a subsidy or guarantees to agriculture, they have a perfect right to insist on a wide measure of control. You cannot get over the fact that if they give guarantees the Government are perfectly entitled to ask for control.
§ Mr. WINTRINGHAM
If I may, with very great respect, as a new Member, allude to that interjection of the right hon. Baronet, I should like to say that I think he would be in a much stronger position if he put down a reasoned Amendment on the Third Reading withdrawing both the guarantees and control.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I say, in answer to that, that I long ago made up my mind that, if the Bill is not very seriously modified, I shall certainly vote against the Third Reading?
§ Mr. WINTRINGHAM
The right hon. Baronet would probably find support on this side of the House if he had a reasoned Amendment trying to eradicate both guarantees and control. I do not know how far that can be done, but may I, 479 as the right hon. Baronet has made an interjection, go further and trace his argument? He looks upon the future of the land as in rather a parlous state, with all this control. I do not agree at all, and as a business man—and I know the right hon. Baronet is an eminent business man—I would ask, what sort of business, in the City or elsewhere, would not insist on control if it gave the guarantees that the Government are giving in this Bill? There is not a single company that the right hon. Baronet is associated with which does not insist on control in exchange, not for giving, but for lending money. What applies in a business must also apply in agriculture. Agriculture is a business. A right hon. Gentleman has tried to draw a rather gloomy picture of what cotton would do if cotton were controlled in this way. I do not know what cotton would do, but I can imagine that a good many industries—and I could name some—would be perfectly willing, when markets were against them, to accept almost any measure of control if those industries could be guaranteed against falling prices. You cannot have it both ways, and what applies to any industry which would welcome guaranteed prices against a sinking market must apply to agriculture.
The argument of the Minister in charge of this Bill has not been shaken. I say that control is a bad thing in itself, but I say that control is necessary in exchange for the guarantees. I should be perfectly happy if anybody could so move an Amendment that we could get rid both of guarantees, which I am perfectly certain are not only bad for the Government, but bad, in the long run, for the industry, and of control. I do not think the farmers want it, and I do not think the House wants it. I cannot conceive how agriculture, later on, when it has to lean on the Government, and the Government are paying it, perhaps, some millions in guarantees, can be justified in comparison with other industries. But the point I wish to urge is this, that hon. Members who have spoken against control have said little or nothing against guarantees. As a matter of fact, the Members who have spoken rather welcome guarantees, but with guarantees they want to escape control. They cannot do it. It never can be justified. It is not fair. If agriculture wants guarantees, it must accept 480 control. If it does not want to accept control, it must waive the guarantees, and I think agriculture would stand on its feet much better if it, like other industries, swung clear of control.
I am one who will support the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture stated that we who supported this Amendment were opposing control. I do not believe that control is going to achieve the object for whcih, I think, this Bill was introduced, that is, increased production. We have been twitted, first by the Parliamentary Secretary himself, and since by a Member who has just spoken, that we have not previously voted against the guarantees being given for the production of wheat and oats, and that, if we would consider, it, we ought to support control. I, personally, would sooner see the guarantees taken away and agriculture doing its best under those conditions, than see this control introduced. But I am anxious that the agricultural labourer should be well paid, and I cannot honestly see how he is to receive a good wage unless the State will take responsibility. I hate the idea of subsidies. I have represented an agricultural constituency for some ten years, and I believe the agricultural labourers in my constituency think that I have their interests at heart, and I do say that I am anxious to see them getting a better wage even than they are getting now. You are not going to get that, and you are not going to get many of them employed, unless you do see agriculture going ahead. I state that largely as one of the reasons why I have not spoken earlier against the guaranteed prices, because, if I had spoken against them, I feel I should be losing the chance of the agricultural labourer getting good wages. I know many of them are enjoying a good deal more of the amenities of life than ever before. I wish to see them continuing to enjoy those privileges, and, therefore, I have not been able to oppose the guarantee, which, I understand, would only be paid according to the rate of wages of the labourer. It seems to me that the subsidy is nothing less than a subsidy to enable the agricultural labourer to get a good, fair, living wage, and for that reason I should be sorry to see it dropped.
Hon. Members say you cannot expect to have the guarantee unless you submit to 481 Government control. If the guarantee is going to achieve the object for which it was introduced, it is going to get the corn grown in the country without any compulsion from anybody. If it is going to pay the farmer and the agricultural labourer to put their best into the land, and get as much production as they can, the guaranteed price has achieved its object. But if the guaranteed price is not going to pay the agricultural labourer the wage he deserves, and is not going to bring a profit to the farmer, you can sign all the Orders you like from Whitehall and you will not get the corn grown. I say that if you want to get the corn grown you have to get the farmer and agricultural labourer to produce it. The moment you come along and say what they have got to do, you lose their support, which is essential. I believe the guarantee ought to get the increased production without the control. It is my intention to vote for this Amendment, as, by so doing, I understand, we shall show that we are against control, which, I believe, is against the interests of the community and agriculturists. May I go one step further? If this guarantee does fall on the State, it means that the prices of wheat and oats in other parts of the world fall below those in this country. Is it to the interest of the agricultural labourer that wheat and oats should then be grown in this country? If it is, it is right for the State to give that guarantee, and pay that money so as to keep these men on the land and encourage the industry. If, on the other hand, it is to the advantage of the State, when the price has fallen to the point that the gratuity comes to be paid, that the land should fall out of cultivation, it will not be necessary for the State to meet it, if that is the wish of the State. I think, under those circumstances, it is far better that the Government should give up control in the extreme degree at present asked for under this Bill.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I do not want to go over the ground that was so largely covered by the Minister in charge of the Bill, but I would like to take up the particular reference to me made by the hon, and gallant Member opposite with regard to Free Trade. Free Trade does not mean, and I think has never meant, enlightened self-interest to be the governing principle without any sort of regulation or interference by the State. That 482 is a travesty of the Free Trade position which always has been used by Protectionists, and no doubt always will. But there is no incompatibility, and never has been, between the Free Trade position and the support, say, of Factory Acts and Wages Board Acts, and all sorts of other measures of social reform which Free Traders consider necessary. The Liberal party and the Labour party in the past have backed up these things without in any way interfering with the principles of Free Trade, and it is a travesty of the principles of Free Trade to make out that it is incompatible with modifying liberty of action by State regulation. I do not want to deal in more than a sentence or two with one of the main points, namely, that it is really rather absurd for Members who have, at any rate, never raised their voices against guarantees, now to get up and object to the quid pro quo for those guarantees in the shape of control. I know that some Members have quite genuinely said they would rather have no guarantees at all, but those who know anything about the agricultural industry know that, on the whole, the industry has wanted guaranteed prices, and we cannot get away from it. I do not suppose there is a single Chamber of Agriculture in the country which has not three or four times over passed resolutions in favour of it, and, although particular hon. Members may be absolutely consistent in saying that they themselves have been against it, it cannot be represented that the agricultural industry is doing a fair thing when, after so persistently asking for guarantees, now that it is a question of giving some quid pro quo, they turn round and say "We do not want guarantees after all, and we would much rather not have control, which is the counterpart of getting guarantees."
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I was not criticising the right hon. Baronet. Some have been perfectly consistent, and the right hon. Gentleman has always been consistent in opposing everything. But, on the whole, I think my view is true, that the industry has wanted guarantees, and it is late in the day now to turn round and say it does not want them, and to try to get rid of the control, which must come from them. If the right hon. Gentleman's 483 Amendment is carried, and, as a consequence, the Amendment proposed by the Minister is not carried, we shall be left simply to the rules of good husbandry; and that is an extraordinary limited phrase when you come to interpret it in an agricultural district. I have taken some steps to find out some of the things which might be brought under the rules of "good husbandry," and have endeavoured to discover from valuers the various interpretations of those rules in the districts in which they live. The phrase is a common one in leases, but that does not prevent an extraordinary amount of the slack and bad cultivation. It means little more than that a man shall keep his land reasonably clean and that the drainage shall be in reasonably good condition. I asked a man the other day what he would include. I did not ask him about general departments of agriculture, about which I am not in any way an expert. But I am specially interested in the growing of fruit trees, and I asked him whether under the rules of good husbandry he or I would be required to prune the trees. He considered it was very doubtful indeed. Yet enlightened self-interest would seem to point to the very great desirability of doing this.
Again, when we talk of enlightened self-interest, there are farmers who will not do a hand's turn to get things done, even though it would pay them over and over again, and they need to be wakened up. Unless something of this kind is done you will be unable to insist upon the pruning of trees, the spraying of them, the placing of grease bands, the application of basic slag, or anything of the kind. Neither, as things stand, can you get farmers to take advantage, however much the thing may be laid before them of, for instance, the new seed wheats which are coming into the market gradually as the result of eminently successful work which has been going on for years at Cambridge. This, of course, does not come within the rules of good husbandry. There is no lever really, except a long process of education which unfortunately goes so slowly in the agricultural community, and the thing to be done to improve agricultural processes which are urgently needed, is to give some power to the Government or other authority to do it.
484 After all, it is very easy to say something against Government officials at Whitehall. There is, as we know, a prejudice against them, and observations directed against them can always get a cheer in this House, or anywhere else. But what, after all, is in the Bill? The Bill says that the Ministry of Agriculture has to consult the County Agricultural Committees, and they would not, in practice, of course, be able to act in advance of those Agricultural Committees. If these County Committees are to do the duty for which they have been formed they will, as directly representing the agricultural interest, proceed, in practice, in accordance with the views of those they meet in their daily lives, the farmers, the landowners, the land agents and the agricultural labourers. The committees ought to be in the closest touch with the agricultural interest. In these committees you have a good buffer, at any rate, between the officials at Whitehall and the farmer on whose devoted head they are supposed to be going to descend. The body selected by the county contains members, no doubt, appointed by the Board of Agriculture, but reinforced from the agricultural opinion of the county. But really there is not going to be anything done under this Bill unless you have the convinced best agricultural opinion of the county behind it, as represented by the members of the Agricultural Committees, who think that something really could be done and ought to be done, but could not do it without harmony among the interests concerned. I only add the point, with which I do not propose to deal, made by the Minister in charge, about appeals. It is perfectly true. The Board would not be able to act unreasonably, in view of the ample powers of appeal, or in advance of public opinion of the local committee, based on the County Council, of elected representatives of the people.
As a matter of fact, I believe anyone who really considers the probabilities of the situation will be much more afraid that there will be too little control and improvement of agriculture as a result of this Clause than that there will be too much. During the War we did all sorts of things. A very great number of them were failures, but more were successes. 485 That is a thing which is always lost sight of. There was a tremendous lot of splendid and most improved cultivation. But now the feeling in these matters is very different from what it was in the War. There is, I should think, no risk now that the drastic action which had to be taken, involving as it did some of the failures, would be taken now by any of these, agricultural committees. The general feeling, even of the officials, and certainly of the members of the agricultural committees, would be not to burden themselves with undue interference in anybody's farm in the county whose good opinion they value. All the feeling is the other way. We have gone back after the War, and the general opinion is that given expression to in this House about noninterference with the man's industry, and "let him be the judge of what is best," and all that sort of thing. I think it is very unlikely that there will be any danger, in endeavouring to get a quid pro quo on behalf of the community for what we are giving to agriculture, that we will get an unreasonable interference and the hindering of persons really cultivating reasonably well. Take the point of the Mover of the Amendment. What are the special words to which he objected? Let me quote them to the House—That the owner of land has unreasonably neglected to execute the necessary repairs required for the proper cultivation of the farm of which he is the owner.I think the land-owning industry is going down economically owing to death duties, taxation, and so on. Events are hastening that on. I hardly know anyone who when a farm becomes vacant does not endeavour to sell it or otherwise has to take it in hand to cultivate it himself. The change is becoming extraordinarily rapid. We are going to become a nation of cultivating owners, and not a nation of landowners with tenant farmers. There is a good deal to be said for and against, and it may be urged that this Bill is one of the minor causes that is hastening on this process. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, but there it is. If, however, the land-owning industry is going to go down, let it, at any rate, go down with its flag flying. Let it not be said that this House tried to defeat what is a reasonable proposal, namely, that the landowner should keep in proper repair the buildings which are required for the proper cultivation of the holding he owns.
§ Mr. ACLAND
That is all very well. I know about the existing law, but there are many farms and many estates where the repairs are not attended to as they ought to be.
§ Mr. ACLAND
This is my point. There is a very great deal to be said against the process which is going on, namely, the knocking out of the old traditionary landlord. I could argue for an hour that it will be a real loss to the countryside in places, say, like Devonshire and Somerset, where my property happens to lie. This, however, is not the occasion to talk about these things. What I do want to say is that if this process is going on, let us not, at any rate, have it imputed to us that we were trying, from the point of view of the landowner, to resist this which seems to be so reasonable, namely, that so long as we have farms there should be some power in the hands of some public authority, checked by a local committee, on which we have every opportunity to be represented, to see that we maintain the buildings in a proper state for the cultivation of the holdings we own. That is not the sort of thing that the land-owning industry ought to be anxious to support. If we are to get these guarantees—guarantees about which many of us are very doubtful indeed—let us, at any rate, see to it that the matter is settled on a basis which the general public is willing to accept. Let us not fight over and over again in this House with the chance of being beaten. Times change. Let us see to it that the thing is accepted as something like a reasonable compromise and as a reasonable deal between the agricultural industry and the general public. That will not be so if the general public does not feel that bad ownership, bad cultivation, or neglect of scientific methods is not punished, or cannot be taken in hand by some public authority in their own interest and put right. It is infinitely better for the agricultural interest that they should have these matters broad-based upon the people's will, and that the people should feel satisfied that they are getting some return for these guarantees, 487 rather than that agriculture should say: "We will take advantage of the Government's offer, we will get ourselves solidly established in our system of guaranteed prices, and we will not give the general public anything really fundamental or material in exchange."
§ Captain FITZROY
This question seems to be so involved, and the question arising on the subsequent Amendment so included in the discussion on this one, that it seems to me best for those who have anything to say upon it to say it now. There seems to be a great confusion of thought as to this question of guarantees. I have had something to do with agricultural questions in this House during the last two years, and I should like to tell the Committee what my views are, at any rate, with regard to the guarantees. It is suggested that the agricultural community through their representatives have asked for guaranteed prices. That may be true, but they have only done it for one reason. They have done it because they say we cannot produce the maximum amount of food for the country, nor pay the wages that we are forced to do under the Wages Board, unless we have some guarantee against serious loss given us by the Government. That is the position as regards the demand on behalf of the agricultural industry for guaranteed prices. I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary did agriculture a good service in his speech this afternoon. One of the things which agriculture suffers more from than anything else is misrepresentation in industrial areas. Agriculture has always been misunderstood. The Parliamentary Secretary, I gathered in his reply to the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) was trying to show what a lot of benefit the agricultural industry was going to get under this Bill, notably the guarantees, and that therefore the industry ought to submit to these drastic measures of control because it was being given so much by the Government. That is the misrepresentation that is made in industrial communities as regards the action of the Government under this Bill, and it is totally untrue. Under this Bill agriculture is getting nothing by the guarantees. What is actually happening is that if the guarantees are successful the nation is getting a great deal in return from agriculture. If this Bill is going to be successful, and 488 the guarantees produce the results which we all hope for, that is a very much larger amount of food production, then the nation is getting its reward from the guarantees. I do not wonder that there is a considerable amount of difference over this question in the House, because it is an extremely difficult and complicated one.
There is an Amendment in the name of the Parliamentary Secretary, which comes later on, in regard to which I should like to protest as strongly as I can against the whole method of legislation by reference. Even those of us who have been engaged in the discussions on the Agricultural Bill in Committee find the greatest possible difficulty in ascertaining what is meant by this Clause. How in the world those who have not taken all this trouble, and have not gone into the question as deeply as we have can understand what is being done by this Amendment I absolutely fail to understand. We understood that the two Bills were going to be drafted into one in order to show what the Bill is as it is now framed, and what it means. I do not know why it has not been done, because this omission renders our task almost imposible. The whole thing depends on whether this Bill succeeds in what it sets out to do.
I am quite convinced that you can never get the food of this country increased in quantity and grown here by methods of coercion. There are inducements in the Bill given to farmers to put the best they can into their work. They are given as much security of tenure as anybody could reasonably demand. If the Bill is successful all those inducements are all very well in their way, but if they do not succeed certainly coercion will not. You will never get people to put their heart into a thing by methods of coercion, and I am amazed at members of the Labour party who are supposed to champion freedom of employment and so forth supporting measures which are supposed to put the maximum amount of compulsion on the farmers of this country. What are the arguments in favour of these ploughing up orders? It is said because we want more ploughed land that it is necessary not so much that we should dictate to the farmers the sort of crops they should grow, but that we should have the land under plough.
489 It is a question of whether the thing pays or not. If you have land under the plough you have to grow wheat or corn, and you cannot have crops of a different nature, and if those particular crops do not pay it is not fair of the Government to compel farmers to cultivate their land by a certain method if it pays them better to do it in another way. A great argument is that you have to satisfy the public, but you will not do that by misrepresenting agriculture, because that will only make the matter much worse. The way to satisfy the public, whether it is the industrial population or any other, is to tell them the truth, and put the question clearly and plainly before them, and then the natural intelligence of an Englishman and his sense of fair play will lead him to support you much better than trying to make him believe something which is not the case.
What are the arguments against these ploughing orders? I do not want to lay too much stress upon the argument as to their failure in time of war. I do not say they did not have a great deal of land ploughed up, but from an agricultural point of view they were not a success. I know it was done on the spur of the moment in an emergency when the whole success of the War depended on us getting a sufficient food supply. What you can do in a time of war is no argument of what you can do in times of peace. There is another argument which is very strong against these ploughing-up orders. There are some people who think that some form of compulsion of this form is inevitable if we are to avoid nationalisation. Nationalisation may be a right thing in its way, and I do not pretend to understand it, but this ploughing up of land is the very worst form of nationalisation, because the Government is taking upon itself powers to force a great industry like agriculture, against its better knowledge, to do a certain thing, and yet under this Amendment the Government are to take none of the responsibility or obligations should the loss fall upon the individual.
When it is suggested that the least the Government can do if they insist upon these ploughing-up Orders is to give some compensation, we are told that the compensation plan worked very badly during the War, and they are not inclined to repeat the experiment. That may be so, but 490 let it be remembered that that was a time of great emergency and no doubt the compensation proposals did lend themselves to fraud, and were on that account undesirable. That, however, is no reason why the State should take upon itself the powers given in this Bill in the ploughing-up Orders, without also accepting responsibility for any loss that might thereby be incurred. It is true the right hon. Gentleman has put certain safeguards into the Bill. The Order, for instance, must not injuriously affect the interest of the landowner, and so on. But in an industry like agriculture, no government, no arbitrator, indeed nobody could possibly say, when a field is ploughed up, whether it is going to be injurious to the individual or not. All sorts of weather conditions may prevail which may make it a most disastrous proceeding for the individual interested. The safeguards may be all very well on paper, but they are really worth nothing to the individual affected. I say, therefore, that in their ploughing-up Orders they should frame some form of compensation under which the State will take its share of any loss sustained. I hope and trust that the right hon. Gentleman will not insist on maintaining these Orders. If this Bill fails in bringing about what is its aim and object—an increase of the food supply of the people—if you have to insist on ploughing-up Orders, it is an acknowledgment that the Bill is a failure.
I would make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman that he should withdraw the Amendment he has down reintroducing the ploughing-up Orders which were cut out in Committee. This Bill is in the nature of a great experiment. We hope it is going to be a success. There are those who, like myself, do not like many parts of the Bill, but who nevertheless are prepared to support it, realising, as they do, the extreme importance of increasing the food supply of this country. I hope sincerely it will be a success, but still it is an experiment. There is another great experiment in it, namely the setting up of these agricultural committees as a new authority with powers which have not been entrusted to bodies of that kind before. I hope that they, too, will be a success, but no one can say. Let the right hon. Gentleman strike out his Amendment and give us two or three years in which to prove whether the Bill is or is not a success. If he finds it does not succeed, if he finds that land goes rapidly 491 back to grass, there will be nothing easier for him than, at some future date, to put the ploughing-up Orders into the Bill again. By that time, too, he will know whether the agricultural committees are doing their duty properly, whether they are giving satisfaction to those over whom they have control, and whether they are effecting the purposes for which they were set up. If he finds they are a success, but that the Bill does carry out the main object of the Government in introducing it, he can still re-introduce his Clauses with regard to ploughing-up Orders. I hope he will consider that aspect of the question. I can assure him if he attempts to introduce these coercive measures into the Bill he will find it will do more harm than good, and he will get less food rather than more.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
The Debate has tended more and more to be a discussion on a matter which we did not propose to debate at this stage, i.e., the particular Amendment I have put on the Paper and the particular form of control the Government propose to impose. Would it not be much better to dispose of this much broader Amendment here and now, and then come to grips with the point which most interests the House? The last speaker has made an appeal to me to vary my Amendment. I cannot answer him on that point, because it goes far beyond the point at issue. I do suggest it would be the most convenient course to terminate this discussion and get to grips on the main question.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I have no objection to that, but I should like to say one or two words in answer to my right hon Friend. He blamed me a little while ago for not having voted against the Second Reading of the Bill. I did not vote against it, because a great number of hon. Friends told me it was possible that the Bill, bad as it was, might be amended in Committee and on Report. I did not, therefore, vote against the Second Reading; but I have quite made up my mind, if the Bill emerges from this stage in anything like the form it is now, I shall vote against the Third Reading. The right hon. Gentleman also asked me how it was I had not voted against the Clauses which gave the guarantees. I have always voted against guarantees, 492 but I did not think it advisable, when a discussion was going on dealing with the whole Bill, to vote against the guarantees. I voted against the Second Reading of the Corn Production Act, and I believe my action in so doing was right, because the agricultural industry has been entirely deluded by that Act. The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Wintringham) suggested that it was quite impossible to have a guarantee without control, because nobody would lend money without controlling the business for which the money was required. Banks lend money to all kinds of people, and do not control their businesses. Money is lent on mortgage, on estates and factories, but the lender does not seek to control either the factory or the estate. I still hold the opinion, as regards guarantees, that the farming industry would be far better without them. The industry had better stand on her own feet and do the best it can in its own interests, which necessarily involve the interests of the nation.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
Perhaps I may say that, if the House is willing to come to a decision on the present Amendment, I should propose then to call the Government Amendment, and, immediately following that, the Amendment to that Amendment to leave out paragraph (b). That would enable the House to come to an effective decision on the question which is now being debated, and I think that it would be for the convenience of the House.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I do not wish to stand between the House and a decision on this question, provided that it will be in Order, on the Government Amendment, for me to say one further word on the question of guarantees. I think it would certainly be in Order now, but, if I can do so on the later Amendment, I shall be glad to wait until then. Other wise I must say the few words that I have to say on that point now.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think it would be in Order, because the power to order certain kinds of cultivation is supposed to be a quid pro quo for the control.
Then I take it that it will be possible to resume the Debate in very much the same strain in which it has been carried on up to the present?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
Yes. The House would then be in the position of pushing its view to a conclusion. I think that that will meet the view of hon. Members.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out down to the word494
§ 'words' ['there shall be substituted the words'], in paragraph (ii), stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes; 189; Noes, 52.495
|Division No. 349.]||AYES.||[8.37 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. F. D.||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Pollock, Sir Ernest M.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Graham, R. (Nelson and Co[...]ne)||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.||Greenwood, William (Stockport)||Pratt, John William|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Gregory, Holman||Prescott, Major W. H.|
|Amery, Lieut.-Col. Leopold C. M. S.||Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth)||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Hon. W. E.||Purchase, H. G.|
|Atkey, A. R.||Hallwood, Augustine||Rae, H. Norman|
|Bagley, Captain E. Ashton||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Widnes)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Henderson, Major V. L. (Tradeston)||Robertson, John|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Barnett, Major R. W.||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Rodger, A. K.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Hoare, Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. J. G.||Rose, Frank H.|
|Barrand, A. R.||Holmes, J. Stanley||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Barrie, Charles Coupar||Hope, James F. (Sheffield, Central)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Norwood)|
|Bell, James (Lancaster, Ormskirk)||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. A. (Midlothian)||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert A.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Hotchkin, Captain Stafford Vere||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Howard, Major S. G.||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool Exchange)|
|Blair, Reginald||Irving, Dan||Seager, Sir William|
|Boscawen, Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith||Jephcott, A. R.||Shaw, Thomas (Preston)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Johnson, Sir Stanley||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Johnstone, Joseph||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)|
|Briggs, Harold||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Simm, M. T.|
|Bromfield, William||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Lianelly)||Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George||Stewart, Gershom|
|Cairns, John||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Kenyon, Barnet||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Carew, Charles Robert S.||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Sugden, W. H.|
|Carr, W. Theodore||Lane-Fox. G. R.||Swan, J. E.|
|Carter, w. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Casey, T. W.||Lawson, John J.||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales)||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (Maryhill)|
|Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H. Spender||Lewis, T. A. (Glam., Pontypridd)||Tillett, Benjamin|
|Clough, Robert||Lloyd-Greame, Major Sir P.||Tootill, Robert|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Lorden, John William||Townley, Maximilian G.|
|Cobb. Sir Cyril||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Vickers, Douglas|
|Coote, William (Tyrone, South)||Lunn, William||Waddington, R.|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Mackinder. Sir H. J. (Camiachle)||Ward, Col. J. (Stoke-upon.Trent)|
|Craig, Colonel Sir J. (Down. Mid)||M'Lean, Lieut. Col. Charles W. W.||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Davies, A. (Lancaster, Clitheroe)||Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D. (Midlothian)||Waring, Major Walter|
|Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)||Warren, Lieut.-Col. Sir Alfred H.|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Mason, Robert||Wheler, Lieut.-Colonel C. H.|
|Davies, Thomas (Clrencester)||Mildmay, Colonel Rt. Hon. F. B.||White, Charles F. (Derby, Western)|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Mitchell, William Lane||Whitla, Sir William|
|Denniss, Edmund R. B. (Oldham)||Moles, Thomas||Wigan, Brig.-General John Tyson|
|Edge, Captain William||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred M.||Wignall, James|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Morden, Colonel H. Grant||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South)||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Morison, Rt. Hon. Thomas Brash||Wills, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Gilbert|
|Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M.||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, West)|
|Falcon, Captain Michael||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Wilson, Lieut.-Col. M. J. (Richmond)|
|Farquharson, Major A. C.||Murray, Lieut.-Colonel A. (Aberdeen)||Wilson, w. Tyson (Westhoughton)|
|Fell, Sir Arthur||Murray, John (Leeds, West)||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Finney, Samuel||Murray, Major William (Dumfries)||Wintringham, T.|
|FitzRoy, Captain Hon. E. A.||Myers, Thomas||Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)|
|Foreman, Henry||Neal, Arthur||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Newbould, Alfred Ernest||Woolcock, William James U.|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Nowman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Ganzoni, Captain Francis John C.||Ormsby-Gore, Captain Hon. W.||Young, Lieut.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)|
|Gardiner, James||Parker, James||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John||Percy, Charles||Lord E. Talbot and Captain Guest.|
|Glanville, Harold James||Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Brassey, Major H. L. C.||Courthope, Major George L.|
|Allen, Lieut.-Colonel William James||Brown, Captain D. C.||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Cayzer, Major Herbert Robin||Davies, Major D. (Montgomery)|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hitchin)||Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Chadwick, Sir Robert||Gretton, Colonel John|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Gwynne, Rupert S.|
|Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Lynn, R. J.||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)||Stanler, Captain Sir Beville|
|Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Marks, Sir George Croydon||Starkey, Captain John R.|
|Hogge, James Myles||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Stevens, Marshall|
|Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Weston, Colonel John W.|
|Horne, Edgar (Surrey, Guildford)||Morrison, Hugh||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Perkins, Walter Frank||Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Pulley, Charles Thornton||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Jodrell, Neville Paul||Roundell, Colonel R. F.|
|Kidd, James||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)||Sir F. Banbury and Mr. Cautley.|
Question put, and agreed to.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I beg to move, in paragraph (ii), to leave out paragraph (b), and to insert instead thereof the following new paragraphs:
This is a definite Amendment, around which really the greater part of the discussion of the last Amendment took place. I propose the insertion of words which will give the Government something beyond merely the right to require good husbandry and the right to insist that the necessary tenantable repairs are done. Powers of this nature appeared in the Bill as originally introduced. We had the right to order an improvement of cultivation or a change of cultivation. When we discussed this matter in Committee an Amendment was moved by my hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Fitzroy) to leave out these powers of improvement or change of cultivation, and after a very long debate upstairs the Committee, by a majority of four, decided to leave them out, contrary to the advice of the Government. We were left simply with the right to insist upon fair rules of good husbandry and on necessary repairs, and we could not insist upon any kind of improvement in cultivation or any change of cultivation. We could not even insist that there should be maintained any part of that arable land which was the result of ploughing-up orders during the War. It has been said that 496 the ploughing-up policy was a complete failure. That is not the case. I have not the figures with me, but I gave the figures on the Second Reading of the greatly increased production—not merely acreage, but production—during the War, and it is not true to say the ploughing-up policy was a failure. I agree that some mistakes were made, but on the whole the nation was a great gainer, and it seems a great pity that now the whole of that land should be put back to grass.
- "(b) that the production of food on any land can in the national interest and without injuriously affecting the persons interested in the land be maintained or increased by the occupier by means of an improvement in the existing method of cultivation or by the use of the land for arable cultivation; or
- "(c) that the occupier of land has unreasonably neglected to execute thereon the necessary works of maintenance being, in the case of land occupied by a tenant, works which he is liable to execute under the conditions of his tenancy or rendered necessary by his act or default; or
- "(d) that the owner of land in the occupation of a tenant has unreasonably neglected to execute thereon the necessary works of maintenance, not being works to which the preceding paragraph applies."
§ Mr. TOWNLEY
I was not interrupting for that but because the right hon. Gentleman remarked that as the Bill left the Committee you had no power except as to get good husbandry and repairs. That is not quite so. You have all sorts of powers for giving directions as to cultivation under the Bill.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
My hon. and gallant Friend is really not accurate. We have only got powers as to cultivation in respect of what is necessary for good husbandry and the carrying out of necessary repairs. It is quite true that in the second Sub-section, which deals with the Orders, words occur which go beyond that. But the reason for that is very simple. The main Amendment was carried in Committee, but my hon. Friend did not move the subsequent consequential Amendment which should have been moved. The result is that unnecessary words were left in. If we were not proposing to alter the Clause now I should move to leave those words out. That is really the history of these particular words appearing at present.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
All the Clause says is "that the owner of land in the occupation of a tenant has reasonably neglected to execute the necessary repairs." We already have control of good 497 cultivation under the Corn Production Act, words which were left unamended, and we added to them the necessity for executing necessary repairs. The words giving us the right to insist upon an improvement in cultivation or a change in cultivation were left out on the Amendment of my hon. Friend and in the subsequent paragraph, where the Executive Orders and instructions are to be given, the consequential Amendment was not moved. Consequently there are redundant words there, but they do not affect the general position at all. I main-main therefore, and I do not think that anyone can gainsay me, that we were left with the right only to insist on fair rules of good husbandly and upon necessary repairs. We do not consider that that is sufficient, and after this Amendment had been carried in Committee several hon. Members who had voted in the majority against the Government felt that they had gone too far and as a result my hon. Friends (Mr. E. Wood and Mr. Lane-Fox) put down an Amendment that there should be control of cultivation, though of a more limited character than we proposed in the original Bill, and it is this Amendment which could not be moved in Committee because it appeared to contradict a decision already arrived at, that I am moving at present. It is quite true it is introduced at a different place, which is the proper place for it, but I am introducing the very words my hon. Friend proposed in Committee, and if therefore I am asking the House to some extent to reverse the decision of the Committee I am simply proposing an Amendment which some hon. Members who voted against the Government before were prepared to propose themselves. My Amendment amounts to this, that in addition to rules of good husbandry and necessary repairs to keep the place in tenantable order we should have the right to insist, not on any change in cultivation but on an improvement in the existing methods of cultivation, and that we should have the right to secure that there should be a certain amount of arable land on the farm if necessary.
We go further. One of the main objections which was taken in Committee to our proposal was this. They said, "You will have representatives from Whitehall coming down and dictating to farmers what crops they are to grow." I have, therefore, put in, here again following the 498 lead of my hon. Friends, an Amendment on Clause 24 which has to be read in connection with the Amendment I am now moving, the effect of which is that although we can order a change of cultivation we shall have no power to prescribe the actual crops to be grown. The Amendment, therefore, is in a very much more limited form than that which was originally in the Bill. We have heard to-day a great deal about the evils of control. If it were control unrestricted I should be willing to listen to these arguments, but the safeguards which are proposed are of the most ample kind. In the first place the control is to be carried out, not by the Ministry direct, but by the local county agricultural committees, to whom we shall delegate our powers. Secondly, before any improvement of an existing method of cultivation, or before a demand for arable land, can be carried into effect persons interested can appeal to an arbitrator as to whether or not they will be injuriously affected. And thirdly, there is always an appeal as to whether the proposed change is or is not in the national interest. If I were not in charge of the Bill, but in opposition criticising it, the criticism I should be prepared to level at this Clause is not that there is too much control, but that the control is so hedged round and safeguarded that it is likely to be ineffective. That is the criticism that I should make on this Bill. Before we can get a single ploughing-up Order, before we can issue an Order that a man may not lay down to grass land which is already arable, it has to be proved to the arbitrator that it is in the national interest, and that it will not injuriously affect either tenant or landlord. I think the process will be so exceedingly slow, tedious, and difficult, that it is likely in many eases to be ineffective.
Coming back to the general argument, we do claim that in the national interests we want to see the greatest possible amount of food production. We want to grow as much food as possible on our land. There is no reason why we should not produce a great deal more. We discovered during the War that we could produce more, and we do not want to forget the lesson learned during the War. There is no place now for the lazy or indifferent farmer, or the landlord who will not keep his buildings in such repair 499 that the farm can be properly farmed. We want in the national interest to make the land as productive as we can and to grow at home every ounce of food we possibly can. For that reason we have guaranteed the farmers against the serious loss that they may suffer if the cereal prices—
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
Yes, but for what, purpose? Te secure that there may be a sufficiency of arable land.
§ 9.0 P.M.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
Nobody suggests that you are going to grow wheat every year on the same land. You will have your usual rotation. We do not propose to interfere with your rotation; but we do say in the national interests that it is necessary to maintain a sufficiency of arable land, otherwise, what happens? What will happen will be what did happen during the War, when we found that the land of our country was two-thirds under grass, that a great many farmers had no equipment of any sort or kind for cultivating arable land, and the Government had to step in and purchase tractors and do the work themselves in many instances. We were caught short, and we had not the equipment on our farms for the production of wheat, which was the absolute life-blood of the nation at that moment. Therefore, having learned the lessons of the War, we wish to maintain a sufficiency of arable land with the necessary equipment. For these reasons we have given these guarantees. I quite agree with my hon. Friends that we are not giving the guarantee to the farmers out of love for the farmers, but in the national interest. As we have done that, we say that in the national interest we have a right to see, subject to suitable safeguards, that that land is cultivated up to the highest point that it reasonably can be, and that we may obtain a sufficiency of arable land in the country. That is the whole object of the Amendment. It may be said that I am again trying to reverse a decision of the Committee. That is not so. The Committee went further than it intended to go. That was shown by the fact that my hon. Friends, whom I have mentioned, put 500 down this very Amendment that I am now moving. I am not reversing the decision of the Committee in the sense that I am asking the House to put back what was thrown out in the first instance. I do claim in the national interest, subject to the safeguards I have mentioned, that this Amendment is necessary if agriculture is to be treated as a national industry, and is to be employed for the benefit of the nation as a whole. The amount of control that is proposed is necessary. Therefore, I ask the House to accept this Amendment, without which I think the Bill will not be half as effective for the purpose we have in view as it will be if we put this provision in the Bill.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
It will be just as well to dispose of the Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill," and then we can come back to the positive Question, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill." I shall then call upon the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Spender Clay) to move his Amendment to leave out the first of the three paragraphs proposed in the Amendment.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.
§ Question proposed, "That the proposed words be there inserted in the Bill."
Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER CLAY
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to leave out paragraph (b).
Those hon. Members who were on the Committee will appreciate the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Boscawen) and the tact which he employed in guiding the Bill through Committee. Perhaps I may be accused of some degree of inconsistency because in Committee I supported the Government in a somewhat similar Amendment to the one which the right hon. Gentleman has proposed, and now I have put down an Amendment to leave out one of the paragraphs. I cannot help thinking that the Amendment proposed requires a considerable amount of criticism. I am not one of those who think that there should be no control. Guarantees were required by the great mass of agriculturists in the country in order that they might grow cereal crops, especially owing to the increase in wages. Without guarantees you would not have got any substantial in- 501 crease in yield under arable land. At the same time I do not think that the Clause now proposed will have quite the effect that is anticipated. Certain words in it seem to me to require a certain amount of consideration. Take the words "without injuriously affecting." Who is to say what is going injuriously to affect? A man is interested in land which is affected injuriously, and the injurious effects may not develop for two or three years. It is almost impossible for anyone to foretell. Then there are the words "by means of an improvement in the existing method of cultivation." These seem to be inquisitorial and not essential. It means that the inspectors, who presumably will act under the county agricultural committees, will be entitled to inquire into all kinds of details, and they will have, to be highly qualified and tactful men, while we will require to have a great number of them in order to cover the United Kingdom. I do not think that the inspectors could do this work. If the men engaged in supervision are to be efficient they must be highly paid, which will involve increased cost of administration on the county agricultural committees. If they are not, the whole of this Clause will be absolutely futile.
I think that the paragraph leaves the door open for petty interference. There is no class in the community which has so great an objection to petty interference as tenant farmers or small owners of land. Far from getting the goodwill of the people who actually produce wheat and oats, the effect of this petty interference must be to put their backs up, and you will not get the increase in the acreage of arable which we all desire. The crux of the whole question is that if it pays a farmer to grow wheat and oats, he will grow them, and he will grow them without petty interference. The supervision indicated in paragraph (b) will not produce the benefit which is anticipated. I do not remember in Committee that the words of this Clause were actually put down on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Lane-Fox). In any case, I think that the words in this Sub-section require, considerable amendment, and I hope that my right hon. Friend, when the measure goes to another place, will have some alteration made. There are a number of bad farmers in this country, and we do not want to bolster them up. We want 502 to see bad methods of cultivation improved. We do not want to make secure the tenure of farmers who are not cultivating their land properly. But this Amendment, which I am sure is put down by the right hon. Gentleman with the desire of meeting the wishes of the Committee and also, I believe, the majority of this House, goes too far in the way of interference, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to amend it.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I beg to Second the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.
I hope my hon. Friend will take it to a Division. I regard it as one of the most important matters which we have to consider in this Bill. I repeat the protest against the method in which this question, is presented to the House. According to the practice and rules of procedure of this House I believe that I should be justified if I moved to report progress, because nature has given me only two hands and there are three difficult and complicated papers. The first is the Bill, the second the Corn Production Act of 1917, and the third is these long Amendments which are placed on the Paper. The Minister has the advantage over me that he has a desk, and can put one paper in front, and can hold the other two papers, one in each hand. We who sit here have only got two hands, with a bench, and cannot read three complicated papers at once. I protest against the introduction here of a most difficult and complicated question of this kind.
The least the Government could do would be to put down what they propose to do one one piece of paper, which all can read and understand. The subject is one of extraordinary complexity in itself. There is a very large number of Members who take great interest in this question. It is not merely an agricultural question. It is a national question. It is just as much to the interest of the town dweller to understand and discuss this question as it is to the interest of us who are primarily interested in agricultural industry, and it is not fair to have this legislation by reference, and complcated Amendments, superimposed upon us. I have spent hours trying to puzzle out exactly what is and what is not proposed here. Whether I really understand it or not I am most doubtful. I am certain that very few Members do understand exactly what is proposed or could take 503 the papers concerned and put them together. I do not want to go to the extreme point of moving to report progress, but I hope sincerely that no more Bills of this kind shall be brought forward in this way.
The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has based his defence of these proposals mainly on general grounds. His general ground has been one with which everyone will agree, namely, that it is in the national interest that land should be well farmed and produce the maximum, and that he proposes these measures in order to attain that result. Surely, in order to get the House to assent to that, he has first of all to prow, that these measures will produce that result? He seems to assume that because the House will agree with his motive, therefore it is bound to agree to his definite proposals, whether they are calculated to carry out that motive or not. My right hon. Friend is not entitled for one moment to assume that because I object to these proposals I am any less anxious than he is to see production increased. Most of us have not only the national interest at heart, but, if you want to look to personal interests, it is our personal interest to see this land, which we are cultivating, cultivated to the best advantage. We have to live by it. Do hon. Members suppose that if we thought this kind of control would help us to get more out of the land, we would not support it wholeheartedly? The argument has been used that because of the guarantees there is justification for this control. The real question is, are the guarantees adequate? We had exactly the same arguments brought forward in connection with the Corn Production Act. What were the figures we were given then?
In the year 1920 the guaranteed price of wheat was to be 45s. and of oats 24s. The figures in this Bill are an improvement, but we do not know that they are adequate. My right hon. Friend said, how glad the industry would have been to have had the figures in the bad times of the 'nineties. Let us apply our minds to that. How much good would this guarantee have done us then? Take wheat. The guaranteed price of wheat here is 68s. If you were to ascertain what you would get if the conditions of the 'nineties were reproduced, all you have to ask is, what is 504 the proportion which the cost of production in the 'nineties bears to the cost of production in 1919, and the same proportion will affect the minimum price. I challenge contradiction when I say that the cost of production in the 'nineties was not one-third of the cost of production today. Will anyone deny that? Labour has trebled its wages for shorter hours. The cost of machinery and everything else is trebled. You would, therefore, get under those conditions one-third of 68s. That would give you 23s. as a maximum. What would a 23s. guarantee have done in the 'nineties? We have had nothing put before us to show us upon what basis these guarantees are to be calculated. I suggest to the Solicitor-General, who is for the moment in charge of the Bill, that in asking the Commissioners to ascertain the guaranteed price, upon which such large claims are based, he is setting them an impossible task. I cannot see upon which basis they are to start. There is the missing factor of the cost of production during the basic period. I defy any mathematician without that factor to say by what means the guaranteed prices are to be properly calculated.
I agree with the excellent speech made by the hon. Member for the Stamford Division (Lieut.-Colonel Willoughby), when he said that the object in getting the guarantees was to be able to pay a fair wage to the agricultural labourer and that out of such guarantees they could not do it. The guarantees must be real to enable us to do it. The examples I have given will show that if the conditions of the 'nineties were to be reproduced these figures would not in any way enable us to pay an adequate wage to labour. There is another fact. These guaranteed prices, in return for which we are asked to submit to this drastic control, are given for two products only, wheat and oats. I believe that the idea in the mind of those who accept that proposal is that wheat has always been regarded as having a barometric quality; in other words, that when the price of wheat is high the price of agricultural produce generally moves more or less in consonance with the price of wheat. I agree that the prices of agricultural produce do rise and fall more or less with the price of wheat. But that applies only to the natural price; it cannot possibly apply to a guaranteed price. Suppose the natural price of wheat were 45s. and that the 505 guaranteed minimum price of wheat were, as it is here, 68s. Which would be the barometric figure? It would obviously be 45s., and the whole price of agricultural produce generally would be on the 45s. level. What good would that do and how would it help the arable farmer of poor land which cannot grow wheat? Every farmer is the best judge of how to cultivate his own farm to the best advantage. You cannot lay down any general rub and say that everybody is to grow wheat or oats or something else. How will this enable the dairy farmer if the price of milk is low, to pay adequate wages to his labourer because someone else in another district is getting a minimum guaranteed price of 68s. for his wheat?
We are dealing here with the whole agricultural industry, and not merely with those who grow wheat or oats. I do impress upon the House that, from all those points of view, this guaranteed price, although admirably intended, is in reality a sham and a fraud. It really is not going to be a firm post for agriculture to lean upon. I attach value to it from one point of view only, and that is that by guaranteeing this minimum price the House and the Government will show at any rate an intention to take some responsibility for the prosperity of agriculture. I also attach particular value to the personal attitude of the Prime Minister in that respect. I think as the Prime Minister has committed himself to give such guarantees or such national support to agriculture as to enable the land to be properly cultivated, we have a right to come to him if those guarantees fail, and ask him to carry out and to support real measures which will effect the object which these measures have failed to effect. I do attach some value to that, but it is more a sentimental value than a real one.
In return for these guarantees the industry is asked to accept this measure of control. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) said in regard to the question of keeping land clean; that is to say, that land should be cultivated according to the rules of good husbandry, that a man should keep his ditches cleaned out, and that anybody who goes past his land should not see that it was half out of cultivation, thereby bringing discredit upon the whole agricultural industry. I also agree that, so far as the owner is concerned, there should be powers 506 in the Ministry, through its agricultural committees, to see that a man keeps his buildings in tenantable repair, so that the tenant may be able properly to cultivate the land. Those two things fit together. They are both essentials to good cultivation. They are both questions of fact and not questions of opinion. Anybody who knows anything about agriculture can say whether the land is being reasonably well cultivated according to the rules of good husbandry, or whether it is not. Anybody can say whether buildings are being kept in tenantable repair or whether they are not, and I think the agricultural committees of the county councils are very suitable bodies to carry out that work. There is a very strong feeling abroad. I have heard it expressed over and over again by agricultural labourers. I have heard it expressed on the Labour benches opposite. I have great sympathy with it. They say more stuff would be grown if only the farmers would farm better, and if the land were properly cultivated. It exposes the whole agricultural industry to opprobrium when two or three farmers, perhaps in a district, cultivate their land badly. I have no objection at all for that measure of control. Whether the guarantees were adequate or whether they were not, I should be perfectly prepared to submit to it both as to good husbandry and as to buildings.
When we come to this paragraph (b), which my hon. Friend has moved to omit, we are on wholly different ground. You are then asking the agricultural industry to submit to a proposal that some public authority, to whom power is to be delegated by the Minister, is to have the right to say whether land shall be ploughed up or whether it shall not, and to have a voice in the matter of the cultivation of that land. That, in my opinion, must fail in its object. Does anybody really suppose that by issuing an order to a farmer to plough up land which he knows will not pay him to plough up—does anybody in his senses really suppose, because an inspector goes to a farmer, who is not growing wheat at all, perhaps, whose land is not suitable for growing wheat, and orders that farmer to plough up a field, that it will do any good? You cannot make a farmer grow wheat under this Bill. All you can tell him is to plough up a field. What will he do? He will do it at a minimum of expense. He will plough it three or four 507 inches deep, and then leave it. That is the best thing he can do. What else can he do? [Interruption.] It is all very well for hon. Members to interrupt, but if they were ordered by the State to carry out some operation which was going to be costly to them, and for which they could get no adequate return, and from which they were making their living, would they do it? Suppose they were making their living at some trade or industry and the State ordered them to carry out that trade or industry in some particular way under which they knew they would lose money and would not be able to make a living out of it, would they do it? Of course they would not. All the State can do is to do everything it possibly can to make it pay to cultivate the land well, and to offer the farmer every inducement to do it. If a man does not cultivate his land according to the way the State thinks he ought to cultivate it, it would be very much beter to say that it will turn him out of his farm and find somebody else who will do it; but to leave a man on his farm and tell him to plough up land, when he knows it will not pay him to do so, is an impracticable and hopeless proposition.
When the right hon. Member for Camborne suggests that fruit-growers should be ordered to prune their trees and to put on grease bands, and so on, I agree that is very desirable, but I must remind him that there is nothing in the Bill which enables that to be done. That really does not arise on this question at all. I quite agree that where it is a question of insect pests, it is quite right there should be power to order people to take whatever measures are necessary, but that can already be done by the Board of Agriculture in other ways, and if those powers are insufficient let them be strengthened. That has nothing to do with this question at all. May I say that, so far as my contact with agriculture goes, farmers feel most strongly on this matter? They do not desire to see any interference with their right to cultivate their farm as they believe to be best for the nation, for the agricultural industry, and for themselves. This proposition is an impracticable one, considering the infinite variety and conditions of land in this country. One is constantly hearing of failures. I heard of a case the other 508 day which is just such a case as might arise here. It was the case of a dairy farm in Essex. A certain body of agriculturists, who had money, thought that that land might be ploughed to great advantage. It was grass land, and they thought it would be much better if it was ploughed and cultivated for cereal crops. They took the farm at an increased rent and ploughed it all up. The result was that they found the land did not answer to the plough. It was unsuitable for ploughing, and a great deal of money was lost, and the land will go back to grass again.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I admit it does not always work out in that way, but surely my hon. Friend does not suggest that it would be fair or right or in the national interests that, because, in perfect good faith, an agricultural committee or an inspector thought a particular grass farm would be cultivated in the national advantage better under the plough, therefore they should be given the power of issuing an order compelling the occupier of that farm to cultivate it under the plough, and that, should there be a serious loss owing to that compulsory order, the occupier should have to bear the whole of that loss, which he was compelled to suffer nominally in the national interests? Surely that is not a procedure which anybody can advocate as being just and fair.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I have seen land before my own window which was lying waste for 50 years and which is now-growing a good cereal crop.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
The best way to bring that field into cultivation would be to make it pay to cultivate it. If a man has land which he does not cultivate it would be much better to turn him out and put somebody else in. The issuing of an order to plough up a field is not going to help the situation unless it is going to pay to cultivate it. I do not think it is a practical remedy, and agriculturists do not think it is, and they are opposed to it. I ask the Government not to press this part of their proposal. I voted for the Government on the last Amendment because I was perfectly prepared to accept control to the extent of good husbandry 509 and to keep the buildings in tenable repair, but when it comes to interference with methods of cultivation I am most strongly opposed to it from the national as well as from the agricultural point of view.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
I rise to make a few observations because I think I may be of some assistance to the House if I endeavour to explain the real issue. I think my hon. Friends failed to appreciate the actual terms of my right hon. Friend's proposal. I should not in the least offer any criticism of the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Spender-Clay), or prefer any charge of inconsistency against him in moving his Amendment. He told the House that he voted rather differently in Committee, but this is a matter which so deeply concerns the position of agriculture, for which he has to try to do his best, that I think every hon. Member is not only entitled to pay great attention to it, but to give to the House the best of his experience. The same observation applies to the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. I know quite well his criticisms are not intended to be destructive, but constructive, and he has shown goodwill by voting in favour of the last Amendment, and in favour of what I may call the principle of control. May I express my sympathy with both hon. Members when they find a difficulty in appreciating the effect of this Clause, when one has to turn to the Corn Production Act and to Amendments on the Order Paper and piece them together. Objection is taken to legislation by reference, but that is a matter the House has largely in its own hands. If one could put down and re-write all the old Statutes, and were sure that Amendments would not be put down to the old part, but that criticism would be directed to the new Statute, then draftsmen would be prepared to draft the whole Bill for the purpose of clearness. But when one finds that the House takes the opportunity of endeavouring to repeal standing legislation, then, as there is great pressure on the House, it is not unnatural, although it may be unfortunate, that a great many Bills are drawn by reference and not by mere statement.
I do not think that some hon. Members fully appreciate how this proposal before us stands. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the 510 City (Sir F. Banbury) poured a good deal of scorn on Sub-section (iii), and said it was impossible to understand it. I am surprised that with his usual diligence he did not learn that that Sub-section is simply for the purpose of giving security to the tenant farmer, and giving him the right of appeal to an arbitrator before any order is made operative against him. The words may be complex and may deal with a Clause in the Com Production Act, but so far from those words being foolish, stupid or unnecessary, they are words which are perfectly plain in the sense that they enlarge the proviso so as to make arbitration apply.
My right hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Secretary, has not been impervious to the criticism offered or unmindful that the Clause as it stood was complex. His Amendment is directed to making Clause 4 more clear. He has broken up his Amendment into (b), (c) and (d). The first, (b), relates to notice served with a view to securing improvement by means of improving the existing method of cultivation; (c) relates to being required to execute the necessary works; and (d) deals with the case of the owner of the land who has unreasonably failed to execute the necessary works of maintenance. If my right hon. Friend's Amendment is accepted there is no question that the successive duties applicable to owner and occupier will be much more clearly and simply stated than at present. There have been those who belong to a school which thinks that there should be no control, but neither the Mover nor Seconder of this Amendment belong to that school. There have been those who have claimed for a long time that agriculture has not received the attention it ought to receive at the hands of the nation at large My right hon. Friend very frankly and fairly said that he recognised in this Bill evidence that there is now a responsibility of the State recognised as attaching to agriculture, and that it would be possible after this Bill had been passed to come to the House and ask that agriculture should receive some assistance in certain eventualities. Before I got into the House I had the honour of being a candidate in one of the best agricultural divisions in the whole of the country, the division now represented by the hon. Member for the Holland Division, and I had the opportunity of spending a great deal of time there in a district which is wholly 511 occupied by tenant farmers and of learning something of the agricultural needs there. My experience certainly was this, that during the whole of that time, which extended over 10 or 15 years, I was constantly asked that some attention should be given to agriculture and that we should not have the simple policy of laissez faire and do nothing at all Some others may still belong to that school, but without saying more, I observe that the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment, and some others, are quite prepared to accept a certain measure of control. The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) said it would be perfectly fair to require the land to be kept clean and buildings in repair, and perhaps I may pray in aid the experience and the authority in this House of my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. LaneFox), who in Committee said:Therefore I think these words are far too wide, and if the right hon. Gentleman had words which would merely cover the improvement of grass land I am sure the whole Committee would agree."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee), 24th June. 1920, col. 122.]Then the hon. Member for the Ripon Division (Mr. E. Wood) also pointed out in Committee that, while he thought the words were too wide, he was willing to give the Minister powers for the enforcement of good husbandry. If you put those together you will find, therefore, a measure of support for control by hon. and right hon. Members in this House, fully experienced in agriculture, with every right to speak as authorities on agriculture, and their views converge to this, that no exception could be taken if control was given in respect of keeping land clean, of keeping buildings in repair, and of the improvement of grass land. Do not let us forget that my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has put down an Amendment on the Paper that in this Clause a safeguard is to be introduced, providing that directions may be given forthe necessary improvement in the existing method of cultivation, or for securing that the land shall be used for arable cultivation, so, however, as not to interfere with the discretion of the occupier as to the crops to be grown.Therefore, it is quite impossible to offer this criticism, that you are going to have 512 some official from Whitehall telling a tenant farmer that he shall grow wheat instead of turnips, or oats instead of other crops in rotation. That would be excluded, and that is a part of the whole proposal. My right hon. Friend suggested that while you are imposing this control you ought not to impose anything like, a large measure of control, because at the present time the guarantees that are being given do not cover the whole area of the industry of agriculture, and I think that is a well-founded criticism; but the answer is that the control which is suggested to be imposed by the Amendment does not cover the whole area of the industry of agriculture, and, as my right hon. Friend said, the real criticism against the present Amendment is that it goes but a short way and introduces so many safeguards that it may be almost inoperative. It is no use, when you are talking about control, saying, for instance, as if it were germane to the matter, that in the case of banks, as the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London said, you do not find that anybody would suggest interfering with the way they should carry on their business. He forgets that if that is to be a parallel at all, if you guarantee to the shareholders of the bank that under all circumstances their dividends shall never fall below a a certain percentage, you are then entitled to exercise some control over the way in which they carry on their banks.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
The right hon. Baronet should allow me to offer some criticism, even though he disagrees. I should always hope that he does disagree with me, because if my right hon. Friend ever agreed with me, I should really be very unhappy, but he is one of those who always dissembles his love. If I ever found that my right hon. Friend did not dissemble his love. I really should be very uneasy as to what was going on, but let me come back to my argument. Do not let us accept a grotesque statement as to what this control is. In paragraph (b) notice is to be servedthat the production of food on any land can in the national interest and without injuriously affecting the persons interested in the land be maintained or increased by the occupier by means of an improvement in the existing method of cultivation or by the use of the land for arable cultivation.513 But it is excluded, as I have pointed out, that you should definitely dictate what crops should he grown. Paragraph (c) statesthat the occupier of land has unreasonably neglected to execute thereon the necessary works of maintenance being, in the case of land occupied by a tenant, works which he is liable to execute under the conditions of his tenancy or rendered necessary by his act or default;and lastly paragraph (c) saysthat the owner of land in the occupation of a tenant has unreasonably neglected to execute thereon the necessary works of maintenance, not being works to which the preceding paragraph applies.In those last two cases you will see that in each case the word "unreasonably" is introduced. Now, what is the structure of the Clause, and how is this control to be imposed? It is to be imposed, according to the Amendment already introduced, "after consultation with the agricultural committee in the area in which the land is situate." It really is almost idle to present to the House that all these agricultural committees know nothing about their business, are suspect, and would use their powers harshly, by caprice and without fairly considering what the position is. The agricultural committee in the area may be trusted to know something about the method of cultivation suitable to the area. It is after consultation with them that a notice can be served. That does not complete the safeguard. If the agricultural committee in the area think that the conduct of the owner or occupier is unreasonable, they can serve the notice. Then what can the owner or occupier do? Under the terms of the second portion of the Clause, he can insist that the matter be referred to arbitration, in accordance with the system of arbitration laid down in the Corn Production Act. He goes to an arbitrator, chosen in a manner above suspicion, and chosen in a manner that he may be a person in whom both sides have confidence, and if he gives his decision that the order shall be carried out, it will be carried out; but if he gives his decision that it shall not be carried out, the whole matter lapses.
Let us see what the value of that safeguard is. If it is nothing, you have got, first of all, to affirm that you have no confidence at all in the agricultural committee in the area. It is not some wild man from Whitehall who has no 514 knowledge of agriculture, but he has first of all to consult the agricultural committee before this Order is made. To impute ignorance or want of knowledge to this agricultural committee, I venture to say, is to misunderstand the system on which they are chosen, and the class of men from whom they are chosen. Next, supposing they make a mistake, then you go to the arbitrator, and he determines whether or not they are right or wrong, and, until you have got the decision of both those persons—the person who serves the Order after consultation with the committee, and the arbitrator—the Order cannot be effective. It is a mere travesty of the provisions of the Bill to suggest that by some authoritative and by some arbitrary process you can serve an Order upon a tenant to plough up land in circumstances which will do him an injury, land which will be incapable of growing crops which it is suggested should be grown there. There are those—and many of them—who may well doubt whether this amount of control is sufficient, but be it remembered that the Clause as it stands does give the occupier and the owner the safeguards which are certainly of great importance, and should serve to remove the suspicion which confronts this Clause. If we are to draw up a Clause which shall be effective to enable land to be kept clean, and to give control that it shall be kept clean; to insist that buildings shall be kept in repair, and to give control that they shall be kept in repair; to insist that there shall be an improvement in grassland, and to give control so that that shall be enforced, can you suggest that a more fair and equitable method can be devised than giving this power, after consultation with the agricultural committee, and giving an appeal to the arbitrator? The object of the Mover and Seconder here is not to get rid of all control, but to give limited control. I have ventured to put before the House the fact that there is a very large measure of safeguard in the exercise of this control, and once you come to the conclusion, as a large number of Members of this House have come to the conclusion, that some control is necessary, then I venture to say that the system which is proposed is one that is fair and equitable, and certainly one which ought not to be travestied as being one that could be used harshly, or unjustifi- 515 ably, or by caprice without the owner having an adequate opportunity of being heard.
§ Mr. E. WOOD
We have had the opportunity of listening to a long Debate, and we have just had the pleasure of listening to my hon. and learned Friend. I think there is some force in one of his concluding observations, which was to the effect that he thought he might reasonably complain about the proposals of my right hon. Friend's Amendment having been in certain quarters travestied and rather exaggerated. I will return to that, if I may, in one moment. He also said that the Government were justified in what they proposed on the ground that it was reasonable that they should obtain or retain a certain measure of control. In that position, having disposed of the last Amendment, I can assure him there is no substantially effective difference of opinion in any quarter of the House, so far as I know. The real point of difference to which we have to address ourselves at the moment is whether or not we are prepared to recommend and accept at this moment the form of control my right hon. Friend wishes us to have. I do not know that I should have intervened in this Debate if it had not been that the right hon. Gentleman referred to me and my hon. and gallant Friend who sits beside me in connection with some part we played in the earlier dealings with this matter in Committee upstairs. I think he was good enough to say we had given him a lead in this matter. I do not know whether I shall be justified in so far indulging in reminiscence as to go into full details of all the past, but I will content myself with saying that the position upstairs was rather a difficult one, and it was one in which all the feelings of pity I had for my right hon. Friend were very warmly aroused, and on those feelings of pity I endeavoured to act. I am bound to say I adhere to my original position, which I adopted in the Committee, and the reasons I shall give are not the same as have been given so far. I shall not be able to support the Government position in this matter, but I shall feel compelled to support the attitude of my hon. and gallant Friend opposite.
It is perfectly true that there has been in some quarters a great deal of what my hon. and learned Friend characterised, I 516 think, as a grotesque travesty of the facts of the Government Clause. My right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Lambert) this afternoon drew one of his charming word pictures of the evils of control, with which, I think, most of us who have any acquaintance with agricultural questions warmly sympathise. I am bound also, I confess, to take exception to the statement which has been repeated more than once, and repeated by the right hon. and learned Gentleman just now, that there is any analogy at all between banks and that class of institution, and agriculture. Let me point out again—for it cannot be repeated too often—that when it is supposed that the guarantee is a substantial benefit to agriculture, it is equivalent really to saying we will guarantee that you will not lose more than one or two per cent, if you put your money into our business. In industrial affairs that would not be regarded as a very satisfactory prospectus in order to attract money into a business. It is perfectly true, though my right hon. Friend appears to have exaggerated it in view of the machinery established, that it is possible to attract a farmer from plough-mania. There is the Agricultural Committee, the award of the Arbitrator, and the rest of it. Therefore, I quite frankly confess that the idea that under the Government Amendment there would be any fantastic schemes of ploughing out seems to me quite in the realms of fancy and imagination. I for one am not the least bit afraid of that.
In this matter the experience of the War is a very fallacious guide, and does not a bit prove that because certain things were done during the War under these powers that they would therefore happen in a time of peace. Everyone knows that during the War we were working on a quota basis: there was a rough-and-ready idea in the minds of those doing the work of what they wanted to be at. I want to say this to my hon. Friend opposite who dealt with the question of control. There is really no attempt in any way to attack the bad farmer. I do not think I or any of my friends have any wish to do that. We recognise to the full the importance of effecting, if I may so put it, a reconciliation between the farming interest and the national interest. We cannot too often emphasise 517 that this is first and foremost a national question, and that our duty is so to achieve our object as to avoid inflicting injury on the farming interest. I am not sure that there is not some truth in the criticism that will be put forward possibly at a later stage, that one of the dangers of the Bill may be in Part II, to rivet a second-class farmer on the land. In so far as that may be true, it is a justification for my right hon. Friend in attempting to discover some means to turn the second-class farmer into a first-class farmer. I am also not unmindful of the importance in this matter of trying to carry the industrial element and the industrial representatives along with the agricultural representatives in a Bill designed to achieve the national object of a regenerated agriculture. I hope I have enough sense and foresight to recognise that as years go on industrial representatives are going to have more and more power over agricultural life in the direction—to take only one example—of the milk supply, and the inspection and the cleanly production of milk, meat production and slaughter, and so on. For all these reasons, and inasmuch as they hold my fortunes as an agriculturist in their hands, the last thing I want to do it to antagonise them by appearing to take up an unreasonable attitude in these discussions.
Having said all that—which I have said in order to make my point of the general effect of the Government proposal, although it has been very much exaggerated in many quarters—let me come in one sentence to the reasons why I am not able to support my right hon. Friend. My reasons are two. The first is that since we discussed this matter in Committee and since I had the opportunity of discussing it privately with my right hon. Friend in conjunction with the Amendment that appeared in my name on the Committee Order Paper, I have been impressed with one thing more than anything else in my acquaintance with agricultural bodies and individuals in my constituency and outside of it; that is, that if there is one thing which is going to jeopardise the success of this Bill more than anything else it is the suspicion with which the farmer regards the imposition on him of a liability by an outside authority without any chance of compensation if the prophecies of that outside authority 518 are wrong. I do not think he is unreasonable. The best chance of these disposals depends more than anything else on the confidence with which the farmer receives them.
My second reason is that only to-day I learned that there had been—I think this morning or afternoon—a very full and representative meeting in London of a body known as the Federation of War Agricultural Committees, which hon. Members will be aware is an assembly of representatives of all the War Agricultural Committees in England and Wales. That body to-day passed a resolution, or anyhow came to a unanimous decision, that they do not want the powers that the Minister is seeking to take under this discussed Sub-section (B). These are the people who will have to carry the thing out. I am bound to say that until I heard that fact, as my hon. Friend knows, I was in considerable doubt whether I should not be inclined to support his proposal; but I must quite candidly profess to the House, that, after hearing that, and knowing that these people who have come to that decision are not the uninformed farmer, who lives down a green lane and does not read agricultural debates or newspapers, but responsible gentlemen representing the best-informed agricultural opinion in each of their counties—in face of that information, to force this policy on those who will be responsible for its execution seems to me to be the height of unwisdom. For that reason more than the other I cannot support my right hon. Friend.
In conclusion, I would appeal to him, that although he will be very much disappointed with my failing to support him to-night, I am sure that he will be the first to admit—and I think it is right to say—that all who have endeavoured to act together on the Committee have been so far as we could anxious to help him in the discharge of a very difficult task.
§ Mr. WOOD
I am sure I can say on behalf of my hon. Friends that we, too, recognise and appreciate to the full the way in which he has been prepared on his side to help and meet us. We are doing a very difficult thing. It is only by trying to give and take a bit that we can in any way hope to achieve success. Therefore I appeal to my right hon. 519 Friend to think this matter over again in order to see whether he cannot so strengthen the definition of the rules of good husbandry as to cover the cases that we all want to see covered. I want to see covered the case of the man who has bad pasture and refuses to improve it, and I could mention other cases of a similar character. I earnestly appeal to my right hon. Friend to reconsider his Amendment in the direction I have indicated.
§ Mr. ROYCE
I have listened to the excellent speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Wood) and some of his remarks have given me very great pleasure. I could not help contrasting them with some of the remarks which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) this afternoon. Criticism has been levelled at the industrial party that they take no interest in agriculture. May I point out that we had nothing to do, or at any rate very little, with the constitution of the Ministry of Agriculture which was largely the work of hon. Gentleman opposite, and when that Ministry brings in a measure which we think is good and desire to support, a certain amount of satire is thrown upon us by the right hon. Gentleman because we do so. I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to be rather pleased that the Members of the Labour party are prepared to accept this Bill. We are prepared to accept a guaranteed price and the Wages Board, and we support security of tenure. That being so, surely it should not be a subject for throwing discredit upon our party.
The awakening of interest on the part of the industrial section of the House of Commons in regard to agriculture ought to be a subject for congratulation, because it can only be for the benefit of agriculture generally. I think it ought to be regarded as a step in the direction of improving agriculture. We support the Amendment the right hon. Gentleman has brought in, but it does not go far enough for us. We would like the private interest which he desires to preserve should not receive so much recognition. I am reminded of the remarks of the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley) yesterday when he said that the two parts of the Bill are interdependent. He stated 520 that the State demands that the farmer should farm his land in the interests of the State. If that is so, surely private individual interests ought not to receive quite so much consideration as is indicated in the Amendment. To that extent we are not in favour of it, because we wish that all private interests should be subordinated to State interests. I am surprised at the action of my hon. Friend opposite. I have the greatest possible admiration for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) and the hon. and gallant Member for Daventry (Captain Fitzroy) because, as Members of the House of Commons, the Labour Members have received much consideration at their hands. For that we are grateful. But when they take up the attitude which they have done in relation to this Bill, we are filled with astonishment. This measure is not levelled at the good farmer; it will not touch him; he is perfectly immune. I heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Wood) that the Federation of Agricultural County Committees had today passed a resolution that they did not want anything to do with the compulsory powers. But that is no indication that there is no need to exercise these powers. What is the objection to constituting county agricultural committees?
§ Mr. ROYCE
No institution is quite perfect, perhaps not even the City of London for the matter of that. I repeat that this Bill is not levelled at he good farmer, and speaking for my own county I doubt if there is a single instance in which the county agricultural committee would be called upon to interfere. But there is a necessity for the powers demanded by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill. Take the Wages Board as an illustration. It orders that wages be increased. The very first thing the recalcitrant farmer who does not agree with that says is: "I will put my land down to grass." Where does the question of good agriculture come in there? So long as he keeps down the thistles and weeds he can have all his farm in grass, and that I venture to assert is not in the national interest. Mention has been made of the fact that a good deal of land is going out of arable cultivation and that in itself is proof of the necessity for some 521 such powers being introduced as are contained in this Bill. The safeguards seem to me perfectly adequate. The fact is that in the first instance the county agriculture committee has to make complaints that the farmer is not cultivating his land properly; then before any action can be taken the matter has to be referred to the Central Authority, and then it can be referred to arbitration. What has a farmer to fear in that connection? There is the further safeguard that if any person's interests are injuriously affected no action may be taken. Surely there is sufficient protection here, sufficient to satisfy anyone, that the powers granted to the agricultural committees which for the most part, will be elected bodies and which in agricultural counties will no doubt be composed of agriculturists of repute, need give rise to no fear. It has been admitted that there are instances which the committees must deal with. In speaking of the amount of land that has gone out of cultivation, one must think in terms of the years that are past, and of the area that was under wheat and is now under grass in this country. There are tens of thousands of acres that would produce good arable crops, but which are at present under grass.
§ Mr. ROYCE
In all probability they went down to grass during the period of great agricultural depression. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"!] Hon. Members say "Hear, hear," but we have no such depression in agriculture at the present time. Why cannot that land be used in the national interest for producing food for the people? My right hon. Friend, the Member for Chelmsford, indicated the reason that has existed for that in many recent instances. I am afraid that we attach far too much importance to the action of the War Agricultural Executive Committees during the War. The circumstances then were abnormal, and are not likely to occur again. The nation demanded that certain areas should be ploughed up in certain localities, and the War Executive Committees did their best to carry that out in the national interest. It is true that mistakes were made, but they were very few, and the end was attained. In my own county we ploughed up grass land that produced, during one year, 522 more than 100,000 tons of potatoes. Surely that was a great success, at a period of great national necessity.
§ Mr. ROYCE
If land will grow potatoes it will, surely, grow corn. I see no reason to fear that the powers which will be placed in the hands of the County Agricultural Committees will be abused, especially after the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood). There is another reason why the County Committees should be entrusted with these powers. They are, as I have said, composed of agriculturists—certainly that is the case in agricultural counties—and you must give them some interest. It is no use constituting bodies of this kind and giving them nothing to do. They will die of inanition. If you give them the power, they will bring agriculture to a higher standard than it attains at the present time. They will make bad farmers cultivate their land up to the average standard of their respective counties, and that will be a great national advantage.
I rather regret that the provision with regard to injuriously affecting any person concerned in the land has been included. I would give the Ministry of Agriculture greater powers than they ask for in their Amendment. I think the Clause will be almost inoperative on account of the inclusion of those words. It will not be sufficiently strong to be of any special use. Let us suppose that two persons are joint owners of a farm, and pursue different businesses in agriculture. The interest of one of them is bound to be affected if an Order is made to cultivate in a different manner from that which is being followed, and consequently nothing will be done. I would make the Clause stronger. The threat is being continually made by farmers in some parts of the country, when an extra 1s. or 2s. is put on to the agricultural labourer's wages, "We will do without the men and lay our farms down to grass." That should be stopped in the national interest. This party will support the Government in the interests of agriculture and of the Gentlemen opposite who are now opposing the Bill. The closer you can bring farming to industrialism, the better for all parties concerned. Do not, in this instance, say or do anything that can alienate the spirit which at present permeates this party. We are 523 actuated simply by the desire to do the best we possibly can for the land in the national interest. We shall support the Clause, regretting that it has not been made a little stronger.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I am quite sure the party for whom the last speaker has spoken so clearly and courteously is not the only party in this House which desires the welfare of the country and the welfare of agriculture. This is one of those occasions on which there is a universal desire to do what is best in one of the most complicated problems with which this House can possibly be concerned. Agriculture has to a far greater degree than almost any other occupation complications which arise out of atmospheric conditions, complications that arise out of variety of soil and situation, and all those things make it much more difficult than it is in many other occupations to draft an Act of Parliament to lay down regulations and to mark out the exact sphere within which the State can properly intervene and those in which private enterprise and private judgment can have their scope. I hope the Bill will become law in a form and with provisions which will be of real value to agriculture and of real and permanent value to the country, and I am quite certain all hon. Members desire that the varying interests concerned in agriculture should be equitably adjusted and composed. In this Amendment there were three Sub-sections, the two latter dealing, as has been pointed out by the Solicitor - General in his elaborate utterance, with repairs and various other matters and this one dealing with methods of agriculture and with the changing of land from pasture to arable. My hon. and learned Friend argued that the principle of control had already been admitted by the House in the rejection of the Amendment of the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury). It is perfectly true that the principle of control has been admitted, but that does not get you much further. The whole question of the extent of the control and the character of the control is where the difficulty lies. It is comparatively easy to have an enactment providing that the landlord who is responsible for repairs shall execute them, or that the tenant who is responsible for certain definite duties in connection with his holding shall 524 carry those out, and I, for one, am cordially in favour of these other two Sub-sections. But when you pass from those things, from controlling people in respect of that which is left undone, to proposing to control them in the choice of what they should do, you come to a very much more difficult matter. It is exceedingly difficult in actual practice to make people do things—far more difficult than it is to punish them, if necessary, when they do things that are wrong.
There are two or three points which arise in this matter. This power which the Government is asking to have put in the Bill is a power to be exercised by the Ministry of Agriculture after consultation with the County Agricultural Committee. Many of us are familiar with that blessed phrase after consultation with "so and so." The number of Acts of Parliament in which it appears are very many, and the meaning which is attached to it in practice is a very variable meaning. If this means that the Ministry of Agriculture is not going to act without the sanction and approval of the County Agricultural Committees, the burden and the difficulty of carrying it out rests with these County Committees. If, on the other hand, the Ministry of Agriculture is going to do this according to its own view of what is right and proper, disregarding, it may be, in the exercise of its judgment the criticisms or suggestions of County Committees, you have quite a different state of things arising. The County Agricultural Committees do not want this. My hon. Friend opposite, with his delightful debating talent, suggested that as they do not want to do this they would therefore discharge it without unfairness. No doubt they will discharge it without conscious unfairness, but when practical men say, "We do not want to have this put upon us because we do not think it is a work that we can properly carry out," it is not the height of wisdom to press it upon them. There has been instance after instance in the last half century where duties have been put upon the local authorities by zealous Governments and enthusiastic Houses of Commons, but in practice they have not worked out well because those familiar with local conditions and with the limitations of local authorities know they cannot be properly carried out. It is most important to 525 notice that the County Agricultural Committees do not want this.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
The hon. Member was not adorning the House with his presence when the hon. Member for Ripon gave direct evidence on the subject.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
Yes, I was. They do not report, the agricultural committees. The committees have never passed a resolution. It is only one man from each committee.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
My hon. Friend is quite unintentionally misleading the House. When you get a central council—
§ Sir R. ADKINS
When you get a central council of the agricultural committees, and when, as my hon. Friend ought to know, if he does not know, that council of the agricultural committees is constructed round the core of the War Agricultural Committees, the opinion of those men, coming from all parts of the country, is an opinion to which I and other members attach some value.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I am a member of one of those committees, and we have never been asked to send in a resolution.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I think my hon. Friend is a member of a very minute one, and I am sure the minutiæ will be attended to after his protest. Meanwhile, with that wonderful exception of a minute county, the greater part of this country is represented on the body to which my hon. Friend (Mr. E. Wood) referred. The argument against this aspect of the proposal is stronger. There is nothing more difficult, and there are few things more invidious than to ask the members of a county agricultural committee to decide whether particular farmers in that county are or are not to plough up their land. It is an extremely difficult and invidious thing to do. While I agree with my hon. Friend (Mr. E. Wood) that we ought not to press too far analogies from what took place in time of war, it has some bearing on this point, namely, that members of war agricultural committees who had in time of war to decide what was to be ploughed up in 526 this parish or in that parish, yet, so far as my knowledge goes—and I had acquaintance with many in the county in which I live—they loathed the duty, which they regarded as a difficult, invidious, and most unsatisfactory duty. While we must not press the war analogies too far, the House might possibly be willing to accept this as a genuine argument that in time of war English people will stand a great deal that they will not stand in time of peace. In time of war action which appears to impinge upon the liberty of the subject is endured because of the time of crisis in which it occurs. To sterotype and make permanent in time of peace methods chiefly appropriate to war, and even in war disliked, is surely a method which statesmanship will do well to avoid if they can possibly gain their legitimate objects by any other method. If the county agricultural committees are to be merely a screen between the Ministry and the particular farmers, then the case is worse, for it is still more difficult to carry out these duties with success and acceptance if it is done by Government officials. Government officials are of the greatest value in noting, inspecting, often in preventing things being left undone, but it is difficult—in agriculture, perhaps, more difficult than in anything else—to derive initiative from Government forces, and force dynamic action on persons who are indisposed to take it.
I make this criticism in no spirit of hostility to the Bill. It is of great value, and I wish it well. But as a member of a county agricultural committee and chairman of a county council, who had a great deal to do lately with helping to form a county agricultural committee, I am confident that this provision is not calculated to work well, but will arouse opposition from all interested quarters. When you are dealing with landlord's repairs you very properly have the tenant anxious to see deficiencies remedied. When you are dealing with the tenant's obligations to have the hedges cut and so forth, you have the landlord anxious to see that done; but if you try to get a farmer to plough up land when he is convinced that it would be to his loss and would not be the best way of treating the farm, you have no one with local knowledge interested in seeing that this is done. Therefore, you make the matter 527 more difficult, and in practice this will not work in the way the Government intend. Agricultural committees are not bodies which will have nothing to do if this duty is not imposed on them. They will have many things to do which, if well done, will improve the agriculture of this country, but this particular provision, so different from the other provisions of this section, is one which I appeal to the Government not to press. The hon. Member for Daventry (Captain Fitzroy) took the important point that this Bill, however well we wish it, is of necessity an experiment. All other parts of the Bill have a great volume of opinion behind them. Is it not reasonable first to work those parts, and then if you find the need for this there will be far more hope of working it satisfactorily when the rest of the Bill is in working order than if this contentious and almost detested provision is inserted in the Bill, as it will work badly and affect very much the sympathetic attitude of important sections of the public towards this Bill, an attitude which the Government desire to encourage and which I, as a supporter of the Bill, would not like to be hindered by this provision.
§ Mr. GARDINER
As representing one of the largest agricultural constituencies in Scotland I may say that my constituents are much interested in this Bill. I differ entirely from some hon. Members opposite who have expressed themselves as alarmed at the result of the Bill. No doubt they have expressed their views as a result of their own experience. Having had considerable experience, not only of agriculture, but also in connection with war agricultural committees, I will describe what my experience has been. In the first place, agricultural committees are surely misunderstood by some hon. Members. Every agricultural committee I know has intimate knowledge of agriculture and an intimate knowledge of the district in which control is to be exercised. They are, therefore, well able to ensure that nothing injurious to the cultivation or the country results from the orders they give. There must have been serious mistakes made by some committees to justify some of the strong expressions of opinion I have heard to-night. In my part of the country the experience has been the very opposite, and in my own constituency the 528 result has been to raise the standard of cultivation and intensive farming by at least 50 per cent. I am looking at the subject from the point of view of the practical farmer. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite claim to be deeply interested in agriculture and they talk about being farmers. I do not question that claim, but I suggest that the great majority of them are landowners farming their own farms, or professional men who have farming as an adjunct to their professions. I am glad to think that the representatives of the farm labourers in the House support the Bill. I speak as a tenant farmer and on behalf of the tenant farmers of Scotland, who have expressed through their Farmers' Union a strong desire, to support the Bill, and especially this Clause, because they argue that if we are to have guarantees we must have control. That being so, I cannot see why my friends should be so frightened of control. As a farmer I do not fear control at all. If you cultivate in the best interests of yourself you will be cultivating in the best interests of the country. A man who is doing everything that is possible never fears the visit of the executive officer.
I think the great majority of farmers are farming well, but I agree that all farmers are not good farmers. We want to see agriculture in the future in a more prosperous condition. There should be more intensive cultivation applied to the land all round. It is quite true that the days of submarines have ended and there is not, as a few years ago, a great crisis of national need for foodstuffs, but if we do not keep before us the ideal that it is possible, with the exception of wheat, to supply from this country sufficient foodstuffs to provide for the whole country, then we fail in our duty. We ought to be a self-supporting nation so far as foodstuffs are concerned. Reference has been made to grass lands. There is a large area of land that "went into grass" at the time when farming was under a cloud. Why has it not been brought back to cultivation when there was the possibility of making money out of the ploughing of the land? It seems to me that some of my friends opposite emphasise far too much the question of profits as if there were nothing in the world to live for except filthy lucre. I always understood that we were to learn 529 some lessons from the War. I am delighted to know that one hon. Gentleman opposite is interested in farming, because I thought his interests were confined to the City. He suggested that during the War there were sacrifices made. I admit it frankly; but why should not there be sacrifices made to-day? We ought to have reached the stage of thinking about others as well as thinking about ourselves.
In passing, let me say this: Generally speaking, the home farms that are cultivated by landlords are the poorest cultivated farms in the kingdom. I admit frankly there are notable exceptions, but, generally speaking, that is the case. While we have poor cultivation by the ordinary farmer, we also have very bad cases of poor cultivation of home farms. There is a landlord in my constituency, one of the finest men that ever breathed, a man who has sacrificed much for his country, and who loyally responded to the call of duty. At that time he was opposed to ploughing. He said, "You will never plough an inch of my land," and he used language which, I am afraid, would scarcely be thought fit or proper in this assembly. The result of ploughing was this: He had magnificent land on which there was poor grass, which had been laid down many years ago, and which had never been improved or helped in any shape or form. I used to see a few rabbits enjoying themselves there, polluting the grass, and making it impossible for cattle or sheep to live on. The other day it was my privilege to be present at a public sale, where, as a result of the Ploughing Order and continued cultivation, he sold £9,000 worth of potatoes off that holding. He told me himself that it had been to him financial salvation. That is not a solitary case. I can give case after case like it.
When it comes to the ordinary farmer the same thing applies. It is all very well to speak about our farmers, but we have to take things as they are. I know that many of my friends who are farmers have inherited, I hope, the virtues, but certainly the vices of their forefathers, and we have sometimes that kind of farming which was described by an hon. Gentleman opposite, of ploughing four inches deep or less—a little scratching with a harrow, the sowing of a few seeds, and the whole thing is done. Some of these men were asked 530 by the War Agricultural Committees to plough, and were also told that it would be necessary for them, if they ploughed up the land, to apply proper manure. They thought it was rather rude and interfering too much with their personal liberty, and a great many other things, but they obeyed, and the result has been that these men today financially are in a far better position than ever they were, and anybody passing their land to-day, who had passed by it in the old days, would say that the farms had so much improved that there must be new tenants on them.
Some hon. gentlemen have referred to farming according to the rules of good husbandry, and evidently they go no further than that. I would like to ask any Gentleman in the House what the rules of good husbandry really are. If you take up any of the leases in Scotland, you will find that most of them debar a man from putting more than a very limited acreage of potatoes under cultivation in any one year, and to have potatoes growing twice would be sacrilege. I suggest that if hon. Members interested in agriculture would visit Ayrshire in the month of July they would find potatoes growing now where there had been nothing but potatoes growing for 25 or 30 years, and if they can show me any better cultivation anywhere than on that Ayrshire coast, I should like to go with them to see the place. Evidently good husbandry requires to be defined. There are many other items in connection with good husbandry which, I think, are misunderstood. I may have failed in many things, but I began at the bottom and I have worked my way upwards, and I know everything that can be done on a farm, and I have intimate knowledge of the subject of which I am speaking. I am perfectly convinced that what is proposed by the Government in this Bill will not hurt the tenant farmers, or any farmer, but will help them materially, and at the same time will help 1he nation considerably.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
Probably the land to which the hon. Gentleman has referred was very good, and that made the ploughing order so successful.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
The hon. Member told us that in his part of the world War 531 Agricultural Committees had made no mistakes. I am the last person to say anything against War Agricultural Committees, as, for a short time, I happened to serve as a Commissioner, but we must remember that they were working under special conditions to produce a quota in each county, and it is not a fair comparison when considering this Sub-section. There are many agriculturists in this House who are prepared to accept control, and some form of control is expected by the country when guarantees have been accepted, but many who are not prepared to oppose this Bill altogether would find it much easier to support it if this Sub-section were withdrawn. The country gave the guarantees because the country wants food, and the only way it can get food is by giving confidence to the farmer. It is absurd for hon. Gentlemen to pretend that you can make any man produce at a loss.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.