Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a. sum, not exceeding £1,064,451, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, including Grants for Agricultural Education and Research, a Grant-in-Aid of the Small Holdings Account, and certain other Grants-in-Aid; and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew."—[NOTE: £700,000 has been voted on account.]
Mr. J. RAMSAY MacDONALD
Before the Debate starts, Mr. Hope, may I put before you a point of Order? You are no doubt aware that a question was put to Mr. Speaker yesterday as to whether the ruling to-day would be a strict ruling according to the Standing Orders. Mr. Speaker replied that he could not interfere, as you would be in the Chair. May I ask what is your intention regarding the ruling on the scope of to-clay's Debate?
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Sir Robert Sanders)
May I suggest, Mr. Hope, that it would be for the convenience of the great majority of the Committee if this Debate took the widest scope possible? I understood yesterday that a certain number of hon. Members from Scotland were afraid that the interests of Scotland could not be properly discussed in this Debate. I cannot anticipate your ruling, but should you allow a general Debate, the Under-Secretary for the Scottish Board of Health will be present and will he ready to answer to the best of his ability any Scottish questions that may be put to him.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
May I point out that Debate in Committee of 2328 Supply is governed by the Standing Orders, and the Standing Orders say that no business that involves legislation can be discussed in Committee of Supply if anyone objects? Therefore, I submit that should any hon. Member take objection, believing that a full day should be given for the discussion of agriculture, that objection must weigh with you and you should rule such a discussion out of order.
§ The CHAIRMAN
From the rule and practice governing Debate in Committee of Supply, it is quite clear that it must be confined to matters of administration, and that matters involving legislation are not in order. But, undoubtedly, there are occasions in which a strict enforcement of the rule would cause great embarrassment to the House. It may happen that a subject is in hon. Members' minds which is certainly relevant to the discussion, but at the same time is outside the rules of order. I may cite, as an instance, the fact that on the occasion of the unhappy tragedy of the death of Sir Henry Wilson last year, it was the desire of the House, to which I acceded, that the action of the Home Office and certain matters in regard to the Criminal Investigation Department of the Metropolitan police should be discussed upon the Irish Vote. Something similar is in my mind on the present occasion, and, after fully considering the circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that I ought to allow references to the Agriculture Tribunal investigation to he made in the discussion, unless formal objection is taken on behalf of any party in this House to my so doing.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I do not quite understand your ruling. It seems to me that if you rule that objection must he taken by a party in this House, it deprives the private Member of his rights. Surely the Leaders of a party have no more right to raise a point of Order and to receive your favourable consideration on that point of Order than a private Member. I wish to secure the rights of the private Members. It would be a very dangerous precedent if you admitted that a private Member could not have the same rights of objection according to the Standing Orders as a Leader of a party.
§ The CHAIRMAN
What I had in my mind is this, that there is a rule which 2329 it is my duty to enforce, but at the same time I am conscious of the fact that to do so would be against the general sense of the House, and when that is clear to my mind I think, following upon various precedents, both in Committee of Supply and when Mr. Speaker has been in the Chair, it is my duty to consider that in such a matter the House has been willing to allow the Chair certain discretionary power. I do not, however, think that an individual Member ought to be able to override the general sense of the House, but, undoubtedly, if objection were taken on behalf of any considerable section of the House, I do not think I should be justified in consulting the wishes of the majority against the wishes of any substantial minority.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
On a point of Order. I submit that the appointment of the Committee of Inquiry, the scope of its investigations, and the method of its investigation are matters of administration, and that whether an individual object or not, that would come within the Rules of the House, and that therefore, we could discuss it. While we cannot discuss specific recommendations which include legislation, unless there be the general sense of the House in favour of such discussion in Committee of Supply, I submit that the question of the appointment of the Committee of Inquiry, the scope of its investigation, the methods of its investigation, and matters of that sort come well within the rule, because these are matters which are on the Estimate. This was the appointmeat of a Committee of Inquiry without any legislation on the part of the House of Commons.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If there be any item in the Estimate for the expenses of this Commission, undoubtedly it would he in order to discuss its appointment, and whether suitable persons were appointed, but it would not be in order to discuss their recommendations. As a matter of fact, this was not an appointment by the Minister of Agriculture but by the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
The Debate to-day should either be one way or the other. A debate which purports to be a Debate in Committee of Supply, and one in which we may make some excursion, always having it in our minds that we must try 2330 to attune our language to the point of Order, is to the members of the agriculture party, entirely unsatisfactory. If it be the general sense of the Committee that we should have a general debate, we are perfectly willing, but if that debate is to be limited in any way, we would father confine to-day's Debate to Supply, and get another day later for the wider discussion.
§ Captain BENN
I objected last year or the year before on a similar occasion when Sir Eric Geddes proposed to use a Supply clay for the purpose of outlining the Government's proposed legislation in regard to railways, and if the Government propose to use to-day, which has been set aside as a Supply day, on which private Members can examine administration, for the purpose of outlining their legislative proposals, I object.
§ Mr. FALCONER
What the Committee and what the country are anxious to know is what is to be the policy of the Government, and to discuss it in all its aspects. A mere discussion in which one can make references to a Report is of no interest to anyone. I suggest very respectfully to the Government that much the best way would be either to let us have a full Debate to-day and to discuss the question in all its aspects in regard to agriculture policy, or to put off discussion upon the wider question until we can have a special day set apart. This is, perhaps, the most serious question of policy which the Government have to face at the present time.
As far as we are concerned, we are perfectly prepared to have it either way. We are perfectly prepared to put ourselves behind the consent of the Committee. If the Committee desire to debate the matter fully, I think it ought to be allowed by the Chair, and that the Chairman should exercise his discretion to the fullest extent. If we are not to have the general policy of the Government debated to-day, I think the Government ought to give us a, very firm pledge that, without delay, a day will he given to debate the subjects that we cannot debate to-day. From the point of view of mere administration—although the word "mere" perhaps is not a good word to use on this occasion—there is much to be said. I would add my voice to the appeal made by the right hon. 2331 Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman), who, speaking on behalf of the Members representing agricultural constituencies, said that what we are going to do to-day should be clearly defined, one way or another. We are prepared to accept that.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Speaking on behalf of those with whom I am associated, we should certainly assent to the greatest latitude being given to the discussion of the problems affecting agriculture, but if objection be raised in such a degree as to make it impossible for the Chair to rule that the general assent has been recorded, then I would endorse the appeal made by the right hon. Member for Chelmsford—that a day should be given, and an early day, to discuss what I consider to be the mast important economic problem of the day.
§ The CHAIRMAN
May I ask the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn) if he persists in his objection?
§ Captain BENN
Yes. I submit that this day is set aside for the purpose of examining administration. I submit that it is impossible to combine that with a full Debate on the important questions arising in connection with agriculture to-day. In these circumstances, I claim that the Rules of Order do not permit the Government to use this Supply day for outlining their proposed legislation.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I should like to ask the hon. and gallant Member whether he is authorised to make that objection by the party with which he is associated?
§ The CHAIRMAN
In these circumstances, it does not appear that any party has raised a formal objection.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Accordingly, I do not object to any hon. Member who wishes to do so discussing the Report of the Agricultural Tribunal on this Vote.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I understood that you called upon the hon. and gallant Member for Leith to know whether, in making his statement, he represented the party for whom he speaks from the Front Bench. You have since declared that he does not. 2332 In these circumstances, I wish to state, on behalf of the members of the party with which I am associated, sitting below the Gangway, that we share the view of the hon. and gallant Member for Leith, and, as far as that party is concerned, we take objection.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is quite obvious that no hon. Member was deputed and authorised to speak on behalf of that party.
§ Captain BENN
May I cite the following passage from Erskine May's "Parliamentary Procedure "—Matters involving legislation cannot be discussed in Committee of Supply.May I also most respectfully and emphatically protest against the new doctrine that hon. Members are not entitled to the protection of the Standing Orders unless they speak on behalf of what is called a party?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
On a point, of Order. I wish to ask, Mr. Hope, whether you indicated to any party Leader or to any party Whip that, a party decision was required in this matter? Apart from any such intimation, your ruling, I submit, takes the Committee by surprise. I am in a position to inform you that, in so far as consultations have taken place within the party for which I am speaking, those consultations resulted in a decision to adhere as far as we were concerned to the Standing Orders. We felt that so far as we were concerned we were under no obligation to restore to the Government a day which was lost by disorder in other quarters of the House.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have endeavoured to ascertain the wishes of the House in order to make up my mind on the matter. Now it is clear that no formal objection has been taken by the party to which the hon. Member belongs. [HON. MEMBERS: "There has been! "]
Mr. VIVIAN PHILLIPPS
Only as recently as yesterday I, on behalf of those with whom I am associated, did definitely and formally intimate to the Patronage Secretary that we were not willing that this course should be taken.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Does the hon. Member for West Edinburgh (Mr. Phillipps) formally object, now on behalf of his party?
Without prejudice to your ruling, and, if I may respectfully say so, objecting to the doctrine that a party in this House must take such formal objection, I do object on behalf of those with whom I am associated.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Then I think that I must adhere to the ordinary Rule of the House, and limit discussion to administrative matters.
As the substantial question has now been settled, I think it necessary, in the position which I hold, to offer my protest against this latest innovation by which representatives of parties are cross-examined as to whether they speak officially for parties, so that, in accordance with the answers which they give to that question, it may be decided whether the Rules of the House are to he obeyed or not.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The sole motive which I had in this matter was to endeavour to ascertain whether the proposed course had the general consent of the Committee. If objection were taken merely by individuals, I should think that I had the general consent of the Committee in deciding to waive the Rule, but if I find an organised body of opinion taking objection, and their proper representative protesting, then I have no option but to enforce the ordinary Rules.
§ Captain BENN
Then may I ask what course, under the Standing Orders, is open to hon. Members who wish to challenge a ruling which is utterly destructive of the rights of minorities?
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the hon. Member will put down a Motion of censure on the conduct of the Chair, it can be debated, no doubt, in due course.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
I believe that the desire of the Government in the course which was suggested was only to do that which would be most convenient to the general body of Members of the House. Now that it has been decided that we are merely to present the Estimates in the ordinary way, I will, in doing so, first refer to a matter which I think must be alluded to when each of the Estimates is presented, that is the economies which it has been possible for the Department to make. In the year which is just over 2334 the savings amounted to 35 per cent. This year they only amount to £47,000, or 2 per cent, but that is accounted for by the very largo increase in the matter of land settlement, a matter which does not depend on the administration of the Department. But for that, the decreases in the Estimates would amount to £236,000. In other words, they would be down on those of last year by about 30 per cent. With regard to economy in the Department, the expenditure, taking the two years together, is down altogether by 41 per cent., and savings have been effected, actually, to the extent of £34,000 beyond those recommended by the Geddes Committee and those recommended by the Committee of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne). In making these savings a very considerable reduction has been made in the staff. It has been reduced altogether by 34 per cent. since July, 1921. The present staff includes 67 per cent. of ex-service men.
Coming to the various Departments of the Ministry, there is, first of all, the important one of education and research. When the Agriculture Act was repealed a sum of £850,000 was set apart for the purposes of agricultural research and education. With the interest on that sum the total now available is £910,000. I wish to refer to a few of the things to which that large sum is being allocated. We are giving £150,000 for research in connection with the diseases of animals of which £100,000 is given to the institution at Cambridge and £32,000 to the Royal Veterinary College. We are giving £43,500 to the National Poultry Institute, £27,000 to the Campden Fruit Preserving Factory, and £66,000 to new educational buildings at Leeds, Bangor, Swanley, Cirencester and Cambridge, and there is £80,000 given for capital expenditure on new farm institutes.
There is a special department of this branch of our work, about which I want to speak a little more at length, that is, scholarships for education and research given to the children of agricultural workers. Those have been started within the last two years. We all know that one of the influences which tend to draw workers away from the country to the towns is the desire to give their children the better education which may be found in the urban districts. Something is being done by this scheme of scholar- 2335 ships for sons and daughters of agricultural labourers, and other rural workers, to remedy this trouble. The Ministry wishes particularly to acknowledge the assistance which it has received in this matter from the representatives of the agricultural labourers' organisations, Mr. Dallas, Mr. Smith and Mr. Walker, who have given us considerable help in establishing this system. I want to ask all those Members who are interested in the country boy or girl, more especially Labour Members, to make known in their constituencies the opportunities which are afforded by this scheme. They have real opportunities; greater than exist under any other public scholarship scheme.
Of Class I scholarships, 10 will be awarded each year. They will cost the State about £1,000, and they will enable picked students to attend degree courses of University departments in agriculture and agricultural colleges for three years, with the probable extension in suitable cases to a fourth year to enable scholarship holders to engage in research or other post-graduate work. Then there will be 10 Class II scholarships, worth about $450 apiece. They will be made annually, and will cover the entire cost of residence at agricultural colleges for two years. In addition to that, about 100 Class III awards will be made to enable scholars to attend farm institute courses for six months or a year. This is the second year of the scheme, which has been approved as an experiment for five years. Whether it will be continued after that depends on whether it makes good. The underlying principle on which it is based is the belief that in the country boy or girl there is excellent educational material which hitherto has been largely untapped, and that it is well worth while trying to develop it. The first year's results have been very encouraging. Three Class I scholarship holders are at Cambridge, and three at other Universities. Ten Class II scholarship holders are at agricultural colleges, and 73 Class III are undergoing instruction at farm institutes. Speaking generally, the reports show that these students are doing remarkably well. One has carried off the gold medal at the East Anglian Institute of Agriculture at Chelmsford.
The work of research is not confined to agriculture. It is extended also to the 2336 other part of the work of the Ministry, namely, fisheries. Our fishery research has cost about £13,700, including a special research vessel called the "George Bligh," which is employed in the prosecution of the deep-sea research laid down in the programme of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. That also includes a contribution to the maintenance of the laboratory at Lowestoft, and a sum for experimental work with regard to oysters at Conway. But I regret to say that the fishery outlook, taken as a whole, is not very promising. Like other industries, the fishery industry is suffering from the loss of the German and Russian markets, which took 80 per cent. of our catch of herrings. It is also suffering severely from a fall in prices, and it is suffering very severely, as Scottish Members particularly know, from foreign competition.
The next subject with which I will deal is Land Settlement. I need not trouble the House with the history of the inception of the scheme for settling ex-service men on the land. The scheme was brought before the House a few years ago and I think it met with general approval. It was recognised from the outset that it would be a costly operation for the State, but the State felt that if men who had been serving their country abroad wished to settle on the land, it was ready to incur a certain loss to enable them to do so. As might have been expected the State has incurred a considerable loss. These men were settled on the land at a time of very high prices, and the cost of equipping the settlements was undertaken when everything was at the top price. Consequently the loss has been heavy. A certain sum was set aside to meet this expenditure. The total capital commitments now are £15,200,000. There will be some increase on this, but it is not expected that the total will exceed £16,000,000. In 1926 the holdings will be handed over to the County Councils at the then value, and the difference between that value and the original capital expenditure will be written off. The estimated loss which is likely to be incurred by that operation is £6,400,000. The loss last year was £750,000. This may be increased to £900,000, and possibly to a little more in the last year before the valuation comes. In all 18,960 men have been settled on the land.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
I do not think so. As I have said, these men were settled on the land when everything was at the highest price. That involved high expenditure not only on the part of the County Council or other authority to equip the land, but also involved high expenditure on the part of the men themselves. In addition to that, it has to be confessed that in the case of some of them their enthusiasm for agriculture was greater than their knowledge of it. They have now to bear the full brunt of the fall in prices which is affecting so adversely the whole of the agricultural industry. You hear people say that a number of these men have failed. The wonder is not that so many have failed but that so many have been able to survive. After all, the casualties have not been a very great percentage. Those who have left their holdings are only 6.5 per cent. of the whole. I think it speaks well for the thrift and grit and energy of these ex-service men that such a very high proportion of them have been able to "stick it out."
In the same Department of the Ministry there come allotments. This year the somwhat difficult question has arisen of the transfer to local authorities as from 25th March last of the Wartime or D.O.R.A. allotments. That has been affected with the minimum possible amount of dispossession of plot holders. The Ministry has done all that it could to see that as few plot holders as possible lost their allotments on account of this arrangement. Where it has been impossible, owing to building developments, for local authorities to re-acquire the land formerly used for allotments, alternative land has in most cases been obtained by the local authorities. In the opinion of the Ministry there is no reason why the allotment system should not be further extended. At present it is impossible to give an accurate estimate of the number of allotment holders, because we are in a period of transition; but I believe I am within the mark when I say that there are 1,000,000 allotment holders in the country.
The next matter to which I will refer is sugar beet. I am happy to say that, when all is not encouraging with regard 2338 to agriculture, this is one department on which I can give an encouraging report. I am informed that the present position is most encouraging. During the recent manufacturing season the Cantley factory dealt with 55,000 tons of beet. It produced over 7,000 tons of white sugar of good quality, and over 4,500 tons of dried pulp, and I am informed that for the first time the percentage of extraction was considered satisfactory. This indicates that the inevitable difficulties of establishing a novel and intricate process have been overcome so far as this factory is concerned. For the coming season a larger acreage was offered for beet cultivation than could be accepted, and this has occurred without any effort on the part of the factories. 15,000 acres have been contracted for, and that is the maximum which it is estimated that the factories at Cantley and Kelham can deal with in the coming season. Some portion of the area under contract for Cantley is affected by the Norfolk strike, but it is hoped a crop will be obtained, and arrangements are being made for an additional acreage in other districts as an insurance against shortage of supplies. The company which owns the Kelham factory is writing down its capital on the lines required by the Government. Arrangements have been made under which the two factories are working in close co-operation, and these arrange merits are working well. The farmers of the districts concerned have overcome their reluctance to grow sugar beet, and now regard it as an important and profitable crop, which, it is admitted, increases the fertility of the soil and the value of succeeding crops. The industry has already created employment for a considerable amount of labour, both on the land and in the factories. In that department, at all events, agriculture has every reason to congratulate itself.
The next Department of the Ministry of which I wish to speak deals with one of its most important functions. That is to look after diseases of animals. The Ministry has to deal directly with foot-and-mouth disease, rabies, cattle plague, contagious pleuro-pneumonia, epizootic lymphangitis, swine fever, and sheep pox. I am glad to say that several of these diseases have not been known in this country for a considerable number of years. I am also happy to say that this year we have not had anything to compare 2339 with the deplorable outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease with which my predecessor had to deal 12 months ago. But there have been spasmodic outbreaks of that disease. I am sorry to say that by no amount of research—a great deal of research has been devoted to the subject —have we been able to discover how the disease gets here. There are various theories, but when the disease breaks out it is very seldom indeed that we are able to account for it. Lately there have not been many outbreaks. Since the beginning of the year they have taken place in only three counties, Gloucestershire, Derbyshire and Norfolk. The measures taken by the Ministry have stopped the disease from spreading.
We have received the recommendations of the Committee that was presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman). A number of these recommendations do not involve legislation, and have already been put into operation. As to those which involve legislation, after what has just occurred I will not say anything. Outbreaks of sheep scab now show diminution in the country as a whole, but show an increase in Wales. The Ministry is about to issue a new Order, which I think will be approved by the farming community generally, placing upon the owner of a flock the onus of keeping it free from scab, and making him liable to certain penalties if he fails to do so. I am happy to say that the action taken by the Ministry a year or two ago has rendered rabies extinct in these islands. As to glanders, the work that has been done in the past has had remarkable effects. In 1908 there were 789 out-breaks, involving 2,433 horses. The measures of the Ministry were then started. Last year there were only four cases, and this year there has been only one case.
The next subject is the money spent on the improvement of livestock breeding and milk recording. That amounts to £37,950. As to breeding, we subsidise bulls, boars and rams, and I believe that there is no direction in which our activities are of more value to the farming community of the country. No one regrets more than I do that on the recommendation of the Geddes Committee my predecessor was obliged to drop the grant to heavy horse stallions. The Ministry is 2340 parting with the management of the grants for light horse breeding, but the system does not come to an end—it is still carried on by the War Office. I have mentioned milk recording. I want to give an example of the great difference which exists between herds in their milk producing value. It shows how very useful this recording may be. Two members of the same recording society had 42 cows each. All were recorded for the full year. The average yield of the 42 cows in one herd was 9,117 lbs. In the other it was 3,812 lbs. The approximate difference in the total yield was over 21,000 gallons, which, at 1s. a gallon, makes a difference between the income of the two men of over 1,000 for the same number of cows. I am happy to say that these societies are being more and more appreciated and that the number is increasing yearly. There are now 55 societies with 4,000 members and 104,000 cows.
Also connected with this same matter of the encouragement in the production of livestock there is an enterprise which I would commend to hon. Members above the Gangway opposite, because I think it is the one and only, certainly it is the most striking example of successful results in State trading. That is the breeding of racehorses. Since the presentation of the National Stud to the country in 1916 the net profit has been £28,000. Last year our stud headed the list of winning breeders. I believe we beat the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War by a short head. With 25 horses we won 42 races, and won over £32,000. We won the St. Leger, the Irish St Leger, the Liverpool Cup, the Derby Cup, and the Prince of Wales' Stake at New market, and we made a good beginning in 1923 by winning the Lincolnshire Handicap.
Another matter which comes under the scope of the Ministry is that of the relief of unemployment by land drainage schemes. A drainage programme for the relief of unemployment was sanctioned by the Cabinet at the beginning of the winter 1921–22, and it was again resumed at, the beginning of last year. Over 596 schemes have been actually sanctioned, and they were calculated to absorb the full sum allocated by Government, namely, £450,000. It is a matter of 2341 general knowledge that this has been a very wet winter, and the full amount allocated has not been spent. It is doubtful if more than £250,000 out of the £450,000 will be actually expended by the 31st of May, and we propose early in May to circularise bodies which are carrying out schemes in order to obtain information as regards each scheme, and probably we will obtain an extension of a week or a fortnight in those cases where such extension is necessary to complete the scheme. Other schemes will be under consideration during the summer for presentation when winter comes to the Unemployment Committee of the Cabinet. I may say that in addition to such schemed we are also considering schemes for the working of lime and chalk as fertilizers on land.
We have a Statistical Department of the Ministry, on which, I think, some £30,000 is spent. In connection with their activities I can give some description of the reports we get as to the general state of agriculture in the country. The fact that there is an agricultural slump is generally known throughout the country, and the reports I receive leave me in no doubt that many farmers are losing money. There have been more farmers bankrupt last year than in any year for a very long time past. Men do not go bankrupt if they can help it. There is another factor which I think is decisive to prove that the farmers are losing money. You want to be a very clever man if you can get a rebate from the Income Tax collectors unless you can really show a loss, and it is the fact that a great many farmers have been able to show that loss and have been able to use it as a set-off against other forms of income. I think that is conclusive that in certain districts of the country at all events many farmers are losing a great deal of money.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
No, I cannot. The number of bankruptcies are the largest for a considerable number of years, and I have no doubt that in many parts of the country farmers are losing a good deal of money chiefly in the arable districts—Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgshire, Lincolnshire and East Anglia mainly. The reason is not very far to 2342 seek. It is the very great drop in the prices of the crops that these arable farmers grow. The price of wheat is only 30 per cent. greater than it was before the War as against a general increase in the price of commodities of something over 70 per cent., the reason being that the supply throughout the world is greater than the effective demand. The figures compiled by the Statistical Department of the Ministry show that the world's surplus last year over the effective demand amounted to 37,000,000 cwts. It is the fact that the producer of wheat all over the world, as far as I can learn, is losing money. The position in East Anglia may be bad, but I have here an extract from the "Bankers' Magazine" of New York, Showing the conditions in the United States of America. It was an article which appeared in February last, written by a hanker on the plight of the North-West farmer. It describes him as being in desperate straits, and his industry as drowning. In each of the grain-growing States the cost of production in 1920 and 1922 exceeded by from 50 to 100 per cent. the price which the farmer received for his grain. A survey of conditions shows that in some sections of Montana 70 per cent. of the farms have been deserted. Mortgages have been foreclosed on 37 per cent. of the farms in Montana. In 12 months there have been 328 farm bankruptcies in 90 communities in Minnesota. There have been 743 bankruptcies in 97 communities in North Dakota, 291 bankruptcies in 57 communities in South Dakota, and 182 bankruptcies in 27 communities in Montana. In 73 communities in those four States last year no fewer than 168 farmers committed suicide. That shows that the depression with regard to wheat is not confined to this country alone.
Now we come to barley, the trice of which is only 10 per cent. above pre-War price. Barley is the main crop in just those districts where the agricultural depression is the greatest. It is true that this year the crop of barley was not good. It was spoiled by the wet. It is also true that the price has fallen on account of the decrease in demand, and the decrease in the demand is largely caused by the decrease in the consumption of beer. It may be hoped that the provisions of the Budget which have been announced may do something to help the barley grower. 2343 Another matter that has had a very considerable effect on the barley market is the fact that America has gone dry. Although America has prohibited the manufacture of beer and whisky, it has not prohibited the manufacture of the raw material of these two articles, which is barley, and that raw material comes over here and is supplied to our brewers. It is undoubtedly the fact that brewers in this country in some cases prefer the foreign barley, and in some cases they pay a very much higher price for it than they would pay for English barley.
In regard to potatoes, the position is worse than in regard to barley. The price of potatoes is actually 19 per cent. below that of pre-War. There I think the drop in price is mainly owing to an extremely bountiful crop which caused a glut. Foreign imports coming in at a critical time did cause a rapid decline in price, but the foreign imports altogether only amounted to 4 per cent. of the total.
One other arable crop I want to deal with, on which there has been a great deal of discussion, is hops. I think it is generally known that the hop market of the country is in the hands of a Controller and the control is rigid, as everything of that kind was during the War. I do not wish to go into controversial matters with regard to hops, but it is the fact that there is now a large excess balance of some half million cwts. in hand. Shortly, the reason is that the Hop Control Committee expected the consumption of beer to be very much larger than it has been in the last two years. At the present rate of beer consumption the amount of hops required is 320,000 cwts. a year. The full home crop on the present acreage is about 312,000 cwts. But the brewers insist on using foreign hops to the extent of one-sixth of their consumption, so that on this basis, including 60,000 cwts. of foreign hops, the total supply in any year is 372,000 cwts. In other words, there is a surplus every year of 50,000 cwts. of hops above the amount required to meet the present rate of consumption of beer. If the consumption of beer were increased by 50 per cent., the amount of hops required would be 480,000 cwts., but if the consumption of beer goes on at its present level then, by the time the regime of the Hop Controller comes 2344 to an end, the hop industry is going to be in an exceedingly difficult position. I cannot allude to legislation; all I can say is that the Government is quite aware of the circumstances, and when the control comes to an end it does mean to deal with the matter. I wish to add this on a matter about which there has been a good deal of discussion and trouble in Kent and other places where hops are grown. The Hop Controller only bought at the beginning of the year one-third of the year's crop because of the large balance left in hand which he could not dispose of. Lately the sale of hops has been very much more rapid than he expected, and consequently he is able to pay on 27th April up to 80 per cent. of the value of the past year's hops. A grower whose hops were valued at £15 per pocket will be paid a further £7 per pocket, and as he was paid £5 per pocket by the Hop Controller when his crop was taken over by the Controller, the total payment of £12 will represent 80 per cent. of the full value.
These are the various cereal crops with which I have to deal. I am always rather sorry that when agriculture is being discussed it is the habit to speak a little disrespectfully of grass land. I come from a country of grass, and when I look out, in my own neighbourhood, I rarely see a ploughed field. So far as the farmers in that part of the country arc concerned, I think they are doing considerably better than the farmers in the arable districts. It must be remembered that this grass land is of a very high quality and is land which was let at £3 or £4 an acre, but still I think the position of the stock farmers is very much better than that of the arable farmers. According to the statistics given to us milk is up 90 per cent. above 1913, butter 71 per cent., cheese 127 per cent., fat sheep 83 per cent., store pigs 107 per cent. and so on, and it is an important fact that the complaints as to the state of the agricultural industry are not nearly so severe from the grass counties, which after all represent about two-thirds of the whole. About two-thirds of the whole farming area of this country is under grass. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame. "] Well, the complaints from the grass farms of the country are not nearly so severe as those from the other districts.
I have tried to show the Committee, according to the information at my dis- 2345 posal, what is the condition of things in the agricultural industry. I only wish that I were allowed to go further and to enunciate the policy which the Government proposes to adopt, but by the Rules of Order I am not allowed to do so. I was also, unfortunately, deprived of the opportunity of making a statement on the subject last week. I am rather unfortunate in having to make what should be a comprehensive statement bit by bit. Apart from the statement already made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the statement which has been issued to the Press, there are one or two other matters on which I should like to say something. A Private Notice Question will be addressed to me to-morrow, when I hope I may be able to give a little further information, which I should like to place at the disposal of hon. Members.
§ Captain TERRELL
Why should not the statement to which the right hon. Gentlemen refers have been circulated I Must we wait until to-morrow?
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I move this reduction not so much on the ground that I wish to criticise the work which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture has described, but because of the administration—
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
On a point of Order. Does the hon. Member move for a reduction as to some special point? If so, that will limit the Debate, and I suggest that the hon. Member might in that case defer his Amendment. If, however, he move the Amendment on general grounds, it will not alter the course of the Debate and will be quite satisfactory. It is not usual to curtail a Debate at the very outset by moving a reduction on some particular point.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understand from the hon. Member that he proposes to move a reduction of the whole Vote. That will not curtail discussion.
§ Mr. N. BUXTON
My right hon. Friend will see, if he looks at the Paper, that my Amendment applies to the whole Vote, and not to any specific part of it. In discussing this matter to-day we must feet in a dilemma—as though we have come down to the House having lost the Notes of our speeches. The field covered by this Vote, however, is so vast and its interest is so great that on reflection I find we are by no means debarred from discussing innumerable topics worthy of being debated even at great length.
The Minister of Agriculture has touched on certain subjects of very special interest to us on these benches. He alluded to the question of work which would affect the unemployment situation, in connection with drainage. We all know how important that matter will be in the coming winter, and I should only like to make one suggestion. A great many drainage schemes have been held up because of the difficulties of reconciling private interests which have to be brought together and treated as one. I trust the Minister will do his utmost to press forward schemes which are required and will not allow them to be held up, even by the great difficulty of harmonising the private interests involved.
My right hon. Friend said a good deal about education in relation to agriculture and there be is entirely in accord with the views which we on these benches hold. We say agriculture is not a thing to be played with and that it has been treated in the past with too little seriousness. In our view, not only should farmers be encouraged by greater security of tenure, but that they should also be encouraged by more scientific methods, by research and by more facilities for education, and we only hope that the Minister will go even further than he has already gone in that direction. He alluded again to the experiments made in growing beet. We all know that farmers found it difficult to begin crops which involved new methods of handling, and I know farmers in Norfolk who continue to say that it is impossible to grow beet because when it is taken up it brings half the field with it. These difficulties have been used as arguments against beet-growing, and we were told that beet would never make a start in this country without Protection. May I point out that the eulogistic 2347 account which my right hon. Friend gave of the inception of beet-growing in this country disproves those theories?
§ Mr. BUXTON
I know it is protected in a sense, but it is not directly protected, as many people wanted it to be. How much less satisfactory would its present success have been, had it been highly protected, as many people wanted? It would be a far less satisfactory proof that the industry was one which could support itself, and the industry would have lost a chance of success in the future if it had received more artificial aid.
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman in his administrative work to pay more attention to the work of the county agricultural committees. They have powers, which were reserved to them under the Agriculture Act, 1921, in regard to controlling farmers who permit an excess of weeds of certain kinds. We all know that in some parts of the country there is need for what I may call gingering up in regard to slack farming. A former Minister of Agriculture, now Lord Ernie, said not long ago that thousands of acres of our tillage and grass land are being comparatively wasted and that countries with a climate as severe as our own, and with much poorer soil, are producing far more from the land than we are. It was very fortunate that, despite the destruction of useful legislation by the 1921 Act, the powers in regard to weeds were retained, but the question of whether the county committees exercise those powers depends very largely upon how the Ministry treats them. If the Ministry takes them seriously asks them for reports on important questions and suggests to them the performance of certain duties, their importance is thereby increased. They can he either of very little value or of very great value, according as he treats them, and in regard to the question of weeds, I say we could do a great deal more than has been done. There is another possibility, that they should carry their powers of control a good deal further. It is a point of doubt exactly what powers of control those committees have, but I want to suggest to the Minister that he should advise the counties to use, those powers to the fullest possible 2348 extent. Another great authority, whom I think we all miss in this House, who used to make very valuable contributions to our agricultural Debates 12 years ago, Lord Bledisloe, said the other day:Defects in the quality of British wheat, as compared with Manitoban or Indian wheat, are due to the fact that 'British farmers have for the last 30 years been growing nondescript wheats of poor quality, without sufficient consideration for what the consuming public are now demanding.That is just an indication of the kind of way in which county committees were useful during the War, and could be useful now if their powers were greater and if the powers they now possess were used to their fullest extent.
There is another power—because county control is getting to be a very valuable thing in agriculture—which the counties have in regard to small holdings. My own county of Norfolk has done extremely well in regard to small holdings. Some counties have done very much less, although their councils, on the face of them, were much more radical councils than the very conservative Norfolk council, but I do not think that any counties have fully used the powers which they have of supplying smallholders with their requisites, and that is surely a matter on which they are almost certain to be guided by the advice they get from headquarters. I hope my right hon. Friend will interest himself in that matter, because in these clays of the power of combination it is a point in which smallholders are vitally interested, and I only wish that those powers may, in course of time, be extended to the supply of requisites to all farmers.
The Minister did not say anything, think, about the work of the Ministry in regard to co-operation, but the Agricultural Organisation Society has been one of the important fruits or by-products of the Ministry of Agriculture. I myself was on the Committee of it when the grant was first obtained, in the days of Sir Thomas Elliott, and it has undoubtedly done a great deal. Could not more be done than has been done by encouraging agricultural organisation societies? When we are talking about co-operation, I would like to urge that you ought to take every opportunity of giving importance to co-operation by getting the farmers more familiar with it in connection with any matter where you could bring it in, and if you are 2349 going to introduce a further credit system and make loans, on which we cannot talk now, there, we should say, you should not grant facilities of that kind except through co-operative societies. There you will get your opportunity of moving the British farmers further on towards the efficiency that has been brought about by co-operation in other countries.
We are limited to administrative matters, and one of the most important of them arises in connection with the Norfolk strike. We have debated this once or twice in the House, but we have unfortunately not seen an end of the strike. We are very often asked to say what the Labour party would do in regard to agriculture. There are two things that we should do if we were in power now. We should endeavour to settle the strike, and to put agriculture on a sound economic basis. We should regard the tradition of the Government of this country in regard to industrial disputes as a tradition that ought to be maintained, and I want to urge once again that this is a matter in which the administrative powers of the Ministry ought to be brought in. We know that, in regard to disputes, they have to be exercised in co-operation with the Ministry of Labour, but the Ministry of Labour obviously would not, could not, act without the instigation of the Ministry of Agriculture, so that I think it is relevant to point out that this dispute might have been approached under the powers of the industrial Courts Act, but that is not what we suggest. We say that it ought to be brought under the purview of the Trade Boards Act. The Trade Boards Act, as the right hon. Gentleman said the other day, may be applied, but the exact extent of its powers in regard to agriculture has not been defined. Obviously, it could in certain circumstances be applied, without a special new Act, to an agricultural dispute. Even supposing that neither of these Acts is suitable for the purpose, it still remains a matter of administration, because, as everyone knows what the farmers' unions do is settled, to an enormous extent by the opinion that is given out by the Minister of Agriculture.
That is sufficiently obvious, but we are now faced with a situation in Norfolk in which it is known, and admitted by the Minister himself, that the wage is very 2350 much below the pre-War wage. He gave figures, in reply to a question of mine the other day. Everyone knows, and it is an extremely melancholy fact, that the wage is below the pre-War wage, and everyone remembers that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) about 10 years ago pointed out that the pre-War wage was something perfectly scandalous, and that it was a wage which ought to have been dealt with under the principles of the Trade Boards Act, the late Sir Charles Dilke s Act, which set out the principle of the maintenance of a standard of living by the State. That Act was too new in those days, but it is now 14 years old; and is it not fair to say that it is an established tradition of this House and of the Government of this country that we are, as a State, concerned with the maintenance of the standard of life and with the prevention of sweating?
You have got here a trade in which wages are, by common consent, far below the standard of decent subsistence, and, therefore, I submit that if the Government simply folds its hands and says, "Let the wage be beaten down as low as the position of the labourer compels it to go," we are departing from a national tradition, and a tradition which is perhaps as well worth maintaining as any other. It surely is not for Toryism to depart from tradition, nor is it, I think, at, all welcome to the Conservative party to break its promises. We have, unfortunately seen some examples in recent times. It is a melancholy thing that the farm labourer, who had a pathetic faith in the assistance of the State brought to his mind during the War, and who got by that means a certain confidence in constitutional government, has had it shattered by the repeal of the Corn Production Act and the Agriculture Act.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member, it appears to me, is really arguing for a reenactment of the Corn Production Act, but I am afraid that, under the rules of order, it would not be possible for him to proceed with that argument.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I was endeavouring to argue that such power as the Ministry has should be applied to maintaining the standard, but if I am not in order in stating the condition of things which makes it urgent for the Ministry to apply 2351 its powers, I must pass to another side of the matter. The Minister has been talking about the condition of the industry, and it is extremely relevant to the matter of administration, in regard to the standard of life, that we should be conversant with the state of the industry. It may be said that necessity compels the reduction of a wage below a decent standard. Of course, it may be shown that there are certain light lands which would be laid to grass unless the wages were very much lower still, but I think the labourers, if they choose to say, "We will risk that on certain farms," are the people most concerned, and if they say, "We would rather risk the laying of some land to grass and maintain a standard throughout the country," they are entitled to say it. We have not got really sufficient objective evidence that farmers this winter would lay more land to grass or let land go derelict. If there be evidence, it has not been produced in a concrete form, but supposing that a certain acreage might be laid to grass this winter, though it is very difficult this season to make new plans in regard to laying down your land, but supposing that 10,000 or 20,000 acres in East Anglia —the West of England is hardly concerned at all—were to be laid to grass, what are you risking, on the other hand, by the inaction in regard to settling the strike? You are risking perhaps about 200,000 acres of barley, and that is a serious thing to set against the possible risk of a rather higher wage.
In my judgment, on this point the farmers are taking quite a long view. They know that in all trades you make a loss sometimes, that you have a bad year and that you make up for it by a good year. They know that the market is likely to improve, and they are not, on the whole, going to lay the land to grass this winter, because they might lose the chance of a very good profit next year. There was a. curious argument in Lord Rothermere's article, a week ago, which cuts that away. He said that we must by artificial means keep up our national production to some standard which would be useful in war, because the rest of the world is not going on supplying us. He said these countries which have had bumper harvests in the last, two years, when we have had bad harvests, are becoming less exporting and will con- 2352 sume their own stuff, and that, therefore, we must get ready for the day when we have got to grow our own corn. That is precisely the fact that the farmer knows, and exactly the reason why he calculates on a much better price next winter. Altogether, the danger of driving land out of cultivation has been greatly exaggerated, and I do hope, at least, the Minister will institute some inquiry which will have weight with the public. I think the whole House would strongly support him in such an inquiry, which any of his great experts could make in a valuable way without a formal and legal collecting of evidence. I am quite sure Sir Daniel Hall, in a very few weeks, would make a report which would be of enormous value.
I will only say one or two more things in regard to the labourer question. We all know it is not for the ultimate good of agriculture that the labourer should be driven clown, and seeing that the farm labourers did such colossal service, and were so invaluable to the country during the War, there is something very unpatriotic in looking on now with tranquillity while the labourer is driven to semi-starvation. There ought to be a determined effort to see that his wage is not at a distressing level. It would help the good farmer if state regulation were set up again. The trouble is, as some of the Board of Agriculture experts have pointed out, that it almost becomes the duty of a fanner to his neighbours not to pay more than they do. I think it is described somewhere as a kind of social duty which almost compels farmers to go down to the lowest rate and I know many farmers who were thankful during the War when the regulation of the wages enabled them to pay what they thought right, without being regarded as disloyal to their neighbours. Considering all these things, in our opinion, the wage is something on which the Government is bound to express an opinion, and if the strike be not settled at a very early date then I trust my right hon. Friend will reconsider his decision.
There are many things to reply to the question as to what Labour would do. We would like to explain from these benches, but we shall have to wait for an occasion when you, Sir, would regard it in order. But, even in regard to administration, there are countless points in 2353 which the Minister can treat the industry either as one which has got to give way to what I may call pleasure-owning, or as one to be taken seriously, and regarded as an economic asset of vast importance to the country, instead of something which is secondary to sport. We would say that the right thing for any Minister of Agriculture to do is to treat the whole agricultural industry as one which is of vital importance.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture said as to the difficulty in which we have been put in debating agricultural matters. I also agree with him that it has had a most unfortunate effect on the whole situation in the agricultural districts, that the opinions expressed in this House, and the decisions to which the Government may come after Debate here, or after negotiation, have to come out piecemeal—here a little, there a little. No one understands exactly the drift of there. They are mixed up with Budget statements, and so on, and are overshadowed by other things. It has created a most unfortunate situation, the blame for which can be apportioned, perhaps, equally in every direction. I do not think it is for any of us to throw stones in this matter. But it has had a most unfortunate effect upon the industry. Those of us who have a very tender place in our hearts for the industry in which we are engaged regret it very much indeed, and we do hope there will very shortly be a day when we can discuss the wider issue. But I am bound to point out that when it comes it cannot be as effective. The moment has been lost. There is a proper time for everything, and the proper time for the Debate was the date appointed by this House, and that date being lost, although we may still have a Debate, it can never be as satisfactory to the industry as if it came at the proper time.
I should like to say a word or two on one or two of the points on which the Minister touched. My right hon. Friend gave us some very interesting figures as to the small holdings which have been provided through State agency, and I listened to those figures with great interest, because I observed there was a very heavy loss, amounting, I think, to about £900,000 on some 18,000 holdings. There is nothing surprising in that, and 2354 I venture to say the loss ought to have been much greater, and will have to be much greater before the Government have finished. The position is simply this, that if anybody purchases and equips land for cultivation in this country, he can only do so at a very heavy loss, and he has got to recognise that fact; and if he desires to let land, he must let it at a price at which the cultivator can live. That applies equally to the State as to the private owner, and it is a well-known fact. I should like some hon. Gentlemen opposite who wish well to agriculture, but who have no practical knowledge of agricultural conditions in an agricultural district—
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I know by the way they talk. Their one desire is to see agriculture prosperous, but when they come to make statements about agricultural conditions, it is quite obvious that, though those statements are made absolutely genuinely and in good faith, those who make them have not a personal knowledge. I have not a personal knowledge of the conditions in their industries, and a great many of them have not a personal knowledge of my industry. I wish therefore some of them would come down into an agricultural district, and we should be happy to show them the whole of the conditions. Let them see the books of an agricultural estate. They are welcome to see mine if they like, and they are welcome to go round the cottages and talk to the men and see the whole conditions for themselves. I think if that were done, it would be a great help to debates in this House. One of the things that is in my mind is this. Perhaps they do not realise, that taking the agricultural land of this country which is in private hands, it is now let at a rent which involves a dead loss to the owner on the whole of the purchase money, and a good proportion of the equipment—[An HON. MEMBER: "Then why not give it up? "]—and the State, if it buys land, must subject itself to the same conditions. Hon. Members opposite talk about State ownership. From where do the complaints come of excessive rents for small holdings? Has a single complaint reached this House of excessive rent charged for a small holding by a private owner? The whole of the complaints come from smallholders 2355 who are holding from public authorities out of State money. The fact is that private owners have had to cut the loss for the present, at any rate—the most serious loss they have incurred—and let their land at a figure which the cultivator can pay, although that figure only brings them in a return which does not represent even a small interest on the equipment, and nothing whatever for the purchase of the land.
There is another point. When the State or a public authority lets a small holding, it gets the whole of the rent, but when a private owner lets a holding, he has to pay half the rent, or an immense proportion, in taxes, and therefore he is at a great disability. The State can get the whole of its rent, but as a private owner I can only get half, and the State takes the other half. The private owner to-day is an unpaid agent for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is the absolute fact. What is the position of an agricultural estate to-day? [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the pre-War position?"] I am sorry my right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister is not in his place. He is not an advocate of the landlords, but this is what he said in a Debate in this House on 5th December last, speaking of the bad times in agriculture in the '80's and '90's:The landlord was in a better position to assist. He could afford to give his 10 per cent., 15 or 20 per cent. remission, and what he did very often, when he did not remit, was not to press, and the remission of 25 per cent. did not always represent his contribution.That is the pre-War position, if my hon. Friend wants to know it.On the contrary, there were rents which he absolutely forgave; that was, he never pressed for them. He is not in a position to do it now. His Income Tax then was 8d. in the £, he now pays half his income away in Income Tax. His rates are treble or quadruple what they were and I know landlords who are not getting a quarter of their income available for their own lase."—[OFFITTAL REPORT,.5th December, 1922; col. 1607, Vol. 159.]6.0 P.M.
The landlord who has got a quarter of his income available for his own use is extremely fortunate, I think. Cottages on an agricultural estate with five rooms and a garden are let at 1s. 6d. a week, and the landlord has to pay rates and do all repairs, and requests come in daily for new grates, the mending of windows or 2356 repairs to the house. May I suggest that there is no other class of employer or owner in the country who have spent the money which landlords have in providing proper dwellings for labourers working on the land? I did not get up to talk about landlords, but, in face of the attitude of hon. Members opposite, it is necessary to say something. Many forms of social legislation now pressed for most strongly by hon. Members opposite were anticipated by country landlords. Who gave pensions when nobody else gave them? Who provided houses for widows, and allowed widows to stay in houses when no labour was coming out? Who gave them sick pay? [HON. MEMBERS: "Nobody."] All these things were done on agricultural estates which are now done by the State. I do not say universally, hut they were done, and I do say, before hon. Members opposite attack the private ownership of land, they ought to look at the matter from two points of view, into which I am afraid—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain FitzRoy)
If the hon. Member desires to put a point of Order, of course he can do so.
§ Mr. POTTS
All I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman, in view of his statement, is whether he will tell the House where the area is to which he refers. I am asking the question because I have had long experience as a member of an assessment committee and have visited farm labourers' houses and have never found one yet.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I do not know that that is a point of Order. If the right hon. Gentleman who is in possession of the House chooses to give way to an hon. Member on the other side who interrupts, he may do so, and the hon. Gentleman may put his question to him, but that is not a point of Order.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I am very glad to give way to my hon. Friend and to answer his question. I will not only tell him where one such cottage is, but I can 2357 show him hundreds. Also I shall be glad to invite him to come down any week-end he likes—
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
And bring any of his friends with him. I should like to say one word about sugar beet. I listened with amazement to the speech of the hon. Gentleman for Norfolk, Northern (Mr. Noel Buxton), who preceded me when he cited the success of the sugar beet industry as an instance of how, where properly undertaken, cultivation can be carried out at a profit without State assistance.
§ Mr. N. BUXTON
I did not say without assistance, but without the degree of assistance that it asked for.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
—but I think, if any other agricultural operation could get the assistance given to sugar beet, we would hear nothing in the House of agricultural Debates. I believe that the assistance given amounts to something like £20 per acre. I am not sure it is not more. The whole of the Sugar Duty, which, I think, the hon. Members opposite are prepared very loudly to complain of, in respect to its enormous weight [HON. MEMBERS: "Rear, hear!"] I understand hon. Members agree. The whole of that weight is taken off the growing of sugar beet. If ray hon. Friend had not referred to the matter I was about to refer to it as an instance of the great advantage which the State and the nation may gain by encouraging the cultivation within our own borders of some valuable food products which otherwise we should be entirely dependent for upon the foreigner. I cannot refer to the question of sugar beet without saying that I am sure every hon. Member who was in the last Parliament will remember the very active part which the late Sir Bevil Stanier took in this matter for years under most adverse circumstances, and also the part taken by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts) now he has succeeded him. It is the work done by men in this 2358 House and outside that this sugar beet industry has been set going, and to that extent the country owes them a very deep debt of gratitude.
I come to the question of animal diseases. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman refer to that. So far as foot-and-mouth disease is concerned we are, I think, confirmed, from the investigation of the Committee, that it is practically impossible to discover the source of these primary outbreaks. The only suspicion, and the primary suspicion, attaches to the birds—that the germs of the disease are air-borne in some form or another. I think it is only right here that a tribute should be paid to the most admirable work done by the Board of Agriculture and by Sir Stewart Stockman, the chief veterinary officer of the Board, both at the time of the outbreak, when he and his staff were enormously overworked, and after. That work was absolutely untiring and certainly it was extremely intelligent. But for him it is most probable that the outbreak would have got out of hand—as it very nearly did—and the consequence to this country and to agriculture can hardly he estimated. I think the work done by the Committee has given him considerable help, and although I cannot go into legislation I think I may say that I think it is most desirable—and I can hardly think that the matter will he regarded in any part of the House as contentious—that the recommendations of our Committee which require legislation should be brought before the House at the earliest possible moment.
I will only say one other word on the question of milk recording. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's remark that the recording is a very valuable asset. But I do want to utter one word of caution. The right hon. Gentleman gave figures in which he said there were two herds of 42 cows each. One yielded 9117 lbs., and the other 3,812 lbs.—revealed by the milk recording. It is very valuable that it should be revealed, but it must not be necessarily taken as a fact that the whole of that additional milk was profit, because milk-recording has introduced an element which is a little disturbing. It has introduced an element of record-breaking. You can almost get any quantity of milk out. of any mulch cow's udder if you pour enough in at the mouth. There are always these record 2359 cows producing an unlimited number of thousands of gallons of milk, and there is no doubt that the feeding of some of them is proceeded with in a very expensive way which could not be applied to ordinary herds. Therefore, although milk-recording is of extraordinary value—I do not doubt it at all—I do not think the figures of records can be regarded as if they were produced by equal treatment. Sometimes the cost of producing a very high record in a particular cow may very well exceed the actual value of the milk produced, though it may produce a return in another way by advertising the value of that particular herd.
I should like to say, on behalf of the Agricultural Committee, our reason for existence. Everybody will agree that up to within very recent times agriculture has been a sort of Cinderella amongst industries. Agriculture has never been adequately represented in this House. One must realise that it is not only sufficient to have a case, but you must have strength behind to push it. That organisation which gives strength has only recently been developed. Without transgressing the rules of Order I may perhaps say, Captain Fitzroy, that you are largely responsible for that during the last Session. I will give an instance of what I mean. When it came to a question between the Board of Agriculture and other Departments it was always the Board of Agriculture that went to the wall. In the first place, the Minister of Agriculture is always a junior Member of the Cabinet. He is usually promoted whenever there is a change of Government or a reconstruction, and changes of Government and reconstructions have lately been very frequent. The consequence is that there are perpetual changes at the Ministry, where you always get a junior Minister, and there he is in the first place, with neither sufficient knowledge of the work of the Department nor that sufficient status on behalf of the interests of the industry that he ought to have. That is the sort of thing that goes on.
Take the question which the Agricultural Committee have recently taken up, that of the road grant. There you have, on one hand, the Board of Agriculture protecting the agricultural ratepayer, and, on the other hand, you have the Treasury and the Minister of 2360 Labour interested in getting money for unemployment grants. If it were not for what had been done by the Agricultural Committee very little of that money would have been seen by the rural ratepayers. Parliament in that case voted that a certain tax was to be placed upon mechanically-propelled vehicles for the purpose of maintaining the roads. There were 113,000 miles of rural roads used by mechanically-propelled vehicles which got nothing, and, may I say, this is borne out by the present attitude of the Minister. What did the Minister say at the recent interview? He said that a grant was going to be made to the rural ratepayers of £1,250,000 from the surplus of the Road Fund. There is no surplus on the Road Fund. It is our own money. it is the money that Parliament voted for the roads and to that purpose it should be applied. The wear and tear caused by motorists on the roads should be defrayed out of the tax levied upon them. Here, then, is an instance where the Agricultural Committee has been able to exercise pressure, and a case where it has been absolutely fairly met, if I may so put it., by the Road Board and the Ministry. But we do not want to put temptation in their way. We do not want to tempt them by our own slackness and inattention to our own interests and see agriculture overridden by other interests because it is easy to do it and because lots of people press harder than we do.
There is also the question of imported cattle. Here again it has been surely necessary that the Agricultural Committee should take an active interest in the question. We are also, I may say, grateful to the Minister for having exercised his powers and insisted upon slaughtering of the fat cattle arriving from Canada at the port, and not allowing them to be sent to inland markets, as undoubtedly they would have been if the Agricultural Committee had not moved in the matter, and the Minister taken prompt action. There is another point of administration which has come forward, and which is very important. But the Minister is going to discuss it with us before long, and, therefore, I will not go very much into it. I refer to the importation of breeding cattle from Canada. There is no demand whatever from any part of the agricultural industry of this country for the admission of these cattle. Why are they to be 2361 admitted, and on what ground? I know there is a Clause in the Act which enables an order to be passed. I will not debate that further now, because I think it will be more appropriate after we have had our discussion with the Minister. The only general point I would put now is this: I yield to nobody in my desire to see the Empire working together as one unit, but I do not think it is fair to British agriculture that the Dominions should give bounties on the export of agricultural products to this country when there are no countervailing duties.
I understand that now the Australian Government are giving a bounty on meat exported from Australia to this country. I would like to ask, is that fair to the agricultural industry here. For example, would it be regarded as fair for the local authorities of one county in this country to subsidise meat going from that, county into another county which could make provision for itself? I desire to call the attention of those concerned with our Imperial policy at the Colonial Office to this matter. Although those bounties may be from an Imperial point of view a good thing, the agricultural interest cannot be entirely ignored. When it comes to a question of local expenditure we have the Minister of Health imposing local burdens upon us, and unless the Agriculture Committee and those, representing agricultural interests are vigilant., we shall have the Treasury and the Ministry of Health passing on a large portion of expenditure, to the local ratepayers, although the matters to be dealt with may he of national interest, I think the Agriculture Committee should be watchful in that respect. I welcome the announcement which has been made that there is to be a grant in relief of rates, for which we are grateful, and this will go some way to restore the balance.
There is another matter which the Agriculture Committee has had in hand, and that is the question of railway rates on agricultural produce. The Agriculture Committee appointed a Sub-Committee to deal with this matter, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Mohan (Mr. Lambert), the Member for the Ely Division of Cambridge (Lieut.-Colonel Coates), and the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Sir N. Jodrell) were Members of that Sub-Committee, and I am sure that the agricultural 2362 industry is very grateful to them for the pains they took in their negotiations with the railway companies. This morning we met the Railway Managers' Committee, of which Sir Herbert. Walker is the Chairman, and we obtained from them certain concessions, which are embodied in a memorandum, which has been sent to me from the Railway Managers' Committee by Sir Herbert Walker, and, with the permission of the Committee, I will read it. This is a statement. by the railway companies of their own case, and what they are prepared to do, and I will read it in their own words:The main points brought out by the railway companies at the meeting with your Committee this morning were as follows: Since the railways were handed back to them in August, 1921, progressive reductions in the charges for both goods and passenger train traffic have been made. The general effect of these has been to reduce goods train rates from 112 per cent, to 75 per cent. above pre-War level and passenger fares from 75 per cent. to 50 per cent. above pre-War. The wages bill of the railway companies is to-day about 136 per cent. above the pre-War level. Wages form about two-thirds of the total railway costs. The railways are paying on the average about 70 per cent. Mare for all materials they have to purchase. To-day the railways are generally not earning the same amount of net revenue as they did in 1913. The reductions granted in goods rates in August, 1922, and in passenger fares in January, 1923, have not resulted in an increase of traffic sufficient to counteract the loss in gross revenue due to such reductions. The companies are therefore faced with a less revenue and the cost for working the increased traffic.The railway companies are fully alive to the necessity of bringing their charges down to the lowest possible limit, and have shown their willingness to do so by the reductions that have already been made. They have further so framed their programme as to give the greater reduction in the goods rates to those industries which appeared to need the greater consideration. With these objects in view the companies have given further consideration to the question, and especially to the views put before them by the members of the Agricultural Committee of the House of Commons, and have decided to make the further reductions mentioned on the attached as from the 1st of May, 1923. These concessions are estimated to cost the railway companies upwards of £9,000,000. The railway companies have endeavoured to secure the co-operation of railway labour in order to make a larger reduction, but so far without success. Negotiations are proceeding, it being apparent that failing seine substantial reduction of expenditure due to high rates of wages and costly conditions of service there is little prospect of further consider- 2363 able changes in rates and charges. In the event of the negotiations with the railway trade unions being successful the companies will be prepared to make further reductions.These are the reductions, the present rate on those commodities of interest to agriculture are 75 per cent. above pre-War; grain, hay, clover and straw, hops, vegetables, agricultural machines and implements, agricultural seeds, brewers' grains, oil-cake and cattle foods, provender, live stock at head rates and at truck rates, butter, cheese, poultry, eggs and fruit, now 75 per cent. increase to be 50 per cent. This reduction is to take effect from the 1st of May. The other matters dealt with are outside agriculture, and I think the Agriculture Committee may claim that they have not only been helping agriculture, but also other industries. I had better not deal any further with this memorandum, because the other part of the statement will be published in the Press, and therefore I will confine myself to what I have said about the agricultural position and the Sub-committee will hand a full statement to the, Press for publication so that the public will get full information as to reductions which have been made in other respect.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
No, coal is like chalk it stands where it is. The hon. Member who spoke last referred to the unfortunate strike in Norfolk. I think the less we say about that matter now the better, because I have reason to know that there is a very good prospect that the strike will be settled by the end of this week. I understand that the representatives of the Farmers' Union met the leader of the Labour party, and certain suggestions were made. My latest information is that those suggestions have been favourably received by those to whom they have been submitted in a preliminary way, and there will be a final decision upon the matter on Saturday next. The position is hopeful, and I should be very sorry to say anything that might tend to prejudice the position.
The Minister of Agriculture mentioned the question of hops, and he said that matter would be dealt with when control 2364 came to an end. I am afraid that we cannot wait until control comes to an end before we know what is to be done. I know that it is a matter which involves legislation, and therefore we cannot discuss it now. I will only add one more point, and it is in regard to the suggestion that farmers, if they organise on co-operative lines, would do much better than they are doing now. In one sense I agree with that suggestion, because the more they can co-operate in marketing and production the better it will be for them. I am not quite sure, however, that co-operators always make successful farmers, and I will give one instance to show what happens when co-operative bodies, who are notoriously successful in business, and who have made a great success in buying and selling for their members, and who have by their ability and business aptitude raised up an industry of enormous magnitude and importance in this country, take on farming. I have had instances before of successful business men who in regard to farming have said, "We will try business methods," but as a rule the result has been disastrous. Here is an instance. These are facts from Lancashire which is a county where there is great intelligence and much enterprise. The conclusion in this case which has been arrived at is that farming is a family industry and not one for co-operators. I will quote from a report issued by the President of the Radcliffe and Pilkington Co-operative Society, Limited (Councillor Whitehead) which is one of the latest of these distributing societies to give up what has proved to be a most disastrous experiment:In the north eastern co-operative section, 28 co-operative societies took up farming, and between them owned 51 farms. Of these, 48 already have reported losses which in some cases run into five figures. The societies are rapidly ridding themselves of their liability in these ventures. The experience of the Radcliffe Society which has recently sold off its stock and gone out of the farming business is typical.But the chief item complained of is the wages paid. The men on the farms were paid £3 to £3 10s. a week each as a living wage,' whereas the small dairy farms of Lancashire as usually run by the farmer. his wife, and members of his family pool everything, and take little out in the way of regular wages. The result has been that the Radcliffe Society has lost close upon £8,000 in three years, and the members have had to be content not only with a 1s. 2365 dividend on general purchases, but have been obliged to dip into reserves to pay this small poundage. The loss on the last half of 1922 on these farms amounted to £3,160 which swallowed up nearly the whole of the last quarter's profit on the grocery and other departments.The farmer has not any profit on grocery or other departments to make good his loss.This general profit amounted to £3,970, but this sum set against the farming losses made it necessary to withdraw nearly £2,000 from reserve to pay the dividend of 1s. in the £. The Committee in their last Quarterly Report state: We had hoped to present a more pleasing report this quarter, but the farming operations have made this impossible, although we feel a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that we have good sound reserves from which we can draw. We are unanimous in the opinion that farming is not an industry which co-operative societies can hope to make financially successful, and we shall make certain recommendations to you which we hope will put an end to what we regret to say has been a costly experiment.'The recommendation was in the form of the following Resolution which was passed unanimously by the members:That we give up the business of farming at the earliest possible date, and that the Committee be granted discretionary powers in respect to the future use of Seddons Farm. The whole of the farm stock was sold by auction on 27th February, 1923, and Seddons Farm has already been let to private farmers. The other farms will be given up as early as possible.I hope hon. Members who talk about the large profits which farmers have been making will consult the president of the Radcliffe Co-operative Society of Lancashire. I believe that of all the industries in the country farming is the one that can best be carried on by private enterprise, and that it cannot be carried on successfully under State control. The conditions are so various and difficult that if the Minister of Agriculture interferes with the industry he can only do it on the principle of averages. To attempt to rule individual farmers by averages, by flat rates, by Government control, is absolutely destructive of progress, and will bring the industry to the ground, and as long as I have the right to speak for it in any shape or form I shall oppose any such attempt to the best of my ability.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
It was not, I think, to be expected that the Government would be able to discuss the Interim Report of 2366 the Economists' Committee on a Supply day. It would be wholly contrary to the traditional Rules of the House, and, personally, I shall be very glad if the Government will give us an opportunity of discussing that Report, and will tell us what their policy is; for I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) that this giving out of the policy of the Government piecemeal in little bits is all to the bad. My hon. Friends of the Labour party seem to me to be very coveted guests. They are going to visit my right hon. Friend opposite.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
They are going down to see him. I was going to suggest that this national stud to which my right hon. Friend referred—I do not know where it is located at the present moment, but I see it has lost a little money—I was going to suggest that half of it should be taken, say, to Chequers, and half to Easton, which, I think, is the new home of the Labour party, so that both the Government and the Opposition would be able to enjoy themselves in sport.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
If my hon. Friend goes there, I do not object. My right hon. Friend told us that barley prices were only 10 per cent. above the pre-War level, but I notice that the brewers have been making nearly double profits. It has always been said that if you reduce the Beer Duty it will benefit agriculture, but I do not know; that has not been the experience up to now. I am, however, grateful to the Government, as a West of England Member, that they have repealed the Cider Duty. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Noel Buxton) asked that the Minister should instigate the county agricultural committees to exercise more control over farming. I hope he will do no such thing. I have the strongest objection to county agricultural committees; I would abolish them to-morrow, for they are really of no good. In fact, I detest committees and officials of every sort interfering with me. I do not. understand why it is that Members seem to be able to teach farmers their business. The agriculturists of the country, after all, produce, on an average, 31 bushels of wheat to the acre in this not 2367 entirely favourable climate. That is not rivalled in any other country in the world. If you want the best stock—horses, cattle, sheep or pigs—you come to these islands for it. That, surely, does not show that the farmers do not know their business. I agreed with my hon. Friend a good deal more when he talked about the low wages in Norfolk. I can assure him that the agricultural labourers in Norfolk have the sympathy of all agriculturists—farmers and labourers—in Devonshire and the West of England generally. All I can say is that, if the men can only be paid 25s. a week, that land will go out of cultivation. The men will not stay; it is not a living wage.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Thirty shillings a week. That is the fixed rate; of course, many of us pay more. I should like to ask when the Minister proposes to publish the Report of the Committee presided over by Lord Linlithgow, which is going into the question of the difference between the price that the producer gets and the price the consumer has to pay. I want to see that Report very much, because it is very important. My right hon. Friend gave some figures the other day which I would commend to my hon. Friends on these benches. The farmer, at present prices, gets, for the wheat: in a 4-lb. loaf, 5½d., and that 4-lb. loaf of bread is sold for anything from 8d. to 8½d. Somebody is getting some profit. and I shall welcome that Report to show where those profits are and who are getting them. I quite understand that a large amount is due to the extra rates and taxes that. have been placed, not only upon the agricultural industry, but upon all industries during the past few years. The miller gets the wheat, and he says, "I am not in business for my health, and I have to put all the rates and taxes and extra railway charges and everything else on to the flour." The, baker says exactly the same, and puts it on the loaf, and I verily believe to-day that the consumers do not realise that they are paying on each loaf of bread something like 1½d. to 2d. in extra internal taxation. [Interruption.] Perhaps my hon. Friend will support-me in preaching economy? You cannot get economy if you have Committees and 2368 bureaucratic control. I am a friend of the consumer. I congratulate the Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the proposal to reduce the rateable value of agricultural land to one-fourth. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that fair.? "] I am not afraid to meet my hon. Friends upon that point. I will give, them an example now from my own part of the world. The Okehampton Union, in Devonshire, have to maintain 350 miles of road, and only upon 20 miles of it do they get any subsidy from the Road Board.
§ Mr LAMBERT
You go over the road and do not pay. I would ask my right hon. Friend to point out to the Road Board, or to someone, that these unions must, really he relieved from the care of these roads, or the roads will not be kept up at all. There is no way out of it the agricultural ratepayers cannot afford to pay for these roads. This small union has 350 miles of costly roads to keep up. They have very soft foundations, motors go over them and cut them to pieces, and they will not be kept up. Therefore, I hope my right hon. Friend will keep the Road Board up to the mark in that matter. An hon. Member mentions the Motor Tax, but we cannot bear the taxation, and my hon. Friend must really realise that, if a farmer has to pay more in rates, he has not that amount of money to pay for labour. If he pays Jess in rates he has more for local labour. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will carry out his policy of reducing the rates on agricultural land.
Agriculture is an industry which is open to the competition of the world. There are some industries that are not. The agriculturists, both farmers and labourers, are sweated by the other industries which are not competitive. My right hon. Friend has read out the con cessions that the railway companies propose to give. I attended the meeting with him this morning. The railway companies are monopolists; there is no foreign competition with them. There is no question of the foreigner coming over here and. competing with the railways in carrying produce. I must say that the railway managers whom we met at the interview thin morning were most courteous and skilled men, hut I can- 2369 didly confess that I was disappointed at, the amount of relief they proposed to give to us in carrying agricultural produce. I said so there, and I say so here. I believe the reduction could have been more. The railway companies, it seems to me, are playing for safety. They have not made a big bid for business. After all is said and done, when the railway companies have increased their dividends over and above the 1913 level, which was the peak year, by £3,700,000, and when they have increased their reserve funds from £20,700,000 in 1913 to £l30,000,000 last year, they have some money to play with, and I say to the railway companies that I am sorry that they did not take our advice in a greater degree. They could give a greater relief to agricultural produce, and in giving that relief they would indirectly decrease the price of food to consumers in the towns. The wealth is there, and I wish the railway companies and their managers had taken a bolder view of the necessity for helping us in the agricultural districts.
There is another matter which affects us, in regard to which, again, we are hit, and that is by the unintentional action of the Government. It is well known that owners of land to-day are not in a position at all to keep up the equipment of their farms and their buildings and cottages as they were before the War. They are crushed down by taxation. But, even if we were not crushed by taxation, we could not build, because building charges are so high. That is another industry which is not competitive. There is no foreign competition with the building industry in bricks or any of the things required for maintaining the equipment of our holdings or for building new ones. This is an indirect effect of the Government subsidy for housing, and it affects us as agriculturists. I was told to-day by an experienced builder that he had been building cottages for £350 a piece, but, directly the £6 subsidy was announced, up went the prices of the ring, and now he said it would cost him anything from £70 to £80 more. That is all very well for municipalities, who may come upon the ratepayers, but for us who have to pay the money out of our own pockets it makes building prohibitive. I assure the Government that that is one of the results of the subsidy policy.
2370 I suggest to my right hon. Friend one administrative act more. I ask him to impress upon the Postmaster-General the necessity for sending small agricultural parcels by post. I am sure it would be a good thing from the point of view of the producer and the consumer. I want to put them in touch with the large centres of population. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to do that. I know a farmer in Devonshire, one of the most successful men there, who started when the parcels post first established by sending pounds of Devonshire cream to consumers in the towns. The right hon. Gentleman would do a wise thing if he invoked the aid of the Postmaster-General in giving increased postal facilities for agricultural produce. I understand my hon. Friends on this side of the House are very much in favour of Wages Boards and control. I want to see agriculture so that there shall be two jobs for one man. That is the best kind of Wages Board you can have. If there are two men looking for one job, wages will go down and unemployment will go up. We want to get conditions whereby the farmer can profitably employ labour in getting a good living for himself.
§ Mr. SHEPPERSON
I think I am entitled, according to the traditions of this House, to crave the indulgence of its Members for one who faces the ordeal of addressing them for the first time. It may be said I have taken some considerable time in accumulating the necessary courage to face that task. That may be so, but my time has not been wasted during the past six months. I have learned the lesson that it is useful for an hon. Member speaking in this House to understand something of his subject. Having learned that lesson, I should not be here except for this fact, that the one dominating interest of the whole of my life has been agriculture. At the university I studied both it and its applied science as deeply as possible, and took the highest diplomas upon the scientific and theoretical side of the industry, and since that time I have been practically engaged in it and have endeavoured to the best of my ability to apply to that practice every possible scientific process. I am here to-day because the industry to which I have given my life's work is down, and I want to do my utmost before it is quite down and out. I am in a, difficult situa- 2371 tion this evening, because the Debate is limited. I want to crave the indulgence of the House in this. If I disobey any of the rules I want to be called to order immediately.
The distressed position of agriculture, I am certain, has the sympathy of hon. Members opposite as much as of hon. Members on this side. I have been struck by the manner in which hon. Members opposite have recognised the distress that has come upon the industry, and I am confident that they are genuinely desirous of finding a solution. An hon. Member opposite, speaking upon the Empire Settlement Bill before Easter, intimated that it would be better for the present Government to spend £150 per man in settling men on the land in this country, instead of sending them abroad to our Dominions overseas. I should like to point out what is the position of the man you are going to settle in this country for £150. Does the hon. Member realise that £150 would only capitalise the occupation of some 15 acres of land, and such is the position of agriculture to-day that there is not a man who with 15 acres of land could obtain a sum equivalent to the dole that is being given to the unemployed? Do hon. Members realise that there are hundreds and thousands of smallholders, ex-service men and others, who have invested, not only £150, but the whole of their savings in small holdings who are to-day faced, owing to agricultural depression, with absolute ruin? Together with hon. Members opposite, I desire to do my utmost to make it possible that both small and large holders shall be able to live upon the land.
The same hon. Member also said in the same speech that in his opinion it would be possible, if the land was properly cultivated, that it should feed more than the numbers of people who are at present living here. Though I should like to agree that that is possible, I submit that under no scheme of intensified cultivation could the land of England possibly feed more than about half the people living in it. I will agree with the hon. Member, however, in this, that it would be possible for us to feed more than we do at present. The law, of which we heard yesterday from the Chancellor of Exchequer, of diminishing returns definitely applies, and to obtain from the land another 1,000,000 quarters of wheat will 2372 cost far more than the preceding 1,000,000. Do hon. Members realise that? To increase the supplies of the country you have to increase the amount of arable agriculture. If you are going to increase the land under wheat, and to increase the yield of that land, it will necessitate very costly cultivation.
We desire on both sides of the House to see the land growing the greatest possible quantity of food so that we are less dependent upon foreign supplies, and we also want to see the land capable of providing a living for all those who live in the country districts. But, however much we desire this, we have to face the facts, and in the facts of to-day it is impossible. The arable land of the country is being put back to grass. There will he therefore more and more unemployment in country districts, because it is arable land that employs the labour. Grass land will only employ something like 10s. in labour, against arable land from £2 10s. up to £4 and £5. Hon. Members on both sides desire to see agricultural prosperity return, and we are asking ourselves, is it possible? Certain matters which I am not permitted to refer to are to be brought before the House—credit facilities, the rating question, railway rates. I do not underrate these measures for a moment and their importance to agriculture, but will they be enough? Are they not mere palliatives? Will they be enough to meet the distress which has overcome the industry?
I do not want to be considered a pessimist, but I rather suggest that the condition which has overcome agriculture is abnormal, and it is necessary that we should seek, at any rate temporarily, for some abnormal remedy. Very often, when abnormal or drastic remedies are suggested for agriculture, it is considered that we are referring either to Protection or to subsidies. I am not allowed to touch on those matters, but I should like to remind the Committee of the reply the Prime Minister gave to a deputation representing farmers: "It may be considered that only two matters go to the root of the question—Protection and subsidies—and to-day they are impossible. The country is not ready for them." Therefore, these two things are not practical politics to-day. I have said that hon. Members opposite are equally anxious for a remedy with ourselves, and I think they have a remedy, and I should 2373 say their remedy is nationalisation of the land. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) has referred to the fact that the landowners are getting practically no rent at all for the land as land. What they are receiving is only a very poor rate of interest for the buildings and equipment. If the State took the land as bare land, without any compensation to the owners, it could not let. it to tenants and equip it with buildings at a rent which many tenants are at present paying.
I recognise that hon. Members opposite would suggest that the nationalisation of land was a remedy, but I am not going to enter into the merits or demerits of that I am simply going, if I may, to give the same reply to them that the Prime Minister has given to those who suggest protection or subsidy as a remedy. My reply would be that to-day nationalisation of the land is impossible. The country is not ready for it, and therefore it is not, at present, practical politics. There may be hon. Members on this side of the, Committee who hold that subsidy or protection is the only great remedy. There may he hon. Members on the other side who hold that nationalisation of the land is the only remedy. The position is that both these remedies to-day are not within the bounds of practical politics. That being the case, are we on this side of the Committee going to say that, because these great things, subsidies and protection, are not possible, we can do nothing? Similarly, are hon. Members on the other side going to say that, because nationalisation is not possible, they can do nothing If that be the attitude which this Committee is going to take up towards agriculture, then, long before either of those great remedies can be applied, the industry will most certainly be down and out. I suggest that that is not the attitude hon. Members are going to take. The Prime Minister, replying to that deputation, used these words:If you had practical proposals en a smaller scale to put before me, I would consider them.That is the appeal I make to the Committee to-night. Can we not give a response to that request of the Prime Minister, and put to the Government practical proposals on a smaller scale that will assist the industry to-day?
2374 If we are going to help the industry it will be necessary for us to explore every possible avenue. There are means by which we can assist the industry, if we will only carry on that exploration. One avenue that will assist, and upon which we have started, is that of the control or regulation of imports when there is a surplus in this country. We have started upon that road in reference to hops. Control of hops has kept, and will, if it be continued, keep in cultivation some 30,000 acres of hop gardens, each acre employing from to £100 in labour. That is a sum up to £3,000,000 a year in labour. That is what the control or regulation of imports has done in regard to hops. Could not that principle, which has acted so satisfactorily with regard to hops, be applied to the other main ingredient used in beer-making, that of barley? I must not enter upon that, but I suggest that it would be better for the consumers of beer to brew their beer manufactured from English barley. That might be, possible by extending the control.
There is distress to-day in Norfolk. What is the great cause of that distress? The fact is, the farmers in Norfolk are unable to pay their labourers an adequate living wage., because they cannot sell their barley—barley is the chief crop of Norfolk—at a price which will enable them to pay the wages which they ought. I believe that a few days ago a large brewing or malting concern had something like 1,000 tons of Austrian barley coming into this country. I suggest, with regard to Austrian barley, that, considering the position in Norfolk—though we are anxious to help Austria—our principle should be that charity should begin at home. There is another avenue along which we might continue our exploration, in order to help agriculture, and it has been started upon. I refer to the question of lifting the excise duty from goods manufactured from materials grown in this country. The avenue along which we have started has been that of the sugar beet. industry, which has recently been started. I do not know whether the Committee is familiar with the sugar beet. Sugar beet grows very similarly to a mangold, and I would point out to hon. Members above the Gangway on the other side of the Committee that the labour employed on one acre of sugar beet 2375 amounts to somewhere from £8 to £10 per acre. I ask them to compare that with 10s. per acre on grass, and £2 10s, per acre on wheat.
Sugar-beet growing is a typical example of intensive arable agriculture. It is of great value to the farmer, because it is the very best preparation he can have for following wheat and other cereal crops. I think hon. Members opposite, above the Gangway, will agree with me when I say that Germany—they will not despise Germany's agricultural operations—dates the initiation of her agricultural progress from the sugar-beet growing which was developed in that country. Sugar-beet is of great value to her farmers as a preparation for succeeding crops. It is of value to her labourers, as creating a demand for labour, and the scope of the industry is enormous. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, yesterday, referred to the fact that there were 75 lbs. —I think that was the figure—of sugar consumed per person in this country. The total amount of sugar consumed by the people of this country is 2,000,000 tons per year. An acre under sugar-beet, producing 12 tons of sugar-beet, with an extraction of 13 per cent. of sugar, would yield one-and-a-half tons of actual sugar. With a consumption of 2,000,000 tons of sugar, that would mean that for this country to provide for its total consumption of sugar, there would have to be 1,300,000 acres of land under sugar-beet. That would be a totally impossible acreage, because the necessary land would not be available. I would point out to the Committee that the scope of the industry is enormous. What is it that stands in the way? We have to-day two factories, one at Kelham and one at Cantley. They were started a few years ago, but their activities were hindered very much by the excise duty of something, in round figures, like £20 a ton that was put. upon sugar manufacture in this country. Undoubtedly, last year, those two factories would have stopped, and the new industry would have been wiped out, but for the action the late Government took in removing the whole of the excise duty from home-grown sugar.
Owing to that action of the late Government, which remission of the duty the present Government is continuing, there is nothing standing in the way of the future progress of the sugar-beet 2376 industry in this country. There are two factories now. If sugar-beet growing is to take its proper place in a, system of arable agriculture to-day, instead of two factories, we want, in two years, 20 factories in this country. There is nothing standing in the way of those 20 factories being built except the want of knowledge as to what the future will be. The present Government will continue to remit the excise duty on home-grown sugar, but what will the next Government do? It is the uncertainty of knowing what the next Government will do that is the only thing which prevents to-day the rapid extension of the sugar-beet industry in this country. I know hon. Members opposite are anxious, in the interests of agriculture, to see this land of ours absorb more men in employment upon it. In regard to this question of sugar-beet, they can help. In what way can they do so? This Government will not put an excise duty on home-grown sugar-been. If the Labour party wish to help will they give an undertaking that the present Government shall remain in power for the next ten years? If they cannot give that undertaking, will they, through their leader, give an undertaking that when they come into power they will not put a tax on home-grown sugar?
I have referred to the avenue of reducing the Excise duty on home-grown sugar, and I have put these proposals before the Committee as matters that can be immediately settled. Those avenues may or may not be practicable, but I appeal to the Committee, and particularly to hon. Members opposite. This old industry of ours—agriculture—is in a bad way. If we are going to approach agriculture simply as a Government and as an Opposition, it will continue equally to be in a bad way. I appeal to hon. Members on this side of the Committee, and to hon. Members on the other side, to come forward with their own practical proposals on a smaller scale, with constructive proposals. I appeal to them to lay them, not before this Committee, but before the Agriculture Committee. If hon. Members will do that, and will criticise—but let their criticism be constructive—then let us put our backs into it, to see if we cannot help this great industry of agriculture. If we do that, I am perfectly certain we shall find a remedy, and find, equally, that it will succeed. I must 2377 apologise to the Committee for keeping them so long, but the apology I make must be the deep interest I take in this matter.
§ Mr. ROYCE
I should like to compliment the hon. Member on his able maiden speech. We know that he is an agriculturist and that he thoroughly understands the subject. We know also that he was very modest when he wanted to claim the adherence of the Labour party to the policy which the Government is pursuing at the present time. I am quite sure that he will be unsuccessful in his efforts in that direction. We are interested in the progress of agriculture, and I agree with him that agriculture as far as possible ought to be removed from the sphere of party politics. It ought not to be a bone of contention, on either the Government side or the Opposition side, as to what is best and what suits the country best. The question should be, what suits the interests of agriculture and the interests of the country best That is the policy which ought to be pursued in regard to this, the greatest of our industries. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) is not present, because he said he did not believe in Wages Boards. We do. If he has the interests of agriculture at heart, he must have been struck with the condition of the agricultural labourer in pre-War days and the condition of the agricultural labourer during the War when he had a Wages Board; not that his wages were more than a fair subsistence wage at that time, but a fair existence wage was something he had not been accustomed to.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I know that the hon. Member does not wish anything to go forth that is not correct. He must know that when the Wages Board was first started it did not find it necessary to raise the wages from the figure at which they then stood. The farmers had themselves raised the wages up to a point which was accepted by the Wages Board, and it was only after the Board had been in existence some time, and when prices had further risen, that they raised wages.
§ Mr. ROYCE
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right, but circumstances were abnormal, and in the second year of the War the agricultural labourers were working in my parish for 18s. a week. 2378 So far as the agricultural labourer is concerned in England—I am not sure whether the same conditions obtain in Scotland—he has hitherto not shown himself capable of elevating himself from the morass of low wages in which he has been submerged for generations. Therefore it is necessary that there should be something in the nature of a board to control wages. It has been said that any word from the Minister of Agriculture would greatly influence the farmers. I do not believe that he has any influence upon the farmers. I do not believe that his Ministry has much influence upon the farmers. I had hoped that we were entering upon a new era, as far as agriculture was concerned, under the right hon. Gentleman, but the sins of his predecessors have left him an heritage that is not altogether enviable. I think he has tackled the matter with a good deal of courage, but I am not sure whether he has tackled it with any great resultant success. At any rate, it is not because he has not been anxious to do so.
The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) referred to the question of the Land Settlement Act, and the settlement of ex-service men upon the land. He made one remark with which I am in perfect accord when he said that the £6,000,000—he only mentioned one year's loss, £900,000—of anticipated loss on the settlement of the ex-service man ought to be very much exceeded. We ought to lose very much more than £6,000,000 if we are going to do a moderate degree of justice to the men and give them an opportunity to make a livelihood. The costs in settling the men on the land are costs which at any time would be heavy. They are costs which, so far as their equipment is concerned, are in excess of anything that could be regarded as an economic proposal in regard to the area of land they have to cultivate. At the time when the costs were incurred prices were at the highest peak, and the costs were enormous, and to attempt to get anything like a reasonable return is quite out of the question. These men were put on the land, and certain promises were made to them, and I ask the Minister whether, notwithstanding the concession he has made, and notwithstanding that some satisfaction has been expressed by the ex-service men in my constituency with the action of the 2379 Ministry, he will go further if he intends to make this settlement a success.
I should like to make special reference to the men who are settled on the Crown Colony at Holbeach Marsh, which was one of the first adventures in that direction initiated by the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Sir R. Winfrey) to whom I desire to pay a very high tribute, because he has worked most earnestly. These men, taking the average of the whole colony, are paying rent of £4 an acre. They have received considerable concessions, and they are attempting to farm in an intensive manner and have expressed their appreciation of the work of the Ministry; but in my opinion the Ministry have not gone far enough. The rent that was paid by the previous owners of that land was not much more than 30s. an acre. These ex-service men, in addition to their rent, presumably have to pay ordinary rates and taxes. This is a hopeless proposition, to take one season with another. One hon. Member stated that these ex-service men have lost all their money, which in many cases was earned in the stress and terror of war. They brought the money back and put it into land, induced by promises held out to them that it would be made worth their while, and that the men who desired land should have it and should be put in a position to make a decent livelihood. Having spent their money, and having drawn upon their friends as much as they could, they have no capital left.
Could not the Minister bring about a reduction in the rents? The time is not far distant when, according to the Land Settlement Act, the land will have to be taken over, presumably by the County Council, and it is just as well that the right hon. Gentleman should cut his losses now rather than have a battle with the county councils in one or two years' time. The country is quite prepared to accept losses in connection with this land settlement. They know that loss is inevitable, and I do implore the Minister not to continue impossible rents and charge them to men who cannot pay them, and thereby ruin them, whereas, if the matter were carefully handled, the whole thing could be made a success. A good many of the weakly ones have been weeded out. and those who remain are very earnest in their efforts. With a, little 2380 consideration, which I am sure the country would accept, the right hon. Gentleman could insure the success of these men and their undertaking.
I should also like to call attention to the position of the tenants on the Guy's Hospital Estate, which the Ministry purchased at Sutton Bridge. That land is almost identical with the land at Holbeach, but the rents are very much higher. Some of the rents on the small areas run to something like £8 an acre, including houses. That is a rent which is utterly impossible to be paid by a tenant on so small an area. The Minister may say: "If these houses were vacant there would be lots of applicants for them." I agree, but the urgency of the demand for houses would make the applications necessary and not because the people think they could get a living off the land. The Minister may say: "The people who are already there make demands for more land." That is true, but they make the demands for more land because with a larger area they will be able to make both ends meet. This is a case for serious consideration, and if the right hon. Gentleman will give personal attention to this matter I trust he will be able to make the rents permanent at something approximating to an economic level. Perhaps he will say that this is an exceptional period in the history of agriculture, and that it is impossible to do what I ask, because things are so unstable. I would ask him to consider the effect on the minds of these men when they consider the enormous rents they are called upon to pay.
Some of the men who have developed more than the ordinary bucolic business ability have branched out in other directions, and, notwithstanding the fact that they cultivate their land excellently, they are in the position to take the initial steps towards becoming the owner of the land. They want to become the owner. Will the right hon. Gentleman try to apply the provisions of the Land Settlement Act in regard to the purchase of this Crown land, the same as is done in regard to county council holdings? That is worth consideration. In connection with one estate which the Ministry holds, it is held under a lease and they cannot sell it; but if the right hon. Gentleman wants to do these men a good turn and to try and carry out the Conservative principle of 2381 land ownership, he ought to buy the land and let the men purchase it in return. Some of the men want to own the land, and they ought not to be faced with a disadvantage compared with men who have been settled by the county councils.
§ Mr. ROYCE
My hon. Friends opposite are individualists. They believe that farming is something in the nature of hereditary principle, and that unless a man's father has been a farmer before him, the son cannot possibly become one. I am not despising the knowledge acquired by long years of experience, but I have had something to do with taking over hereditary tenants, and I have not found that they were the best farmers.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
What was in our mind was that my hon. Friend in pressing that the land should become owned by these people is forgetting the policy of his party, which is that all land should be the property of the nation.
§ Mr. ROYCE
I am not forgetting it. I am carrying your own principles into effect. I have no doubt, whatever happens, that when our party come into power they will know how to administer the land as well as the rest of the business. Whenever you get into difficulty you have to be continually coming to them to get you out. I do not think that they will do worse, if they have the heavier responsibilities placed on their shoulders, than the present Ministry, and when I say that that is paying them no compliment. But my Friends are thinking of the individual and his relation to the business of agriculture. I will draw attention to the position of the market for potatoes, a thing of which my constituents know something. There you have an illustration of the utter incapacity of the individual to deal with the situation. You have the Farmers' Union. They are organised politically. They know a great deal of politics, though they go generally a stupid way to carry their ideas into effect, so far as their own interests are concerned, as for instance when they joined with hon. Members opposite in repealing Part I of the Agriculture Act.
Potatoes provide an illustration of their incapacity. Some 36,000 tons represented the Dutch effort to send us 2382 potatoes. if licences would have the effect of keeping these potatoes back a bit with the result that the early potato growers would get the advantage of the early market, I do not know that I should have any particular objection; but see what happened. These 36,000 tons of potatoes representing 2 per cent., I think, of the whole of the production—[HON. MEMBERS: "Four per cent.!"]—I doubt that, but take it at 4 per cent.—knocked the bottom out of the market. These. people had a good yield and they all tumbled over each other to get into the market and further depressed it. When it showed some signs of rising they tumbled over each other again and kept it down. That shows the effect of individual action. We have moved a Vote for reduction of the salary of the Minister, because it was the duty of the Minister to prescribe immediately for these things. Instead of sending out useless pamphlets, which nobody reads—it is like sending ginger beer bottles to the benighted West Inches—let him send something useful, and be careful of the-district to which he sends it. Then it will be appreciated, but it is not conducting the business of agriculture.—
§ Mr. ROYCE
No, but they should be used to pay your Department to be at the service of agriculture, instead of sitting down and taking all the disadvantage that is shot upon agriculture from various directions, for instance, the imposition of the heavy railway rates. I want the Minister of Agriculture to stand up for the agriculturists in this matter, and to say, "We are going to use all our influence to break down this monopoly." If the Minister had grappled with this matter in time we need not have asked these interminable questions in the House of Commons with regard to this subject. I am delighted that the Ministry has now come to the rescue of agriculture, and has appointed a Committee, and that my right hon. Friend has been able to convey the very pleasing intelligence this afternoon, for which all who are concerned in this matter are grateful, that the railway companies have promised a reduction.
A word as to sugar beet. When the Minister advances any more Government 2383 money for the establishment of sugar beet factories, he should take the trouble to ascertain where sugar beet can be grown to the greatest advantage. I think that he will find that it is not very far from my constituency. We have taken prizes for two years in succession—the only prizes that have been offered—and that ought to silence any opposition in this respect. My hon. Friend was good enough to say that he can produce some 12 tons of sugar beet to the acre. I think that we can produce something like 18. To put a factory at Kelham was an excellent thing, but when you have got to cart the beet from Lincolnshire to Kelham it is a different proposition, and adds considerably to the cost of production of sugar. It reminds me very much of an undertaking which was carried out in South Africa in 'my early days there. They built a big dam at enormous cost for irrigation purposes. When they got it finished they found that the land was no good for cultivation. It is just as well to build sugar beet factories where sugar beet has been grown. We used to export it, it is true not in large quantities, to Holland in pre-War days, so that we can grow sugar beet. At any rate, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, if he has any idea in future of subsidising sugar beet companies, will consider the claims of the area where you can grow sugar beet.
There are many more subjects with which I could deal, but I am sure that the Committee is tired of me. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] But I would commend especially to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman this question of ex-service men. Let him take the question boldly in hand and put the men in an economic position in which they can reasonably expect to get a living. The country will meet the loss. It is something to which the country was committed by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor. You can always blame him. As he is not here, it would be ungenerous to say anything, but I think that he deserves it. I only ask justice for these ex-service men, not only in my district but throughout the whole length and breadth of the land, for they are men who have deserved well of their country.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I think, from a remark which he made, that the 2384 hon. Member assumes that a reduction of this Vote has been moved.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I might remind the Committee that there is a Motion on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. N. Buxton), but that he failed to move it.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
The Chairman apparently did not understand that that was done, but if the hon. Member wishes to move a reduction, let him do so now.
§ Sir RICHARD WINFREY
I congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on the general statement which he has been able to make on these Estimates. I desire to emphasise what has been said by the hon. Member for the Spalding Division (Mr. Royce) with regard to land settlement. I have been waiting patiently, and I have asked questions at different times, to learn when we are to have the Report of the Small Holdings Commission on the working of the land settlement scheme generally throughout the country. It is very much overdue, and it is very difficult for us to discuss details in this House until we hays the Report before us. I join in the appeal of the hon. Member for the Spalding Division to the Minister of Agriculture to face the position at once, and to put these men on a more reasonable rental basis than that on which they are at present. It has got to be done sooner or later, and it is much better to do it now than to put it off for another year. I know that certain reductions have been made, but they have been done in a rather haphazard fashion. There has been no settled policy. The time has come when we ought to hold out a helping hand to these men. Otherwise we are going to have a good many of them in the Bankruptcy Court before long.
My hon. Friend referred to the smallholdings colony at Holbeach. During the time I was at the Ministry I was responsible for leasing 1,000 acres of Crown land, very excellent land, at Holbeach, and placed, I think, 100 men upon it. We built a large number of houses, I think 2385 80 or 90, and took over the farmhouses and divided them up, and there are now 100 ex-service men each with 10 acres of land. That was in 1918: We settled them before the War was over. At that time prices for agricultural produce were high. They were getting from £10 to £12 per ton for potatoes, 90s. for wheat and so on. The rentals fixed then were £40 per holding. It worked out at 50s. an acre for the land, £10 for the house, and £5 for the buildings. It was not an excessive rental then, but it is an excessive rental to-day. My hon. Friend is right when he says that 50s. an acre for that land is twice the rental which the previous tenants were paying. I know that the three or four farmers who were turned out of those farms for these ex-service men—and the Office of Woods and Forests of which the Minister of Agriculture is head by virtue of his office knows it—were not paying more than 25s. an acre for that land. It was properly equipped for them, and the least we can do is to put those ex-service men on as good a basis as the Crown tenants were in pre-War days.
With regard to the other estate which has been mentioned, there is no doubt that the Board of Agriculture made a very bad bargain. They did it at a time when land was at its highest price. They had to deal with an agent who was much too astute for the officials of the Board of Agriculture. They agreed to pay a purchase price which is spread over a terms of years, and it is to increase as time goes on. I know the estate very well; I was born very near to it. It is excellent land, but it will not stand a rental of £4 an acre; of that I am quite certain. We are taking the heart out of these men at the present time. It is the same in my own constituency. It used to be a pleasure to go round my constituency, to talk to these smallholders, and to see how they were getting on. They were a smiling and happy race of men. But to-day they are all grumbling, and some of them are nearly heartbroken because they are losing money "hands down." The ex-service men had to go on this land when implements, horses, and everything were at the highest cost. What they purchased for £100 is to-day not worth £50.
Surely the State can do something for these men? I am prepared to face a loss 2386 of a good deal more than £6,000,000. I think that we are bound to do so. We have spent altogether between £16,000,000 and £17,000,000 in placing these men on the land, and if we wrote that down by one half at once and allowed these men to have some sense of security, they would be very thankful to the Board. With regard to the purchase of these holdings by the tenants, I part company with the last speaker. It was his innate Toryism that was coming out. It does come out from time to time. I have always been an advocate of tenancy. I hold that as long as a man has fair security of tenure he is far better as a tenant than as an owner. I used to argue that in this House.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
That is not generally the case. I am certain that there are very few of these men who have the capital to purchase. Therefore, they would have to borrow. They would be in the hands of mortgagees directly. I have had a good deal to do with small owners who have also been occupiers of their holdings and have had what are called monkeys upon the land. A very unenviable position it is for them. With regard to the Small Holdings Act, the House must remember that before the War we passed the Act of 1908 and appointed a number of Small Holdings Commissioners to carry it out through the county councils. We gave the county councils full power either to purchase or lease land and let it in smallholdings. Up to the time of the War the Act was a tremendous success. The land was let to the men on an economic basis; there was no charge to the State. They paid their way in every county, and it was not until the War that the arrangement came temporarily to an end. Then we introduced the Land Settlement Act specially for the ex-service men.
In 1914 there was a waiting list of thousands of men who wanted smallholdings. That waiting list is still in existence in the pigeon-holes of the county councils and of the Small Holdings Commissioners. The time has arrived when we ought to begin again to administer the Act, not necessarily for ex-service men only, but for all men in rural districts who want small holdings. 2387 The demand is still there. I have an unsatisfied demand in my constituency of some hundreds of men who, despite the slump in agriculture, are anxious for small holdings at a reasonable and economic rent. I assume that the answer which the Government will give will be, "We have not the money now for buying land and we cannot finance the county councils." That may be so. But the Act contains a very important Clause, giving county councils power to lease land for a period of 35 years. That is quite long enough. I suggest to the Minister that he should now let the county councils know by circular that they can resume the administration of the Small Holdings Act of 1908, and that he should leave it to the county councils to purchase land or lease it.
I must say a few words with regard to the experiments on light lands in Norfolk. Some time before the War, through the Development Commission, a grant was obtained by the Board of Agriculture for making an experiment on our lightest land in Norfolk over an area of 200 or 300 acres. I had known that land for 30 years as nothing but a rabbit warren. It belonged to the Duchy of Lancaster, and it was leased for this experiment. The experiment has proved very successful indeed. It was tried during the whole period of the War and since. It was land which brought in no rent before. It is true that it was let with a large farm, but the rental for it was infinitesimal, if anything. Potato crops have been grown there as an experiment. The land has been properly wrought. I am not sufficiently acquainted with chemistry to understand the matter fully, but it is all set out in the Report of the Development Commission. Hon. Members can see the Reports from year to year and the balance-sheets. The time has arrived when the Board of Agriculture might extend that experiment very largely. It would encourage labour. There are thousands of acres of light land in Norfolk, out of cultivation altogether now, simply because cultivation does not pay. I do not blame the ordinary owner for not putting capital into it, nor do I blame any possible tenants for not taking the land. It is the Government which ought to make the experiment. I hope the Minister will turn his attention to the matter.
2388 I would emphasize what has been said with regard to a cheaper parcel post for agriculture. I believe that that would be a very great benefit. I trust that the Minister will be able to use his influence with the Postmaster-General. The Postmaster-General has been down to Norfolk and he knows now what some of the difficulties are with regard to telephones and so on, and very likely we could get some help from him. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Shepperson), who made his maiden speech, has left the House for a moment; otherwise I would have liked to have congratulated him on his excellent speech. He referred to the question of barley. I am a little perplexed. How is it that Norfolk barley has not been used far malting this year?
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I think that is the reason. It is entirely a question of quality. Messrs. Bass, the great brewers, have not used a single quarter of our Norfolk barley this year: they have used foreign barley almost entirely. The result is that prices have gone down. Our Norfolk barley this year would make only second-rate malt. I am told that the granaries are full of second-rate malt. What the brewers want is first-rate malt, and they buy from Canada and Austria and other places. Suppose there were a 10s. duty placed upon foreign barley tomorrow? Would that duty compel our malsters to buy Norfolk barley when it is of inferior quality? I do not think it would. That is one of the points which the hon. Member should take into consideration before he talks about Protection. I hope that the hon. Member who moved a reduction of the Vote will not press it to a Division, because we have had an excellent statement from the Minister and we would be wise to await the full agricultural policy of the Ministry before we go into the Division Lobby. Speaking for those friends who sit with me on these benches, I would say that we do not propose to take part in any Division if one is pressed.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
I have the same feeling of regret already, expressed by many hon. Members, that we cannot discuss here the future policy on agriculture, but are confined to questions of administration. It is always preferable to look to the future, and attacking a 2389 Minister is not altogether a profitable business. We have already heard a good deal to-night about the small holdings established under the Act of 1908 and under the Land Settlement Act of 1919. A more curious and interesting example of State ownership it would be difficult to find in either case. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has spoken with no exaggeration about the success of the small holdings under the 1908 Act, partly under his care and also in his neighbourhood. I would point out that those particular holdings lie in the rich fens, and are similar land to that of the constituency which the hon. Member for Spalding (Mr. Royce) represents. Then I would also point out that in all small holdings administered by public authorities from 1908 to 1914, the occupants met continually rising markets throughout the whole period, which is a very material circumstance to anybody in any business. It is a cruel hardship to put men on to land unless they can have a reasonable chance of success, and now many of the old tenants have lost all they put into it, and we have them coming to their representatives in Parliament begging them to get something done.
I was pointing to the illustration we had here of State management. Would the Committee be surpirsed to hear that in the administration of the Small Holdings Act the cost of pure management amounts to 9s. an acre throughout the whole country There is not a land agent in this country who, if he showed such a figure to a private owner, would not get his dismissal at the shortest notice his employer could give him. These show that we should look with great care to the extension of small holdings, and particularly limit the people who are put on the land to those who have experience in agriculture, who have been brought up to it and who understand it. Let us now look at the appalling figures the Minister has put before us of the men who have been settled under the 1919 Act. The holdings have cost about £750 apiece. We have had nearly 19,000 men settled, and every year, over and above the rents these men pay, this House has been called upon to subsidise each man by a sum of £45, and that is a figure that is increasing, and, as has been rightly pointed out by the two preceding speakers, must increase more and more 2390 in the future. We are this year called upon to vote £850,000 for the costs of the county councils, over and above the rents which they have received from these tenants. Every speaker who has spoken about the position of those men who have been settled tells the same, tale, that they must have their rents substantially reduced or they cannot live, that they have lost not only the money advanced by the State to help them to go on their holdings, but they have lost their own money and their position is deplorable. The last hon. Gentleman who spoke said the only possible hope is that they should have their rents very much reduced, which means an increase of the Vote we will have to give next year. I want to ask the Minister whether he is still settling ex-service men on the land under this Act? I ask him for this reason. A man came to me in my own constituency about three weeks ago and told me his short career. He had been in the Army, he had been trained by the Government for one year for agriculture, and I estimated that that had cost the State £100. The State had then put him on a small holding, at Banstead in Surrey along with nine other people, 10 in all. The State advanced him £100 and he had about £100 of his own, as I understood it. He told me, and I have no reason to disbelieve him, that the whole of the 10 people put on to these holdings had to leave within a year. They had been ruined and they had lost their money and everything they had. This man had lost his money and he came to ask me if there was anything I could. do for him. If these things are going on now, is it not folly to continue them? I desire to ask the Minister whether he is still pursuing this policy?
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
No, I cannot. I did not go into that question. With the cost of the equipment of the small holdings and the subsidy these holdings cannot be carried on as a business proposition. The only chance of success and the only success of small holdings I have come across was in the East Riding of Yorkshire, where the men were selected as having had an agricultural training, having been brought up to it, and having a little capital of their own. I would like to make one observation before I leave the subject. I 2391 would suggest that the results of these settlements should be made public, because in my own county of Sussex Army officers who have left the Army on disbandment are being induced to take up farms. They think that if they can get a holding life will be easy and there will be a living to be got out of it. They come and spend their money, they stay six or 12 months and lose money, and they go out after losing three-fourths of their money, if not the whole. I think it is a sin and a crime to induce people to take up small holdings, in the case of the men, or larger holdings in the case of the officers, when they cannot make a living out of it.
I would like now to turn to another matter. Last December, the House passed a Bill enabling Canadian cattle to be brought into this country. That Act made some stringent provisions in regard to the conditions under which these cattle were to be allowed into this country. By Section I of the Act, Canadian cattle coming here were to he limited to store cattle, and store cattle if they were females were to be sterilised. The purpose of the Bill was to bring an additional meat supply to this country, and there was no suggestion made that we were to have this country flooded with imported breeding cattle. There is no need for them. There was, however, put into that Act of Parliament a second Clause which gave power to the Minister under, as we all understood, special circumstances to allow the importation of breeding cattle under such terms as the Minister might impose, provided that they protected our country against the introduction of disease. Everybody, so far as I am aware, thoroughly understood that that was only intended to allow cattle of a high class which would improve our stocks to come in, as we had recently had an illustration of highly-bred pedigree Friesian cattle coming to this country from South Africa. I had an Amendment down to exclude store cattle from the operation of Clause 2. As the Clause was originally drawn, it was possible for the Minister, I think, to introduce store cattle into the country under Regulations made by himself. The Attorney-General who replied to me made statements in his speech—I have got them here—from which I understood—and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of 2392 London who was to move the exclusion of the whole Clause on these grounds, was satisfied—that the only terms on which breeding cattle would be introduced here would be on similar terms to the Canadian Regulations, namely, 30 days' quarantine and proper inspection.
I want to ask the Minister now why he is suggesting making Regulations, as we are given to understand he is, to introduce Canadian breeding cattle of any sort or quality into this country? We do not want that. We have the best breeding stock in the world. We are spending now public money in subsidising highly-bred pedigree bulls for the purpose of gradually raising the quality of our cattle, and we are told now that the Minister is to introduce Regulations here to admit of the introduction of Canadian breeding cattle of any sort or quality for some years. I ask the Minister why? Why are we to have these Regulations; why were we misled, when the subject of Canadian cattle was under discussion in this House by the statement that the removal of the embargo only referred to store cattle, and breeding cattle were only to be admitted on the same Regulations as those applied by the Canadians to cattle going from here? I have heard that it is in order to carry out some undertaking given by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor that the new proposal is made, but what right had his predecessor to attempt to bind this House? Unless one has a satisfactory explanation of this matter, it is difficult to see how one is to support the Government. I hope we will have some explanation failing an assurance that it is not true that the Minister proposes to lay upon the Table Regulations for the admission of Canadian breeding cattle of any sort or quality, without any restriction whatever.
I agree with what the right hon. Member for Chelmsford said about the excellent way in which the scientific department of the Ministry is carried on, but in connection with the inspection work, I wish to call attention to a most extraordinary transaction and I am sorry that the Minister is not present to hear it. The steamship "Hartington" left Monte Video on New Year's Day with a cargo of 250 cattle and about 1,000 sheep. The animals were carried on deck, and down below the deck were very large quantifies of feeding stuffs, meals and 2393 various sorts of grain used for cattle feeding. It carried a Uruguayan veterinary surgeon, and after the ship had started an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was discovered among the cattle and sheep. The captain threw overboard those animals which were actually affected, but when the ship arrived at its port of destination, which was Antwerp, it was not allowed to enter the port. The Belgian authorities had means of knowing what was wrong. The captain then directed his ship to London and on the way across he jettisoned the whole of the animals left and the whole of the fittings which had been erected for carrying this cargo of sheep and cattle, washed down the decks and sailed into the Thames. By the laxity, I suggest of the right hon. Gentleman's Office or the laxity of the arrangements with the Customs, or by want of proper co-ordination among the various authorities at the Port, of London, this captain was allowed to land the rest of his cargo from the ship although it was contaminated with the urine and excreta. of these animals. Five days after the cargo was landed some of it was delivered in my constituency.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
I do not quite understand the point of the hon. Member's observation. This stuff which was likely to be infected and to spread disease, was delivered at a station in my constituency where, fortunately, it was stopped because the merchant who had sold it heard of what had occurred but not through the Ministry of Agriculture and it did not go any further. That is a very extraordinary story, and I think the Committee will be surprised to hear that no proceedings of any sort or kind have been taken against the proprietors of this cargo or against the captain or the officers of the vessel. We do not know how much of this contaminated stuff went to other parts of the country, but I suggest that the transaction shows a considerable laxity and a want of proper protection against the importation of disease. I should like to know, first of all, how this happened, and secondly whether any steps have been taken to prevent a recurrence of such an incident, and to improve the intelligence department of the Ministry of Agriculture, so that they may get earlier information as to what is going on? I should also like to know 2394 why no legal proceedings have been taken against either the officers or owners of the vessel or the owners of the cargo concerned?
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I have very few questions to put to the Minister of Agriculture for several very good reasons, one being that I have not had sufficient time to go into this very bulky report which I only received to-day, but in the discussions which have taken place there have arisen some points on which I should like information from the Minister. I wish to ask if he will give full details of the cost of the settlement of the ex-service men upon the land, and what is the main cause for the annual loss on these rentals. I have listened patiently all this afternoon, as I very often do in this House, to discourses upon land and many other things. It may be that I have a strange way of looking at things, but I cannot understand why men will not look to the fundamentals of a question instead of tinkering about and trying to adjust it at the end. Another question which I wish to put to the Minister is, does the 4 per cent of imported potatoes include potatoes imported into Scotland or does it represent only the importation for England and Wales? The right hon Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) rather astonished me by his contribution to the Debate because I thought the Debate was going to be tied down to the! Vote of Supply, but on the whole it is just as well and it is quite interesting, that the right hon. Gentleman should have taken the course he did take, because it gives those on this side of the, House an opportunity for also indulging in a peregrination into the whole question of agriculture. I am not an agriculturist and that may discount what I have to say on the subject, in the eyes of some hon. Members opposite. I should like to tell them, however, that last Saturday afternoon, when addressing some farmers in the south of Surrey, I was informed by one of the leading farmers of the district that he always welcomed the incoming to that area of a man from the town, who was undertaking farming because, ultimately, such a man made the best farmer. To begin with, he would keep books; he showed more enterprise, and he had more courage in facing up to the landowners who tried to make exac- 2395 tions from him. Perhaps, therefore, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford might find me a very good farmer if I accepted his invitation to come down and take an allotment from him in one of those luxurious five-room and kitchen houses in which he says his agricultural labourers live at 1s. 6d. a week.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
We are being asked by the Ministry of Agriculture to give all sorts of concessions to the agricultural industry of this country, and I cannot help feeling, as we are now under the shadow of new propositions likely to he brought into this House, that there is, consciously or unconsciously, a move on the part of the landowners of Great Britain to make an exaction on the taxpayers of this country in order to recoup themselves as quickly as possible, in view of what might happen in the near future In the way of land legislation on the incoming of the Labour party into power. We are asked to make concessions to this industry. The only person who makes no concessions to agriculture is the man who owns the land upon which agriculture is carried out. He stands to gain; the agricultural labourer stands, what? A mud cottage and 15s. before 1914. Now he is to be content and ascend into heaven on 26s. a week under the benign and beneficent guardianship of a good landlord, so we are told. What are the concessions we have made lately? I wish the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was in his place to-night, because he started well in 1896 with his virulent attacks upon the Agricultural Rates Act. He instinctively felt that that was the beginning of a bail course. It was the beginning of concessions on rating which in the long run went to swell the coffers of the landlord, but as time went on the right hon. Gentleman changed. I will take that, however, as the first concession to the landowners.
The Agricultural Rates Act of 1896 allowed agricultural land to be rated on half its nominal assessable value, and it is interesting to note that it is only the land that has to be rated on half its nominal assessable value, and that the buildings are not exempted. Then we come along to another concession, the Corn Production Act of 1917 to 1921. The 2396 Corn Production Act was well described in this House by a friend of mine, who for many years sat in the House, and who said it was not a Corn Production Act but a Rent Production Act. The Corn Production Act sent up the values of land in this country to an artificially high point. Speculation was let loose, and farmers were pressed by landowners to buy their land out at the artificially high values. They had either to buy the land or clear out, and I see that even in these Reports, the Credit Report and the Interim Report, it is openly admitted that as a result of the Corn Production Act land values were swollen, which gave the landlords the opportunity which they wanted to press the farmers into purchase at an artificially high value. After a while, the Corn Production Act was withdrawn, and loud protests went up from all the landowners that the Government had been false to them.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
The hon. Member ought to call attention to the fact that in the Corn Production Act there was a provision that rents should not be raised owing to the Act.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
That is true, but the hon. and learned Member is surely astute enough to know that when a lease falls in or a new agreement has to be made between landlord and tenant, another matter enters; new agreements have to be made, and, by virtue of the increased land value, the landlord has the tenant for all he is worth. When the Corn Production Act was withdrawn, and moanings went up from the landowners of England that the Government had been false to them, the Government of that time turned and dropped the famous land taxes of the 1909–10 Finance Act. I want to say that I, for one, in common with those of us who knew something about the ramifications of that Finance Act, knew that these fancy taxes were stupid in the extreme, and not worth the paper and the time taken up in publishing them. We were against those taxes, but the point is this, that the land taxes under the Finance Act of 1909–10 were dropped, and the money was paid back to the landlords. That is another concession, and I would like to know—indeed, I must put it in the form of a question some day to the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer—how much 2397 money went back to the landowners at the very time when taxation was being raised on commodities in the country.
There was a concession that followed fast on the heels of that one, for £15,000,000 was set aside by the Government to compensate the farmers because of the speedy withdrawal of the Corn Production Act. In 1922 another concession was made to the landowners, a concession in the matter of taxation. Assessment under Schedule B was reduced from twice the annual value of the holding to the single annual value of the holding, and so wherever you look, from, let us say, 1896 down to the present day, there has been concession after concession made to the agricultural industry. Yet landowners will enter this House and plead for concessions to be made at the expense of the taxpayer of the cities for the benefit of the agricultural class. What happens? The facts are outstanding, in your own Reports of the two tribunals you have set up, the Interim Report and the Credit Report. The facts are that the wages of the agricultural labourer did not swell as a consequence of these concessions, but the land values went up. Here we have got this anomaly, that we have a dispute in Norfolk of agricultural labourers over wages, while there are records going on from day to day of the high realised values of land that is being sold. Of course, we are told by the right hon. Member for Chelmsford that land is not a paying proposition, that it is a worry, and almost every landowner you meet will tell you that really it would be far better if he was investing his money in something else. It is a strange thing that these landowners of England, who bemoan their fate, as a result of their disposition of society are the last men to give up that which God, or someone else, has allowed them to hold. I have in my hand a report of Messrs. Knight, Frank, and Rutley, who know something about the prices realised in the sale of land, and I would like to make a few quotations:Well-situated farms, with good houses and buildings, and a fair proportion of grass land, have readily found buyers provided early possession was available. In grazing and dairying districts, particularly in the Northern half of England, farms have sold well, and in many cases the tenants have bought.…In spite of critical conditions, there are practically no farms to let at present.2398 I come to another statement:From a financial point of view, and disregarding personal and sentimental considerations, the results accruing to the owner of a landed and an agricultural estate by its sale have been eminently satisfactory. It has been stated earlier in this memorandum that there were many landowners who were receiving a net rental of not more than 1 per cent. on the capital value of their estates. We have said also that rents were on a low level, and that prices realised were based, not on the existing rents, but on a fair market rental. The results of a sale could thus not fail to produce a sum which, invested in trustee securities at current rates of interest, has given an income greatly in excess of that formerly received.Then they give this as an illustration. It is the case ofan agricultural estate of sonic 5,500 acres in a southern county, the owner of which was in receipt of an income of barely £2,000 a year from it. The property realised a total of £193,000. Allowing liberally for expenses, the purchase money invested at 5 per cent. would produce £9,000 per annum.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
February, 1923—upto-date, as we always are on this side. I want the House to appreciate how much truth there is behind the assertion from the vested interests in land in England that there is no value in it, and that they are really facing bankruptcy. I could go on, hut I think one of.the most classical pages I have ever read in a State or public document appears on page 9 of the Report of the Committee on Agricultural Credit. It is there stated:The increase in occupying-ownership arose mainly from the necessity with which landowners were confronted of selling their estates and diverting their capital to a remunerative form of investment. This, of itself, was no new feature. Indeed, as far back as 1911 a marked increase was noticeable in the number of agricultural estates offered for sale. This increase was considered then to be partly due to a feeling of apprehension among landowners as to the tendency of legislation and taxation in regard to land "—The Committee will see that at that time the landowners of England really believed that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) really meant what he said—and partly to the opportunities then existing of disposing of agricultural estates on favourable terms. The crushing demands of war taxation hastened the process and 2399 many landowners saw in the general rise in the value of agricultural real estate an opportunity to relieve themselves of the unremunerative duties of ownership and to sell their estates on a rising market at considerable personal advantage‥‥The resultant competition among purchasers was, moreover, increased in 1919 and 1920 by the entry into the market of the county councils, who bought extensively for purposes of land settlement. We consider, therefore, that farmers were as much pressed "—Notice the word—to purchase by the keenness of the demand for land for occupation as they were by the landowners who wished to sell. In many cases they bought in order to avoid being turned out of the homes which their families had occupied for generations.That, I think, is a classical document which should be reprinted by the Labour party, and issued broadcast throughout the country. I have said, I think, enough to show that there is no truth behind the assertion that those who own land are holding an asset which is falling in value, and, indeed, according to their own statements, may soon become a dead burden in their hands. They are asking, not only that these concessions shall be maintained, but that the Road Board shall contribute liberally to the making of roads. They are asking that they shall not be burdened with the rates necessary to maintain these roads, and I cannot, of course, go much further without corning into clash with the Chair. But this point has already been touched upon by the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman), so that I may just deal with it as far as he did. I want to ask any honest, straightforward holder of land in England, in view of these concessions, in view of the expenditure of the Government in making and maintaining new roads, in view of all that is being done by Government expenditure in the way of agricultural education, through the Ministry of Agriculture, through drainage schemes, ostensibly to give work to the unemployed, and all the time sending up land values—I want to ask such a man whether he thinks that we on this side are so blind that we cannot see this constant expenditure of public money on the development of land in this country is increasing the value of every acre of land in the country contiguous to those roads? The right hon. Member for Chelmsford thought he was saying much 2400 that was challenging the position of the Labour party. He was pointing out that when he used the land, or built upon the land, he was harrassed by rates and taxes. We on this side agree. We do not agree that when a man is in possession of a piece of land, and builds houses upon it, when he drains and improves the soil, that man should be penalised under any system of rating. But we on this side are not responsible for the present system of rating. It is Members opposite and the Government who maintain it, and I dare say if we on this side of the House went into the Lobby over that matter, we should find every Member opposite, who complaints about the rates, supporting the old rating system. There is no system, in my opinon, outside of a lunatic asylum to equal our present rating system, and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who made his name—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid the hon. Member is anticipating intervention on my part. I fear if he continues his argument it must involve fresh legislation.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I am a little enthusiastic on this topic, and so forgot the restrictions of Debate. I was not proposing fresh legislation, so much as criticising present legislation as it affects agriculture, and, as it stands to-day, the more you use the land, the more you develop it, the more you are penalised by rates. We on this side agree.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
My point of criticism is that the present rating system in its operation does tend to harass the man, whether it be the farmer or any other user of the land, and makes it more difficult for him to develop his soil. We are not in favour of that system. We are in favour of another system altogether, which we will mention when the opportunity arises.
I feel somewhat compromised by the ruling of the Chair. I should like to have gone more widely into the whole problem, but I want to say in closing, that whatever advances the Ministry of Agriculture may make towards the development of agriculture, we on this side of the House will support the Minister if 2401 those advances mean opening up the soil of the country and agricultural development in England. I want to say in passing that the agricultural possibilities of England have not yet been touched beyond the fringe, by artificial manuring, proper equipiment, up-to-date transport, and electrical development. With all these things, operating on a free country, free from the trammels of private monopoly, who can say what England can produce in the way of food? No one. If anything the Ministry may advance in the way of development of agriculture would mean the opening up of these opportunities of life and secure to the labourer on the soil the full value of the services he renders, we on this side will support the Ministry. But let me give a word of warning. If any advantages have to be made at the expense of the taxpayer of the towns, if any developments have to be carried out for the rates, if any agricultural development is undertaken by means of subventions, of taxes to enhance the agricultural land values of England, then we an this side of the House will contest the suggestions every inch of the way. We do not believe it is the function of the State to continue to tax the pockets of the people of the towns to increase the value to the owners of land in the country districts.
§ Captain FALCON
Doubtless the hon. Gentleman who last spoke will expect that I profoundly differ from him, as is the case, in the deductions he draws from the present position of agriculture and the methods that we ought to adopt if we wish, as every Member here does, to endeavour to get once more a prosperous countryside. So far as I could follow the hon. Member, he seemed to lay the cause of a lot of the trouble at the door of the landowner. I differ from him in that instead of saying that our troubles are due to the iniquitous landowner, so far, at any rate, as the agricultural districts are concerned, and in respect to those parts of the country which are under arable cultivation, maintain that a great deal of the trouble is due to the fact that the landowner, as he used to be known, no longer exists. Anyone who knows, is aware that the farmers who are hardest hit, at the present moment are those known under the category of occupying-owners. Their position is one which has been brought about, so far as I can understand it, by the policy pursued in 2402 agriculture even before the War, when there was undoubtedly a tendency on the part of landowners to sell out; and when opportunity offered they preferred to cease owning the land and sold out.
The hon. Member rather seems to ask the Committee to infer that the value of land appreciated enormously in value during the War. Undoubtedly the value of land did appreciate. I cannot for the moment quote actual figures, because I did not expect this point to arise, but I think I remember hearing it stated in. this House that the value of the land during the War—agricultural land that is —did not appreciate more than 25 per cent. At any rate a great many farmers did take the opportunity of becoming occupying owners, and in a great many instances bought the land, and it is they, landowner and a farmer as well, who are now suffering most. Where you have the landowner, he has provided what is known as the fixed capital which is necessary to carry on any undertaking, even farming, and he has provided that fixed capital at a very low rate of interest. The position of the farmer who is a tenant farmer is only to provide a circuating capital; the occupying owner provides both. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) when he said that he had expected that the present dispute in the county which I help to represent would shortly come to a close. He asked hon. Members to say nothing here which would in any way tend to make that dispute continue. I personally do not want to do so, because I am most anxious to see it come as speedily as possible to an end.
In moving a reduction of this Vote the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. N. Buxton) censured the Government for the way in which the Ministry carried out their administrative duties in regard to this dispute. I rather disagree with the hon. Members in attaching blame to the Government. So far as I can understand, the Ministry in their administrative capacity have done all they could. There have been people dealing with it representative of both sides of the dispute; I do not think that the Ministry could have done anything more administratively than they have done. It is a deadlock brought about by the economic conditions brought into existence during the last 18 months, 2403 and until we can get out of that position we shall continue to have the low wages in the countryside which we have got at the present time. Until we can get a closer relation between the wholesale and retail prices of the products of the industry, I fail to see, however much we may desire it, that we can get a very much larger wage than the one in operation at the present time. Again the action of the railway companies in reducing the cost of handling the goods and products of the farms will be a great factor in helping in this matter.
When hon. Members opposite rather taunt hon. Members on this side of the House about the wages paid to agricultural labourers, let them remember that in regard to the goods that are produced on a farm the prices, are largely determined in the market by the cost of distributing and handling, and, therefore, when large wages are paid in other industries, that all affects the wages paid to the agricultural labourer. It is not possible in this Debate to discuss measures which would lead to a permanent improvement of the wages of the agricultural labourers. The Minister of Agriculture pointed to the one bright spot in agriculture, and that is the success of the sugar-beet industry. In the course of the Debate the reason has been brought out why that industry is so largely prosperous. Therefore one can well understand why the barley growers in Norfolk—after all, the barley crop is the main crop in that county—are anxious to see that malting barley should receive a preference of 10s. a quarter.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Captain FALCON
The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. N. Buxton) asked for an inquiry into the question of wages. Even in my short career I have seen numerous inquiries set up in one, way or another to deal with agriculture, and everybody understands now what is the position and why wages are what they are in the agricultural industry. Therefore I do not think the Government would usefully spend either time or money in that direction. I also disagree with the hon. Member for North Norfolk on another point, and that is in regard to agricultural committees. The hon. Member 2404 represents a constituency very close to mine and I think he will agree that a very great majority of the farmers in that district, which is eminently a corn growing district, know how to farm, and they can farm well, and they do not require a, committee, which is very often composed of other farmers in the district, to tell them how to farm. Their difficulty has always been a question of price, that is, the price of corn, and that is a matter which really answers the complaint of the last speaker who said that nobody knew what the resources of this country were so far as agriculture was concerned, and that if we did this, that, and the other, it would be extraordinary how much more food we should produce in this country. I quite agree that by farming very highly you produce more corn, but the higher you farm the more costly it is, and that is the whole trouble.
§ Mr. N. BUXTON
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman not think that during the War the Agricultural Committees composed of farmers found a good deal to do, and it had a great effect in the case of a large number of farms.
§ Captain FALCON
I cannot speak as to that because I was not in the county during the War, but I have heard various criticisms of the action of the Committees, and it was not all good that they did, and lots of land was ploughed up that really did not pay. Then we were dealing with the question of producing corn and the price did not enter into it. Now the price does enter into it, in fact, it is the whole thing with the farmer. With corn at a high price during the War the farmer was able to do his land well, but now, with a very low price, he cannot do it in the same way. The action of the Agricultural Committees, upon which the hon. Member wishes more money to be spent, would not really help at the present time.
There is also the question of drainage. The Ministry of Agriculture had a drainage scheme for the watershed which drains out at Yarmouth and Lowestoft, and so far as I can remember, early in the year the Government gave up the scheme they had in hand, and I understand they did this to the general satisfaction of a number of people who were immediately concerned with this question in that part of the country. I think they 2405 were anxious that the scheme should be given up because of the fear of the cost that might be entailed. Nevertheless I am sure that the Minister will agree that there is need for action being taken in that part of the country and for drainage operations to be undertaken. I would ask him, before he finally gives up the scheme altogether, whether he could not go into the matter with those interested, and see that some scheme or other is carried through which will bring about the desired results, but not in such an elaborate way as the scheme which he has now thrown overboard. I am sorry to have taken up so much of the time of the Committee, and I only hope that the hon. Member will not press his Amendment.
§ Mr. S. PATTINSON
It has been suggested to me to-night that I am hardly the proper person to speak about distressed agriculture, but appearances are sometimes deceptive, and every Britisher who is worth his salt always put the best face on all circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) will agree with me in that. I want to draw the attention of the Committee, not so much to the distress in agriculture, as to certain peculiarities with regard to the position of ex-service men on small holdings. In my division I believe we have more ex-service men on small holdings than in any other division, with the exception, perhaps, of that of the hon. Member for the Holland Division (Mr. Royce). I gathered to-day from the Debate that there is supposed to be a total loss on these small holdings of £6,400,000, and, as a member of the county council, I should have liked to know where the money was coming from to meet that liability. Under the Act of the late Government it is, I believe, proposed to make a. revaluation of the whole of the small holdings. That means that those counties which have provided small holdings in the past, and have paid off a large sum of money on them, will have to have the whole of their small holdings re-valued in order to pay for the holdings that have been bought at an extravagant price. I should like to hear whether that is right or not. If it is, it is a great injustice to those people who have been working for so many years on these small holdings. They have, after all, earned the redemption money that has been paid, and, instead of receiving 2406 the benefit, they have worked for the benefit of the community of the county in which they live. It would be a great injustice if they were called upon to meet this large loss, which has been very largely due to the fact that the Government of the day made a very bad bargain during war-time.
I wish to acknowledge at once that the right hon. Gentleman has done his best with regard to these men on their holdings, but I want to know whether he will consider the possibility of relieving those men who have paid the money for their inventory, while a large proportion of men on these small holdings have not paid either their inventory or any interest upon it. I think it is grossly unfair to the man who has been to his friends or to his bank and borrowed money to pay his inventory, that he Should now find himself in this position, that he has paid up the whole of his inventory, while his neighbour has paid neither inventory or interest. My suggestion is that the Minister should either call upon those men to pay their inventory who have not paid it, or should refund the inventory to those who have paid, and that there should be an equitable adjustment. The inventory during war-time was out of all reason. A great deal of that land had been farmed, not on the usual four-course system, but was farmed for the purposes of war conditions, and, while they had to pay a very large inventory, they really got very little benefit from it. The whole conditions should be very carefully gone into, and some revaluation of the inventory should be made, so that these men may he able to meet their liabilities and make a decent living, and feel that there is no liability attached to their holdings.
There are other questions, of course, which are of great interest to me, as the representative of, probably, the most agricultural division in England. We have not a tall chimney in the district. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he hoped to find money for further schemes. I wish to acknowledge in this Chamber the great service that has been done in my division in the way of coast defence against erosion by the sea. The right hon. Gentleman has done a great work, and I think it only right that I should publicly acknowledge that in my division he has saved a large number of acres of land 2407 as a result of the advances he has made to the landowners and the tenants in that district. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh! "I Let hon. Members make no mistake about the landowners there. They are all smallholders; there are no large ones. There is not a large number of rich men there, or I have no doubt the Minister would have taken good care that he did not give too much money to them. I should not have asked him, anyhow, to advance money to men who could have provided the money themselves for this coast defence. When the Minister does a good thing it is only right that one should acknowledge it, although I sit in opposition to the right hon. Gentleman, and shall probably vote against him every time. I was very glad to hear him say he expected to get more money, and I hope that at some time he may complete that sea wall, which is really a great adjunct to the large area of grazing land in Lincolnshire, which would have been submerged had not the Ministry stepped in to save it. We hear a great deal about bankruptcies in agriculture, and I happen to know a little about that subject. I assure the Committee that, in the little town of Sleaford, in Lincolnshire, where I live, we had no less than five bankruptcies registered in one day, all of farmers, and the time has come when we really must consider this question, perhaps not in the way that hon. Members on this side of the Committee above the Gangway would consider it, but with a view to carrying on for the present until something can be done. I cannot, of course, in a Debate of this sort, make any suggestion with regard to that.
Last year there were contracts let for what we call dried peas. We have heard questions in this Chamber, not once but twenty times, asking for the names of certain public bodies who were not employing ex-Service men, and especially disabled ex-Service men, hut a contract was let for these dried peas, not to an English firm, not even to an Englishman, but to Japanese. Now, in every contract that is issued there is one Clause which says that ex-Service men—disabled ex-Service men—should be employed. I want to ask the Government whether, when they let this contract for peas to the Japanese Government, they put that Clause in, that disabled British ex-Service men should be employed in the pick- 2408 ing of the peas. It may be a small matter in this House of Commons; but it is a big thing in my county where these peas are grown.
§ Mr. PATTINSON
Like the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) the other night, I am glad I have said as much as I have. I could discuss the question of rates and other things for a long period, but we are going to have a day given us by the Government, and I will reserve those remarks till that time comes. I strongly represent to the right hon. Gentleman that he should consider the position of the ex-service men on these small holdings with regard to their inventory. It is not fair or right that one man should have borrowed from his friends whilst other men have not made the slightest attempt to do anything, and,yet the one man is losing not only the interest on his money but may lose the money he has advanced, while the other man has not made the slightest attempt to meet his inventory. One does not blame the man who has not paid because he has never been in a position to pay. The right hon. Gentleman should deal with the matter as fairly as he possibly can.
§ Major MOLSON
I rise as representing an agricultural constituency, and I am very pleased that the Minister is here to answer my appeal to do all he can in the interest not of one but of all branches of the industry—landlords, tenants and labourers. I do not wish to make any party capital; it is far too serious a matter, but as a member of the Agricultural Committee I wish to urge the Minister as strongly as possible to do what he can for the industry. It is now in the most desperate state, and he ought not to delay until it is ruined. At the last election the Prime Minister promised to give sympathetic consideration to the interests of agriculture, and I hope the Minister will urge it forward to the best of his ability. A short time ago I received an influential deputation of my constituents, who met me in a perfectly 2409 straightforward and honest way. They did not ask for Protection or for subsidies, but they asked for as much help, in many minor ways, as could be given. We heard to-night, in a very able maiden speech, that some would wish to have Protection and subsidies and some hon. Members opposite would wish to have the land nationalised. He acknowledged quite fairly that both those propositions were out of the question at present, but he appealed that agriculture should be helped in many minor ways without cutting into questions which would divide the House completely.
I have a very well drawn up copy of resolutions and recommendations provided by the National Farmers' Union of the isle of Axeholme, and, on comparing it with the Report of the Committee of the Land Union, I was very struck with the fact that both bodies recommend dealing with the matter in the same way. They asked for one thing, which we are very pleased to have heard to-day has been attended to—that the railway rates should be greatly reduced. That part of my constituency consists of a great many small occupying owners, people who have a small portion of land which they work and farm themselves, hardly employing any labour. It is intensive cultivation, and they grow potatoes, celery, mangolds, and other produce. The figures they gave me were really astounding. I quite understand that during the last year a great deal of the potatoes have been left on the land and allowed to rot. The pre-War rate for 1 ton was 17s. 10d. They are now paying 31s. 9d. per ton. The 4-ton rate was 8s. 11d., compared with 15s. 11d. We quite understand that such an increase of freight has quite smashed the potato trade. Their celery trade has also been hit very hard. I do not know what the Minister will be able to do with regard to these rates, but I agree that the reduction is not sufficient to make it profitable for the farmers. I suppose it will be hardly possible to suggest that the Government should help the railway companies. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
§ Major MOLSON
I am sorry if I have entered on any contentious point. I only wish to put forward that the rates these smallholders have to pay for taking their 2410 produce into the towns has almost ruined them. With regard to the rates on agricultural land our Parliamentary Agricultural Committee were very glad to receive the £1,250,000, which we hope will relieve the farmers in many rural districts from the rating of their third-class roads.
I should like to refer to the point of local Agricultural Committees. I think that is really rather an important point. The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. N. Buxton) said that the Agricultural Committees did very good work during the War. My own experience was not very satisfactory. Some of my grass land was ploughed up. It was found to be most unsatisfactory land for ploughing up, and had to be returned to grass almost at once. I am afraid the point the hon. Member made, as to whether the Committees did good work during the War, opens up the very big question of Free Trade, because, during the War, we had not Free Trade, and the Agricultural Committees could recommend the ploughing up of land, which was perfectly necessary for food. Now, however, there is Free Trade, and food can come in more cheaply from other countries, and that makes it difficult for the farmer to keep that ground as arable land. That, I think, is really the answer to that question. You cannot carry out the work which the Agricultural Committees did very well during the War, now, when it is a question of the economical prices. I hope the agricultural community will get relief from the local taxation, which has been pressing very hard upon them. I do not think that would make agriculture profitable at the present time. That is a question, really, of the world's prices.
The next question which will perhaps be within the bounds of this Debate is that of credits. The Government, understand, have offered the farmers assistance at a certain rate of interest, and the farmers find—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am not quite clear whether this can be done by a Supplementary Estimate. I think it would require legislation. Perhaps the Minister of Agriculture can enlighten us on that point?
§ Major MOLSON
Then, I will stop. Another question, in regard to the rates, is whether the Exchequer will help the agricultural community by a net sum, or whether it will guarantee the relief of the rates by paying a portion of them. I bring these questions forward because I hope the Minister will do his best to aid agriculture. I appeal to the House not to treat this as a party question. The agricultural community is far too important in this country for that. I hope we shall none of us make it a question between town and country, but that we shall look at it from a national standpoint, and help agriculture all we possibly can.
§ Mr. EDE
I should like, in the first place, to deal with the statement of the Minister of Agriculture with regard to his scheme for rural scholarships. I think, on the whole, it is a good scheme, but it is deplorably small. We are not going to do any real good for agriculture in the way of education until we are prepared to spend as much upon it, and in as many ways, as does Denmark. One point, in particular, I should like to bring to the right hon. Gentleman's notice. Certain classes of these scholarships arc not available for the children of parents whose rent is over £50. I have in my constituency over 120 smallholders Although their holdings are very small, the rent in nearly every case is over £50, if the rent of the house be included. I would press that so far as these scholarships are concerned, that when the rent is computed the rent of the house should not be included, but that merely the rent of the land should be taken into account. That will throw open these scholarships to a very large number of children in my constituency and to others in the County of Surrey who are at present debarred. They are the type of child whom the Minister says would profit by this form of education.
It does not follow that because a child is born in the country he is, of necessity, fitted for an agricultural occupation, any more than it follows that because he is born in a town he is not fitted for agricultural life. I suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman can find, anywhere in the country, a child of sufficient age, capable of being tested in that way, whose aptitude is toward agriculture, he should be given the benefit, whether his father 2412 happens to be employed on the land, or not. It is quite foolish to believe that because a person has been born in the country his best place in the community is to remain in the country. After all, James Cook, the explorer of Australia. was born in an agricultural labourer's cottage. It would have been considerably to the loss of the world if he had been given an agricultural education and kept in a village. He did more good in the world than if he had been confined to a village.
I should like, as Chairman of the Husbandry Committee of a county council, to deal with one or two points raised in the Debate. I am certainly going to accept the offer of the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) to visit the Elysian fields he painted for us, provided he will give us an assurance that it is a place from which a return journey is possible. So alluring was the picture he painted that, as one who has lived in an agricultural district all his life, I am afraid that it is in a place "from whence no traveller returns." I trust, however, I shall be able to see those cottages, and I only hope that they represent the majority of the cottages in the district in which we are to see them.
§ Mr. EDE
I can only speak for one county, and their arrears are really appalling. What is worse, all the while these arrears are allowed to mount up, you are further breaking the hearts of the men, because they see themselves continually faced with a wall of debt, through which they cannot hope to escape.
§ Mr. EDE
We met the smallholders in our county, and they met us in a very reasonable way, They said: "If there were no housing shortage we should 2413 certainly have left these holdings, but we have a roof over our heads, now. If we clear out, we have no place to go. Therefore, we hope we shall be allowed to stay here, but what we desire to know is, what is to be clone with regard to the two bad seasons through which we have just passed? Can we know whether these rents will be forgiven us, in whole or in part, so that we can make a fresh start with the rent on a basis which we can look forward to paying when the seasons are normal again? "I would press the Minister of Agriculture to enable the county committees speedily to come to a decision on that point, because, for the future good working of the holdings, it is essential to put hack into these men some of the heart and courage with which they started this work.
Recently, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in office and myself were touring the same constituency. A statement was made by his predecessor in office, which we tried to get checked from the Ministry, that in the autumn of 1921 a circular was issued, stating that county committees had the power to reduce rents by 40 per cent. I am bound to say that none of the officials of the Ministry have been able to find the circular, but I hope, if such a circular be in existence, that the county committees will be pressed to carry that reduction into effect, and that some effort will be made to get these rents reduced to a reasonable figure as soon as possible. The hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley) dealt with the question of the administrative charges. I hope the Minister of Agriculture is giving very careful attention to the cost of the administration of the agricultural committees. I know they are not, entirely to blame, because a circular was issued by the Ministry before the agricultural committees were set up, saying that they were to have a staff based on the education committee standard. The consequence was that under the Act of 1920 we set up staffs capable of dealing with that particular Act, and since then we had to reduce the staffs, owing to the repeal of the greater part of that Act. In the majority of counties that I have been able to check, the greater part of the administration cost is charged up to the small holdings account, although other 2414 items are dealt with by the Agricultural Committee, because the Ministry is entirely responsible for all the deficit on the small holdings account. There are certain sums which in many counties should be defrayed out of the county rates for county services, but on the administration side they are being financed by the Exchequer. I hope the Minister will take steps to see that these apportionments are fairly carried out.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
This is rather a serious charge which the hon. Member is making against a number of county councils. Perhaps he does not wish to, state openly the names of those county councils, but I should be much obliged if he would give me the names and the details. It is making a charge against them of stealing.
§ Mr. EDE
I have gone very carefully into the matter. I know of one county council—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name! "]—I am prepared to give the name, but the' public interest would be better served, perhaps, if I communicated the name to the Minister. If it is challenged I am prepared to state it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name! "J It is the Surrey County Council. On the Surrey County Council the finance committee queried, as the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley) queried this high charge, and the agricultural committee retorted that it was riot for the finance committee to object because they were really saving the county rate by making the apportionment that they had. I am on all the committees concerned, and my attention was drawn to other committees which had made similar apportionments. I did not make the statement without having the best grounds for doing so.
"Under the Act of 1920, and I believe limier the Act of 1921, the Minister has the power to make allowances for the travelling expenses of members of agricultural committees. When the economy movement came, that power was withdrawn from the various county committees. This had the very deplorable effect of depriving us on the agricultural committees of the services of the majority of the agricultural labourers' representatives. If there was one thing encouraging about the Agriculture Acts it was that for the first time for about 150 years the agricultural worker was being actively associated with 2415 the management of the industry. I would press upon the Minister that it is highly desirable in the interests of the agricultural community that this particular power of the County Agricultural Committees should be restored, so that we can again have the benefit of these men's experience, because they were able, to my certain knowledge, on many occasions, to give us practical advice of the very highest value. The agricultural committees have lost considerably during the past two years since the withdrawal of that power, and the consequent withdrawal of these men. I am not asking anything that should not be granted if we really desire to see the agricultural labourer associated with the working of the industry in which he is engaged. Last night this House unanimously passed a Resolution in favour of giving the professional workers of the country the power of being associated with the control of their means of livelihood, and I trust that the agricultural labourers will be given the same power on these agricultural committees. It would be for the benefit of the industry if we were to do so.
Can the Minister make a statement as to the position in regard to the loans that have been advanced to smallholders under the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act? These men were promised that where the applications were approved they should have loans up to a maximum of £for every £ they possessed. In many cases when these loans were granted the valuation of the men's assets was very high, and the consequence was that they were given in some cases a considerable sum of money, and they purchased articles with the money at the time when the valuation m, as high. That has now shrunk, and a good many of these men are exceedingly perturbed as to what will happen if they have to repay the loans at the present time. In the first place, that responsibility rests upon the county committee, but the representatives of the Ministry attend every meeting of the county committee, and generally every meeting of the sub-committees. Therefore the Ministry must be touch with what is happening throughout the country. These men should be given reasonable facilities for the extension of their loans, so that they will not find themselves called upon to repay to the banks at a time when their financial straits are very sore. I urge 2416 the Minister to do what he possibly can to see that these men gel: a real chance to make good. He said that only 6½ per cent. had failed. I take it that only 0 per cent. have left the holdings.
§ Mr. EDE
As one who has been actively engaged in this work since the War, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there are a good many men who feel that they have failed, but who are hanging on to the land, and I urge him to give them every opportunity to go on. There was no sadder sight on the battlefields of Europe than the English agricultural worker who fought side by side with the French and Belgian peasants, whose relation with the soil was a very different thing from his. He fought with a desperation that entitled him to the admiration of the world. As Lord Lee said at Chelmsford in 1920—During the War they (the agricultural labourers) were found generally in the county infantry battalions, and there was no man who endured more or stood more heroically against the unprecedented trials of the campaign than did the English agricultural labourer.I am sure that that in a sentiment that w ill be re-echoed in every quarter of the House. I was in Sussex last week, in the Horsham and Worthing Division, and I met there men who had fought. in the War, and who said that had they known that they were coming back to find that the agricultural labourer's condition would be worse after the War than it was before, they did not think they could have stood what they did. I ask the Committee to remember that these men are as great heroes as the men of whom Oliver Cromwell wrote to Mr. Speaker Lenthall:—Honest men, served you faithfully in this action. Sir, they are trusty.‥‥He that ventures his life for the liberty of his country, I wish he trust …you for the liberty he fights for.
§ Mr. BRUFORD
I did not intend to intervene in the Debate, but I have heard remarks from various hon. Members of greater or lesser acquaintance with our industry which I feel call for a certain amount of comment from those of us who know something about the industry. The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) stated that farmers have been able to obtain a return of the Income Tax which they have paid. That is true in the case of some farmers. and whatever 2417 the hon. Member may think I can assure him that it does not make the slightest difference whether a farmer is called upon to pay on a single rent or a double rent or any other rent you like. Any farmer who has kept accounts during the last three or four years will get off his Income Tax and not only his Income Tax, on his own farmer's business, but in many cases, as in my own case, his private Income Tax as well. That will show the genuine plight into which agriculture has fallen.
The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Noel Buxton) has told us that there are thousands of acres uncultivated in this country to-day. I agree with him, and I assure the Committee that those thousands of acres will never pay to cultivate in present circumstances. The lion. Member for Burslem said a great deal about the War Agricultural Committees finding plenty of work to do during the War, and he insinuated, though he did not say so, that their work consisted in compelling farmers to farm their land properly. I happen to be one of the unfortunate individuals who served on a War Agricultural Committee from its inception to its dissolution, and I was chairman of one of its sub-committees, and I know what we had to go through. I know that we who had practical experience had to undo the mess which impractical men had made. Our work was not to compel the farmer to farm his land properly, in very many cases, though there may have been a bad farmer here and there, but our work was to obey the command sent to us by the late Prime Minister, and get corn produced, no matter what it cost. And we did it with the help of the British farmer, with such scratch labour as he could get.
The country in those days was on its knees to agriculture. Nothing was too good for the farmers then. Everybody was willing to come to help them. I never thought that people' s memory would be so short. The farmers produced all the corn they could, under compulsion for the moment, but they soon did it voluntarily when they saw that the country was in need. They did it without considering whether they were going to make a profit or not. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I know what I am talking about. They did not consider whether they were going to make a profit or riot. They did 2418 it from patriotism, and they would not have wanted an Agricultural Committee to compel them, and at present 99 farmers out of 100 would farm their land better if they were shown a profit, because farmers as a rule are not lunatics, and any farmer, if he could be shown that there was' more profit to be made, would be glad to adopt other methods. But there is no encouragement to farm land well if it will not pay. The hon. Member for Burslem also referred to landlords. I cannot imagine why hon. Members opposite are always out against landlords. To some hon. Members opposite the mention of the word "landlord" is like a red rag waved before a bull.
§ Mr. BRUFORD
The landlord makes a difference to hon. Members opposite. I have a different opinion of landlords, not because I am one myself, for I am not. My family and I have been tenant farmers on the same farm for something like 200 years, and our best friends during the whole of that time, though we have had several landlords, have been the landlords. When we were in difficulties our landlord would help us. He could help us in those days. I remember well the first year I was in business. I was not left in a very flourishing condition and I had difficulty in raising my rent and my landlord wrote and said, "Pay your rent when you can." Would the State do that? Would any public body do that?
§ Mr. BRUFORD
Yes. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite can laugh. I am talking about what I know from my own experience. It is a cruel libel on the English landlord to make the remarks which are often made about him here. I am not a landlord. I never have been and never shall be. I am only speaking of my own private experience. If you want agriculture to pay, and to continue, you must support private ownership of land and private interest in land. I would far rather rent under a good landlord with a big capital than be my own landlord. My own landlord offered me my farm some time ago, and I said that I would prefer him to go on owning it, and rent- 2419 ing it to me, and I am better off to-day than if I had purchased my farm. [Laughter.] Hon. Members can laugh, but I can speak the truth as well as hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for North Norfolk told us to grow the right kind of wheat. He said that we did not grow the kind of wheat they grew in Manitoba. We cannot grow the quality of wheat in this country which they grow in Manitoba. Our climate is not what it is in Manitoba. I would also point out that I have tried various kinds of wheat. I had several kinds of wheat sent down by Professor Biffen. I paid a good price for it. I sowed it in four-acre patches, and grew it against other wheat. The result was disastrous. Two or three lots were not worth growing at all, and none of them paid for growing, whereas my Victor and good old Yeoman paid. I am one of those who believe in trying all things and holding fast to that. which is good. It is no use trying too many of these experiments. I ask hon. Members who have no intimate knowledge of agriculture not to be led away by the nostrums of professors and other gentlemen who may be even more ignorant than themselves.
Another remark of the hon. Member for North Norfolk was that he would give credit facilities only through co-operative societies. I do not know how that is going to benefit agriculture. I do know something of what the private trader would say if co-operative societies were financed by the Government. I ask farmers to be very careful how they join co-operative societies. I ask those who say that cooperation would be the salvation of agriculture not to put. too much faith in the idea. We have a big co-operative association running in this country now. It is called the Co-operative. Wholesale Society, and it has a. very large capital. It ran five or six farms of different classes. It bought wholesale co-operatively, and sold co-operatively, and it had its own distribution shops. Yet that big corporation, with all those facilities and all that capital, lost £60,000 last year on farming. I should be sorry if any body of farmers ran business on those lines. I do not know where you would find a company of farmers with £60,000 to lose.
I shall not ask my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches to come down to Somerset. Possibly they might not want 2420 to return to this House, and we want to see them back again and have a bit of fun sometimes. But if they do lose their way and come down to my place, I, too, can show them five-roomed cottages for labourers, and those cottages belong to a landlord. I would warn the Minister of Agriculture against placing too much reliance on the milk recording societies of which he spoke. They are very excellent societies, but it is not always the cow that produces the most milk that produces the best milk. I would warn the general public that an old Friesian cow producing 2,000 gallons of milk a year is not the best cow from which to buy milk. They had better buy some milk from a nice little Devon ruby heifer, which does not produce 2,000 gallons a year, but produces milk and beef that are the best in the world. I would also tell the Minister that we do not want the Canadian cattle imported into this country to mix with our home breeds. I shall say a few words which, I am afraid, will not bring smiles to the faces of hon. Members opposite. We were told just. now that railway rates would be reduced if the railway companies could agree with their labour. I appeal to railway labour to try to agree with the employers and allow rates to be reduced. I shall not discuss how much the railways themselves can afford to remit, or how much labour ought to yield. But it is most unfair that an individual who is only 18 years of age and inexperienced should go on a railway platform and earn practically double the wage of an experienced farm labourer. I want to see all labour paid fairly, but I hold that railway wages should have some relation to the wages paid in other industries.
§ Mr. BRUFORD
We were told that we must have Wages Boards. I am perfectly willing to meet my men and to thrash out matters with them, and, considering that I have men on my farm who have been there up to 40 years and that I very seldom change a man, I think I may claim that. I generally manage to get on with my men. Any hon. Member can come down to my farm, and he will find that the men have good wages. But it is no good forcing Wages Boards on an industry that 2421 cannot afford to pay the wages that the boards may suggest. It was said just now that when the Wages Boards were instituted during the War the conditions of the labourers were very different from what they are to-day. So were the conditions of everybody. During the War everyone was making money. Farmers were making money in those days, and they were hounded down for doing so. I would like to know who was not making money then?
§ Mr. T. JOHNSTON
The twelve millions of people who, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman said, were perpetually on the verge of starvation in this country.
§ Mr. BRUFORD
My men received fair wages before the War and were not raised by the Wages Board for some time. Those wages went up afterwards by the orders of the Wages Board. I do not know that my men were better off during the War than they are to-day. I think in all probability they are just as well off to-day as during the War without any Wages Board at all. I feel sure that in the majority of eases—I know there are some bad employers—farmers are paying their men more than they can afford. Therefore it is useless to set up Wages Boards under present conditions. The hon. Member for Burslem quoted a catalogue issued by Messrs Knight, Frank and Rutley, in which reference was made to the value of land. But the price of land referred to there was the price 18 months ago. Since then land has been going down and not going up as stated, and the land described in that catalogue was mainly grass and dairy land well situated. That land has not depreciated very much and will not so long as men are making big fortunes and retiring with the idea that they are going to take up a nice easy life by buying a little grass farm well situated near a town. They drive the farmer out and they buy the land, and they do not care what they pay for it, whether it is the economic value or not.
That is what is keeping up the value of land to-day. If men who have experience in agriculture were the only competitors for it, that land to-day would not fetch anything like the price it is bringing. The long prices paid by farmers for their 2422 land during the War was occasioned by that kind of man, who came down and competed against the farmer. I ask any hon. Member opposite what he would do if he were in the position of being turned out of his business and out of his home where he had lived for many years and if he could not get any other kind of business? He would have to pay the price asked for it, whatever that price was. The hon. Member I have just quoted talked about the unremunerative duties of landlordism. The landlords who had any common sense and had no feeling for his tenants have sold their farms because they could make more money by investing otherwise. The landlord who is letting his farm to-day at an uneconomic rent is a philanthropist of the first water. We were told just now that the Minister of Agriculture was forcing his opinions on certain sections of the agricultural industry. I am very glad that he is able to do that, for I was not aware of it.
I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford that agriculture is the Cinderella of industry. It is the oldest industry in the World. [HON. MEMBERS "No! "] Perhaps agriculture is riot the oldest industry. Dressmaking and tailoring may have been the oldest. [Laughter.] It is a matter of opinion. But we will say agriculture is a very old industry. Why should it be the Cinderella? Why should the Minister of Agriculture be the junior Minister in the Cabinet? Why should he not be placed on the level of others and be paid the same salary as the other Ministers in the Cabinet? If that were i done, we would get a Minister of Agriculture who would learn his job. [Laud laughter.] [HON. MEMBERS: "Back to the land! "] The present Minister of Agriculture started to learn his job many years ago and he is still learning it. We are all learning. What I was going to say was that the Minister of Agriculture would learn his job and stick to it. To-day he goes to the Ministry of Agriculture. He begins to get hold of the work and then he is given promotion, and we have to start all over again with another man. I do say our Minister of Agriculture should be put on the same footing as other Ministers and then he would stick to his job.
Major-General Sir R. HUTCHISON
I would like to intervene for a moment in this Debate because, although I am 2423 a simple soldier, I have been engaged a great part of my life in agriculture and I think my people have tilled the soil for generations. During the last three years I have been engaged in managing and running a farm over in Germany. The connection between agriculture abroad and agriculture at home has struck me very forcibly. First of all I should like to associate myself with my hon. Friend for Mitcham (Mr. Ede) who has spoken of the care that should be given to ex-service men who have been placed on the land since 1919. A great many of these men I know, and they have taken over propositions which have been put before them at prices far beyond what they economically can yield. During the political pressure on the Board of Agriculture in 1919 and early in 1920, schemes were rushed through to buy land in all directions in order to settle these 18,000 or 19,000 men on the land. Buildings were put up at prices far above what they are to-day. I would press most strongly on the Minister that he should take immediate steps to write down and write off the loss on the land and buildings, and allow these men to have a proposition they can live on. I regret that the Debate to-night is so narrow that I cannot refer to affairs north of the Border, but in regard to England I know that a great many of these men are suffering, not only from having to pay a rent that is far too high, but they are suffering from the uncertainty of their position. They have borrowed money in order to move into their holdings, and a great many of them are not sure whether they will not have to pay large arrears of rent which have accumulated during the last two years. I beg the Minister to arrange with the Treasury to write off the sum that is necessary in order to give these men a real start on the land. After all, many of these men came, with great courage, to settle on the land without much knowledge. During the last few years they have acquired a certain amount of knowledge of their holdings; they are now really becoming good agricultural citizens, and, therefore, they are of value to the community. I hope the Minister will stretch his powers to the utmost limit in trying to give them a better chance.
With regard to the Allotments Act, I think the Minister's influence might be 2424 more actively used towards helping town councils in applying that Act to their areas. I can see perfectly well that the real future of small holdings lies in allowing our industrial population to work allotments of a fair size within reasonable reach of the homes from which they carry out their ordinary work. With the curtailed hours of work in this country they have a good deal of spare time in which to cultivate the land. We should also arrange to give suitable communication from their homes to the land, and there is no reason why this Act should not be made a real boon and blessing to the industrial community. It must be remembered that many of the members of town councils in industrial areas are business men, tradesmen and shopkeepers, who are not acquainted with agriculture. They require help and direction from the Ministry to show them how they can successfully apply this Act. I hope the Minister will use his influence in the coming year to direct attention to this very excellent Act, and. I am sure it will be for the benefit of the industrial community. With regard to the question of sugar-beet, I am delighted to hear that the production of sugar is going ahead and is being successfully carried out, but I think a great deal more could he done in this direction. It is a crop which, abroad, gives a great deal of work to a great number of people, and it is just the type of crop which we can use in this country. It gives us the sugar which we so much require, and, in addition, by not extracting the full quantity of sugar from the beet, a very good feeding material for cattle can be afterwards provided. The Minister should consider encouraging the raising of sugar in the districts where cattle are raised. In Germany, where I have studied the question, the farmers tell me that sugar-beet raising and the breeding of cattle go very well together. They send in the sugar-beet to the sucrerie from which is returned the pulp, which contains a certain amount of sugar. This is used for the cattle, and in this manner the farmer is able to get a double return for his efforts on the land. This is a matter which should be examined, and I hope the Minister will give it consideration.
The right hon. Gentleman in his opening speech referred to diseases of animals 2425 especially foot-and-mouth disease, and we know that not very long ago we had a very serious outbreak. From inquiries I have made into the application of various preventives of foot-and-mouth disease abroad, I find a great discrepancy between what has been done in this country and what has been done on the Continent in that respect. It was largely in Germany that my studies of the subject were made, and from a professor of agriculture in Bonn University I learn that this disease has been treated successfully on farms there without the slaughtering of animals. I am satisfied that there is a system of dealing with foot-and-mouth disease over in Germany which is well worthy of our study. I find, from talking to agriculturists in the north, that a good many of them are convinced that the action of the Ministry of Agriculture in slaughtering so many animals on account of this disease was wrong. Whether that is so or not is for the experts to decide, but I would like to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that this disease does exist from period to period abroad, and that it has not bean found necessary there to slaughter the cattle in order to remove it. I am delighted that the blood-stock stud farm has been showing such excellent results, and I hope it will long continue to do so. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us if he has any useful two-year-olds coming along.
With regard to his remarks about the cereal crops, of which he gave such a despondent view, I quite agree with all that he has said, to the effect that the wheat crop is unfortunately a bad crop from an economic point of view. The cost of labour, which is as much very often as £10 an acre, leaves no return when you are selling wheat, as you are to-day, at 43s. and 44s. a quarter, but, in regard to barley, I think a great deal can be done by the Minister if he will only direct the attention of the Government to its use. He remarked that the penny a pint off beer had been decided upon because it would stimulate, he hoped, the use of barley, but may I say that what would stimulate the use of barley much more would be the introduction by the Government of a Pure Beer Bill. Let them make beer of hops and barley, and nothing else. Why should we have to use maize and sugar and stuff to make beer with, when we have got at hand hops and malt? I hope 2426 I am not stepping beyond the narrow limits of the Debate in calling attention to that point.
Lastly, in regard to food production generally, we have gone through the late War, and we have suffered the fear of starvation. There is no doubt about it, that when the Germans came along with the menace of the submarine, we really thought we were going to starve. In future wars, it is bound to happen that the first attack that an enemy will make against this country will not be against our various arms, but against our food supply, and with more efficient action by submarines and in the air I am satisfied that our food will run short unless we take action to prevent such a calamity There is one crop that will save us from starvation, and that is the potato crop. We have had in the last year a surplus of potatoes, a surplus which, I believe, has been put down at something like 1,000,000 tons, and notwithstanding the very large feeding of cattle with potatoes owing to their being practically unsaleable, there still remains a very large surplus of potatoes. I suggest to the Minister of Agriculture that he should stimulate the surplus, that he should continue each year to stimulate a surplus by guaranteeing a definite price for potatoes. That can be economically carried out, because there is no doubt that the potato crop is the one crop that can give us safety in our food supply. If the Minister will only use his great influence with the Government, I am satisfied that he can, by guaranteeing a price for a surplus of potatoes, turn those potatoes into spirit, through the various distilleries, and keep just that supply that is required by the nation, which will not object to paying the ordinary market price which is required to keep it in fine with the guaranteed price. Other countries have done this. Germany has done it, and before the War Germany actually—
§ Sir R. HUTCHISON
I regret my inexperience of the Rules of the House, and I regret the narrow limits of the Debate, but I will say this in conclusion, that if the Minister will only do all he can to 2427 direct his attention to the subject I have mentioned, he will do a great thing for agriculture in this country.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
I want to join in the many appeals which have been made that something should be done for the smallholder. In my constituency there are ex-service men settled on the land, and scarcely a week passes that I do not get letters showing the terrible plight they are in. I know the question of rent is under the consideration of the Agricultural Committee, and I want to urge upon the Minister that when these recommendations come before Department, he will lose no time in carrying them out. One of the most pitiful sights I have seen in my constituency is a man suffering from tubercular disease, a smallholder who is worried on account of his financial position, and, whatever be the financial position of these smallholders, these men are not to blame. They were promised that they would be put on the land, and they are doing their best under most difficult and trying conditions. I join most heartily with other hon. Members in urging that the Minister should wipe out these losses, and give these men a fair chance of making their holdings pay. Throughout the Debate to-day one thing has been missed, and that. is the failure of the conciliation committees. I can quite imagine some Members of the late Government sitting quiet when agriculture is discussed, because I regard the repeal of Part 1 of the Corn Production Act as one of the most brutal betrayals of any industry, and these conciliation committees are nothing more or less than an absolute farce. I know the Minister himself is a little bit concerned with these committees, because I hold in my hand a letter which was sent by his Department to the chairman, members and secretaries of Conciliation Committees, in which he expresses anxiety as regards the composition of those committees. I would like him to tell the committee how many agreements have been ratified as a result of this letter, and is it not a fact, so far as the workers' representatives are concerned, that they are absolutely sick with the conciliation committees? I know we cannot discuss on this Motion matters which need legislation, but I want to say that, when the opportunity 2428 presents itself, we on these benches will suggest that the best thing that can happen to the agricultural labourer is the restoration of the Agricultural Wages Board and a national minimum wage. One regrets we cannot very well discuss that. at this late hour.
There is one other point. I think there is a chance for the Minister of Agriculture not only to make history, but to make himself secure in his own constituency. He told us that the National Stud had won a good number of races, and that one of the horses had won the Lincoln handicap. As one who very rarely backs a horse, but who has a sporting section in his constituency, I should like to say that if the Minister of Agriculture could circulate a few days before. the races some good information, not only would he make his position secure in the industry, but if he would circulate some of that information to some of our constituents I am satisfied that it would be all right. I just want to say to the two hon. Members who suggested that the Members on these benches should visit their locality and study agriculture, that some of us who represent constituencies where there is a large agricultural population, that we are quite prepared to say here that we are rot agricultural experts, but that we are willing to learn. If we can by an interchange of information get a better grasp of agricultural problems we shall be very pleased to do it. I would say that when our two Friends arrange for the deputation of Labour Members to go down to their localities that they could make the week-ends a little bit more interesting if they would only arrange for a bit of shooting—to make our visit worth while. Variety is the spice of life, and I think we shall be able to find sufficient time in it all to have a look at their good houses.
May I, however, in all seriousness, say this: It may be quite true that in their localities the agricultural labourer has got decent dwellings. We do not, on these benches, deny for one moment that there are good employers who look after their employés, but. we on this side want to see the men living in houses which are not tied to the employer. If some have got good houses, we know districts and localities where the housing conditions of the agricultural labourer are a disgrace to the country. I throw out the suggestion that when we have visited the 2429 good side we should take hon. Members, if they will go with us, to see the bad side. After all, when we go to see these things let us see them at their worst, and not at their best. I remember a time when a certain Minister visited a certain place in my constituency, or close to it, and the thing was got ready for him. There is nothing like seeing the thing as it is in its normal state. I trust I have not delayed the House. I have sat here since a quarter to three o'clock waiting for the opportunity to put in a few words of hope for the smallholders in my constituency. Every time I go into the district I feel that these men are up against a very tough proposition. They are doing their best under very difficult circumstances, and I do urge upon the Minister and the Government that something should be done for these men in order that they may get a decent existence for the work they are putting in.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
Before I come to the various matters which have been alluded to, I am sure the Committee will be glad to hear that I have had a message on the subject of the Norfolk strike. I am happy to say that, subject to ratification on Saturday, terms of settlement have been agreed to by both sides. The terms are a wage of 25s. for a guaranteed 50 hours week; any hours worked in excess of 50 to be paid for at 6d. per hour up to four hours per week, and above four hours at overtime rates; the hours to be so arranged as to secure a weekly half holiday; there is to be no victimisation.
I am very glad to be able to announce that agreement looks like having been come to. I sincerely hope that on Saturday it will be ratified, and I am sure that that is the hope of every member of the Committee. I ought to say that our congratulations are due to Mr. Harry Gosling and Mr. German, who acted in this matter with discretion in negotiating with the parties, and we are thankful that they have succeeded in bringing about a settlement. We have had an interesting and an amusing debate. I was gratified to be told by the hon. Member who represents me in this House (Mr. Bruford) that he hopes I am going to learn my job. We were also amused by the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. T. Smith), and. I am sure if he honours any of us 2430 with a visit we shall be glad to see him, and although we may be able to give him a tip for a race, I think it will be rather hard for us to find him any shooting in April.
The main subject dealt with by most hon. Members is that of the ex-service men settled on the land. I am sure that is a subject that appeals to everyone of us, because by an unanimous Act of this House arrangements to deal with them were made under the Land Settlement Act. As a matter of fact I do not think that Bill was opposed in the House of Commons. I quite realise, and I am sure my Department realises, that Parliament, having passed that Act, we are under a certain obligation to see that these men are not let down. As far as it is reasonably possible we do deal sympathetically with them. I would point out, however, that the recommendations must come from the county councils, and when we do get those recommendations I can assure the House that they are always sympathetically considered. I do not think it would be a good thing now to go into the individual instances which have been raised, but I may mention that in the case of Sutton Bridge, only yesterday I agreed to a considerable reduction being made in the rents of those small holdings.
Another hon. Member raised the question of the old Small Holdings Act. I think I stated in answer to a question that where a County Council can put forward a scheme for Small Holdings on the old basis of an economic rent it would be favourably considered for confirmation by the Ministry. I do not think either the House or the country desires that we should go on creating new small holdings on uneconomic terms because we are not justified in spending large sums of money in establishing men on the land who really cannot afford it. It is for the county council, on economic terms, to satisfy the demands of men who apply for small holdings, and who are competent to work them, and certainly such applications will be favourably considered by the Ministry. The hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Ede) raised two or three points on which I ought to say a word. The first was with regard to the education scheme to which I referred earlier in the afternoon. The hon. Member asked that the education scheme should be extended to various people. The whole object of it, however, 2431 is that it should be for the children of agricultural labourers, and, having instituted a scheme specially for their benefit, I do not think it would be right or fair to extend it to another class. After all, the agricultural labourer is not a man who gets a very great deal done for him, and, when it is possible to institute a scheme specially for his benefit, I do not think any of those in another class need grudge it to him.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
The hon. Member wished the money terms to be raised. He really wanted it to be for richer men than those whose cases it is designed to meet, hut our object in this particular scheme is that it should be for poor men. The hon. Member also raised the question of payment of the travelling expenses of members of agricultural committees. The county council may pay them. There is nothing whatever to stop any county council paying them if it thinks it worth while to do so, but the Ministry is not inclined any longer to bear that expense, which might justly fall upon the county council if they are ready to incur it. With regard to the charge that the hon. Member made against the Surrey County Council, if he will give me full particulars I certainly shall be glad to go into it and ask the Surrey County Council what explanation they can give. Another question that the hon. Member raised was with regard to loans to smallholders. On that, again, we wish to deal sympathetically with the smallholders, and I can assure the hon. Member that we are not pressing unduly for payment in any case. I think I have now dealt with all the points that have been raised.
Mr. HOPE SIMPSON
I regret that I have not had the chance to ask one or two questions of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, but perhaps the opportunity will offer when the general Debate comes along. With regard to education, I join in the request that has been made from another quarter of the Committee on behalf of those who 2432 are a little higher in the social scale than the agricultural labourer. There are very many small farmers, farming 80 or 100 acres, who are not in a financial position to educate their children as one would wish to see them educated, and if the Ministry could arrange for an educational scheme for the smaller farmers, as they have done for the agricultural workmen, it would be all to the good.
There are one two points with regard to research. One is glad to see the large provision for research. The increase is practically entirely due to the grant from the Development Fund in consequence of the repeal of the Corn Production Acts. With that exception I do not think there is any increase. in the amount which has been allotted. There was one point on which perhaps the right hon. Gentleman might enlighten us even now, and that is with regard to the grant for the Cattle Pleuropneumonia Account. If ho explained that before, I did not catch what he said. Last year the grant was £101,000. and this year it has been omitted altogether. I do not know the reason for that, and I should be glad to hear it if he will let us know.
It is almost impossible to isolate the effect of the sudden fall in prices from the effect of the seasons, and from a survey of the conditions of the cereal-growing countries of the world, one is perhaps entitled to hope that the climatic conditions of the last two years have had a good deal to do with the position of the farmer. If one looks to Australia one finds that for the last six years the average profit on wheat-growing lands has only been 4s. l½d. an acre, and had it not been for the fact that the New South Wales Government in 1920–21 guaranteed a price of 6s. 6d. a bushel, there would have been an actual loss for the six years on all the wheat-growing areas in New South Wales. The same has been the case in the last year or two in Canada. I have here a Report on the financial, industrial and commercial conditions of Canada, prepared by the senior Trade Commissioner for Canada and Newfoundland. In it he writes:The bankers, mortgage companies and wholesale and retail dealers agreed that the operations of the Western farmers during 1921 left them without a surplus.The Western portions of Canada are the portions where the great wheat crops are 2433 grown, so that evidently there also the farmers have been suffering from depression. The same again may be found if one refers to the Argentine Republic. I have here the Report of the Commercial Secretary to the Legation at Buenos Ayres. He writes:Farmers were unwilling to sell at current prices, but the Press, and even official propaganda, had led them to believe that European requirements must cause a rise in the value of their products. The export trade was dull in consequence and involved loss to the shippers while the end of the year found the country harvesting the new crop with an exportable surplus of fully 800,000 tons of the previous year's crop still not disposed of.Front this it appears that the symptoms that we see in this country are really world wide, and it may be hoped that a condition like that cannot last long, and that, perhaps, we are overdepressed with the condition of agriculture at present.
There is one remarkable thing. We have frequently had it suggested that our methods in England are very inferior, and that we might grow much bigger crops than we do. I have found out the returns in the three countries I have mentioned. In New South Wales, during the last six years, the average yield of wheat has been just under 11 bushels to the acre. In Canada last year it was 13½bushels, and in the Argentine, 11 bushels. In England we reckon on getting 32 bushels, so I do not think we can criticise the British farmer with regard to the skill and care he applies to his work. It is true that there are certain countries in Northern Europe, where the areas are very small, and the cultivation more approximates to market gardening. There, in one, or perhaps two, you get a yield slightly in excess of the British yield, but, with that exception, I think the British yield is the largest commercial yield in the world.
It is a somewhat melancholy reflection that we should look for prosperity of the agricultural community from the squalor and misery which is entailed by an increase in the consumption of liquor. I object entirely to this. attempt to bolster up agriculture at the expense of the decency and the comfort of the urban population. It seems to me a rather shameful thing that we should hope that the British farmer will succeed because the British workman consumes more beer. 2434 When one reads the communications of the Hop Controller it gives rise to a feeling of shame to think that a Department of the British Government can hope for an increase in the consumption of intoxicating liquor in order that the farmer shall have prosperity. It seems to me that if we have to choose between a decrease in the consumption of intoxicating liquor and the prosperity of the farmer I should rather choose that the intoxicating liquor should be reduced than that the farmer should prosper by that means. At the same time, I think, with the measures which we have taken, with the reduction in rating that we are promised, with the reduction in rural rates, and with the extension of facilities for credit, it will not be long before farming is once more in a prosperous condition.
§ Mr. GOSLING
I wish to say one word in regard to the settlement. of the dispute in Norfolk. This has been the third occasion on which an attempt has been made to settle the dispute in the agricultural world, and the Minister of Agriculture was good enough to mention the name of Mr. German and myself in connection with it. I feel that what has happened to-day is due to what was done yesterday. Last Thursday we failed. Through the intervention of the Leader of the Labour party we got the parties together again, and I am pleased to say that success has already been recorded. Speaking on behalf of the men, we do not regard it as a very great thing to have succeeded in getting 25s., but. we feel that it would have been a danger to have allowed the dispute to go on any longer. I do not know anything about agriculture myself, but one could see, at a moment's glance, that it was necessary, if the season was to be saved, that the workers should resume. That is the spirit, I think, which has helped both sides in coming to a conclusion.
I hope, although I feel sure that the agreement will be carried out loyally by the men, that they will not have to carry it out very long. I hope we shall very soon get some way beyond the 25s. I should be ashamed of myself if I often had to make this kind of agreement. I think the House, the community and the men are very much indebted to the Minister of Agriculture for the help he gave in starting negotiations, arid I am 2435 pleased that I have been associated with them.
§ Captain TERRELL
The majority of hon. Members deeply regret—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide! "]—the deplorable action of a certain section of the Committee this afternoon. Why they held up the Debate is a little uncertain, but it is to be noted that since they obstructed they have disappeared from the Committee. It is all the more regrettable—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide! "]
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
On a point of Order. I should like to say that I do not think it would be wise for us to part with this Vote now. If we allow the Vote to be taken; there will be no other opportunity of raising any matter during the rest of the Session. There is no hostility to the Minister in not taking the Vote to-night. It is quite usual to carry over the Vote, and if it is not necessary to discuss agriculture again, the matter can come at the end of the Session with all the other Votes. If it is necessary to take the Vote again we want the opportunity of doing so.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Is it not a fact that we have the Report stage of this Vote, and that we can also raise questions on the Vote for the Minister's salary?
§ Captain TERRELL
It is the more regrettable in view of the fact that we were to have had an important statement from the Minister as to the intentions of the Government in connection with this basic industry. I am given to understand that he is going to make an announcement to-morrow, and I am sure the whole agri-
§ cultural industry will await that announcement full of expectation. One of the hon. Members who adorn the benches occupied by the Labour party referred to betting. Hon. Members will be very glad to hear that at least one member of that party was in favour of betting. He asked the Minister of Agriculture to give him a tip, if he wanted a tip, at a. future date.
rose in iris place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put," but the Deputy-Chairman withheld his assent, and declined, then, to put that Question.
§ Captain TERRELL
It may not be wise to give tips. I have had many tips given to me by electors, but never have I had a tip given to me which has been a successful one.
rose place, and claimed to move, "That. the Question be now put," but the Deputy-Chairman withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Captain TERRELL
The Minister told us that 18.960 ex-service men had been settled on the land. He also told us of the very gallant fight the ex-service men had made in order to make a success of their small holdings, and that only 6'5 per cent. had fallen out and given up the task. The Minister said that under present conditions it would be impossible—
§ Question put accordingly, "That a sum, not exceeding £1,064,351, he granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 121; Noes, 231.2439
|Division No.101]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Adams, D.||Burgess, S.||Dunnico, H.|
|Adamson, W. U. (Staff., Cannock)||Buxton, Charles (Accrington)||Ede, James Chuter|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)||Entwistle, Major C. F.|
|Batey, Joseph||Cairns, John||Foot, Isaac|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Chapman, Sir S||Gosling, Harry|
|Berkeley, Captain Reginald||Charleton, H. C||Graham, 0. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)|
|Bowdler, W. A.||Clarke, Sir E. C.||Gray, Frank (Oxford)|
|Broad, F. A.||Collins, Pat (Walsall)||Greenall, T.|
|Bromfield William||Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)|
|Brotherion, J.||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)|
|Buchanan, G.||Duffy, T. Gavan||Groves, T.|
|Buckle, J||Duncan, C.||Grundy, T. W.|
|Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth)||March, S.||Smith, T. (Pontefract)|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Marshall, Sir Arthur H.||Snell, Harry|
|Harbord, Arthur||Maxton, James||Spencer, H. H. (Bradford. S.)|
|Hardie, George D.||Middleton, G.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Harney, E. A.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Hartshorn, Vernon||Murnin, H.||Sullivan, J.|
|Hastings, Patrick||Murray, R. (Renfrew, Western)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Hayes, John Henry [Edge Hill)||Newbold, J. T. W.||Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (N'castle, E.)||Nichol, Robert||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Herriotts, J.||O'Grady, Captain James||Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)|
|Hill, A.||Paling, W.||Warne, G. H.|
|Hinds, John||Parker, H. (Hanley)||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Johnston, Thomas (Stirling)||Phillipps, Vivian||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Johnstone, Harcourt (Willesden, East)||Ponsonby, Arthur||Webb, Sidney|
|Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Potts, John S.||Wedgwood, Colonel Josiah C.|
|Jones. Morgan (Caerphilly)||Pringle, W. M. R.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Jones R. T. (Carnarvon)||Richards, R||Whiteley, W.|
|Jones T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Williams, David (Swansea, E.)|
|Jowett, F. W. (Bradford, East)||Riley, Ben||Williams. Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Jewitt, W. A. (The Hartlepools)||Ritson, J.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Robinson, W. C. (York, Elland)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Kirkwood, D.||Royce, William Stapleton||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Lansbury, George||Salter, Dr. A.||Wintringham, Margaret|
|Lawson, John James||Scrymgeour, E.||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Leach. W.||Sexton, James||Wright, W.|
|Lee, F.||Shinwell, Emanuel||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Lowth, T.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|MacDonald, J. R. (Aberavon)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|M'Entee, V. L.||Simpson, J. Hope||Mr. Lunn and Mr. Ammon.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Hiley, Sir Ernest|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Cope, Major William||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. C.|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin||Cory, Sir J. H. (Cardiff, South)||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Wilfrid W.||Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L.||Hoh[...]er, Gerald Fitzroy|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick W.||Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South)||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard|
|Astor, J. J. (Kent, Dover)||Crook, C. W. (East Ham, North)||Hood, Sir Joseph|
|Baird, Rt. Hon. Sir John Lawrence||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Hopkins, John W. W.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Davidson, J. C. C. (Hemel Hempstead)||Howard, Capt. D. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Howard-Bury, Lieut. Col. C. K.|
|Barlow, Rt. Hon. Sir Montague||Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Hudson, Capt. A.|
|Barnett, Major Richard W.||Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Hughes, Collingwood|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hume, G. H.|
|Becker, Harry||Dawson, Sir Philip||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Dixon, C. H. (Rutland)||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.|
|Bellairs, Commander Car[...]yon W.||Dudgeon, Major C. R.||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Du Pre, Colonel William Baring||Jarrett, G. W. S.|
|Bennett, Sir T. J. (Sevenoaks)||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Jephcott, A. R.|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Ednam, Viscount||Jodrell, Sir Neville Paul|
|Berry, Sir George||Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Ellis, R. G.||Joynson-Hicks, Sir William|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||Kelley, Major Fred (Rotherham)|
|Blundell, F. N.||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Kennedy, Captain M. S. Nigel|
|Bonwick, A.||Erskine-Bolst, Captain C||King, Captain Henry Douglas|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Falcon, Captain Michael||Lamb, J. Q.|
|Brass, Captain W.||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Fawkes, Major F. H.||Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Forestier-Walker, L.||Lorden, John William|
|Brown, Brig. Gen. Clifton (Newbury)||Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot||Lorimer, H. D.|
|Bruford, R.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Lort-Williams, J.|
|Bruton, Sir James||Furness, G. J.||Lougher, L.|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Lyle-Samuel, Alexander|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Ganzoni, Sir John||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Gates, Percy||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)|
|Burn, Colonel Sir Charles Rosdew||Gaunt, Rear-Admiral Sir Guy R.||Margesson, H. D. R.|
|Burney, Com. (Middx., Uxbridge)||Gray, Harold (Cambridge)||Martin, F. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, E.)|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Greenwood, William (Stockport)||Mason, Lieut.-Col C. K.|
|Butler, H. M. (Leeds, North)||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Mercer, Colonel H.|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Hon. W. E.||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw|
|Button, H. S.||Gwynne, Rupert S.||Mitchell, W. F. (Saffron Walden)|
|Cadogan, Major Edward||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Molloy, Major L. G. S.|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Hamilton, Sir George C. (Altrincham)||Molson, Major John Elsdale|
|Cassels, J. D.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Moore, Major-General Sir Newton J.|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Harrison, F. C.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Harvey, Major S. E.||Morden, Col. W. Grant|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Hawke, John Anthony||Morrison, Hugh (Wilts, Salisbury)|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Hay, Major T. W. (Norfolk, South)||Murchison, C. K.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm., W.)||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Nail, Major Joseph|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Nesbitt, Robert C.|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Newman, Colonel J. R. P. (Finchley)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Herbert, S. (Scarborough)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Newson, Sir Percy Wilson|
|Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid H.|
|Nicholson, Brig.-Gen. J. (Westminster)||Robertson, J. D. (Islington, W.)||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes., Stretford)||Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)|
|Nield, Sir Herbert||Roundell, Colonel R. F.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Ruggles-Brise, Major E.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Paget, T. G.||Russell, William (Bolton)||Tubbs, S. W.|
|Parker, Owen (Kettering)||Russell-Wells, Sir Sydney||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Pattinson, S. (Horncastle)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Pease, William Edwin||Sanders, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert A.||Wallace, Captain E.|
|Pennefather, De Fonblanque||Sanderson, Sir Frank B.||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Penny, Frederick George||Sandon, Lord||Watts, Dr. T. (Man., Withington)|
|Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley||Wells, S. R|
|Perring, William George||Shepperson, E. W.||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Peto, Basil E.||Singleton, J. E.||White, Charles F. (Derby, Western)|
|Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray||Skelton, A. N.||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Winterton, Earl|
|Ra[...]burn, Sir William H.||Sparkes, H. W.||Wise, Frederick|
|Rankin, Captain James Stuart||Spender-Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. John Fredk. Peel||Stanley, Lord||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Rees, Sir Beddoe||Steel, Major S. Strang||Wood, Major Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington)||Stewart, Gershorn (Wirral)||Yerburgh, R. D. T.|
|Reid, D. D. (County Down)||Stockton, Sir Edwin Forsyth|
|Rentoul, G. S.||Stott, Lt.-Col. W. H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Reynolds, W. G. W.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Colonel|
|Rhodes, Lieut.-Cot. J. P.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser||Gibbs.|
|Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey)|
Question, "That the Question be now nut," put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, and objection being taken to farther Proceeding, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.