§ (1) During the continuance of this Act, Section one of the Agricultural Rates Act, 1896 (hereinafter in this Act referred to as "the principal Act"), which provides that an occupier of agricultural land in England shall, in the case of every rate to which that Act applies, be liable to pay one half only of the rate in the pound payable in respect of buildings and other hereditaments, shall have effect as if for the references in that Section to "one half" there were substituted references to "one quarter":
§ Provided that, notwithstanding any provision contained in any other enactment for assessing agricultural land to any rate at less than the rateable value thereof or otherwise giving relief in respect of any rate to occupiers of agricultural land, an occupier of agricultural land shall not, as compared with an occupier of buildings or other hereditaments, pay any rate in a less proportion than one-quarter.
§ (2) Where under any local Act passed, or any Provisional Order confirmed by Parliament before the end of the present Session of Parliament, a rate to which the principal Act applied has become consolidated with a rate to which that Act did not apply. Section one of that Act as amended by this Section shall apply to the consolidated rate notwithstanding any provision contained in that Act or Order with respect to the proportion in which occupiers of agricultural land are to be liable to be assessed to or to pay that rate.1405
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "effect" ["shall have effect as if"], to insert the wordsin the case of every agricultural holding of the acreage of which more than half is arable.This Amendment raises the main charge against the Bill made on the Second Reading, namely, that it is unequal in its incidence. If it has to carry out the avowed purpose of helping those in need of help, the particular method which I suggest may not be an unsatisfactory method. The Minister knows much better than any of us what would be the way to carry out the avowed object of the Bill. We tried to offer suggestions in Committee, and the Noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health pointed out the difficulties in regard to one or two of the suggestions. This is a method which avoids the difficulty. If there are other objections may we have suggestions for a better method?
The main point I want to make is that the interest excited in the country, and in the farming newspapers and Press generally, has concentrated itself upon this question of unequal incidence. The Minister himself has talked more than once about the obvious fact that the depression which has given rise to this Bill is, in the main, a depression in arable farming. He can be quoted to show that it is not the grass farms which are suffering, not the grass farms which would have given rise to the proposals in this Bill. The main ground for the Bill, we know, is the distress of a large class of farmers: and the second the avowed object of increasing the employment on the land which was referred, to by the tribunal in its report. We are told now that there is another argument, and another ground for the Bill; that it is a matter of simple justice which ought to have been remedied long ago. If it is a question of justice there is surely no justice in the unequal apportionment of justice! Nobody can deny that. The Minister the other day, on the Second Reading of the Agricultural Credits Bill, said that I wanted to benefit Norfolk, but not Somerset-shire. On the contrary, may I point out that I myself am the possessor of only one farm, a grass farm in Essex, and I cannot say that my grass land in Essex has suffered in any sort of degree 1406 to entitle me or my tenant to any help under this Bill.
We on these benches want to support the Measure in so far as it confers relief on those who really need it. Therefore some method, it seems to us, is required to discriminate between one class and another. We suggest this method as one form in which discrimination might be carried out, and it avoids the objection raised in Committee by the Noble Lord that any new machinery or new assessment would be needed. It seems to be clear that anybody who knows the parish, and certainly the overseers, or the Assessment Committee, as the case may be, possessing an Ordnance 25-inch map, have the acreage of every field. Everybody knows what fields are or are not arable. If you want to find lands which are doubtful you have got to go to the East, to Arabia or to Turkey; where they scratch a bit of land one year and then leave it fallow for about 10 years But everybody in this country knows which is arable and which is not. It may be said that to fix a half is arbitrary; but I submit that it is almost the general principle that farms are either mainly arable or mainly grass. You have an enormous number of farms under one quarter arable. You have an enormous number over three-quarters arable. There are not many farms which are anywhere near the border line so as to give rise to difficulties of administration. You have mainly got the two classes.
The tribunal went out of its way to add to its recommendations one on the depressed condition of farming and arable land. They state that:Depression in agriculture has affected most seriously the arable districts.Again,The most urgent matter is to maintain the arable area.They go on to say that the main arguments for doing so is that arable farming helps the national food supply, and in the highest degree provides the required sum of labour.
I have noticed that since the Second Reading Debate the papers in all parts of the country have, to a degree which has surprised me, criticised the Bill on this very ground, that it will cause certain parts of the country which are in need, even agricultural parts of the country, 1407 to put their hands in their pockets, and find the money for districts which are not in need. The taxpayer of the South—not to mention East Anglica again—e.g., the taxpayers of Dorsetshire are in fact going to be fined, and we in the arable districts are to be made to pay for a large class of people who are in no need at all. Cannot some scheme be devised by which the benefit should be on a more pro rata standard? In Shropshire and in Herefordshire you have farmers who, even since the depression began, have made such good profits that they have even bought their farms in the last year or two. Take a case which I have in my mind of a very large farm to which this Bill, if it becomes law in its present form, will make to the farmer a downright present of about £120 a year. It is a very handsome capital value, let us say, of about £2,000, and somebody has to find the money. But why should it be taken from pockets which are not to benefit unless there is some sort of principle and reason in the allocation of that benefit?
You can take an arable area, and a grass area in the shape of the four large arable counties, and, on the other hand, the five large grass counties amounting to about the same area, and the benefit which will be derived by those four arable counties will be about £285,000, while the benefit derived by the five large grass counties will be £452,000. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the Board of Agriculture, or the Ministry of Health, to find some means of rectifying that inequality. This proposal is in the shape of a great public benefaction, in fact, one might call it charity. It is really indiscriminate charity, and it is a thing against which we think some protest ought to be made. It is more than indiscriminate, in fact, it is a kind of inverted charity for which no rhyme nor reason can be advanced. The Government may want to give to him that bath, but surely it is not desirable to take away from him that bath not. I trust the Minister is going to suggest some means by which we can devise a scheme so as to make the benefit meet the needs.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDS
I beg to second the Amendment.
We think that this Bill is not only bad in principle but in its incidence, and 1408 we are not convinced that the industry of agriculture is unduly depressed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] At any rate, there is depression in other industries as well as agriculture, and those who have investigated this question impartially will not find that the depression in agriculture has been so much felt in the arable districts of England. The other day the president of the Farmers' Unions said that he could not see that in the dairy and rearing districts agriculture had suffered much during the last three or four years. If it be true that the rearing districts had not suffered, then we feel that those districts have not the same claim to the relief which is suggested in this Bill. The suggestion made here is that some deliberate attempt ought to be made to see that the amount of arable land in this country is not allowed to fall at least below a certain minimum. Every one who has investigated agriculture has been impressed by the great decline in arable cultivation during the last thirty or forty years, and if any relief is to be given it should be done with the object of maintaining arable cultivation at as high a level as we possibly can. I represent a part of the country where the relief given will be to farmers who have not suffered very much during the recent depression, but I suggest that if the farmers of Norfolk and Lincoln who are farming some of the best land in this country have cause to complain, I am not suggesting that those who have to cultivate the poorer land in other parts of the country should not receive some benefit. That is a proof of the very bad incidence of this particular Bill. I suggest that if we are to relieve agriculture, we on this side of the House are convinced that this method of relief is essentially bad, even as between different people living in a rural community, such as the small shopkeeper and others, who are at the present moment over-rated just as much as your agricultural community. The claim we make is that successive Governments have been unfair in dealing with the rural districts, and they have imposed excessive burdens upon them in respect of roads and other matters.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is now raising points which are more appropriate to the Second Reading of the Bill. This Measure has passed the Second Reading and the Committee stage. We are on the Report stage, and 1409 therefore the hon. Member must confine his remarks to questions dealing with arable land, which is the point raised by the Amendment.
§ Mr. RICHARDS
I do not want to do anything to discourage agriculture, or the relief which is to be given with a view to encouraging agriculture. My point is that if we are to give relief to agriculture, let us give it in the direction of cultivating arable land, which is so desirable. We must remember that arable cultivation gives a much larger degree of employment, because, speaking generally, four men per acre are employed, but where there is less arable land it falls to less than one man per acre. It has now been proved that arable cultivation is possible in the higher parts of the country, and there is nothing wrong in suggesting that the relief should be given in proportion to the arable cultivation.
§ Mr. C. ROBERTS
I think this Amendment hits one or two blots in the Bill. I do not think that the Amendment provides a very appropriate remedy for those blots. It is quite true that the present distribution of money is such that it gives most relief where least is needed. It gives relief to those branches of agriculture which cannot make a real claim for it, and it gives the least to those who can put in the strongest claim. To that extent this Amendment hits that blot. A further blot on the Bill is that you grant public money, and you get no public advantage for it. I presume you could have granted public money to agriculture in such a way as to encourage the kind of agriculture which is most in need of it, or which, in the national interest, is most required, although it may not be the most profitable. This Bill does nothing of that kind, and by the forms of the House and the ruling of Mr. Speaker we are not able to discuss what I think would be the appropriate remedy. If we could have discussed the method of distribution and a flat rate per acre we should have been able in that case to have given a greater relief to the arable land, which is so badly hit at the present time, and less relief to those branches of agriculture that are not doing so badly at the present time.
If I am challenged on that point, I would like to take the case of sheep farms, or, at all events, those which are not arable farms. It is a fact that people 1410 are selling their sheep to-day at prices 100 per cent. above the prices obtaining before the War. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] That is so, and I can prove it from the Report which has been issued by the Board of Agriculture upon agricultural products. There are some branches of that industry which are positively booming, and under these circumstances I cannot see how those prices are likely to come down. There is a shortage of over 4,000,000 sheep in this country, if you compare it with the number we had before the War. What is the remedy to secure those prices going down? If hon. Members opposite challenge my figures, then they must have it out with the Minister of Agriculture, who must have circulated inaccurate statistics, and I am quite prepared to refer them to the Minister of Agriculture.
There is one particular branch which is not doing so well. The present Bill gives relief to the richest and most fertile land and least to the poorer kinds of land. I confess that I do not like this proposal. With regard to the Amendment, the best you can say for it is that it exposes certain blots in the Bill which are admitted even by the supporters of this legislation. I do not believe that the remedy proposed is very appropriate, and it will be difficult to work. I very much regret that we have not had a proper chance of dealing with this subject effectively in Committee. We had a discussion on the question of distribution which lasted about one hour and is contained in about eight pages of the OFFICIAL REPORT. Because we had that discussion we are now prevented from proposing what is really the only means of dealing effectively with arable land. That would have given a much larger relief to the arable land which may be rented at 10s. or 15s. an acre, and much less to building and accommodation land which is now going to receive out of public funds relief to which it is not in the least entitled. The theory upon which the Government is acting is that there are certain branches of agriculture which have a claim upon public money in the shape of relief. This is not more than a sop which averages about £6 per holding in England and Wales, but it is given as a sop. It certainly connot be said, as the Minister of Health said, that agriculture must be 1411 helped in this way before it can recover itself. Because it is necessary to deal with that, the Minister of Agriculture thinks he is quite entitled to throw public money about and to give it to a number of people who certainly do not deserve it—to give it to holders of urban land which is not agricultural. There is, in consequence, going to be under this Act, as there was under previous Acts, a certain amount of relief given to people who are depressed—that I am prepared to admit—but there will also be a considerable amount of money paid in quarters which cannot possibly make out a just claim for it.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
The only theory of the Labour party appears to be that men should have their bread without butter. That is the only theory I can see which justifies this Amendment. The proposal is that those who grow bread shall get some remission of taxation, but those who produce butter shall get none. You are not doing anything for arable land by this Amendment. You propose to leave it in exactly the same position as it would be under the Bill, but you propose to take away whatever relief the Bill gives from those who produce butter, cheese, and other necessary articles of human food in this country. There seems to be a sort of grudge against men who hold grass farms and produce the milk which the children of our country so greatly need.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
I differ entirely from the whole principle embodied in the speeches we have heard from the other side this afternoon. I cannot agree that we want this Bill in order to give charity, as one hon. Member said. I do not call it a sop, or charity, or a dole, or a subsidy. I regard it as a plain matter of justice to those who have been paying too much for a great many years past. There is another thing of which I would remind hon. Members opposite. They speak about our giving money as a sop to agriculture. Not a halfpenny of this money is going to agriculture. It is not to be paid to the farmer, it is to be paid to the other ratepayers of the district, and it is to save their pockets that this money is voted.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman is now following the example set on the other side, and touching upon Second Reading points.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
The grass farmer, quite as much as the arable farmer, has a grievance against his neighbour with the same income in that he is paying a very much larger share of his income towards local taxation. It is intended by this Amendment that the grass farmer shall continue to pay exactly what he does at the present time towards education, police, Poor Law, roads, and so on. It is proposed that he should continue to contribute double or treble as much as his neighbour who has the same income, and he is to do that because he happens to be a farmer of grass land. Why should he be mulct in that heavy manner? He gets no more benefit than his neighbour from any of the services I have named. His ability to pay is no greater, and there is no reason why he should pay more than his neighbour with the same income. On the ground that he has been unfairly treated in the past, and that we desire to remedy his grievance, I cannot accept this Amendment.
§ Mr. R. PATTINSON
I have been a good deal astonished to find that the poor, miserable grass farmer is deemed by some Members of this House not to be worthy of consideration. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the case of the farmer in the County of Lincoln who has to farm land which is a good deal more grass than arable for the simple reason that he takes in certain common rights and grows mangoldwurtzel. He has attached to his farm some of the coldest clay land in England which is absolutely unsuitable for growing corn, as was proved during the War. Heaps of this land was ploughed up during the War with disastrous results to those who owned it, to those who farmed it, and to the nation at large. If the Amendment of the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. N. Buxton) be adopted it will simply mean that many of my constituents in the Grantham Division will be deprived of the relief which is equitably due to them. We do not claim relief on the simple ground that we are badly off; we claim it on the ground that the burden on the land is greater than it should be, and that the 1413 time has come, whether it be for arable land or for grass land, when we should be granted some measure of relief from the excessive charges placed on the backs of the agricultural community—charges which that community is not able to bear. I would like to ask the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. C. Roberts) why it is that a man who farms land adjacent to a large urban district is not to have relief simply because it may be potential building land? After all, that man is not making a living out of the value of the land as potential building land. There is no profit coming to him from that fact. Whatever profit does ultimately come will go to the landowner, and then will be the time to tax the landowner upon it. I am quite willing to assist in doing that at the proper time. So far as the occupier to-day is concerned, he is as worthy of relief as any other man in the farming industry, and I hope the Minister of Agriculture will continue to resist this Amendment, the carrying of which would be disastrous to many men who live in my division. I well remember the efforts of that noble champion of agriculture, the late Lord Chaplin, on behalf of the occupiers of land whom we to-day wish to save from disaster. Take Lincoln Heath to-day. I believe some of the Londesborough estates have recently been sold and one farm has been bought by Scotsmen from across the border. They are coming down to Lincolnshire to till that farm. They are going to lay it down to grass, I am told. I can only say, good luck to them if they can keep it from being prairie in the end. The truth of the matter is that the whole agricultural community are suffering by reason of the burdens which this House has placed on them in order to provide for the services of the public. As I understand it, a Liberal principle is that the burdens should be put on the backs of those best able to bear it, and I am surprised therefore that my Labour and Liberal Friends are not willing to give support to this Bill.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I can see we made a mistake in moving this Amendment. We did not appreciate the real object of the Government in bringing in this Bill. We thought, and judging from the Second Reading speeches we were entitled to think, that the Govern- 1414 ment, in introducing the Bill, had an idea of providing more employment in agriculture. They were so anxious to help the unemployed that they were willing to relieve the rates and put the money into the landlords' pockets in order that they might spend it on employment. We thought they were anxious to provide employment by making it possible to keep land in cultivation instead of allowing it to go out of cultivation, and, believing that, we were indiscreet enough to suggest that the greatest relief should be given to that land which is at prsent under the plough and which would go out of cultivation if this relief were refused. Now we find that that is not the object of the Government. The Minister has made it perfectly clear that this is a bread and butter Bill for the whole of agriculture, and that it is unjust and unfair to the industry that you should give bread and butter to one agriculturist and not to another. That is a beautiful theory—beautiful for us, because we provide the bread and butter and they eat it. If one section of the industry is going to have bread and butter the other sections of the industry had also better have it. But let us get rid of all this cant and humbug about this being a Measure intended to solve the unemployment problem and to lead to increased employment on the land.
§ Major WHELER
Is it not a fact that, if this Amendment be carried, not only the relief we wish to be given to agricultural land, but also the relief which was given by the Act of 1896 will be done away with entirely, and that there will be no relief for agriculture at all? If that be so, it is clear that the intention of the hon. Gentleman opposite is not to help agriculture, but to put it in a worse position than it is to-day. It is well we should realise the exact position taken up by the Labour party towards a Bill which is intended for the benefit of agriculture.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I should like to emphasise and reinforce the argument used by the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood). I think the party which has brought forward this Amendment has mistaken the position and had therefore better withdraw it, and let us get on with matters which concern us more particularly. The Government have made the position 1415 quite clear. This is not a Bill designed primarily or mainly far the relief of agriculture, but it is a Bill for the relief of the unfair incidence of rating, and the arguments which have been addressed to the House show where that relief will go. It is extremely difficult, except in regard to a small Clause of mine which the Government have accepted, to deny that the relief will ultimately go to the landowner. The Government have not, brought in this Bill to relieve agriculture or to cure unemployment in agriculture. They have not considered that where agriculture is doing worst there it needs most relief; they have simply pitched on one thing, and unless it can be argued that they have pitched on the wrong thing, there is no injustice involved in their proposal. The thing they have pitched upon is that the occupier of agricultural land, whether grass or arable, is far more highly rated than other persons in the district in which he lives, compared with the incomes which they both enjoy and with the benefit which they both get from the rates. If it can be argued that, as a matter of fact, the tenant of such land is not fairly rated compared with his income and compared with the income of other persons, then I think there is no ground for saying that the Bill is a bad Bill, which ought not to be passed. As long as the Government introduce the Bill—as apparently they did in this case—only as a Bill to remedy an injustice which exists, it seems to me that one is honourably bound to back them up, as far as one can, in removing that injustice, and we ought to support this Measure to give relief and assistance to agriculturists in their respective, districts. Considering how particularly these arable districts are suffering, I shall have to support the hon. Members who are supporting this Amendment, because the relief is not distributed in that way. But if the Minister says that this Bill does not do all that is required, and that it is not a final settlement of the agricultural position in general, but is merely a Bill to remove an admitted hardship, then one is bound to contribute, as far as one can, to removing that hardship.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
While the wording of this Amendment may not be suitable, 1416 I think the Minister in charge of the Bill should recognise that there is no desire on the part of the Mover or Seconder or any of its supporters to make it impossible to give relief where agricultural relief is really necessary. Further, it should be stated that this Amendment is perhaps the result of listening to and reading a statement made by the Minister of Health who introduced this Bill. To use his own words, he said:Agriculture is in a desperate position, and unless something be done to assist the industry, it is clear that much of the land which is now arable must either go out of cultivation or be laid down to grass, with results that will be disastrous, not only to those actually engaged in the industry, but also to town dwellers.If that statement be the considered feeling of the Government, obviously it shows that the arable farmer is entitled to more benefit and relief than any other section of the agricultural community. I do not suggest that all Departments of agriculture are not in a difficulty in some degree, but if, as the Minister of Health stated, those agriculturists who have now got arable farms can see only one way out, namely, by turning the arable land into grass land, is it not fair to assume that the lack of discrimination in this Bill will encourage those who have arable farms to lay them down to grass which will be the most lucrative department? If arable farmers are suffering the most they need the greatest amount of assistance. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that this Amendment would not assist the arable farmer, as he would merely get the same amount of relief after the passing of this Amendment which would he his lot if the Amendment were not passed. But the same encouragement for the arable farmer still remains to turn his land into grass, and thereby reduce the quantity of food produced in this country. I suggest to the Minister that it is the last thing any Government should do to do anything that would tend to reduce the amount of food produced in this country. If there is any sincerity in the suggestion that this allocation of some £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 would assist employment, it could only do so if we maintained or improved the quantity of land that is going to be arable in future. We have had the intellectual microscopes of the Minister of Health and of the Minister of Agriculture bearing on this problem, and we are now in the position that it is about as clear as a 1417 London fog. We do not know whether to view the question from the point of view of removing a great anomaly or of making safe seats for some Members of this House. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. R. Pattinson) appeared to confine his attention to benefits that might be derived by particular farmers in his constituency.
Although the words of the Amendment may not be the most suitable words, Members on this side of the House have no desire to withhold from agriculture the benefit agriculture is entitled to, whether it comes in the shape of relief to the arable farmer or relief to the other sections of the agricultural community, but we do want to see that the maximum number of workpeople are to be kept on the land. Secondly, we want to see the relief so equitable that no adverse effects will result. I think the Minister might reconsider this question and, if he cannot accept the Amendment, he might introduce another Clause which would give effect to what is desired.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I want to point out to hon. Gentlemen opposite, who, I am perfectly sure, are honest in their desire to maintain arable land under cultivation, that this is a totally impossible and impracticable Amendment. How are you to draw a distinction between arable land and land under grass? Can any hon. Member opposite define what is meant by arable land? Some land is laid down in temporary pasture for one year or more and then ploughed up and a corn crop taken. Sometimes it is laid down in pasturage for two, three or four or even five years, and then it is ploughed up again. In farming there is no hard and fast lines drawn between arable and grass land.
§ Mr. N. BUXTON
The right hon. Gentleman challenges me with knowing nothing about agriculture, which he is quite at liberty to do. But I know quite as much of that class of land as he does, and I may tell him that it is often laid to grass for even more than the five years he speaks of. But it is perfectly obvious that the land of which he speaks is arable land, because it is periodically ploughed up at short intervals.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
And that is the way that most of the land which is referred to is going down to grass. You have large 1418 areas of land in North Lincolnshire, which is one of the most important cereal districts in England. When that land is spoken of as going from arable to grass, it does not mean that large areas are to be laid down in permanent pasture. It means that, instead of ploughing up one-half or three-quarters as arable, that area will be laid down to grass for two or three years. Half or less than half of a farm will be ploughed. If you take the whole area of the Lincolnshire Wolds, these arable farms will normally remain arable farms, but a larger proportion of them will be in temporary pasture. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. C. Roberts) spoke of sheep farming as a separate branch of the agricultural industry. To talk in that way is simply to throw dust in the eyes of the House. It is quite true that sheep farming in Scotland or in mountain pastures is a branch by itself, and you have sheep on mountain pasture which keeps nothing but sheep. But sheep farming, as a matter of fact, is a mere part of the industry of farming in the most arable of the arable counties of England.
§ Mr. C. ROBERTS
The right hon. Member shows his usual attitude towards us, but I would like to point out that that is exactly what I was saying. I was not speaking of sheep on arable farms; I was referring to the particular hill farms which are concentrated on sheep. I was simply taking that as one branch of agriculture. It is no use talking of agriculture as if it were one thing. It has a number of departments.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I am very glad the hon. Gentleman agrees with that, but I have heard him putting forward the argument that this relief should not be given because it is profitable to produce sheep. I do not agree that sheep are bringing prices 100 per cent. more than before the War, but the price is a very considerable advance. I want to say that it is only by producing sheep that a large proportion of the poorer arable lands of this country have been able to grow corn at all. I repeat, without fear of contradiction, that, with practically no exception, there is a loss to-day on every acre of cereals grown in this country. You cannot grow an acre of corn to-day unless you are to lose money on it. All you can do with your sheep is to mitigate that loss to some extent. I beg to assure hon. 1419 Members opposite that if this Amendment were carried you would get into an extraordinary difficulty in defining what is arable land and what is not. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they really do desire to benefit agriculture, that they cannot draw hard and fast lines across the agricultural industry, between this and other particular branches of it. The man who wants relief is the man who has the heaviest burden. I trust this Bill will be accepted in the spirit which is asked for it, and that it will be a recognition by the whole of us and not one party only of the needs of agriculture.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Well, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman has a particular view, and his view is obscured by a particular crochet which he has in his head, he can see nothing else, but I hope this Bill may go as a gift from the whole of the House.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The House has listened with appreciation to the speech of the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman), as it always does. It is true he has made out a strong case in detail against the Amendment which the House is discussing. He has suggested that, on practical grounds, it would be a matter of great difficulty to make the distinction contained in the Amendment. But, at the same time, I do not think he should have poured such contempt on the efforts of those who proposed the Amendment. After all, those hon. Gentlemen were simply endeavouring to meet an injustice which the right hon. Gentleman himself has confessed. The right hon. Gentleman himself has confessed that the operation of the relief to agricultural land is not fair in its incidence. I find that the right hon. Gentleman gave evidence before a Commission on this subject, and he was talking of the mode of relief under the existing Act. This Bill is to continue the mode of relief under the existing Act, and it rather aggravates any inequalities that there operate. The right hon. Gentleman, in giving that evidence—not making a speech in Debate, but giving evidence before a Commission for the purpose of exploring the truth—spoke in a somewhat different way. He said:I think it is a bad method"—1420 that is, the method in the Bill which he is now defending—because the relief is given to the land which is best able to bear the burden. That gets the most relief, and the land which is least able to bear the burden gets the least relief. That is inseparable from that form of relief, and that is one of the reasons, I suppose, why it is made only temporary.After all, the Amendment before the House is an attempt to deal with what the right hon. Gentleman himself has admitted to be a bad method of giving relief, and, in these circumstances, the motive of the hon. Members who have proposed it might at least be free from blame. Personally, I do not attach a great deal of importance to this Amendment or to the method of distributing the relief, because I believe that in this matter it is of no consequence how you divide it; it is going to the landlord. To go on with this camouflage that it is for the farmer, whether he be a dairy farmer or an arable farmer, is keeping up a solemn farce which deceives no one. The new Clause which was adopted earlier in the day indicates exactly what the position is.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am sorry. I have been dealing with certain arguments which have been adduced from the other side of the House. The question has been bandied about as to whether those who support this Amendment intend to deal unjustly with the dairy farmer, while dealing more generously with the arable farmer; and in dealing with these respective contentions I respectfully submit that I am entitled to point out that it is not going to matter to either. That is my sole object. It makes a difference, of course, in respect of the different classes of land, and that was the point of the criticism which I have quoted from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman); but in showing that it does not go to either of these people, and that, consequently, both sets of arguments are irrelevant, I am, surely, entitled to point, as an illustration, to the operation of the new Clause which has been adopted, and which in itself admits that, where there is no statutory protection for the tenant, the whole benefit will go to the landlord.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I submit that, if I am contending that this Amendment is a matter of no consequence, I am entitled to show on what grounds it is of no consequence, although those grounds may be inadequate. I do not, however, propose to enlarge upon the matter; I have said enough to establish the case. I can quite understand that there is some reluctance to hear this particular point of view put. We have to consider, however, whether, failing this particular method of making a distinction, there is not some other method of doing it. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. C. Roberts) did suggest another method on another occasion, and what we desire to know from the Government is whether they would not consider some method of arriving at greater justice in the distribution of this relief. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford, in his speech to-day, described this as a matter of justice, and I observe that on a similar Amendment during the Committee stage he also emphasised it as a matter of justice. He regards it as a matter of justice to the agricultural industry as a whole, but, if you are giving relief, it surely goes to the root of the matter if that relief is not fairly divided. It is admitted, even by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that it is not fairly divided, and, consequently, the whole argument in regard to justice is vitiated if there is inequality of distribution. In these circumstances, I think that that is a strong ground for abandoning this proposal altogether. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford, as usual, describes this as a temporary arrangement, and says it is unnecessary, therefore, to suggest any alternative view, because something new is to be done later. That, of course, applies to the original Act, which has gone on for 26 years, and probably this will go on for an equal length of time. I hope, however, that hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway will proceed with their Amendment, because it has afforded an opportunity of showing the humbug upon which the whole proposal is based. It is not a proposal to relieve those actually engaged in the industry; it is only a means, in the long run, of helping those who enjoy the rents 1422 which are earned by those engaged in the industry.
I want to say a word on behalf of the grazing farmer, and am not going to differentiate between ordinary grass land and feeding land. I think my hon. Friend opposite, in this Amendment, is dealing with feeding land. Apart altogether from the ridiculous idea that a farmer in Wiltshire or Somerset is to be treated on different terms from a farmer in Norfolk, I should like to say that the one hope of getting enough milk for the children of England is in the grazing and feeding lands of England, and that these lands have never received the treatment which they should have received. If the farmers who work those grazing lands had had enough money to dress them with artificial manure and treat them properly, I venture to state that they could feed at least double the number of milch cows that they are feeding at the present time. In very large areas of England, also, the grazing tenants have bought their holdings, and have paid for them, I think, much more than the land was worth. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"] Hon. Members say, "Hear, hear!" and, therefore, they ought to be supporting this side of the House instead of the Amendment moved by the hon. Member opposite. It is perfectly clear that, if you do not allow the same terms to grazing farmers that are given to arable farmers, those grazing farmers will cease to carry out the purpose that they are carrying out now, that is to say, supplying milk for the children of the people of England. There is another point that I should like to raise, and that is that the grazing farmers of England have already had a serious load put upon their shoulders owing to the artificial holding up of Irish store cattle. At present store cattle are £2 or £3 more per head, and I venture to say that that is not only a tax upon the grazing farmer, but is a tax upon the people of England, because beef is dearer this year than it has ever been before. Therefore, I think it would be most unfair to the graziers of England to put on the top of this tax upon Irish cattle, which are really supplying the best beef for England, this further taxation by not giving them the same relief that is given to arable farmers.
§ Mr. RILEY
I am sure the Minister will accept it when I say that we on these benches do not put forward this Amendment in a factitious spirit. It is not put forward at all for the purpose of opposing the Bill. There is a point in regard to the Amendment which I do not think anyone can contend has been met, and that is that the proposed relief as arranged for in the Bill will go, so far as two-thirds of it is concerned, to the occupiers of pasture land, and, so far as one-third is concerned, to the occupiers of arable land. It has been contended to-day that this Bill is not put forward as a remedy for the distress in agriculture. It is now contended that it is put forward as a piece of rating reform, as a method of adjusting the burden of rates. I want to submit to the House that in that contention which to made now, there is an entire shifting of the ground. The whole purpose of the Minister's speech, when he introduced the Bill, was that this Bill was brought forward to meet depression in agriculture.
This particular Amendment proposes to confine the relief given to holdings which are half-arable. It has nothing to do with the proposals contained in the Minister's speech.
§ Mr. RILEY
I submit, with due deference, that what I am saying is quite material to that point. The Minister, in introducing the Bill, used these words:It is an important fact that the complaints as to the state of the agricultural industry are not nearly so severe from grass counties, which after all represent about two-thirds of the whole.The Minister indicated, therefore, that the purpose was to relieve the difficulties of those who were engaged in arable farming. That was the clearly expressed purpose of the Minister on the introduction of the Bill. Our contention is that the Bill, as it now stands, does not give relief to the right people, but gives it to the occupier of grass land, and it is not contended that they need relief to anything like the same extent as those who are occupying arable land. Let me remind the House of one striking illustration with regard to the claims of arable occupiers as against those of pasture farmers. It is a case that was given during the Committee stage of this very Bill. The hon. Member for South Norfolk 1424 (Major T. W. Hay), whom I do not see in his place to-day, instanced the cases of Cambridgeshire and Derbyshire. Cambridgeshire, which is purely, or at any rate very largely, an arable county, and is of approximately the same size as the County of Derby, received £13,000 under the 1896 Act, while Derbyshire, which is mainly pasture, got £26,000. Under this Bill Derbyshire, which still needs relief less than Cambridgeshire, will get twice the amount that Cambridgeshire will get. The Minister said to-day that this Bill is to give a measure of justice to agriculture. We on this side say that in allocating the relief equally to arable and pasture land, it is giving the bulk of the relief to the land which does not require it and the least to the land that does require it. One other consideration I wish to urge which may appeal to some hon. Members opposite. Whatever other merits this Amendment may have it would reduce the amount required by about two-thirds. The amount proposed to be given is now £2,750,000. On the Minister's own showing the amount of arable land is approximately one-third of the whole and assuming, which is not the case, that the value per acre is the same—as a matter of fact arable is less than pasture land—it will reduce the amount required by about two thirds. The Amendment represents a saving of £2,000,000 on this £2,750,000. On the ground that the incidence of this relief is entirely unfair and inequitable and extravagant, I support the Amendment.
§ Mr. LAMB
The Amendment proposes to confine the relief that is given to arable land as against the general relief which it is intended should be given to agriculture as a whole. That would have two effects. First, it would make the Bill practically unworkable, and secondly, in any case if machinery were set up to make the Bill workable with this Amendment in it, it would so far delay it that it would be disastrous, because what little relief is going to be received by agriculture under this Bill is required immediately and with as little delay as possible. With regard to the first point it would be almost impossible to ascertain what is arable and what is grass land, not only because of the varying periods for which the land is laid down, but also for the very fact that the amount of land which could honestly be called arable on 1425 a farm one year would vary very considerably as against the next, and it would necessitate the appointment of a very large number of what I term unnecessary officials to ascertain and to check the amount of land which, under the Amendment, was entitled to the relief given. Again, the question of the quality of the land comes in, because the amount of food produced from it is taken into consideration. There is a very peat deal of variation between the amount of food which one piece of land will produce as against other land in other circumstances and under other conditions. It has been said by some that the objects of the Bill are to increase the amount of arable land and the amount of labour employed in rural areas. Both are admirable objects, which on other occasions I should have pleasure in supporting, but on this occasion I consider they are not germane to the Amendment, because this is a measure of rating reform, and as such can be properly considered as a relief, not to any particular type of agriculture, but to agriculture as a whole. I hope the Minister will continue to resist the Amendment.
§ Mr. J. C. DAVIES
There is only one objection to the Amendment that I should like to press and that is that its acceptance involves the exclusion from the benefits of the Bill of at least one-half of the farmers in my constituency. I go further and say that it would mean the exclusion of at least three-fourths of the farms in North Wales. I should like to join issue with hon. Members who have expressed the view that it is only the arable farmers who need assistance. From the best information I can obtain, speaking for my own constituency, the pasture farmers need assistance almost as much as the others. In fact the distress is very acute. The condition in North Wales is somewhat remarkable. Largely owing to the fictitious prosperity which prevailed from 1916 to 1921 the price of land went up immensely, and in consequence a large number of estates were brought to the market and a large number of farms were sold. A large number of tenant farmers bought their farms at exorbitant prices. Really they had no option in the matter. They either had to buy or to turn out, and at the time there were no houses available. We all know the deep attachment of the tenant farmer to his home. 1426 They were induced to offer much higher prices, relying on the supposed security of Acts of Parliament, and of course the Government of the day were guilty of a breach of faith to the farmer when they abolished the Agriculture Act. They are now in dire distress and they need all the assistance we can give them. I dare say the position in many other parts of the country is somewhat similar. I am only sorry the Government did not go further and did not follow the consistent and logical course and abolish all rates on the land.
§ Mr. HARDIE
In Glasgow we have 4,000 acres in our city—[An HON. MEMBER: "Is it agricultural?"] I am asked if it is agricultural, and I might also be asked whether it is arable or grass. Since the surface of these acres is covered with old tins and broken bottles, it is very difficult to say what the character of the land is, but the owners of those acres in Glasgow are going to get relief under this Bill to help them to wait till the price gets higher by the demands of the community when we are trying to rid our city of slums. If the Bill was going to deal with the agricultural side alone, there would be no need for me to cut in on this question. Grass lands are not known in Glasgow because, even if we could get rid of the old tins and the bottles and started to put in crops, as soon as they put their heads above the ground the fumes from the chemical works at St. Rollox would lay them all dead in half an hour. [Interruption.] I am quite sure from his appearance that the hon. Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. J. Erskine) knows nothing at all about agriculture. A man who knows about agriculture in this House does not wear spats. I hope the Minister, before letting the thing go finally, will find some way of giving protection to the citizens of Glasgow, who have always had sitting on their necks, metaphorically speaking, a group of old men of the sea with a bit of land always waiting for an increase of value due to the people who care to go in for industry, and now they are going to get benefits under this Bill. I believe if the Minister of Agriculture would do something of this kind at the next election he would have his majority increased from 21, as I believe it was, to 23. I think he deserves it.
§ Amendment negatived.1427
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Do I understand that you, Sir, are ruling out the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Burslem and myself to leave out "one quarter." Might I put it to you that it has to be taken in conjunction with the one immediately succeeding it, and it will make the Clause read so that, the remission shall go, not to the agricultural land, but to the improvements upon the land, that is to say, buildings, agricultural machinery and other improvements. The Amendment is devised so that within the ambit of the Bill we may consider an alternative scheme to giving relief to agriculture which would not go into the pockets of the landlord, namely, a relief upon their improvements instead of a relief to the land value.
The Amendment appears to me to raise the question of land values, which is outside the scope of this Bill.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
This does not raise the question of land values. The only question it raises is whether the relief should be given on improvements or on the land which is not improved. I submit that relief on improvements upon agricultural land is within the ambit of the Bill.
§ Mr. RILEY
Am I to take it that you pass over my Amendment, which is to provide for an appeal to a County Court against any increase of rent? In view of the fact that the purpose of the Amendment which has been passed over was to secure that the relief goes to those for whom it was intended, may I point out that the same principle was accepted in the Corn Production Act? In the previous Act, when a subsidy was voted, a provision was made that rents should not be increased.
The Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member is entirely outside the scope of the Bill. Mr. Charles Roberts.
§ Mr. N. BUXTON
May I submit an argument in regard to the Amendment standing in my name which you have 1428 excluded, providing that no occupier who shall pay any person in his whole-time employment wages at a rate less than 30s. per week shall be entitled to relief under this Section?
§ Mr. C. ROBERTS
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "quarter" ["substituted references to one quarter"], to insert the wordsProvided that no relief shall be given under this Act in respect of any land where the gross estimated rental of the land, apart from the buildings, as determined at the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and twenty-three, is higher than it was for the same land as determined at the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirteen.This Amendment was not put down when the Bill came before the Committee, and I hope the Minister of Agriculture has not made his mind up about it. There is substance in it, and I put it forward because it comes from high authority. It is merely an adaptation of an Amendment which was moved to the principal Act by Mr. McKenna. In these circumstances, it demands the consideration of the Government. We hope soon to see Mr. McKenna as Chancellor of the Exchequer. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] We understand that he will soon be Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he will have the task of finding the money to supply the funds for the purposes of this Bill, and we ought to know the views of the prospective Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we ought to consider the attitude which Mr. McKenna holds towards all this class of legislation. Although I have proceeded upon these lines, I have modified the rigidity of Mr. McKenna's attitude in regard to the principal Act, and I have put forward my Amendment in a much less stiff form than his original proposal. I do not suppose that everybody changes their opinions by the lapse of time, and there may be some help and guidance in learning from the opinions of the wise in the past with regard to this matter.
Mr. McKenna's views were that this kind of legislation was not intended as a measure for the readjustment of local burdens. If so, he said it was bad, because it did not proceed on right principles. He believed the Act could only come into operation where the agricul- 1429 tural interests has suffered distress, and that the money should go more freely where it was wanted, and should be saved where it was not wanted. He proposed, therefore, that relief should only be given where the assessable value of the land was at least 20 per cent. below the standard at which it stood 20 years previously. I have suggested that the relief should not be given where the rent is higher than it was in 1913. This is not the Amendment to which I attach the most importance. I believe the right way to do it would be by a flat rate per acre, but that has been ruled out and we are not allowed to discuss it. If by the terms of the Financial Resolution a number of other variants have been ruled out, I do not see what we can do except to follow the proposal of Mr. McKenna and to limit the relief to where real agricultural distress is shown. That distress can be shown in the rental, because if the rental has not been reduced below where it stood in 1913, it would be very difficult to show that there is any real case of agricultural distress. If you are dealing with land which is rented at a higher rent, for instance land which during the War, as a result of the higher prices which prevailed during the War, was put up in price, and the rentals have not been reduced, it seems to me that the right remedy is not to come to the House and ask for public money, contributed by the general consumers, but to lower the rents.
§ Mr. HOHLER
It seems to me that this Amendment has nothing to do with rent. It relates to land where the gross estimated rental of the land, apart from buildings, is higher than it was in 1913. The whole of the argument is entirely out of order.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I think the right hon. Baronet is wrong on that point. The 1430 gross estimated rental is, I am sure, stated separately. Under the Act of 1896 the assessment committees are specially enjoined to separate it. I have provided that where improvements have been made, repairs, etc., or additional buildings, they would not count. I am only dealing with land apart from buildings. The Government have to show that there is some real distress. They are always standing first on one leg and then on the other. The answer will probably be, because it has already been given, that it is not a question of distress, but a question of readjustment of local burdens, and that therefore any question of the comparative value of land has to be left out of account. The whole attitude of the Government is that they are going to relieve perishing agriculture, but when illustrations have been given showing that this is not so imperative in certain respects, they fall back upon a totally different and inconsistent line of argument, namely, that they have to adjust local rating. If there is any real urgency in agricultural distress, and if it is a mere question of remedying the admitted anomalies, why be in this hurry; why do it this year?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not know whether this is the opening of a Second Reading Debate. It is going on those lines. The Debate on the previous Amendment pointed in that direction. I cannot allow a Second Reading Debate on these Amendments.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I accept your ruling, Sir, and perhaps at a later stage there will be an opportunity of dealing with the matter. I am entitled to ask that there shall be some proof of distress or depression, as recorded in the gross estimated value of the land. That was the principle laid down by Mr. McKenna, and I think it is a sound principle. Do the Government dissent from the expressed views of their prospective colleague, or do they think that his views are as unsound as they think mine often are?
§ Amendment not seconded.1431