HC Deb 12 February 1924 vol 169 cc764-6

We come to agriculture. In agriculture we have a subject of the most pressing national interest. I have not shared the views of the agriculturist who said the industry was "on its last legs." There is plenty of evidence to show that is not the case. A great fault committed by those fellow-citizens of ours who are always telling us they are on the brink of ruin is that they always live from season to season. When a good season comes, they say nothing about it. When a bad season conies, all they do is to produce to their own minds and to us the figures of the bad season. and try to convince us that that is a normal and average condition of the industry in which they are engaged. Far from it I There is not the least doubt about it that even now careful bookkeeping on the part of large numbers of farmers does not exist, and one of the services now being given by the Ministry of Agriculture to the farming industry is to supply them with professional gentlemen who can tell them how to keep books and accounts with. sufficient accuracy to enable them to see how their business goes from year to year. There are some other schemes that must receive immediate attention. There is, for instance, the question of rating—not necessarily agricultural rating, but the whole question of rating.


May I ask when we are going to have the right hon. Gentleman's agricultural policy?


There is the question of rating. Government after Government has promised to deal with this subject, and I have not the least doubt has tried to deal with it, but has failed. The Labour Government is going to make an attempt. The whole question of rating is due for revision, not for farmers, but for everybody. The Government proposes to bend its attention to this subject, and hopes, with a fair amount of luck before it will be time for it to leave these benches, and either transfer to those opposite or go to the country—it will have produced its scheme for readjustment and reform. No interest in the country would benefit more from a rating based on scientific principles than the agriculturist, the farmer who is farming his land, and who is not going to he charged with rates for improvements upon it. So far as we are concerned we shall not touch tariffs nor bounties. Both tariffs and bounties are wrong. They only help to encourage inefficiency. They induce the towns to regard agriculture as something that preys upon them. They cannot be confined to agriculture and agriculture. produce alone. Bounties in particular, and also tariffs—but bounties in particular, must be attended by an oppressive control, for no Government in its senses would ever make large presents of public money to an industry, and then say to that industry: "You can covey on your work in any way you like.'' Control of the most definite, detailed, and oppressive kind must accompany any system of bounties given to farmers. 1 am perfectly certain that, in these circumstances, farmers would not agree to it. What agriculture requires is a stimulus to fight its own battle. I was talking to an eminent agriculturist only the other day, arid a remark he made to me was this: "If we could get all our agriculturists to farm as efficiently as the 20 or 25 per cent. at the top, there would be very little agricultural problem in this country." That is the spirit and the line upon which the Government propose to work, and, therefore, we select co-operation as the best means for aiding, developing, and stimulating the agricultural industry.

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