Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,565,386 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. 1926, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, including a subsidy on Sugar and Molasses manufactured from Beet grown in Great Britain, Expenses under the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, 1924, Loans to Agricultural Co-operative Societies, 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.—£1.275,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Edward Wood)
In rising to offer a few reasons to the Committee why they should accept the demand for money just read out from the Chair, I am conscious that the task of a Minister in introducing Estimates is always difficult. Not only is he debarred by rules of Order from dealing with many matters of interest, which are concerned with his Department, but he has also to have regard to the feelings of other Members, and to endeavour to work within a strict limit of time. Even within the limits of Order the range of administration is wide enough. The Department over which I preside deals with fish and fertilisers, sugar and sheepscab, rats and reclamation, and, if I may add without offence to anyone, it deals with pigs and also with parsons. That is a very comprehensive list of some of the subjects 979 which fall within the scope and receive the attention, hostile or sympathetic, of the Ministry.
We have already had an opportunity this year of debating fish, and therefore, although for that reason I do not propose to refer to it this afternoon, at this stage, I can assure my hon. Friends who represent fishing constituencies that it has been, and is, the subject of attention, and has not been absent from my mind. Apart from sugar, which has also occupied a great deal of our attention this year, and with regard to which I will say nothing to-day beyond saying that I think that there is every reason to believe that the efforts of Parliament to establish that new industry are moving to success, the bulk of the money which the Committee are asked to vote this afternoon goes to two main purposes. First of all to research and education, and, in the escond place, to land settlement. I invite hon. Members, with those broad groups of expenditure before them, to consider them from the point of view of what I think to be the most important functions of the Ministry.
I shall, of course, have to trespass a little bit outside the exact divisions into those groups to which I have referred, but I ask hon. Members to keep them in mind. The twin functions of the Ministry I conceive to be protection and development, and I put protection first because in agriculture, as in the field of international affairs, no development is possible without security, and at the moment agriculture is suffering from a feeling of great insecurity. It is not always realised how sharp the post-War depression of 1920 was. Between 1920 and 1922 agricultural prices dropped by no less than 120 points, whereas between the years 1873 and 1893 they only dropped by 50 points. That is to say in two years you had double the drop which you had in 20 years, and that, of course, on the one hand associated with a series of bad seasons for which no politician happily can be held to blame, and on the other hand accompanied by a series of political vicissitudes during the last two or three years to which it would be quite disorderly for me now to allude, has had the effect of undermining and shaking agricultural confidence. This I conceive 980 it to be the first aim of any Government, this or any other, to apply all its energies, by steady administration and by such legislative action as may look to be permanent, to endeavour to remove.
With that word of preface let me illustrate what is in my mind when I speak of our functions of protection. In the first place there is the protection of labour. Under that Lead I would remind hon. Members that we are charged with the administration of the Act which this House passed last year, which was devised for the protection of the labourer by ensuring to him the best wages the agricultural industry can afford, and it was due to the party with which I am associated that that Act was passed in a form in which full regard can be had to the varying needs and capacities of the different districts of the country. I think that it was also due to the action which was taken by our party last year that that Act has been brought into operation with a minimum of friction, and is to-day working on the whole smoothly and well.
I am quite certain that no farmer today who knows his business makes the mistake of thinking that low paid labor is necessarily synonymous with cheap labour, and, on the other hand, I think that the labourer will be wise to remember always that his wage must depend upon the economic yield of the industry, and that in the result of that economic yield, whether there be a loss or a profit, the quality of his labour plays an increasing part. It is of course inevitable that there should have been a number of complaints of non-compliance with the Act, but most, of them that I have seen are due to genuine misunderstanding either on the part of the worker or on the part of the employer. I say here quite deliberately and definitely that where I have reason to suppose that there is deliberate evasion of the Act, I shall not hesitate, as I am not hesitating, to prosecute and to secure for the labourer that to which the action of Parliament has rendered him entitled. So much for that.
A great part of the Ministry's activities is, of course, constantly absorbed in unremitting warfare, in which there is no armistice and no neutrality, against disease. From the point of view of the nation nowhere is that warfare of greater import than—I will take only one part 981 of the field—with regard to milk. It is very significant that, although the cow population in Great Britain increased by something like 300,000 between 1920 and 1924, and the production of milk increased by 100,000,000 gallons, yet the consumption of raw milk shows only a slight increase. In the consumption of raw milk we compare very badly with some other foreign countries. For example, we drink something like 20 gallons per head per year. In the United States they drink 54 gallons per head per year, and in Sweden 68 gallons per head per year. That, I think, is due not only to the lower price of imported condensed milk, but is also due in not a little degree to the public distrust of the purity and keeping quality of that milk.
During the last 12 months, and, indeed, before, the Ministry has been conducting a campaign for clean milk by means of clean milk competitions and demonstrations and so on, and I think that that campaign is bearing fruit. I would like to emphasise here that the production of clean milk does not depend upon elaborate or expensive plant. Men and methods are much more important than plant and inanimate equipment. I would urge upon producers of milk that they should realise that they have in milk a great market that is susceptible of great potential increase, and is available to them provided they will co-operate with the growing determination of the public to secure a higher standard of milk supply.
During the last two years also great attention has been continuously directed to animal diseases. I had here on my notes that it was satisfactory to us to know that now, for the first time for nearly two years, the country was entirely free of foot-and-mouth disease, but since I have stood up to begin my speech, or just before, I have had put in my hand a note to say that two new outbreaks have occurred at Southampton. But those isolated outbreaks, as I have said before, we must no doubt expect. On the whole, we can congratulate ourselves upon the extent to which we have overcome this disease. It is a great tribute, I think, to all concerned—a tribute to farmers, a tribute to local authorities, and, if the Committee will allow me to say so, also a tribute to the veterinary staff of the Ministry of Agriculture. The 982 slaughter policy has been severely criticised. If I had time I could make a very good defence of it, but I will content myself with saying that I am certain that no one who knows the facts, or who takes the trouble to inform himself of the facts and of the comparative position of our Continental neighbours in this matter, would arrive at any different conclusion from that of the Pretyman Committee, to whom also our great thanks are due. That Committee reported emphatically in favour of the continuance of our present slaughter policy.
I would say one word with regard to a matter that has been causing a great deal of inconvenience and anxiety, and that is sheep scab. We have come to the conclusion that under the present procedure eradication is proceeding too slowly, and, therefore, we propose to begin a new policy with regard to it. That policy will be based on the general restriction of movement and the institution of compulsory double dipping in the short period between 15th July and 31st August of each year. That treatment is based on the life history of the bug responsible for the disease. The female dies after she has laid her eggs, no doubt with the satisfaction of a life's work performed. The eggs hatch in seven days, and the young females get to the point of laying eggs and beginning the cycle of history again in two weeks. Therefore, our proposal to dip twice, the second time between the seventh and the fourteenth day, is devised to waylay and kill off any young emerging from any eggs which have escaped the first dipping, and, if efficiently carried out, it is hoped that that policy will come near to ridding the country of this disease within about three years.
From almost all animal diseases which occur from time to time in this country We, are naturally free, but we have to exercise a very vigilant eye, and be prepared to deal very quickly with foreign importations. That is so, not only in the field of animal life, but not less in the field of plants. These undesirable alien immigrants may and do accompany plants. For example, there is the Colorado beetle, a very destructive insect that feeds greedily upon potatoes, and, if allowed to be introduced, would work great havoc. He has been excluded. In order to give the Committee an estimate 983 of the size of these problems I would give two figures. It is estimated by various competent authorities that the annual loss to British agriculture, through plant and animal diseases together, is somewhere between £20,000,000 and £25,000,000 a year. From another angle other investigators have reckoned that not less than 10 per cent, of the whole of our outdoor plant growth is lost by plant diseases.
If I may give one concrete example, I am told by those who know that up to a few years ago in the district of the Lea Valley, where a great many tomatoes are grown, there was a regular habitual loss of something like £30,000 a year in that district alone due to the ravages of the tomato moth. By research, by discovering the habits and the vulnerable points of the tomato moth, that annual loss has been practically annihilated and abolished. I give that as one example out of many of what we may term the cash value of scientific research, and I suggest that these figures are a very clear justification for expenditure and show how deep a reservoir of possible benefit to British agriculture is there if we can but tap it.
That brings mo to say something about some aspects of development for which protection is the indispensable condition. In these days the nation, no more than any private landowner, can afford to secure less than the full economic yield from its agricultural estates, and to this end I suggest there is no more important instrument than research by which we may extend the boundaries of human knowledge and unlock some of the secrets of nature. It is often said, and said with truth, that there is at the moment going on in agriculture a silent revolution as regards land ownership. There is another revolution going on—equally silent, and I think more far-reaching— which is to be noticed and measured in the changed attitude of the agricultural community towards the work of science. I remember 20 years, or even 10 years, ago, farmers were disposed to regard the scientist and those whose business it was to promote the application of the results of science to practice as rather tiresome persons, too remote from reality to allow of their making any serious contribution. All that is changed and changing, and 984 more and more we find to-day in the place of that spirit an eager desire on the part of working farmers to avail themselves of all that science has to tell. I do not say all of them, but in every district you will find more and more that impulse beginning to show itself and making its influence widely felt.
It is not enough to discover new methods and new processes. We should make a great mistake if we believed we had secured our purpose, unless we had also brought the results of research and experiments right down to those who are occupied in the day-to-day work of extracting produce from the soil. For that reason, I think it is of importance, human nature being what it is, to be able to translate science into terms of cash results—a very offensive attempt to make from the point of view of the pure scientist but one which is very necessary when you are anxious to make a man believe in science. I give as an example of what I mean, what has been done in Wiltshire where, by these means, those responsible for advising the farmers have been able to show them how to reduce the food cost of milk production by half while increasing the yield of milk by one-third. This obviously opens up an enormous range of possibilities and I think, in all these matters, farmers learn much more quickly through the eye than through any other sense. I do not think in that respect they are peculiar. You might exhaust your breath—to give a homely illustration—in describing to a susceptible youth the beauties of the most ravishing lady. As long as you speak of her, he will listen no doubt with attention, but with blood flowing still calmly; but let the same youth but catch a glimpse of the whisk of her petticoats with the tail of his eye, and he will immediately surrender. That is an illustration of the importance of trying to promote research and the influence of demonstration through the eye.
For that reason, I welcome the work which is being done by the Royal Agricultural Society in bringing home the results of research by large scale experiments, and, with the same object, early this year I issued invitations to all the counties of England and Wales to enlist the aid of farmers in exhibiting on ordinary farms the results of approved new methods and varieties of crops I hope that appeal, 985 when they have time to lay their plans, will have considerable success. By this means, reinforced by the National Farmers' Union policy of arranging visits of parties of farmers to well-conducted farms, I hope we may take a definite step forward in the direction of levelling up the less good farms to the level of the best farms. Any steps we make in that direction will be well directed.
From the farmers' point of view, one of the most necessary, if not the most necessary, development to-day is the organisation of better marketing. Unorganised, the average farmer is about as likely to deal on equal terms with those from whom he buys or to whom he sells as the average housewife would be if she went to make her own tea purchases in Mincing Lane. Again and again agriculturists been told—most recently by the Linlithgow Committee—that demand and supply are too far apart, and that between demand and supply there is a margin, out of which both producers and consumers may derive considerable advantage. I do not know if hon. members have noticed any of the series of economic reports which we are now issuing from the Ministry on various subjects, to which I do not specifically allude in order to save time. It is a kind of push to get the farmer and the general public instructed in the broad economies which affects this question. We have learned little, if we have not learned that co-operation, valuable as it is and of great potential value as it is cannot be imposed from above. Indeed, the great Society, for which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) speaks, is a standing example of how cooperation has grown from the bottom, and only from the bottom can it soundly grow. That growth is, and probably will be, slow, but I do not think that there is any need for undue discouragement in that respect. That has been the history of the movement in other countries. It has started in small ways, and has started slowly, but the experience of all countries is more and more making plain what are the basic principles of co-operative success; and, as long as we can get our people and ourselves to follow those principles, there is no reason why co-operative marketing should not succeed in England as well as anywhere else. In a sentence, well-organised, co-operative marketing ought 986 to aim at eliminating fluctuations in supplies, and—I emphasise this—of supplying the agricultural markets, not as to-day according to what the farmer or the supplier has on hand, but according to what the market wants. Until producers realise that, they will make no great progress on that side of their business development.
I have ventured to stress that, because it reacts very intimately upon our general trade position. The less money we spend abroad on food and on raw materials, or whatever it be that we import, in these days the better. Therefore, like Canute, but let us hope with more success, we ought to seek to command the waves of food imports to flow backwards and to be more self-supporting in those vital matters. Take eggs. I rather think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) gave the figures. We import something like £17,500,000 worth of eggs. Take bacon. We import £37,500,000 worth of bacon. Why should we not make a big hole in these? If, by concentrating on supplying what the market requires, by marketing our produce efficiently, and no doubt by a great many other things, some of which we may not, be able to discuss to-day, we can cut off a million here, and a million there, it is very well worth doing; and, if we do it, we are doing a very big thing. The moral I want to point at this stage is that haphazard marketing is a luxury which to-day we cannot afford.
But not all the problems of country life are to be measured in terms of money. If anything like a drift to the country is to be substituted for a drift to the towns, you must aim at providing what we call generally a reasonable outlook for the agricultural labourer and an opportunity for his children. I want to say a word or two about the second question first. One of the bright features of the repeal of the Corn Production Acts was the provision of a large sum of money, £1,000,000, for agricultural education and research, part of which was set aside, as the Committee will remember, for scholarships for the sons and daughters of agricultural workers. Out of evil some good came. I would like to give the Committee one example, and I could give many, of the way in which that is working. I have here the case of a young farm worker who 987 left the elementary school at 13 years of age, and worked on the land for eight years. Then, at the age of 21, he entered the local grammar school, and from the grammar school he gained a short course agricultural scholarship to the neighbouring university college. With the help of a small grant from the local authority, he managed to complete part of the degree course, but was unable to proceed further for lack of funds. Successful in obtaining a Class 1 scholarship, he has now completed his degree with Honours in zoology and is proceeding to more advanced work. I know that before he obtained the Ministry of Agriculture scholarship he was hard put to it to get the bare necessities of life while carrying on his education; and, while a student at college, he won one championship and two prizes at local ploughing matches.
There you have an example really of producing the result you want to produce and that you very often fail in producing in the ordinary working of education which is not scientifically devised to have special regard to agriculture. I suggest that there is no more useful expenditure on this side of the work. On the human side you bring opportunity within the reach of many who would not otherwise have it, and from the point of view of the nation you develop talents that otherwise would have lain in the ground buried out of sight, unused, and unavailable. All that, I think, is producing most promising and excellent results.
There is another subject that I referred to under the heading of "outlook," and on which I must also say something before I sit down. It is the general question of land settlement and small holdings. The Committee will recall that there have been two main schemes in recent years. The first scheme, under the Act of 1908, was responsible for settling something like 15,000 men in its first seven years, and that scheme has been practically self supporting. The report on the first 10 years' working showed a percentage of failure that I think the Committee would regard as not otherwise than satisfactory —only something like 4 per cent.—and, although no definite figures covering the whole period are available, we have enough information to be able to say that these men on the whole have survived the post-War slump very well. That was a pre- 988 War scheme. In 1919 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, as he will remember, was responsible for the second scheme, which was an ex-service men's scheme, and of which the capital cost has been something like £15,000,000. There have been great losses under that scheme. Those losses were inevitable, and they were announced in advance to Parliament, when Parliament deliberately sanctioned and approved the policy. When the properties come finally to be handed over to the county councils next year, the State will have to write off something like 50 per cent, of the cost of the scheme. But under it something like 18,000 men have been settled. No doubt, there have been some failures, but there, again, it is not a big percentage, especially having regard to the fact that among those who were settled were included many men who had been physically, and in some cases nervously, impaired as the result of war service. The upshot of the two schemes, from the angle of numbers of men settled, is that you have had something like 32,000 or 33.000 men placed on the land, of which the vast majority are doing well and successfully, and, if you take whatever is the right average, four or five, for a family, it is not difficult to see that the result of the two schemes has been to put a population on the land of something between 120,000 and 130,000 human beings.
§ Mr. WOOD
I was just coming to that. The result of the two schemes, taken together, and all the evidence that we have, show that those schemes, conducted by the joint efforts of the State and of the local authorities, have made a very definite increase in the rural population, and also in home production; and, having regard to the difference in the conditions that exist now with regard to the cost of building as compared with 1919, all the information that we have goes to justify the intention of the Government that I have already announced of making a further move in this direction next year to meet what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) has just alluded to—namely, those 989 demands which have been accumulating during the last few years, and that have not been able to be satisfied until the ex-service men's scheme and the valuation connected with that scheme has been adjusted and finally wound up.
Both in the field of settlement and in the field of marketing and of research, and indeed in many other directions, the problems with which the Minister of Agriculture has to deal, tend more and more, I think, to react on, and to blend themselves with, a good many of the problems that fall under the guiding hand of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions. I myself have long thought that where there is a kind of common ground, and where a good many of those questions overlap, a good deal could be said in the interests of good progress with all of them, for establishing, if we can, some more intimate liaison between my right hon. Gentleman's Department and my own in order to assist us both, and the House, to see those problems as a whole, and I am at the present lime on that subject in consultation with my right hon. Friend.
In all these fields there is a good deal to do before we can look back upon a task accomplished and completed. But I think it is good to remember that, wide as is the opportunity which presents itself to the administrator, the success with which it may be grasped will depend upon the extent to which we can place ourselves in sympathy with the natural bents and impulses of country life. Nor should it, I think, be difficult for any of us, in whatever quarter of the House, to assist in establishing that essential harmony. There are, I suppose, very few Members of this House whose predecessors were not, like mine, country folk, and in whose veins there does not flow more country blood than any other.
And I suspect that the appeal which the country makes to all of us—whether it be our lot to live and work and die in the middle of it, or whether it be our lot, as it is ours, to return to it from time to time, to seek in it to restore energies wasted by less congenial occupations—is due to causes that we do not always apprehend. I think that long after the circulars of administrators, and even the speeches of politicians, have all passed away into the limbo of forgotten things, 990 the true spirit of the countryside will remain, and I must confess that to me country life at its best—I emphasise that; at its best —with its qualities of neighbourly understanding, with its quality of a steady patience, sometimes, to many of us, seeming to verge on to an almost fatalistic philosophy, due no doubt to the perpetual contact of the countryman with the mysteries of nature; with its quality of an amazing perseverance, profoundly jealous of its own individuality, that it has built up on its own history, on its own traditions, on its own folklore, which it tries to maintain through its local customs and through as much of its dialect as successive Ministers of Education will allow it to keep—in all this, to my imagination, country life at its best is the parent of much that we value most in British life and British character. I do not think, therefore, I am mistaken in thinking that for reasons such as these any efforts, humble or great, that we may make to serve rural England will not fail to influence for good the whole of our national life.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
The first thing I have to do is to express my own personal regret that it should fall to my lot to lead from this side in this Debate. I am sure we all regret the enforced absence, through long illness, of the right hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Noel Buxton), who was the Minister of Agriculture last year. I should much prefer if he had been in a state of health to have taken this duty upon himself. Then, the next thing that occurred to me was that it is rather strange that, with such a very strong agricultural influence in the membership of this House, they cannot exercise greater pressure upon the usual channels through which business is arranged, so that they might get this very important Debate put down for some other day than Bank Holiday Monday, and so get a larger amount of interest taken in it.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am making no charge against any particular side. I am merely saying that the agricultural influence in the membership of this House might be expected to exercise greater pressure upon the usual channels. In fact, 991 the Agricultural Group in this House is composed of Members of all parties, as those who occasionally attend the meetings know. I can imagine at the present time no subject likely to evoke greater interest, if it had got the opportunity of debate, than this very important question of the administration of agricultural policy in this country. We have listened to a very pleasing speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture. He has given us some information about the administration of his Department, and he has put us all in a fairly good frame of mind for the time being. I suppose that is the function of a Minister who is presenting his Estimates to the Committee, but I must say, at the same time, that I have a feeling of more or less profound disappointment that he has not told us a great, deal more about some new and productive policy which the Conservative party and the Conservative Government have been able to produce in connection with agriculture. I do not know whether we always realise sufficiently in this country the lessons that history has for us in this matter. No nation which has neglected its agriculture in the past has ever survived as a great people or an Empire. I do not often throw compliments to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George).
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
But I would say to him this afternoon that we do owe, to a representation that he made in this House rather more than two years ago, the appointment of the Agricultural Tribunal of Investigation. That was the result of a suggestion he made in the House, and we recognise it. In that Report we find that they say:When a nation becomes predominantly industrial and its agriculture is very much restricted, the national life suffers.… We have as yet paid too little attention to the social consequences of the different types of employment.I had rather hoped that the Minister would have dealt with the agricultural position to-day rather from that point of view. That this is true is easily demonstrated on reference to comparative figures of workers engaged in agriculture and land under arable cultivation. I take the figures from the Tribunal's 992 Report, and I find that in 1871 we had working upon the land 1,240,000 male workers and 174,000 odd female workers; in 1921–50 years afterwards—the male workers had decreased by 323,000 and the women workers by over 107,000. That tale is supported by the figures with regard to arable land, for I find that in 1871 we had nearly 15,000,000 acres under arable cultivation and in 1921 that had been decreased by over 3,300,000 acres. Surely those figures have a very important bearing upon our national problems of trade and of employment, a bearing which I think is emphasised by a further remark of this same Tribunal, of whose Report I have made a careful study. They say:A more marked decline in agricultural population has taken place in this country than in the other chief North Western States of Europe.That is a matter of great significance, and we ought to pay very great attention to that problem, to see if we cannot con-tribute something to its solution. It is also very serious for us, because as we look abroad today we see in some food-producing countries from which we have been accustomed to get our supplies of food in the past, an increasing tendency to absorb into their own industry and population much of the food export surplus which used to find its way quite easily to these shores. It is true that there are parts of the world which are as yet very much undeveloped and to which some attention might be paid for the production of food, but to take the United States of America, for example, from whom we have obtained such quantities of cheap food in the past. I see that some experts estimate that within a comparatively short period they will be absorbing practically the whole of their vast export surplus from which we have helped ourselves in years gone by.
There is another point to which I would like to draw the Minister's attention very seriously, and this is something which has transpired since the Report of the Tribunal was issued. I have been looking up the cost of the food that we import into this country, and what disturbs me is the enormous increase in the cost of the food which has come in since 1922. I have not dissected them all in detail, as I did not want to weary the Committee, but I will take some of the main heads. In 1922 our imports of grain 993 cost us £103,000,000; in 1924 grain cost us £121,000,000. In 1922 meat cost us £103,000,000; in 1924, £106,000,000. In 1922 live animals for food cost us £1,500,000; in 1924, £22,000,000. In 1922 dairy produce cost us £138,000,000; in 1924, £165,000,000. In more general foods we find an increase of rather more than £29,000,000, but the plain fact is that our bill for imported food increased between 1922 and 1924 in round figures by £100,000,000. I think that that is something which will give us all reason to pause and to think. I do not want to say too much—
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
No, not the same tonnage. I would not say that the whole of that figure means an increase in tonnage. The two figures are not analogous, but it was a rise in price and quantity. I should be the last, speaking from this bench, to say anything much about the danger of a, war in the future, but when you come to look at this thing from anything like a statesmanlike point of view, you cannot leave out of your mind any future possibilities, and we ought not to be so reliant as we are, to that extent, upon imports of food from foreign sources. I notice that when we had, however difficult the circumstances were, some measure of control and of direction of agricultural policy in this country in 1918, we were producing 1,700,000 tons more of farinaceous food than we are producing at the present time. The Minister of Agriculture has spoken about his Research Department to-day. I recognise its excellence, and I recognise the value of the assistance he gets from such an expert as Sir Daniel Hall. Sir Daniel Hall has stated that we could produce in this country foodstuffs to the extent of £250,000,000 which we at present import, and I was hoping that the Minister would have said rather more than he did say about the policy devoted to meeting that point.
Can we hope to check this apparently downward trend of agriculture in this country? It is very difficult, on a Supply Vote, to deal with questions of this kind without running the risk of being ruled out of order by the Chair, because you begin to trespass upon legislative questions, but while I am not 994 going to suggest legislation this afternoon, I notice that at one point, although he only referred to it by way of illustration, the Minister said that there was going on in this country all the time a silent revolution in land ownership, and it is on that question that I want to pin one or two other remarks. I suggest that we cannot hope finally to solve the problem about which we have been speaking without some definite policy in regard to land. There is probably no more pointed criticism extant in regard to the present effects of land ownership upon agriculture than the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman's Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Bledisloe. I have been reading again his speech to the British Association in 1922, in which he said:The British agricultural landowner is to-day on his trial. Unless he justifies himself as such, the nationalisation of the land is inevitable.We did not hear that from the Minister this afternoon. Is it still the opinion of his Parliamentary Secretary? Lord Bledisloe went on to say:Public opinion will demand his extinction. Most landowners have been for the last two generations mere rent receivers, and have possessed neither the knowledge nor the inclination personally to administer their own estates, still less to cultivate them on commercial lines for their own and the-nation's benefit.It is, indeed, clear to me that the landowner is ceasing to undertake the necessary supply of capital in the form of adequate and modern buildings, drainage and so on, and British farming is, without doubt, gravely handicapped in consequence. May I add, that where the landlord is compelling the sale of his land, generally at enhanced prices, the new owners are left with insufficient means to carry on their farming business, and that sets up another of the difficulties of the farmer to-day—insufficient working capital to put into his business from day to day. And yet, although many of our farmers have been buying their farms under these very difficult circumstances, it is still true to say that there is an enormous toll of the landlords upon our agricultural holdings. I find that in 1921, about 16.7 per cent, of the 400,000 odd holdings were held by people who occupied their holdings, but that the rent which was being extorted for the use of agricultural 995 land—I am taking now the figures of the Board of Inland Revenue for all holdings over one acre — was no less than £52,000,000 per year in respect of agricultural land.
What does the Minister propose to do in that regard? I ask him that question for this reason. I have been following his speeches with a great deal of interest, as I always do. I saw that he made a speech to the Council of Agriculture in March last, and he said:The Government intend to prosecute with the utmost rigour"—He will forgive my saying that I did not notice much of the rigour this afternoon—the task of finding a solution of the two cardinal problems of agriculture, namely, how to maintain the acreage of arable land, and how to stimulate the economic production of food.I notice that in a speech, which does not seem to have given unqualified joy to the farming community in this country, that the Prime Minister delivered in Devon on 2nd July, he also referred to the economic basis upon which agriculture must stand. He said:We must realise that agriculture to exist in this country in common with other industries"—A very significant remark!must exist on an economic basis.I put it to the Minister that both of those utterances force us to examine what are the economic influences upon the agricultural industry, and it seems to me the Ministry cannot get away from examining the influence of the toll of landlordism, and the imperfect fulfilment of the 'functions of the landlord in the industry. I wonder whether the Minister and the Prime Minister held the same view this week with regard to the economic basis. The Government have been engaged in the last few days in regard to another industry in which there has been the toll of the landlord. They 'have been urged for a long time past to deal with the landlord in that industry, and they have failed to do so, and they have been forced to a Government policy with regard to the other industry which is just the reverse of dealing with it upon an economic basis. Are they going to leave unheeded all that we say about landlordism in agriculture until they are forced to adopt the earns method of 996 salvation for agriculture, or do they mean to rely on the statement of the Minister and the Prime Minister that agriculture has got to be forced to exist upon an economic basis? We should like to know what the attitude of the Minister is on these matters. We are not allowed to suggest legislation in a debate of this kind, but I do say to the Minister that neither his utterances nor the utterances of the Prime Minister will be of final avail for she solution of the problems of agriculture until they are prepared to deal with the land question.
There are, in the meantime, some things that can be done by way of alleviation, although when I say that, I would add, that whatever improvement we may bring to the lot of the farmer and the worker in the agricultural industry by other policies of alleviation, we know that, under the present system, it finds its way inevitably into the rent roll of the landlord. That is why I have been, this afternoon, dealing with the necessity for tackling the land question. Until something is done in that direction, we have to do what we can to improve the lot of the industry. I had the honour to give evidence, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, on several occasions before the Linlithgow Committee, to which he has referred this afternoon, and I am very interested to know what has become of its recommendations. I have not time this afternoon—I should not wish to weary the Committee at that length—to deal with all these recommendations in full, but, to my mind, they form the most effective, the most far-reaching report with regard to the spread of prices between the producer and the consumer we have ever had in this country, and have formed the basis of much of the statistical part of the Report of the Royal Commission on Food Prices. They desired that there should be general encouragement of the co-operative organisation of farmers, and, in particular, the "systematising of the primary or wholesale marketing processes on up-to-date and co-operative lines."
The Minister referred this afternoon to co-operation, and I was very glad to hear from him that he thought co-operation, to be successful and virile, must be springing from the bottom and cannot issue from the top. But you will never get your base firmly laid down for the 997 co-operative structure unless you have adequate education and propaganda. I have not seen anything yet specifically directed to this co-operative problem, except one report from the Ministry issued this year. It is true there were one or two other reports dealing with such economic questions as stabilisation of prices, and so on, which might have had some general bearing upon the economic question relating to land, but I have only seen, so far, one report directly dealing with co-operation. What are the Government doing to bring into more general practice the action which has been recommended by the Linlithgow Committee? I would say to the Minister that every year the need becomes more marked for dealing with the spread of prices. I read—it must be nearly two years ago—a book by Sir Charles Fielding on food, and he estimated the difference between consumers' payments and producers' receipts for three commodities alone—bread, meat and milk—was no less than £175,000,000 a year.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I would not say I have analysed it in detail, but I know where a great deal goes. The hon. Gentleman knows, for he sat on the Linlithgow Committee, and had the privilege of examining me on one or two occasions. I think one might say with safety that, in respect of all home-grown food, the difference is nearerer £400,000,000 if you take the whole of the product of the home producer. What is being done by the Government to reduce that margin? On that question, I confess I am very dubious about the Government. I remember the Election pledges of the Prime Minister. I remember that buoyant speech of his at the Victory meeting at the Albert Hall, when he said no doubt they would have to cut their way through a jungle of vested interests, but in the young members of his party he had such a recruitment of youth and energy that they would be able to put anything through. What are the Government doing now to deal with this great spread of prices between the producer and the consumer? There was a Royal Commission appointed. It presented a first report on two commodities. It published a good deal of information which a "Sunday Times" correspondent said at the time must have been 998 very inconvenient for the Government. Thereupon, the Government disbanded the Royal Commission on Food Prices and appointed a Food Council, about which one of the first things I remarked was that the producer of food in this country had no representation. Where was the Minister? Had he no influence to bring to bear upon the Prime Minister or the Board of Trade who were engaged in appointing that council? The producer has no representation at all on this Food Council.
What is the Minister really doing to put into effect the pledged policy of the Government to bring about a diminution in the spread of prices between the producer and the consumer? Then, I notice, the Food Council has no powers at all. How does the right hon. Gentleman think that there can be any effective check upon that spread of prices without such powers? The Linlithgow Committee, among other things, reported, with regard to the evil effect upon the price of milk, of the existence of a great combine in this country. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, if he reads the Linlithgow Report carefully, he will see many other directions in which an effective Council could have some effect on the spread of prices. I should be glad to know what further action the Government propose in the matter. I still hold the view that the best means of dealing with the spread of prices is to engender and promote co-operation at all points. We in this country have had a somewhat chequered history in regard to agricultural co-operation. When I say that, I would not deny for a moment that there have been those who have given almost their life's work to the promotion of agricultural co-operation—men to whose loyalty, devotion and singleness of purpose we owe a debt, and whose efforts deserve a better fate than they have received in this country. But it still remains true, I think, to say of agricultural co-operation in this country very largely, what Mr. Chesterton said of Christianity, thatFar from its having been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult, and therefore not tried.We need, in my judgment, the development of co-operative agriculture on two main lines. The Minister, I think, this afternoon dealt only with one. We 999 need, first of all, the co-operation of the producer in supplying himself with farm requisites, with credit, and with certain other essential services; and, secondly, we need co-operation for marketing, especially co-operation with consumers' organisations. With regard to the co-operation of the producer, what I think is needed is that which was referred to by Sir Horace Plunkett, who has such a fine record in the work of cooperation in Ireland. I heard him speaking last year at the Co-operative Conference, and he said what was wanted by farmers to-day was: "Better farming, better business, and better living," but, above all, better business.
There can be a great deal better business done by the farmers to-day if they will organise really and loyally as cooperative producers. I should like to ask the Minister whether he has been informed on recent developments in this direction. We of the Industrial Cooperative Movement well know the difficulties through which some of the Agricultural Producers' Societies have passed. We know that the propagandist body of the Agricultural Organisation Society and also the trading body, the Agricultural Wholesale Society, have passed out of existence, though there are still a number of more or less thriving societies. The fact is, however, that some of the other societies have been rehabilitated by getting into direct contact, with financial supervision in some cases, with the Consumers' organisations, and this has been of great benefit to the Farmers' Societies. One of these is referred to in the Minister's Co-operative Report which I mentioned, but there have been other examples, such as the Stourminster Newton Society and the Southern Counties Farmers' Association now directly working with us to the very great help, not only of their own operations but also to the consumers. How far is the Minister helping in this matter? What is he doing to try to get an extension of that kind of action between producers' organisations and the consumers' organisations' If I might say just one other word in this connection, it would be to emphasise this: that it will be quite hopeless for the producers' co-operative organisations in agriculture to think that 1000 they are going, in addition to their producers' functions, to enter into the function of distribution as well. In the main I think that the experience of those farmers' organisations who have gone in for marketing as retailers and distributors has not been very happy. We who are interested in agricultural development consider that one of the important things is really to get in these matters a sound financial basis to the producers' organisation, and we are now seeing what they can do by getting directly into contact with large consumers' and distributive organisations. Then in regard to the second point, a very great deal of improvement in grading of products is needed before these concerns will be financially successful in the way I have indicated. Our great difficulty—and we can take large quantities from the British farmers in our co-operative organisation—our great difficulty is this: that although our customers would prefer British produce, we can get it in bulk better-graded imported than is supplied to us by the British farmer.
Quite recently there was a consignment of butter sent to one of our factories from Cornwall. It was packed in a soapbox, after it had been wrapped in imitation grease-proof paper, and afterwards, when it came to be handled, the grease-proof paper had to be scraped off in little bite with loss of weight and extra cost of labour. The whole thing was tremendously below the standard of the graded products which we are now getting marked with the Government marks from our Dominions and of which we are handling so much in our butter factories to-day. The Agricultural Tribunal of Investigation, to which I referred just now, said in their report, thatthey were impressed by the rapid extension, made by the Governments of the British Dominions, in fixing grades for staple agricultural products, and that it was evident that our home producers would have to face increasing competition from carefully-graded supplies. They considered that the methods of official grading should be-carefully examined with a view to such action as may be desirable in this country.Can the Minister tell us anything as to what is being done in that direction? Has the recommendation of the tribunal just been pigeonholed or lost sight of altogether, or what? Does the Government intend to take any administrative action to set up a system, or a 1001 Government standard of grading for these things in this country? I spoke just now about experiences in these matters. Speaking to a friend of mine only last week I was told by him of a bacon factory where there was only 30 per cent. of Grade I pigs of the total number sent in. It is almost impossible to get really good development while British production is conducted on these lines. I shall be glad to hear that the Government propose to develop grading in that connection.
In his speech before the British Association in 1922 Lord Bledisloe enumerated no fewer than 28 purposes for which the co-operative producers' organisations might be used. I do not propose to refer to all these, but I am very interested in the last one which he mentioned; that was "Above all" he said:the elimination of the superfluous and unnecessary middleman.I wonder whether the Minister of Agriculture, or the Parliamentary Secretary, still holds that view, and whether they are doing anything to eliminate the unnecessary middleman? I would say this to the Minister, that so far as we are concerned we in the industrial co-operative movement have been impressed by the need for development in that direction. Some of us have been endeavouring to persuade the Industrial Movement to set up an agricultural department of our own for education and propaganda. We hope to get the thing functioning within the next few weeks. We hope that the Minister will look with sympathy upon it and give us what help may be necessary in this connection—I do not mean financial help—but in getting to the proper people for education and propaganda with a view to (getting a closer contact between producer and consumer.
May I just say one word about the Agricultural Wages Board? The Minister rather plumed himself on the credit due to his party for the success of the working of the Agricultural Wages Regulation Act. I am not sure that we agree with him altogether. It is true there has been a whittling down of some of the powers of the Wages Board. We should have preferred to see a central body to deal with this matter to which a final appeal could be made. Still, we are glad to note that as a result 1002 of the various efforts the level of wages of the agricultural labourer has been considerably improved. This, I suggest, is the result of the deliberate and determined policy of the Labour party to reintroduce the principle of agricultural wages Regulation into the Statutes of the country. There is only one other thing I want to say a word about, and that is the administration of the Act. Is there adequate enforcement of decisions? Whilst the right hon. Gentleman said he was prepared to prosecute wherever the decision was not observed, what has been done in that direction? We have information that, there is a considerable slackness in many places. Has there been a rigid care exercised to see that the decisions of the Wages Board are being properly put into operation?
Then we should have liked the right hon. Gentleman to tell us something about the development of rural housing. I do not wish to elaborate this, but would only say that we hope he may see to it that this is not a function of his Department that can be overlooked, for the housing question in relation to the agricultural worker has something to do with the general outlook of agriculture. Last year we were able to bring a Clause into the Act of 1924 in which a subsidy of £12 10s. for 40 years was available for rural housing. We should like to hear, not the detailed progress under that Clause—which is the function of his colleague at the Ministry of Health—but we wish to hear whether there has been any improvement in the general agricultural outlook as a result of the development in housing under that Act.
We should like to know, also, whether the right hon. Gentleman is doing anything to improve agricultural rail and road transport. On this side of the House we say that the arrangements for the transport of agricultural produce in this country are almost the most imperfect in Europe. I suppose you may find one or two worse, but there cannot be very many. We find in this matter that we can get produce from Holland to our headquarters at Manchester at cheaper rates than we can get it from Cornwall, whilst imports from France to Covent Garden are received at cheaper rates than those which come from Cornwall. The arrangements, too, are very bad. We 1003 have had to complain that perishable goods have taken three or four days to reach our central departments at Manchester from a comparatively small distance, thus causing loss to the producer as well as those who are handling the produce. We should be glad to know what the Minister is doing to improve agricultural means of transport.
Some reference has been made to milk. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can give us any assurance here to-day that his Ministry, his officials, will not yield to the pressure of some parts of the agricultural industry to delay operations under the Regulations of the Milk and Dairies Act, 1915? I ask that question because in the last two or three weeks questions have been put down by Members of this House protesting that the Regulations under that Act should be postponed. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture has nothing to do with the pressure upon the Ministry of Health to have those Regulations postponed? At the Milk Conference, at which I was present, at the Guildhall in 1922, Sir Daniel Hall said:The greatest effect can be obtained by an educational officer working personally amongst the milk producers.He continued:The Ministry has already called the attention of local education authorities to the value of such work and has indicated that it is prepared to pay two-thirds of the salary of any such officer.Will the Minister tell us how many officers for this purpose of education in milk production have been appointed and whether provision is made for them in the Estimates? Will he also tell us whether the offer mentioned by Sir Daniel Hall still holds good, and whether any of the local authorities have taken it up?
There is one other point that I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman, that is, in respect to agricultural insurance. Here, again, I have read carefully what the agricultural tribunal had to say. It was this:The field of agricultural insurance is an aspect of agricultural organisation in which development abroad has far outrun the corresponding progress in this country.5.0 P.M.
That would appear to be so. In the United States of America I find that there are 2,000 farmers' mutual fire insurance offices, which offices carry risks to 1004 the extent of over £1,700,000,000. Whilst the British profit-making companies' expenses of administration and profit amount to anything from 40 to 50 per cent. of the premiums charged, the American farmers' organisations on the average did not require more than 21 per cent. In this country, so far as I can see, there have been two main developments in agricultural insurance, or two groups. There have been, firstly, the cottagers' and smallholders' mutual societies principally formed for the insurance of livestock, and performing a most useful function, and there has been farmers' insurance. The extraordinary thing is that the smallholders' mutual societies have been very successful and the thing has been well done. On the other hand, the farmers' mutual insurance has had a very chequered history indeed. This question is important, not only from the point of view of insurance against loss, but there is a real need at the present moment for the collection of records of disease, and the organisation of the treatment and protection of livestock against disease. I suggest to the Minister that he ought to have a definite and detailed inquiry into the possibility of the development of agricultural insurance in this country. I suggest that the inquiry should cover, first, the risks now covered by existing insurance businesses; secondly, premiums to be paid against different forms of risks; thirdly, the proportion of premiums paid which is returned in compensation for losses, and the proportion absorbed in costs of administration and profits; fourthly, the experience of farmers' mutual insurance funds in Great Britain; fifthly, the possibility of introducing the system of insurance against endemic and epidemic diseases; and finally, the possibility of insurance against crop risks. We think a great deal might be done by the development of a satisfactory national agricultural insurance system.
There are many other things I wish to speak of, but time is passing. Many of those who are interested in agriculture not from the point of view of the landowner or, necessarily, always from the point of view of the farmer who farms a large holding, are anxious that the advice given to the Ministry of Agriculture should be given by an advisory body of a 1005 far more democratic and representative character. It is true the Minister has the advantage of a body called the Council of Agriculture. With all respect to that body, we think the time has come when the national advisory body should be of a far more democratic type, and include representatives of county agricultural committees, who have now obtained considerable experience, and also provide for adequate representation of the workers engaged in the industry. We ask the Minister to tell us if he is prepared to proceed to the appointment of an advisory body on that basis.
We on these benches are as intensely interested in the solution of the many and difficult problems which face agriculture as anyone else in the House. We recognise that without a solution of the land question, and without a fuller use of the land by the people and for the people, we shall only go on piling up those problems of trade and employment which confront us in other directions to-day. We are disappointed the Minister has not given us a more detailed and constructive policy in the light of the problems which are confronting us. If he has any proposals up his sleeve which are really of advantage to the industry and to the community, if they bring any ray of hope, then we on these benches as well as Members in other parts of the House will not hesitate to give him support.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I would like to join my hon. Friend in his expression of regret at the cause of the absence of the ex-Minister of Agriculture. I think all those who heard his speech will realise that in force, in knowledge and in the presentation of the case the House has not lost by the absence of one who has, necessarily, had more experience of the subject. I would like, also, to join with him in his expression of regret at the fact that so essential and vital a topic as agriculture should be relegated to a Bank Holiday afternoon. Perhaps those responsible for choosing the day were under the impression that a bright Bank Holiday was not an inappropriate time for an excursion to the country. That is the only explanation or justification which T can possibly find. I hoped that the Minister of Agriculture, in the course of his very interesting and, in many respects, searching and eloquent speech 1006 —notably the latter part of his speech— would have dealt with the question of a survey. Earlier in the year he brought in a Bill to equip the Board of Agriculture with the necessary powers to obtain a systematic survey of the agricultural, resources of this country and of the use that has been made of the land. No one rejoiced more than I did in the fact that that Bill was introduced, and I pressed some considerations upon him at the time. I hoped the right hon. Gentleman would have told us to-day what use he proposes to make of those powers. It is idle for him, if I may tell him so quite respectfully and in quite an amicable spirit, to talk about what he is going to do next year for small holdings until he has first of all had a thorough and ruthless examination of the facts of the problem.
He rejoiced, as we all do, that the Act of 1908 produced 15,000 small holdings,, and I am naturally very delighted to know that the Act of 1919 produced 18,000, in spite of the fact that a good deal of loss has been incurred. That was inevitable. The expenditure was incurred at a time when materials and labour cost three times as much as in the pre-War period, and no man who knew the expense which was incurred in putting up buildings could believe they could be let at an economic rent. All the same this represents a very inadequate dealing' with a vast problem, a problem which is really more vital now than it ever was to the very life of this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) gave some very striking figures. I would like him to examine them once again, if he does not mind. They were so startling that they took me, aback, although I had been investigating the same problem. I refer to the comparison between 1922 and 1924. If that is accurate it is something very startling. I would like him to look at those figures again. But take the accepted figures. They are sensational. Here we are with a trade balance against us, and one is not quite sure when we will recover our balance. Last year £380,000,000 worth of food which this country is capable of producing, as regards climate and soil, was brought to us across the seas. Sir Daniel Hall, and there is no greater authority in this-country, and no man who puts his facts 1007 and figures more temperately, says, I understand, that we could produce £250,000,000 worth of that food in this country with a proper system of utilisation of the soil. That is a very remarkable fact, when our trade balance is against us. We have put up the sovereign, which has had a very fatal effect in one industry. A much better way of restoring the sovereign would have been to increase the capacity of the soil—not the capacity of the soil, but making the beet use of the soil with a view to getting that £250,000,000 worth of food produced in this country. I was hoping the right hon. Gentleman would tell us something as to the steps he was going to take to investigate these facts.
I myself have made some comparisons, only I did not compare 1922 with 1924, but 1913 with 1924. I converted the 1924 figures into 1913 figures, or, rather, the other way round, for I converted the 1913 figures into the 1924 figures, because the cost of food was very much lower in 1913 than it is to-day. Taking the price of food in 1913 as the price to-day, I found that in meat, in butter, in eggs and in other dairy produce we were importing £57.000,000 worth more food into this country than in 1913. In 1913 59 per cent. of the supplies that were consumed by the population were produced here. That was a low figure, but last year it fell to 48 per cent. We are getting steadily worse. I think there must be an explanation. One explanation is that the land is, for obvious reasons, getting steadily worse. One partner in the concern can no longer function. He cannot afford to function. The money that used to be spent by the landlords on drainage and on repairs—they have not got it now. Whether the landlord system was a good one in 1913 or a bad one it cannot afford to make its contribution to the partnership to-day. The result is that there is a steady deterioration going on. That is what I hear. If I am wrong it is a fact which ought to be examined into. It is one of the things on which we ought to have a survey, and an official survey free from any party bias, free from any desire to establish any particular case and conducted only with a view to ascertaining the facts upon which the right hon. Gentleman is to base his legislation or his proposals to the House next 1008 year. Those are the facts which I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would have told us something about.
There is no doubt at all in the minds of anyone who is inquiring into this matter that the land of this country is not put to the best economic use. Whatever we could afford before the War, we can no longer afford it. Economy is not merely a question of cutting down unnecessary expenditure. Every business man knows that one of the most essential ingredients of economy is to make the best use of his assets. He may cut down expenditure, but if there is waste in the utilisation of assets, there will be no real economy, and in this country our greatest asset is what we have got in the soil and under the soil, and in both there is great waste. We have already had the Report of a Commission to say there is waste in regard to minerals. Everybody who has investigated the subject of the land and the best use that can be made of it has come to the same conclusion with regard to the use that is made of the soil. Why cannot we have an official survey by the Board of Agriculture under an Act of Parliament which has been carried for this purpose. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us, having got this instrument, and having got his weapon equipped with the authority of Parliament, what use he proposes to make of it. Is it simply going to be put on the shelf to accumulate dust there, or what use will he make of it?
When I say that the best economic use has not been made of the soil of this country, I am not making that statement on my own authority. Practically there are two methods of testing it. One is a comparison with the use which has been made of the soil in comparable countries abroad. It is not so much the case in France, but take Belgium, Denmark and Germany, and compare those countries with our own country. If you will do that you will find that no one can come to the conclusion that we are using the capacity of our soil to the best advantage for yielding food for the people. As a matter of fact we are going back. My hon. Friend has quoted some figures and this is a question of figures, and you cannot avoid them.
I am not going to discuss the question of whether the land of this country can produce wheat in competition with 1009 Canada, the Argentine and other countries that supply us with enormous quantities. Denmark on the whole has come to the conclusion that it cannot compete in wheat growing, and it buys its wheat outside in the main. Therefore I leave that country out. There is no doubt that as far as cattle is concerned, we are able to produce about the best in Europe, and we are doing so to some extent. But look at the figures. Great Britain produced in stock units 34.3 per 100 acres in 1873, and in 1922 that had gone down to 33 per 100 acres. In the course of those 50 years referred to, the number of cattle per 100 acres had gone down by 1 per cent. Now I will come to comparable countries. Germany had gone up 5 per 100 acres; Belgium from 31 to 47 per 100 acres; Holland from 32 to 44 per 100 acres, and Denmark from 34 to 39 per 100 acres; while France had also gone up. Other comparable countries in Europe in the course of that 50 years had gone up in all kinds of agricultural produce in which we used to claim supremacy, and rightly claimed it. Whatever may be said about the capacity of the soil of England and Wales and Scotland for the production of wheat, and I am not going to pronounce an opinion on that, there is no doubt as to its capacity to produce the best quality of cattle and meat, and in respect of cattle, sheep and pigs, we have gone down for the last 50 years, while other countries in Western Europe have gone up appreciably, and those countries during the same period have also increased the quantity of their cereals.
Therefore, while increasing their cattle, they have also been able to increase their cereals, dairy produce and vegetables as well. And why? This has been done sometimes for patriotic reasons, and for reasons of defence, and sometimes because they realised how important it was if their country happened to be in peril to put the whole of the national strength and intelligence and thought into organising their agriculture. They realised 50 years ago how important this was for their strength, and it might very well be the existence of their respective countries, while we, decade after decade, have treated agriculture as if it were not of very much account in regard to the existence of the nation. Therefore the first thing we have to do is to reverse that policy, and not do it merely by 1010 adding 15,000 smallholders, and another 18,000 in five or six years, but we want to take a firm, strong grip of the whole problem.
The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the same thing applies to afforestation. Here we have in this country vast quantities of either rough grazing land or poor land which cannot be cultivated, but where you can plant trees. Those who were engaged working with me during the War know what an important question that was when we had no pit props, and the timber supply in South Wales was so nearly exhausted that there was a dearth of timber, and it was difficult to bring pit props over here from foreign countries with the submarines infesting the sea which made it still more difficult for us to get food. Many a time we had to consider how much food we had. I quite remember how much food supply we had at one time, and I know we were very lucky in discovering means of keeping the submarines under. That discovery saved us when we had only two or three months' food supply.
The same thing applies to timber, and we ought never to have been placed in that position. Much as I was impressed by my right hon. Friend's speech, I know that in regard to the village where I spent the first 30 years of my life, there has been a gradual decay of rural life which you could see before your eyes. The little factories have gone, and the little cottages are tumbling down. I know that some 80 or 90 of the people in my own little village have gone further into South Wales, and others have scattered over the earth. The War brought it home to all those engaged in agriculture how, in spite of our armies, we might have been beaten to the ground because we had not got the necessary food reserves in this country, while at the same time we possess the richest soil in Europe. According to Sir Daniel Hall we could have increased the quantity of our food supply by £250,000,000. We ought never to allow ourselves to get into that position again, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman before he begins with any small holdings proposal, however important it may be, to take a survey of the whole possibilities, and ask himself whether the land of this country is being put to its best use.
There is good land which is wasted. There is land of the second quality which 1011 could have been improved, and that is being wasted. There is a third class of land which can produce timber which is not being used at all. I ask the Minister of Agriculture to have a ruthless survey without fear or favour or affection or ill-will. I know this is a pretty difficult thing for him to do in his position, but he has got courage, and if I may say so he has got hereditary courage, and I know that, following the example of his illustrious parent, he would not fear unpopularity amongst his own class if he thinks this is the right course to take. I ask him to insist upon having the real facts of the case investigated. I know that in almost every business if you suggest to those who are engaged in it that they are not making the best of it, they are always ready to tell you that you know nothing about it. The moment we said that the best use was not being made of the coal seams they all combined to say, "Nonsense, it is only amateurs who talk like that." The same thing applies to the soil of this country.
I am going to make one or two suggestions, and the first is that the survey I have alluded to should be conducted by men who have already seen something of what is going on abroad, and that their experience of agriculture should not be confined merely to this country. They should be very able and experienced men, and they should be sent abroad to see what is taking place in such countries as Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Holland. I think Denmark and Holland are very comparable countries, and they are very fair countries to examine as to what is being done. The second suggestion I make, and it is one to which I attach a very great deal of importance, is that you should send these men first of all to survey half a dozen of the typical counties. I can well understand that to draw up a sort of domesday book would take too long for England, Wales and Scotland, and you would have to wait for your land requirements for years in order to restore rural life. I believe that if half a dozen counties in England and Wales, including a corn-growing county, a pastoral county, and a county where there is rough grazing, if they took half a dozen counties in that way, they could survey very fair types of British agriculture. 1012 They could make a thorough survey of them, and this would not take very long. Then the right hon. Gentleman could turn his investigators abroad to get information that would enable him to come to a conclusion, and also to advise the Cabinet in regard to what is happening. I know it will be said that all this will cost money, but it would not cost very much. If the Minister of Agriculture could only persuade his colleague in the Admiralty to postpone the building of one cruiser for three months, it would cover the whole cost, and he would get all the money he would require for a thorough survey.
I am going to suggest the kind of survey he should adopt. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for making this suggestion. He has his expert advisers, and I have not, and I have been making my suggestions as best I can, without expert advice. Is the land being put to the best economic use in the counties which are surveyed? Could a larger yield be secured and more employment afforded at a fair wage? The first thing is to final whether, in the judgment of those who investigate the matter for the Ministry of Agriculture, it is true that a better economic use could be made of the land in those districts, and more employment furnished. That is vital for us to know.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
From the point of view of the nation, certainly. If the hon. Member would like me to say, "Could a larger yield be profitably secured?" I will put it in that way. By profit I mean from the point of view of the agricultural labourer and the nation, because, after all, a community does not profit by a forcing up of the yield at an unprofitable cost, except in time of war, when cost does not matter. [Laughter.] The cost does not matter comparably with being beaten in the war. I do not say it does not matter; hon. Gentlemen have been rather too quick; what I mean is that the question of cost does not matter so much as the achievement of the victory. Many a time you cannot count the cost when it is a question of supplying food which you have not got. Anybody knows that who had any responsibility for conducting the War, whether 1013 military, naval, political, or administrative.
My second question would be as to the instances where, by improved cultivation, land has increased largely its yield, and employment has been increased. That is the real test. If the right hon. Gentleman will go into these counties—and he knows it very well; I am just talking to someone who knows more about it than I do myself—he will find many cases where farmers have taken up farms that were yielding only so much, and have put brains and capital into them, and in a very short time have doubled and sometimes trebled the yield, and at the same time have made large profits for themselves, have increased employment, and have been in a better position to pay wages to their labourers. There are many eases of that kind that are known to everyone who has been living in a rural area. I would put this as my third question: Is the agricultural labourer having the same facilities for obtaining a piece of land for himself here as he has abroad? It is no use quoting the fact that 33,000 people have been put on the land in the course of 20 years. There are 660,000 agricultural labourers all over England and Wales. Indeed, I think the figure has been put rather higher, but, at any rate, I put it at that figure. That means that only 5 per cent. are provided for. The real trouble in this country is that it has the only landless peasantry in the world. Go to any other country, and you will find that the mere labourer is in a minority, that is to say, the labourer who has no land of his own to cultivate. It is the landless-ness of the agricultural labourer that is one of the troubles in the rural areas to-day. It deprives rural life of that outlook which the right hon. Gentleman so eloquently pleaded for at the end of his speech. It is no use talking about the 33,000; every agricultural labourer throughout the community ought to have the same chance of having a bit of land, from half an acre up to 20 or even 50 acres, as any agricultural labourer in Europe. In every country in Europe you have this ladder right from the bottom, which an agricultural labourer can climb until he becomes a farmer.
Another question that I should like to put is: Is the land suitable for small holdings? That is one of the things that 1014 can be ascertained by the survey—how much land there is suitable, and how it can be provided. Another question would be as to the possibility of providing allotments and small holdings in the neighbourhood of industrial districts —mining districts, for instance. Anyone who knows the mining industry will know that in the old days the miner depended very largely upon the fact that he had a little allotment and, very often, a small holding of his own. When times were bad, and he could only work two or three days a week, he could fall back upon that. It used to be very largely the case in South Wales, and certainly was the case in the quarries of North Wales, and, I believe, in parts of England as well. There is no doubt that, if we had more of that, there would be less excitability, there would be less anxiety, because a man who can fall back upon a small bit of land is never really unemployed, and is never worried about his livelihood or the provision of food for himself and his children. It undoubtedly helps to promote contentment. Belgium has pursued this policy, very largely, I believe, at the instance of the Catholic Church, during the last 40 or 50 years. The result is that, although, as everyone knows, such a large percentage of the population in Belgium lives in the towns, yet in the colliery districts, for example, they work also on the land outside, and whenever there is any fluctuation in trade, there they are engaged upon their allotments and holdings. That has helped to create a sense of contentment and stability in a country which is not nearly so wealthy as ours in actual resources of the soil and under the soil.
I should like to ask also questions like these: Is any of the land waterlogged land, which can be reclaimed by a drainage scheme on a large scale? As the Minister knows very well, there is in some parts of the country a good deal of land of that kind, the expense of the drainage of which no individual landlord can undertake. His estate does not cover the whole of the trouble; it includes the next estate and another one, and there may be a smallholder also abutting upon this waterlogged territory. It is only a drainage scheme on a large scale that could possibly reclaim the land in such a case. This is just the time when a great scheme of that kind, would provide profitable 1015 employment for the people who are out of work, and it would be worth while, in a survey, ascertaining whether that is possible. Another question I would ask would be: What other schemes of reclamation are possible for reclaiming waste land of all kinds? That is going on in every country in Europe except ours. I have just been looking at the figures for the area of cultivation in various countries. It has gone up in every country, I think, except ours. In Belgium it has gone back, for obvious reasons, but in Holland, Denmark and France, it has gone up, and in Germany also it has gone up, in spite of the fact that Germany has developed industrially on a very considerable scale since 1870. In spite of that, the cultivated area of Germany has gone up by hundreds of thousands of acres. I am not sure that it has not gone up by millions, but it has certainly gone up by hundreds of thousands. The process of reclamation has been going on in those areas. I hope that in his survey the Minister will try to ascertain the facts as to the possibilities of something of that kind being done for the benefit of the whole community.
The question of wastes that could be afforested is another question of vital importance, because the area in this country under forest is ludicrously low when one considers the possibilities of some of our areas in Scotland and Wales, and, also, of very large tracts of waste land in the more fertile countries of England. Germany has 28 per cent. of its area under forest; Belgium—a highly industrialised country—has 20 per cent.; France has 19 per cent.; Denmark—a very storm-swept country—has 9 per cent.; Holland 8.2 per cent.; and Great Britain comes lowest with 5.8 per cent. of its acreage under forest. That is indefensible. Statesmanship cannot defend it, and when you have 1,300,000 people out of work, and a thoroughly refractory condition of trade with which we do not seem to be able to deal, it is essential that we should look into this problem.
I am not going to enter into controversial matters, but, whatever the settlement in the mimes may be, I do not know that you will be able to provide employment for all of the 1,200,000 in the mines of this country for a full number of days in the week, with oil and water power, and the demand for coal going down because every process for preventing waste 1016 of coal makes it necessary to get less. You have now 300,000 people out of work, and I am not sure whether you can ever profitably find work for them all in the mines of this country. Wages are a different matter, but the question of employment ought to be gone into. Large numbers of these people are people who within the last few years have come straight from the land. They are not men who have to be trained; they are old agricultural labourers. Therefore, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us the survey he promised—not a superficial one, but a thorough one. I agree with him that what the country gives you you cannot measure in money. In fact, I think the curse of modern civilisation is that everything is measured by the gold standard—how much does it run to in money? A man who is working on the soil gets something that you cannot estimate in money, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that a country that goes down agriculturally is losing something that one day it will discover to be vital to its real strength, to its essential strength. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, in the interests of this country, which is the centre of a great Empire, which has rendered such great service to humanity, and which can do so yet, will distinguish his term of office by being the first man who has done something on a great scale to restore the rural life of this land.
§ Mr. DREWE
In addressing the House for the first time, I should like to ask the indulgence which I know is always accorded to a new Member when he makes his first speech in the House. I intervene for a very short time in this Debate because, coming, as I do, from a constituency which is almost entirely agricultural, I feel that I should be lacking in my duty if I did not try to bring before the Committee certain facts about the countryside as I see them at the present time. I know that anyone who gets up in this House, or outside it, to speak about agricultural matters, always finds himself in a minority, and I think that sometimes these Debates are apt to be rather unreal, because we do not always realise that when we are discussing agricultural matters we are in a minority, and are dependent to a large extent on public 1017 opinion. I believe that to-day something like 90 per cent. of our population earn their living in the towns, and only about 10 per cent. in the countryside. I think that, if we look at that from a national point of view, we must consider it a very serious state of affairs. I must say that I have been encouraged lately while listening to Debates in this Chamber and to suggestions from all quarters—some of them made to-day—that the land does hold out one of the great opportunities for helping to solve the unemployment problem, which is so serious at the present time. I would like, however, respectfully to point out, to hon. Members who make those suggestions, that we are not going to get any more men absorbed on the land, or any greater volume of home-grown food, until such time as we get the industry of agriculture generally more prosperous. I do not think it is a bit of use suggesting that we should attract men back to the land until the land can afford them, perhaps, rather better conditions in wages and in amenities than the countryside has to offer at the present time.
I look upon it myself as an absolute national necessity that we should have a really efficient and prosperous agricultural industry. If you look upon it from the national point of view, from the point of view of national security, from the point of view of national physique, I think no thinking people want to see the whole of these islands industrialised. We want to try to stop the steady flow of population from the country into the towns, and to get a large proportion of men and women to come back on to the land. My great desire is to see the agricultural industry sufficiently prosperous that it can afford to pay the workers engaged on the land the wage that they are entitled to expect. I think the day has gone by when it seemed to be the proper thing to look upon the agricultural labourer as a rather thick-headed unskilled man. We have an old saying in Devon that before an agricultural worker can really be called a skilled farm hand he must be able to catch a sheep and shear it, and make a nick and thatch it. That is a slight illustration of the various jobs a man has to be able to turn his hand to on a farm before he can really be called a skilled agricultural labourer.
1018 I quite appreciate and fully realise the difficulties which the Minister has to contend with at the present moment. I think he has made a very good start in the direction of firmly establishing the sugar-beet industry. He is aware, as I am, that that industry cannot succeed all over the country. Sugar beet can only be grown in limited areas over these islands. At all events it can only be grown in such quantities that you can keep a sugar factory going to its full capacity. In certain parts of the country, in the West for instance, the land, and the farmers, are quite capable of growing sugar beet, but not in sufficient quantities to keep a factory operating at full time. Before I came to this House I was farming 300 acres, and since then I have to spend my time away from the House going over an agricultural constituency of some 400,000 acres. From my own personal experience and from the experience I have gained in the remote parts of my constituency, I am perfectly convinced that for the last three or four years, and at the present time, the great industry of agriculture has been and is passing through a very difficult time. I am equally certain that if the Government felt disposed to treat this industry with a little more sympathy and encouragement than Governments have done of recent years there is not the smallest reason why we should not absorb a considerably greater number of men on the land and produce a far greater quantity of home-grown food.
One of the great difficulties in considering this agricultural problem is the fact that in this country there are so many different systems of farming carried on. You go up into one part of the country where it is all arable farming, a part of the country where, after many year's experience, they have found that their farms are test adapted for growing corn. The farmers tell you, quite honestly—because I believe it is an absolute fact—that at present they cannot continue to carry on growing corn on the scale they have been accustomed to at a profit. It simply cannot be done. Unless the Government are prepared to do something for them the land must go down, the greater part of it, to grass. You go to another part of the country where the farms are more mixed—dairying, cattle-grazing, sheep and so on. The farmers will tell you, "We do 1019 not grow corn to sell. We grow it for our own consumption. Over and above that we have to buy corn, and we hope the Government will not do anything to put-up the price, because it will hit us rather hard." That is a difficulty which perhaps some other countries have not to consider quite as much as we have. From my experience of farmers as a whole I feel pretty confident that they do not want a lot of fresh legislation, and above everything they do not want any State control. That is a certainty What they want, in my opinion, is to have some of the unjust burdens taken off the land, and then to be allowed in the main to work out their own salvation, which I believe they are perfectly capable of doing provided they work under really fair conditions.
I do not know whether I shall be wandering out of the realms of the Debate, but, if I am allowed, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in the interests of the agricultural industry he could not co-operate most closely with the Ministry of Transport in this matter. I believe those two Departments, if they had the will, could do a very considerable amount to relieve the burden. I believe my own county of Devon is the most beautiful in these islands, but we have to pay the price for that. What happens, not only in the summer but throughout a very considerable portion of the year? We get people coming from all parts of the country, in motor-cars and char-a-bancs, to see our local beauty spots. They bring nothing into the county, they are here to-day and gone to-morrow, but they do a tremendous amount of damage, which falls very heavily on the farmer. I believe it is in this sort of way that my right hon. Friend, if he could use his influence with the Cabinet and the Ministry of Transport, could do a very considerable amount to relieve the far too heavy burden we have to carry in the country. I have in mind a district that borders on Dart-moor-Okehampton. There are 28 parishes in that district and a population of under 14,000. There are 365 miles of absolutely rural roads—what people in the towns would call lanes. They were constructed in the old days simply for farm traffic— horse traffic and so on. Out of those 365 miles of roads, which I have figures to prove carry a most abnormal char-a-banc traffic, for which they were never con- 1020 structed, only 25 miles are classified for the 25 per cent. grant. I maintain that that is a very practical way in which the Government, if they wanted to relieve some of the unjust burdens on the land, could do it.
There is one other suggestion I should like to make. We all know what a very great change has come over the countryside since the War. We know very well how the old estates have been broken up and farmers who, like their fathers before them, have rented under the same family of landlords have had little alternative but to buy their holdings. Hon. Members opposite sometimes pour abuse on the landlord section. They say anything that is done for agriculture always goes into the pockets of the landlords, and that is the only reason we advocate it on this side. That is absolutely untrue and unjust. I would ask those hon. Members who run down the landlord class whether they have met farmers who had previously been farming under landlords and have bought their farms. I have met a great many of them and have talked to them, and, almost without exception, they say, "I only wish the estate had not been broken up, and that I could continue-renting under that family." I know the Minister has been able to do a considerable amount in the last few years in the matter of loans and providing credits through agricultural societies, and more particularly in the matter of helping farmers with loans who have had to buy as a result of the Corn Production Act. I should like to ask him whether he could not go a little further in that direction. It is a common place to-day that an enormous proportion of the land in this country is most heavily mortgaged, and farmers who have bought are in a very hopeless position, because in many cases they are paying considerably more in interest than they formerly paid in rent, and over and above that there is the upkeep of buildings and improvements, such as drainage. It leaves him not the remotest chance of ever being able to pay off the capital charge.
I wonder whether the Minister could not extend a little further this system of loans, which is already in operation, possibly on the lines of the old land purchase scheme that operated, I believe, very successfully in Ireland and issue land stock at 5 or 4½ per cent. interest, allowing 10s. per cent. as a sinking fund, 1021 so that the farmer could have the feeling that he had security, that his loan was not going to be closed on him and, above all, that being a reasonable rate of interest he would at the same time be paying off the capital sum. That is one of the points about which the farmer feels strongly to-day. He finds he has to borrow money, the charges are heavy, and there is the expense of upkeep and everything else, and he can make no possible headway and can do nothing more than pay his interest. There is a strong feeling in the country to-day that agriculture has been rather badly hit for a good many years past by the Governments of the day. At the present time, by the composition of this Parliament, we have supporting the Government almost all the agricultural seats in the country. There is a feeling in the country, and I think quite rightly, that this Government is sympathetic towards agriculture and desires to see the industry reviving, and does not want to see the countryside becoming absolutely depopulated. If there is anything that the Government can do to give encouragement to the fanning community and the industry as a whole, I am certain that this Parliament is so constituted that the Government will have the greatest backing and support.
§ Major RUGGLES-BRISE
I am sure the Committee have listened with the greatest interest to the speech of the hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Drewe). He has brought to our Debates what we always look for and appreciate, and that is a real practical knowledge of the subject on which he has been speaking. I think the Committee was in general agreement with almost every observation which fell from the hon. Member, with the possible exception of one, and that was when he compared the beauties of his own native county to the beauty of other counties. Apart from that, the Committee welcomed his speech, which whetted the appetite of hon. Members for a larger yield next time.
Before I speak on the general position of agriculture, I wish to make a few remarks in regard to what fell from the Minister of Agriculture in regard to agricultural research. He claimed, quite rightly, that the research work that is being carried on to-day is of the greatest 1022 value to the industry, and I, as a farmer, wish to endorse most emphatically the truth of what he said. The work is being done most admirably. It is carried on at different research stations and experimental farms connected with the stations, and the work is beyond praise. But, unfortunately, there is one missing link in the chain by which the research results should reach the people for whom it is intended. The work is being done well in the laboratory and carried out in practice on the experimental farms, but, to my own knowledge, the results of that admirable work are not in every case reaching the farmer.
There is a certain amount of dissemination of knowledge by means of leaflets and pamphlets, but what we really want is a live, human factor, a man in close touch with the research station and in close touch with the experimental farm and also in. close and intimate touch with the farmers. That is where the system is breaking down to-day. The Government make a percentage grant Jo the counties for the carrying on of this research work and the experimental farms. There is nothing to debar any county from having a staff of visitors, or a visitor on their staff, whose main time would be occupied in attending the local markets in the county and fixing up with the farmers dates on which he would pay visits to their farms, and, ultimately, carrying out those visits, on which occasion he would give to the farmers on the spot, in the fields, the results of the very valuable research that has been carried out. That, of course, would cost a little money, but it would be very little. It would not be necessary to retard the building of a cruiser in order to accomplish that. By very slight economies in some other directions the Minister of Agriculture might be able to increase the percentage grants to the counties concerned, and he would in that way be able to encourage the counties to appoint such a visitor or visitors.
I had the privilege a few weeks ago of spending an afternoon on a farm with the Principal of the East Anglian Institute of Agriculture. We walked over every field, we examined every crop, we examined almost every weed. I have never spent such a profitable afternoon as a farmer in all my life, and I desire that the 1023 benefit of the research which the Principal was able to give me—which was not only theoretical but practical, and showed his keen knowledge—should be placed at the disposal of my fellow farmers. I wish that the close touch, which was of such great value to me, could be extended to all my fellow farmers, if possible. I trust that the Minister of Agriculture will seriously look into this question and see whether he cannot do something on the lines I have indicated.
Turning to the general position of agriculture, it is true to say that as far as the pastoral side of the industry is concerned, the position is by no means too bad. One might go further and say that in a great many counties, what I may call natural grass counties, the position is quite hopeful. For that we are very grateful. When we turn to the arable side of the industry, there is no word strong enough to describe the position in its true colours, because the position generally to-day in the purely arable counties is disastrous. I know that I shall be contradicted by certain hon. Members who happen to know a particular arable farmer in a particular district who may have done particularly well last year. I know of some such myself. I know there were in certain instances farmers who were fortunate enough to secure, for instance, their barley crop in good order, without so much rain as fell in other parts of the country, and that they secured for a few weeks a very high price for their barley, sometimes as much as £5 a quarter. But the Minister will bear me out, on looking at the figures, that the average price for barley was nearer 50s. than £5 a quarter.
I want to point to something which is not sufficiently realised regarding the two sides of the industry. We have the pastoral side fairly prosperous, and the arable side decidedly the reverse. I see a great danger for the future of the pastoral side. That may seem rather a startling statement to make. The danger to the pastoral side lies in the weakness of the arable side. That is often overlooked. It is not often recognised that on the pastoral side the produce is almost wholly perishable, such as meat, milk, cheese and butter, whereas the produce on the arable side is almost wholly keep- 1024 ing produce, wheat, barley, potatoes, and so forth. The danger lies in this, that there is a school of thought to-day who are saying to the arable farmer when he is in distress, "Why farm arable land as arable? Why not put it down to grass?" That is advice which is being given in high quarters to the arable farmer. That advice is thoroughly and wholly unsound. It is unsound, not merely for the arable side of the industry, but for the pastoral side of the industry, and, worst of all, It is unsound from the national aspect of the question.
There are four points which are overlooked by any person who gives that advice. There is the difference in the soil. If you lay down arable counties to grass, have you any reasonable prospect that you will get an equivalent productivity from the grass produced on the arable soil to the grass produced in the natural grass counties? We know quite well in practice, and I speak from experience, that that is not the case. There is not equivalent productivity in counties which are arable by nature, as compared with the productivity in counties which are pastoral by nature. For instance, in East Anglia when we put down grass for permanent pasture, although one may buy the best seeds and put in the right manure, and treat the land in the very best possible way, we know that it is not possible, even when the pasture has been down for some years, to compete in any way with pastoral counties like Devon and other counties in the West. Therefore, it is no remedy to suggest to the arable farmer that he can cut his losses and get out of his difficulties by converting his arable land to grass.
Apart from that, there is the cost of laying down the grass. It is no use letting the land tumble down to grass and cover itself with green weeds. First you must buy your seed. Then there is the general cost of laying down the arable land to glass, if one expects to get a proper grass crop from it. Even assuming that you have used the best seeds, and you have a beautiful new layer of grass which-you hope to make permanent, then comes the problem, how are you going to convert that grass into productivity? You cannot do it by simply growing hay. Hay is too cheap, you have to stock it. Where is the arable farmer going to get the cash 1025 in order to stock his new grass farm? The arable farmer is not in possession of the credit or the sufficient capital necessary to stock his arable farm when it is converted to grass. Therefore I warn the advocates of turning arable land into grassland that if their policy were carried out to the full they would be ringing the death knell of the prosperity not only of the arable farmer but also of the pastoral farmer. There would not merely be a glut of grass, but a glut of the products of grass. The grass farmer to-day who is, long Leaded, and takes a really long view of things, knows perfectly well that it is just as important to him that arable land should be kept under the plough as it is to the arable farmer himself.
The pastoral farmer who takes a long agricultural view and a long national view knows that it is in the very diversity of British soil that there lies the real strength of British agriculture. If there is a part of the country more adapted for growing hard corn and cereals, then that is the best use to which we can put the land. If there is another part which is naturally pastoral and grows such grass as to make it more profitable to use it for that purpose, let us keep it down to grass. Our forefathers were not fools when they decided which parts of the country should be devoted to one particular part of the farming industry. They knew a great deal more than we are apt to give them credit for. The industry, whether it be pastoral or arable, must stand as a whole, and it must be put both on a national and an economic basis. I know perfectly well that there are some people who will say, "If the nation will not come to the rescue of agriculture, let us pursue a system which will be wholly economic and not national." That is not a doctrine to which any hon. Member of this House would wish to subscribe. The two things are absolutely interlocked.
There is no antithesis, if truly viewed, between the national and the economic position of the industry. No nation can be on a sound economic basis which neglects its prime industry, agriculture. Conversely, no system of agriculture can be either on a sound economic basis, or on a sound national basis, which does not fulfil completely these two functions; first, that it should be a producer of food, and. second, that it should be an employer of labour. I think that that is 1026 overlooked by the holders of the policy of expediency, which is a bad one. The position to-day in the British Isles is that we are over-populated. We grow nothing like the food which we consume. We import something like £385,000,000 worth of food every year. One of the evils that follow from that is that we grow only about 20 per cent. of the total amount of wheat consumed in this country. We also import a million quarters of foreign barley to make our beer when we could grow it all ourselves. With regard to sugar, it is true that we have at last awakened to the fact that it is an important food, and that we must be able to grow it, and I welcome warmly the labours of the Government in giving assistance to this particular branch of our agricultural industry. We might grow practically all the potatoes which we require, but in many seasons we import many more than we want.
Why do we not grow more? Why have we to buy this £385,000,000 worth of food product in other countries? I say advisedly that we are growing all we can in present conditions, but we are not growing all we could, and the reason is because of the lack of security from which our farming industry is suffering at the present time. There is no use in growing crops if you do not know but that in 12 months' time you may get a price for those crops which will be totally un-remunerative. I know that some hon. Members above the Gangway will say that it is the farmers' own fault, that they are not producing enough, that they are farming badly, and so on. As one who has been a farmer all his life, and who has lived in the closest and most intimate touch with the farmers all his life, I can tell the Committee that whenever a farmer does make a profit in a good year he puts back almost the whole of it at once into his farm, and tries to grow more the next year, and it is in times like these, when we have been making losses consistently over a series of years, that the farmer has not the capital required to finance his occupation to the full and get the full result from the land. He has not the security.
The remedy which I have heard hon. Members above the Gangway urge is that you must nationalise the land, in addition you must nationalise the banks 1027 and eliminate the merchant. In other words, you are going to dispossess the landowners. The landowner happens to be the gentleman who brings to the farmer credit for financing his operations in the shape of the land and its equipment and buildings. He brings capital to the industry in the form of fixed credit. The bank brings credit in the form of liquid credit, to enable the farmer to finance his operations for the next 12 months. Then the merchant brings him the means of sowing his crops, and the fertilisers necessary to produce the crops. Those are the three best friends which the farmer has, and the Socialist party would destroy them all. They would replace the human agencies—
I think that I ought to point out that the hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to be arguing against possible legislation. We are dealing with administration.
§ Major RUGGLES-BRISE
I accept your ruling, but I might say that I am merely replying to the remarks which fell from the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander), who mentioned all the subjects to which I have just alluded. The effect would be that all human agencies which are now giving assistance to the industry would be replaced, if the Socialist party had their way, by an iron-souled State machine. I must not venture into any remarks about State trading, but it has proved so disastrous in other directions that I believe that in agriculture it would be more than ever hopeless. We heard a great deal from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who has made a great deal of the question of a survey. He proposes that the Government should undertake a survey of this country. I do not know, quite, what purpose underlies the suggested survey, but, after all, we have had an agricultural tribunal, and we have had Reports and Committees without end. None of them have yet saved agriculture, and I suggest that the survey would not do so either.
It is possible that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that with that survey he might go on the hunt for that elusive will-of-the- wisp site value. I wonder whether that 1028 is the purpose underlying his suggestion. Be that as it may, I may remind the Committee of some aspects of the Liberal policy in dealing with land, because the Liberal policy in times past is, to a large extent, responsible for the awkward position in which the farmer finds himself. The Committee will remember that before the War the Liberal party had a panacea for agriculture. They said that they were going to give security of tenure to the tenants, and they were going to achieve that by breaking up the large estates. The Liberal party have had their way. They broke up the large estates they broke the landowner, incidentally they broke the tenant farmer, and the only crumb of comfort in the situation is that the Liberal party broke themselves in the process.
The hon. and gallant Member must confine himself to matters for which he can argue that the Minister of Agriculture is responsible. I do not think it can be held that the Minister of Agriculture is responsible for any of these things.
§ Major RUGGLES - BRISE
I fully appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is in no way responsible for any of the sins of the two parties. I will address myself entirely to the administration of the right hon. Gentleman in connection with agriculture. We frequently hear gibes across the Floor of the Committee that the Conservative party is the historic friend of agriculture, but that is perfectly true and I welcome those gibes. I think that it is the only party which ever has had any true friendship for the farmer. It is unfortunately true that that friendship has never gone far enough; but the Conservative party are the only party which have had at heart the fundamental importance of agriculture as the fundamental indutry of the country, and a declaration was made last autumn on behalf of the Government which showed clearly how they did recognise that fact, because, it was stated very definitely that it was the intention of the Government to find some means, not merely to maintain the existing arable acreage, but to increase it. To that end, the first step the Government suggested was a conference of all the three parties who are engaged in agriculture. I greatly deplore that that conference never took place.
1029 Before such a conference can take place, I am told by those who have attended many more conferences than I, it is always necessary to create an atmosphere. I believe that that atmosphere had been created most successfully, not merely by the Government itself, but by many supporters of the Government throughout the country, who in the course of the Election did try to create the right atmosphere so that this conference might be held. Unfortunately, there was a school of thought who, I think, got into an error in this matter, and who did not accept with alacrity the invitation to the conference which the Government had given. They did not make matters much better, because the hesitancy which they had shown in helping the Government to have that conference was taken up by another party to the conference!, and ultimately the conference broke down. But. in spite of the breaking down of the conference, I welcome two speeches made in this House recently, showing what must be in the mind of the Government. Speaking in this House on the Agriculture Returns Bill, on the 8th of April this year, the Minister of Agriculture, replying to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs with reference to uncultivated and under-cultivated land, said:The reason why that land is not cultivated is that in the main competitive conditions will not allow of its cultivation.He then went on to say:The right hon. Gentleman says you can grow a lot more of what you want to eat in England on your own soil. I agree with him. It can be done at a price, but when yon have done that it comes down with the question, 'Can you do it at the price?'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th April, 1925; cols. 2289–90. Vol. 182.]I may quote, also, to show what is, I hope in the minds of the Government at the present time, words which were spoken by the Prime Minister in this House, on the 29th June this year, in the Debate on unemployment. He said:Any substantial increase in arable land in this country must depend ultimately on prices. It is undoubtedly because of the fall in prices that the million workers of 40 years ago have become the 800,000 of to-day, and the drop in arable land from 1,400.000 acres to 1.100,000 acres accounts for over 100,000 of these men."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1925; col. 2083, Vol. 185.]1030 When we have the Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister indicating clearly that the trouble lies in the fact that there is no security of price for the farmers in the growing of arable crops to-day, then, if the land is to be kept under the plough and crops grown, it clearly must be made worth the while of the farmer to grow them. Have the Government a policy or have they not? That is the question which I as a farmer, representing an agricultural constituency, feel bound to ask. The whole community is awaiting a declaration of policy on behalf of the Government as to how they intend to achieve this maintenance of the existing arable acreage and an increase of it. I know that, as indicated by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, the Government have in their minds a plan for extending cottage holdings. While I am entirely in favour of them, as I am sure every Member of this Committee is, I must give the warning that we must not imagine that a living can be got by a man from a cottage holding alone. What he really wants is the regular employment and the regular weekly wage which that employment brings. To-day, the employment is not there, and that is because the farmer finds it absolutely uneconomic to employ the full quota of labourers that he would like to employ, and the quota that he would be able to employ if he had security in growing his crops. We have to give security to the crops grown under the plough. If the Government have not a policy for dealing with the matter, may I, as a very humble farmer, venture to give them the outline of a policy which I believe would meet the case? We know quite well that the country cannot afford subsidies on a vast scale for things of every sort, whatever may be the necessity for it in connection with other industries—I am not now prepared to go into that question, because it would not be in order to do so. What I suggest to the Government is that by a little legislation, and at practically little or no cost—
Legislation is the one thing about which we cannot talk when in Committee of Supply. Reference to any administrative acts of the Minister would be in order, but legislation cannot be referred to. That is a very old rule.
§ Major RUGGLES-BRISE
I apologise for having broken a well-established rule. I will not suggest that it should be by legislative methods that the Government should carry out my policy. I believe it might well be carried out by administrative action. I beg the Government seriously to consider whether we cannot give this security, which admittedly we must have if we are to continue growing cereal crops; whether we cannot go a long way to secure that end by some form of insurance. Up to the present we have given very little attention to the question of crop insurance. It was mentioned by the hon. Member for Hills-borough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) this afternoon, and I endorse his statement. In the United States considerable attention has been devoted to the subject, and the United States Congress felt so deeply on the point that it set up a Select Committee to investigate the whole question. In 1923 this Committee sat, and I have in my hand a verbatim report of the proceedings. I can assure any hon. Member who is interested in crop insurance, that this report is most interesting reading, much better than any novel from a station bookstall. The Chairman, Senator McNary, said towards the end of the proceedings:I think we have all recognised for years that crop insurance is going to be one of the great stabilising factors in agriculture. Every other human activity is protected except the farmer's, and of all he should be protected, because he runs the greatest risk.That is a view which might well be explored by this country and by the Ministry of Agriculture. Such an exploration would take some time, and I therefore suggest the immediate application of the principle to the cereal of wheat, which is the basic factor in the food supply of this nation. Were the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs here, I know he would bear me out in the statement that if he had wakened one morning when Prime Minister during the War and when responsible for the vast operations that were going on, and had found lying on his table a message to the effect that during the night there had been found in this country a further fortnight's supply of wheat hidden away in stacks dotted about the country, he would have gone to his heavy day's work with an altogether 1032 light heart. The fact is that we are running a very grave national risk.
We must take the subject into consideration from the national point of view. We cannot afford to let our industry be merely a perishable produce producing industry. We must make it create something which will keep, and we must grow cereal crops as well as crops grown on the grass. We must consider whether the promise made to the agricultural community two years ago, as to a duty on barley, is not within the realms of possibility. I hardly dare to mention that, for fear of being ruled out of order. But I suggest that if there were co-ordination there would be a certain amount of revenue available which might be applied towards the insurance scheme for wheat. The scheme which I would advocate in connection with wheat insurance is a contributory scheme, and is known to some hon. Members. The money from the barley could be earmarked, and added to the premiums paid by the farmers, and you would thus have the nucleus of an insurance fund. Such a scheme could be started at little cost. We ought also to devise some system whereby the potato crop can be regulated both as regards quantity and price, taking into consideration the necessities both of the producer and of the consumer. If we were to take steps in connection with wheat, barley and potatoes, as we have already done in regard to beet, I think we should have an arable policy on which the Government could safely go forward and be assured of the support of the whole of the industry and of the people of the country.
§ Mr. RILEY
Although I am not an agriculturist, I have for many years been deeply interested in the subject of agriculture. I am sure that all on this side of the House listened with great interest to the Minister, and to his sympathetic references to the possible developments of agriculture in the immediate future. I am sure we all felt that, as far as he is concerned, in his Department nothing will be wanting that he can do to lend assistance to the industry in its development. But I would venture on one word of criticism. To-day we are asked to sanction a vote of £2,800,000, involving voluminous items. Yet as far as that vast sum is concerned, we have 1033 not had presented to us anything in the nature of an adequate survey of the work which the Department is doing. As far as I have been able to ascertain, there is nothing in the nature of an annual report which covers the various activities upon which this vast sum is to be spent. Many hon. Members would have found such a report of great assistance. Let me give an example. I notice on page 159 of the Estimates that there is a reference to £28,550 for agricultural education, and in a footnote I find these words:This includes £450 for salary and travelling expenses of temporary technical officer for promotion of young farmers' clubs.That is an interesting item. I wonder what those clubs are? No doubt the Minister will tell us. I have no doubt it is very useful to promote young farmers' clubs, if they are of a technical kind. May I now come to the point to which I wish to devote my remarks? It is the question whether the country is making the most of its great national asset, the land. There is every evidence that even in the Labour party there is quite as much interest in seeing agricultural land developed as there is in any party in the House. I go further, and say that there is no section of the House, not excepting the farming section, and, certainly, not excepting the landlord section, which is so intensely interested in seeing the best use made of the land. Prom that point of view, I want to refer to the point made by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), as to their being great room for improvement in the productive use of the land.
Let me give some figures. Sir Thomas Middleton gives the following statistics. From 100 acres of land in Germany, the German farmer produces food for 70 to 75 per sons. On an equal area of land the British farmer produces food for 40 to 50 persons. The British farmer produces 15 tons of corn per 100 acres, and the German farmer 33 tons of corn on an equal acreage. From 100 acres the British farmer produces 11 tons of potatoes; the German farmer 55 tons. The British, farmer produces four tons of meat per 100 acres, and the German farmer four and a half tons. In the case of milk, the British fanner produces seven and a half tons per 100 acres, and the German 1034 farmer 28 tons. These adverse comparisons are not due to the fact that British land is worse than the land of other countries, for a great deal of it is better land, and that is admitted by hon. Members opposite. The only reason is that the method of cultivating land in this country is less efficient than the method applied to other countries.
I will give an actual illustration. Professor Ruston, Professor of Agriculture in the Leeds University, in the course of a lecture to a farmers' club, on 23rd April, gave his experience as investigator for a number of years in connection with 22 farms in the West Riding of Yorkshire. These farms, I may mention, are under the survey of the Agricultural Department of the Leeds University, which is responsible for tabulating costs and examining results from year to year. Professor Ruston said:Farm L, which the present tenant has farmed for five years. The grass carried last summer one cow to an acre, at a cost of £4 0s. 10d. per cow; 3s. 1d. per cow per week while at grass, or 2½d. per gallon of milk produced. The two previous tenants had both failed, and when the present occupier took possession the condition of the grassland left much to be desired. Since then it has been well treated, limed, slagged, dressed with artificials and dunged. Last year the bill for artificials amounted to 17s. 6d. per acre, and that for purchased foods to as much as £10 13s. 9d. per acre, in spite of the fact that all the produce grown on the farm was consumed on the farm. As a result of this treatment the fertility of the soil has been built up, the stock-carrying capacity of the soil has been increased nearly threefold and the cost of grazing reduced. On this farm of less than 130 acres, on which, as before stated, the two previous tenants had failed, a net profit of more than £1,000 a year has been made during the last four years and ending 31st March, 1921, the net profit amounted to more than £1,300.There we find corroboration of the argument that the best is not being made of English land. When English land is properly cultivated it gives results which are equal to the results obtainable from the land of any other country. I was very glad to hear the encouraging remarks of the Minister with regard to small holdings, but I would have liked something more definite. We had the statement from the Minister that the scheme of 1908 had settled 15,000 people, and that the 1919 scheme had settled about 18,000 people. The first scheme, therefore, has been a substantial success, and the second has also been a substantial success, 1035 considering the after-effects of the War, but there was no indication that the Department is doing any immediate work in the promotion of small holdings. In that direction lies the best hope of promoting agriculture in this country. We have had from the previous speaker a lang speech with regard to the technicalities of farming and the special plea that the Government and the country should give particular attention to the ordinary fanner. I do not wish to place obstacles in the way of the ordinary farmer. Let the Government encourage the ordinary farmer by all means, but when all is said and done the main interest of this nation does not lie merely in the case of the ordinary farmer, but in the whole agricultural population getting access to the land and utilising it to the best advantage under the best conditions.
In a policy of small holdings there is a hopeful prospect of checking that drift to the towns of which the Minister has spoken and of directing the population back into the rural areas, increasing the prosperity of the villages and creating an increased purchasing power which will react on the towns. I am not going into the question of the large farm as against the small farm, but a significant fact was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, namely, that in all those European countries where agriculture is so much more productive than here, and where the agricultural population is so much larger, the small farm holds its own. Small holdings characterise every country in Europe with the exception of the eastern provinces of Germany. Right through Germany into Czechoslovakia, Yugo-Slavia, Rumania and Bulgaria the family farm of 20 to 50 acres holds its own in spite of all the tendencies which have manifested themselves. It is in those family farms that there is the brightest prospect for a revival of agriculture in this country. By giving to the family a sense of independence and of possible development there is a chance of diverting back from the towns to the country that section of the population which is native to the agricultural areas. I hope the Minister is doing something in that direction—directing some measure of propaganda or adopting some means of stimulating the rural 1036 population to a knowledge of the facilities which the Department places at their disposal. On those lines there is a real chance, but we must also consider the system of tenure, a point to which the Minister has not referred, although the final report of the tribunal of investigation on agriculture specifically deals both with the matter of tenure and the matter of small holdings.
It might be in order to refer to the advantages of one form of tenure rather than another, but I do not think that the hon. Member could get very much done without legislation.
§ Sir HENRY CAUTLEY
I sincerely welcome the speech to which we have just listened and I am glad to note on the part of the Labour party an awakening interest in the troubles of the agricultural industry. May I, however, ask the hon. Member to keep himself a little more up-to-date and not to give us the authority of Sir Thomas Middleton in disparagement of men who are engaged in this industry. I gather that the hon. Member has before him the report of the Tribunal on Agriculture, and he will find there that Sir Thomas Middleton's statement was thoroughly considered, and the report of the three experts states that the practice of agriculture in this country is as good as the practice in any other country in the world, and that the wages paid are better. It is not in that direction you have to seek the cause of the ills from which the agricultural industry is suffering.
Except in so far as the Minister dealt with the prevention of disease and the 1037 work of research which is being carried on in scientific matters, I fear I must say I am profoundly disappointed with his statement. I would encourage him as far as I can to fresh work of scientific research and the prevention of disease, bat I would ask him not to let it be said, as a great many farmers are saying now, that apart from these two branches of its work, the Ministry is of little use to the practical farmer. I am afraid that as a practical farmer myself I do not discover much in what the right hon. Gentleman said from which the industry is going to benefit. I welcomed his statement that he was going to protect the labourer and carry out the provisions of the Regulations of Wages Act, but he did not tell us whether he had taken any steps, either by administrative action or otherwise, on behalf of the labourer or the employer, to ease the burden of the contributions which are going to fall heavily on the industry in connection with the new pensions scheme. The industrialists who are more vociferous and powerful in this House have succeeded in halving their contributions for the benefits which they are going to receive under the pensions scheme, and I had hoped the Minister would be able to tell us that he had been taking some steps, possibly in combination with the Minister of Health, to secure a corresponding benefit for the agricultural worker and a corresponding alleviation to the farmer in regard to these contributions. He might have told us that he was going to persuade the Minister of Health to help in having the rating of farm buildings placed on the same plans as the rating of agricultural land.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
Would it not be an administrative act of the Minister to urge the Minister of Health to take steps in this matter? I should have thought that was a question of policy.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
I will not pursue the point further. I will only call attention to the fact that those engaged in the industry feel they have been neglected in 1038 this matter and they have been left without that help which the industrialists have obtained. A further statement made by the Minister was that he thought that the industry could be greatly helped by a method of improved marketing. Everybody will agree with him, but has he done anything during the last year that he has been in office to secure for us some alleviation of the immense railway rates that we have in this industry of ours, or to approach the Postmaster-General to urge on him the provision of a cheaper parcels post, or of a cash-on-delivery system? Has he done anything to help the milk-sellers and producers of this country to free them from the incubus of this huge trust, the United Dairies Company? I should be only too glad to find that the Ministry had been active in these directions. He told us that he had in view a great many activities in regard to land settlement and small holdings. I welcome that, and I think he is on the right course. But may I ask him also to consider whether I am not right when I state that, in spite of the pressure put and the powers given to the Minister to encourage and increase small holdings in this country, the numbers of small holdings to-day are very few indeed in excess of what they were in 1918? Is it not true that the numbers in the last few years have been steadily diminishing? I would tell the Committee this, that the provision of small holdings is a very necessary one, very desirable, more from a social point of view than from an economic point of view. I regard it of the utmost importance that access to the land should be made easy, and I believe that much can be done by careful management of a small holdings policy. I am very glad to see opposite the hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. Fenby), who I know has been very active in this matter as a member of the East Riding County Committee. Nowhere has a small holdings policy been better carried out and with more skill in the whole country. They have selected their land with discretion, and have succeeded in placing men on the land who are going from small holdings to larger farms in a more successful way. I differ entirely from what the last speaker said, that we have to look to small holdings for dealing with the real agricultural question. Believe me, it is not so. I do not myself believe that you can have a small holdings, policy really successful as an economic 1039 proposition, unless you have it in a protected country as exists all over the Continent.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
Denmark is not a small-holdings country. It has larger holdings. The problem of Denmark rests more on the general question of agriculture. When I hear the last speaker supporting the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon in saying: "Let us have a survey in this country and see whether the land is really producing the best," I ask, why does not somebody try to apply the Denmark principle? Bring over a Dane to show them how it is done, instead of what I venture to say is the ridiculous plan of sending a number of people round our farms—whom are they going to send?—to tell us whether our land has been properly farmed. I tell the Committee at once that our land can produce considerably more. We all know it. You have only to take the rich man's farm. Take the millionaire amateur farmer: he produces the best of stock, and the very worst of balance-sheets. Why is it that the farmer to-day does rot produce in the same way as the amateur rich gentlemen do? Because it is uneconomic. Because it is unprofitable. They would be in the bankruptcy court.
The trouble we have to-day in British farming—certainly, in the arable counties that the hon. Member for Maldon (Major Ruggles-Brise) referred to, and more particularly on the heavy land, on most of the good land livings can be made—is, that the industry cannot be carried on at a profit. You have the most-skilled men found by the tribunals in some of the best farms that you get, and they cannot to-day make a living. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because of the immense competition from abroad. That is the trouble. Because of the importation from abroad. I remember in 1919 we went into the question of the cost of growing wheat, and I came to the conclusion that it was desirable to have a small subsidy in order to retain the bulk of the arable land. I am perfectly certain that the people who support a subsidy for coal will be bound to support a subsidy for this industry it they wish it to be carried on to the extent of keeping our arable land. On this point 1040 I would like to call the Minister's attention to the speech made on the eve of the last election by the Prime Minister. I am going to ask him to tell us now, and I am sorry the Prime Minister has left the Committee, whether this is the policy of the Conservative party or whether it is not. The Prime Minister said:I regard it as vital that the great basic industry of agriculture should be not merely preserved but restored to a more prosperous condition as an essential element in the economic and social life of the county. For a permanent solution of the great agricultural problem, a common agreement between all parties is desirable, and the Unionist party, if returned to power, will summon a representative conference in the hope of arriving at an agreed policy by which the arable acreage may be maintained and regular employment and adequate wages secured to the agricultural workers.I am aware that owing to the action of the Socialist party opposite that conference could not be held, and I regret it. I found, not only in my own election, but in the election in all the county constituencies, that this policy, portrayed in those words by the Prime Minister, was the most effective thing that we had to put before the electorate, and the result of this policy was that practically every rural constituency in England returned to this House a follower of the present Prime Minister. I regret exceedingly (hat more steps have not been taken by the Minister of Agriculture to carry out this policy, in spite of the Labour party standing aloof.
I think, from the speech that we have just heard, and from other speeches that I hope we shall hear from that side, that the Labour party are beginning to see with us the absolute necessity of keeping our arable land under cultivation and increasing it, because it is to arable cultivation that we have to look to keep a healthy population on the land, which is what we particularly want to get. When we listened to the appalling figures that were given by the hon. Member for Hills-borough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) just now, about the steady increase of agricultural imports, I think it must be brought home even to the least thinking of us that we have in the increased cultivation of arable land a possible means of diminishing these huge purchases abroad and at the same time providing a means of livelihood for 1041 our people who cannot find one at the present time.
I would press the Minister to give me an answer in the course of his reply to this question: Are we to understand by the action of the Minister and of the Government during this last year— possibly they have been taken up with more pressing and urgent matters—that they have departed from this policy, or is it part of the policy of the Conservative party to secure "maintenance of arable acreage and regular employment and adequate wages for the agricultural worker." I remember a statement made —I have not got the words before me— by some of the Front Bench that what we were aiming at was to get another million acres under the plough. I am reminded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders) that the statement was made in the letter of the Minister of Agriculture to the National Farmers' Union, in which the right hon. Gentleman stated that his policy, that is the policy of the Government, was to secure a further million acres under the plough. That is a policy I should be only too delighted to see carried out. I can promise the Minister, if he will take any steps at all towards securing that object, that those behind him and the whole Conservative agricultural committee, which numbers something like 150 or 160 members, will support him. I cannot believe after this statement of the Prime Minister in his Election address that this policy is entirely abandoned.
I have little else to say. The main point is this. To-day we cannot grow corn at a profit, except on the very best ground. What is the Minister going to do for us? If you go into the Eastern Counties, where corn is the staple product, farmers have been for the last year or two under the disadvantage of the cost of production exceeding the selling price. It is on the heavy lands that we have the greatest trouble and the greatest difficulty, and every step, so far as I know, so far taken by this House has been rather to put up the burdens on the producer than to ease those burdens. I took a very active part in the settlement of the Wages Regulation Bill, and I am not going to complain of the part that I took or of the fact that the agricultural labourer's wages have gone up under 1042 that Measure, but it has put a further burden on the producer.
We are having brought in to-day a Rating and Valuation Bill which the farmer and the producer on our arable land thinks is going to increase his cost of production, and I think he rightly thinks so. I am not aware that the Ministry have done anything either to avoid further rates being put on the agricultural producer or to avoid the lessening of the rates paid by the railway companies which will have to be found by the agricultural producer and the occupier of our farms. We have had produced by this Government a Tithe Bill, which will have the effect of saddling the land of this country with a large payment for 85 years, and which is going to increase the burdens on the producer of food, and this at a time when the state of the occupier of arable land is such as I have mentioned. Is it to be wondered at that the farmer begins to doubt the friendship of his traditional friends, the Conservative party? I am obliged to the Committee for the opportunity of putting these questions to the Minister. It is because of my sincere desire to help the farmer and the farm worker, whose interests I have looked after so far as I could in this House for very many years now, that T have ventured to address these remarks to the Committee to-day.
§ Mr. FENBY
I have listened to a good many questions addressed to the Minister of Agriculture, and am hoping that he will have ample time in which to answer them before the close of the Debate. I do not intervene from a political point of view, although that is very tempting after some of the remarks passed by hon. Members on a certain body to which I have the honour to belong. I am looking at the agricultural question now purely from an administrative point of view. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) was good enough to pay a compliment to the county in which I live, so far as their administration (of the Small Holdings Act of 1908 and the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, 1919, was concerned. Clearly there is a difference of opinion as to the economic value of small holdings. There is evidence of that in the Debate to-night, but I think that point is answered by the facts given by the Minister himself with 1043 regard to the numbers settled under the Act of 1908 and the Act of 1919. I think the answer to the suggestion that small holdings are uneconomic it this, that there has been such a small percentage of failures of the men who have been put on small holdings. There is also a suggestion that the system of landlordism has broken down. I believe the Minister himself went perilously near, in a speech in his own constituency some months ago, to making a similar statement, but I do not think the alternative to the present system of landlordism can be national ownership and control.
I want to address a question to the right hon. Gentleman on a subject that has not been touched upon so far in this Debate. It has to do with other legislation which he did not mention. I mean the Small Holding Colonies Acts of 1916 and 1918. Those small holding colonies were not run by county committees, I think, but by the Ministry itself, and, If I have got the figures correctly, within a very few years something like £234,824 was lost by the Ministry on settlements under those two Acts. When we talk about national ownership and control being the remedy for the agricultural difficulty to-day, and that it might be able to keep land under the plough where the farmers are putting it down to grass, I notice that in regard to one of those colonies, according to the Report, it was impossible for the right hon. Gentleman's Department to farm a certain amount of arable land under the plough, and so they decided to see if they could sell it, but, according to the statement officially given, it was not even possible to sell it, and so they decided to put it down to grass; and in one year it had an effect which proves again that we in this House ought to give very sympathetic attention to the agricultural problem and to keeping every acre of land under the plough that we possibly can.
If I have got the figures correctly— and they can be checked by any hon. Member who cares to go into them— they show that the policy pursued by the right hon. Gentleman's Department of putting this land down to grass resulted in one year in a drop in wages on that particular colony of about £3,000, compared with the amount that was paid in 1044 wages in the year before when the land was under the plough. I am given to understand that the Department has gone in for a certain amount of economy so far as these farm settlements are concerned. There is one in the East Riding of Yorkshire, which is very well known by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead. There has been a very considerable loss there, but seeing that the losses have been cut, I should like the Minister to tell me whether the smallholder is suffering in any respect and if he is being left to fend for himself and find another colony.
In regard to the small holdings under the Acts of 1908 and 1919, I am glad to find that the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) has changed his mind and his attitude concerning small holdings. If he will look up an official publication published by the official publishing house of the party above the Gangway, called; I believe, "The Socialist Policy for Agriculture," he will find that a Committee has been sitting, of which he himself was one, and that they say, at the beginning of their Report, that small holdings are a Liberal Individualist policy and have proved to be uneconomic. I am glad to find that there is a change to-night in that regard, and I am glad to have the co-operation of the Labour party in pressing for an extension of small holdings in this country. Say what we like, there is a great land hunger, and it is finding expression in the rural areas from the small man, who is only too anxious at the earliest possible moment to be put on the land on a safe footing. The machinery was set up by the Liberal Government of 1908 in its Small Holdings and Allotments Act, and, as the Minister said in his opening statement this afternoon, there has been no loss on the working of that Act, for the simple reason that it was financially sound.
If a county authority, as anyone associated with the administration of that Act knows, put up a scheme to the Ministry of Agriculture, it had to prove, before the scheme could be approved by the Department, that the whole of the cost, not only the interest on the money, but the repayment of the money, was to be covered by the rent payable by the tenant. Therefore, there was no loss whatever, either upon the local authority 1045 or upon the National Exchequer, and the reasons for the safe footing that a man possessed—and they are still under the Act of 1908—are that, so long as he paid his rent and farmed his land to the satisfaction of the small holdings committee of that county administration area, the whole machinery of the State was behind him and the law was behind him to keep him on his holding. The man had security of tenure in a piece of Liberal legislation in 1908, which, as the Minister said, was responsible for putting about 15,000 small men on the land, giving them security of tenure and, what is more, fixity of rent. All I want to press for is this: It is quite within the right hon. Gentleman's power to carry on the good work of the Act of 1908. It is true that under the Settlement Act of 1919 there will be commencing immediately, if it has not commenced already, a revaluation of the land and equipment obtained by county authorities, and I should like the Minister to tell me, if possible, what is the machinery that is being set up and what are the proposals he intends to carry out, so far as revaluation in 1926 is concerned, between the Ministry and the county authorities.
In passing, I understand—and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—that he is to put before the National Council of Agriculture this week the proposals of the Government so far as the agricultural industry is concerned. May I beg of him to give us a little previous information to-night, if he can? In my view, we are entitled in this House, just as much as any authority outside, to know the proposals of the Government, and we are equally interested. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will urge the counties, and encourage them in every possible way, to carry on the work under the provisions of the Act of 1908. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has been urging that there should be a complete survey of the agricultural land of this country, and the Ministry to-day referred to research. I would like to join my right hon. Friend in suggesting that it would be a very useful and profitable thing for the Department and the country if the Minister were to appoint a Special Committee to find out what area of land there is in this country that is not being 1046 cultivated to-day, but that is capable of being cultivated and producing very large quantities of food.
I hope to have the honour, in the course of the next few days, of accompanying the Minister to see something that I know will interest him so far as neglected land is concerned. I hope to show him nearly 100 acres of land that have never yet been cultivated, at least up to a few years ago, and which were sold by the owner to the county authority, of which I happen to be member, at something like £3 11s. an acre. Having drained 18 acres of it, we have increased the value of the adjoining land by something like £200. We have offered to our adjoining small-holding tenants 10 acres of this virgin soil, if they are prepared to plough it up, giving them security of tenure for 6d. an acre be long as they care to stay on the holding. For two years something like 15 acres of land have been growing splendid crops of potatoes, land which never grew anything before. I saw a fortnight ago four acres of land that in March had no sign whatever of cultivation. To-day that land is growing a splendid crop of potatoes in that short space of time. If I have come across this example in my own county, how many more examples there must be of this kind in various parts of the country. The area of agricultural land is bound to get restricted. I am glad to find that people are getting more land attached to their houses than ever before. We have land that only needs the application of implements and agricultural skill, and I do appeal to the Minister, even in this small way, to take an early opportunity to set up a special Committee to go into the whole question of finding out the extent of land available. I want something on account as early as possible, for if only men have the opportunity, at a reasonable and fixed rent, with security of tenure, they will be only too glad to take advantage of anything provided in that direction. It is in the right hon. Gentleman's power, and it only needs the will. It only needs the Minister to do a little bit of pushing, and we should have an improvement very soon, and men placed on the land.
I would like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and his Department on the working of the Wages Regulation Act, so far as the Wages Boards are concerned. 1047 I have always been an advocate of that kind of machinery for regulating the wages, and, speaking as a member of the Wages Board, I may say that it has sweetened the relationship between the masters and the men, has tended to an improved wage, and has set up machinery which, so far as my experience goes, is not hindering or putting a handicap upon the industry, and is helping in the settlement and improvement of the conditions of the agricultural labourer. I would like the Minister, if he can, to tell me if the loss has stopped so far as colony settlements are concerned?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up!"]—and whether the Ministry, in cutting down the loss, has caused in any way suffering to the smallholders? I would also like him to tell me, if he can, what are the proposals which he is going to put before the National Council of Agriculture on Thursday. Will he let the House have a little advance information? I hope we shall receive from the right hon. Gentleman a very favourable answer, and the promise to consider the suggestion of setting up a special Committee to find out what land is not cultivated that could be cultivated.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
So far this Debate has dealt with the purely agricultural side of the Ministry's work. I want to introduce a little variety by talking about fisheries for probably 10 minutes or more. I notice in the Estimates that the Fishery Estimates come last of all. They are even further down the list than Miscellaneous Services, and I am afraid that some of us in the fishing industry are rather afraid that that is the position which that department takes under the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. I should also like to call the Committee's attention to the very small amount that is voted for that particular department, £72,896 only. There is an item in that to which I want to call attention, and that is for the development of the inshore fisheries, for which a sum of £250 is provided. I represent the deep-sea fishermen, but I have a great deal of sympathy with the inshore fishermen, because we realise that it is from the ranks of the inshore fishermen that we get some of our best men, and I hope when we get the Estimates another year, in spite of the talk about economy, we shall have a little more provided for the Fishery Department.
1048 I want to call the Minister's attention to something in connection with fisheries which, I think, will be of advantage not only to the industry but to the country generally. We are a very minor Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. How that comes about I cannot possibly say, but, perhaps, it is because there is a certain analogy between agriculture and fisheries in that article of diet so well thought of by the working classes—fish and chips. Personally, I have no complaint to make against the right hon. Gentleman who has occupied the position of Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries as regards his attention to fishery matters. He has, indeed, taken a very great interest in that work so far, but may I venture to suggest to the Committee that he has such a large amount of work to occupy his attention on the purely agricultural side, that it is just possible the fishery department may be somewhat neglected. In previous Parliaments it has generally been left to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to deal with fishery matters, and I wish to pay a compliment to the gentleman who occupied that position under the last Government, who went into office without any knowledge whatever of the fisheries. Although I was not a Member of this House during that period, I had to communicate with that Department on many occasions, and I know something of the work of that Department, and I want to pay a word of tribute to the manner in which the late Parliamentary Secretary tackled the work, and tried to find out what the industry really wanted.
What we ask for in the industry is that a Parliamentary Secretary should be appointed to deal with fishery matters only. There was a suggestion some years ago that it ought to be a separate Department altogether. We are not going so far as that, but we do think that if a Parliamentary Secretary were appointed to assist the right hon. Gentleman, a Parliamentary Secretary to deal entirely with fishery matters, it would be better for the industry and for the country generally. Of course, it may be said that it is going to create a fresh, post, and mean expense. Many speakers this afternoon have quoted from the words of the right hon. Gentleman the 1049 Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I am going to venture also to quote from him. He said in 1918:To enable the nation to bear the gigantic burden of debt which the War will impose upon us, and the still greater burden of recuperation and reconstruction, we must see that the national resources are developed to the full, and that the State renders all the assistance in its power to the attainment of that object.We of the fishing industry venture to put before the Committee this fact, that in the British sea and inland fisheries we have one of the most valuable of all our national resources, and that development will depend very largely on the assistance it will receive from the State. By that I am not asking for financial assistance, or anything in the way of a subsidy, but more assistance from the State in the development of the industry generally, and more particularly in exploration and research work. Fishing is the sixth largest industry in this country to-day, and it is responsible for the employment, directly and indirectly, of something like 250,000 people. Therefore, I venture to say it is worthy of some consideration from this Committee. Further, it is essentially a home industry, and, what is more, it is an industry that supplies good and cheap food for the people. As regards the question of economy and economical working, let me point out that when the Geddes Committee was set up, this was, I think, the only Department of the State in which that Committee did not recommend any cutting down of expenditure. Bearing in mind the small amount voted for it, one can readily understand that. I believe the appointment I am suggesting would be true economy. I do not want to quote the old platitude about economy and efficiency, but I do say, as a result of such an appointment, it would be possible to make this particular industry more prosperous, and therefore benefit the country generally.
There have been previous suggestions in respect to this matter. The most exhaustive inquiry ever made in the fishing industry was the Royal Commission which sat as far back as 1888, and that Commission recommended that a central authority should be appointed to supervise and control the fisheries of Great Britain under a responsible Minister. That recommendation shared the fate of so many other recommendations of Royal 1050 Commissions, and was never acted upon. Again, in 1893, a Select Committee advised that a strong effort should be made for something on the lines I am suggesting this afternoon, but nothing was done as regards that. But in November, 1918, when everyone was talking about reconstruction and the improvement of industry generally, a memorandum was issued by the National Sea Fisheries Protection Association in favour of a separate Ministry for Fisheries. We do not ask for that, as I said before, but we do say we should like to be put, so far as England is concerned, somewhat on the lines that Scotland is to-day. Scotland has a great advantage inasmuch as she has a central authority dealing with the whole of the fisheries. In England, we have certainly a central authority, but many district boards, and it has not been found to work very well, and we should like to imitate the example of Scotland, not only in that, but also in the fact that they have got one of the smartest men at the head of the Board in the fishing industry to-day—and he is not a Scotsman, but a Welshman. We should look to imitate their example both as regards their Board, and as regards this particular individual.
The industry—and I speak now on behalf of the National Sea Fisheries Protection Association—-would like this Committee to know what they consider would be a properly equipped fisheries Department. We think that a properly equipped Department should include a section dealing with harbours, the registration of vessels, personnel, and the movements of fishery cruisers. There should be an intelligence Department whose duty it would be to locate and chart the fishery grounds. This question of the exploration and charting of the fishery ground, we, in the industry, feel very strongly indeed about, because it is only by the Government that these new grounds can be found and charted and made available for our fishermen. This Department should also deal with the taking and preparation of statistics, and so forth. Then we want a little more attention paid to the sale and trading Department as regards our internal markets, because we think there is a chance of something being done to assist the poorer people to get cheap food in the way of cheaper fish. We at the ports 1051 say this, and with truth, that our fish is sold by auction to the highest bidder, and therefore there is no profiteering on the part of the fishermen. We should like this Department to interest itself in the overseas trade, for we believe there is a large and expanding trade to be done with overseas countries if it is properly developed, encouraged, and assisted by the Government.
There is the question of research. We want research to extend much further than it does at present. There are other matters in connection with fishing where this Department could be very useful, such as the collection of particulars, the best methods of packing, curing, and tinning, and the preserving of the fish generally. I am not going for one moment to suggest that we are going to get this work done at once. I do, however, suggest to this Committee that if we had a Parliamentary Secretary who interested himself in this question of the fisheries and the fisheries only, we should get possibly many things done. In passing, I want to pay a compliment to the present heads of the Department. Working as they are with very limited resources, they are doing wonderful things. We in the industry wish to pay a compliment to these heads, Mr. Maurice and Moss-Blundell for what they are doing. They have been very helpful and sympathetic, and we believe that they will always, as during the past years, help the fishing trade as much as they possibly can. We do feel, however, that if we have a Parliamentary Secretary responsible to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, who would interest himself entirely in this particular work, would visit our ports and see the condition of things, the conditions of our work and the difficulties of the industry, it would be well.
Bearing all this in mind, we suggest that the fishing industry has proved, particularly during the War, a real national asset. Our fishing fleet and our fishermen were, indeed, an auxiliary to the Navy which was invaluable. We said on many occasions that if it had not been for the men of the fishing fleet of this country our Navy would have been almost ineffective. I believe that is true. It is up to our country to encourage them in every possible way, not only because this is an industry that provides employment, 1052 and brings food to the country, but because it is an auxiliary to the Navy, and provides the type of man who is second to none when drafted into our war ships. I wish to emphasise that if we have such a Parliamentary Secretary appointed who could visit our ports and see the working conditions of the people in the industry, and then suggest to the Minister a line of policy it would be very helpful. Again, I would say on behalf of the industry that we thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has done for us up till now. We believe that the present head of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, if he deals with agriculture alone, has his hands full. There is only 24 hours in the day, and, I suppose, that even Cabinet Ministers have to sleep sometimes in the 24 hours. But we think this Department is of such importance that it merits the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary to assist the right hon. Gentleman the Minister.
§ Mr. RENNIE SMITH
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries was particularly interesting to me in view of the efforts that are being made to eradicate disease in the live-stock of the country. I was also interested, too, to hear of the efforts that the Minister is making concerning tuberculosis and other diseases, which we can all, irrespective of what views we may hold, agree with. The serious effect of tuberculosis has been discussed within the last few months, perhaps more than anything else, and the country would welcome any further information on this very important matter, which not only affects the agricultural industry, but the health of the community. The Minister had under review what is being done by the Ministry in respect to a number of particulars; of the treatment of agricultural labourers, of the work that is being done in research, and also what is being done by his Department with reference to marketing of produce, and so on. Ho also referred to education and to the settlement of men and women on the land in various ways. What hon. Members, I fancy, have missed most, however, has been a statement of an agricultural policy for this country. So far as I can see the only indication of such a policy given by the Minister was a reference to opening up new facilities for allotments, and a 1053 hint, amounting almost to a definite promise, that that side of agricultural policy is receiving careful attention, and will result in the development of practical measures at a not very distant date. What, however, we are wanting, and what we expect from the Government, is some more definite and careful announcement as to what is the policy of the present Government in regard to agriculture.
We have gone, as the Committee knows, through a long period of agricultural decay, from the point of view of the relative importance of agriculture to the welfare, of the people of these islands. We have had statistics given to us, but we know perfectly well that the whole industry of agriculture has been subject to world influences and has been steadily going from bad to worse. We know that during the War period, while we felt under the imperious necessity of self-preservation, the nation evolved a new policy in relation to agriculture, into which labour and energy was put, so that in 1916, 1917, and 1918 we had the suggestions of the possibility of something like a new policy for agriculture.
Since then, as we all know, a greater part of that development, from a national point of view, has been removed from the Statute Book, and we are now face to face with the fact that we have no stated policy to take the place of what has been undone. I would like to ask the Minister whether he does not think that the time has come when simply in the interests, not of his own party, or in the interests of the present Government, but in the interests of the nation that we should have a really responsible statement of what it is we are going to do to help the industry from the point of view of the national welfare? I have been to the trouble to read a number of books written by responsible men, Lord Ernie and others, and I find that their view if the matter is simply this: That there will gradually be a world shortage of agricultural products, and as other countries become increasingly industrialised they will, relatively, absorb an increasing proportion of the wheat, barley, oats and other commodities which have hitherto been available for export to other parts of the world.
They look forward to the time when, without any Government intervention, we 1054 may look forward to a gradual improvement of the agricultural condition: that is to say, when wheat, oats, and barley under this world tendency will tend slowly to rise in price; and therefore, arable farming will again become like what it was 50 or 60 years ago, a profitable industry in this country. This would appear to foreshadow the same policy which we have had in this country for the last 40 or 50 years, and I want to ask the Minister of Agriculture whether that is his policy? Apart from research work, apart from educational effort, apart from what is already going forward, is it his intention to await this world movement and to depend upon it to bring about the restoration of arable farming? Is there some other policy in the minds of this Government? Is there some other policy to deal with the age-long conflict between the industry of agriculture on the one hand, and the whole gamut of urban industries on the other? What is the view of the Government on this matter? Do they take the view that unemployment as we know it now is a temporary problem that will disappear automatically with a world revival in trade, or do they take the view that we are face to face with a large permanent national problem which requires some change of policy?
We should all welcome more information from the Minister on the subject of marketing. He said definitely and categorically that we cannot allow the present haphazard methods of marketing to continue, and we should like some specific information as to how he proposes to overcome the present difficulties. Sir Thomas Middleton reminds us in his book of the enormous disparity between the price the farmer gets for various commodities and the price the consumer has to pay. With regard to meat he states that on the average the farmer only gets one-half the price which the consumer pays for every kind of meat. For milk, the farmer gets only one-third of the actual price paid by the consumer. In the case of potatoes and other vegetables and fruits of various kinds the average obtained by the grower is something like one-quarter of what is paid by the consumer. In regard to the problem of marketing, the conclusions of all impartial committees which have investigated the matter are similar to those which have been formed in respect of the 1055 mining industry and other industries, namely, that there is a very big disparity between the cost of production and the price on delivery to the private consumer, a disparity which in the national interest we ought not to allow to continue. In this field, therefore, there is a large scope for development, and we should welcome a more careful and elaborate statement as to how the Minister proposes to help agriculture to get away from this higgledy-piggledy and haphazard system of marketing and secure in its place a system of marketing which will eliminate the enormous cost at present borne by the ultimate consumer of the goods.
The real reason why I rose was to speak of the educational work which the Minister is pursuing. Unlike the hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Drewe), who made an altogether praiseworthy and valuable maiden speech, I cannot pretend to have a practical and detailed knowledge of farming. My experience of farming is confined to having lived on a farm for three years, and that is not long enough even for an apprenticeship in farming, apart altogether from forming any reliable conclusions on the subject from a national point of view. I am, however, particularly interested in the educational work which the Ministry is undertaking, and also, to a lesser extent, in the research work. Far and away the most happy and promising portion of the Minister's speech dealt with research and education. He spoke of something like £900,000 which had been used to promote all kinds of agricultural research, and no one who has followed the fortunes of British agriculture in the last 20 years in the light of the developments in Denmark, Germany and the United States of America can have any doubts as to the possibilities that flow from re search. I was glancing at the report published by the Ministry a few days ago dealing with the question of the stabilisation of agricultural prices. That is a problem of primary importance to the industry, and it is very necessary that a report of that kind should be widely circulated. Suggestions have been made about that report which tend to disparage its usefulness both to the Board of Agriculture, the agricultural community and the 1056 people as a whole. The suggestions are that the report is in some way an ex parte statement, and that the writers of it were members of the party to which I myself belong. I put it to the Minister that if it be true that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry has been disparaging the report on the ground that two of the civil servants who were engaged in its production were members of this party, saying that therefore the report has suffered in value, the Minister should take steps to see that these disparaging statements are withdrawn or discountenanced. I cannot pursue that subject now; I am referring to matters which took place in another House.
In regard to education the happiest development from the point of view of the future of agriculture has been the very liberal grant of scholarships since the abolition of the Corn Production Act. I refer especially to the 100 scholarships under Class III which are available for one year, as a rule, at the various farming institutes of the country: to the 10 scholarships, usually available for two years, at what can be described as the intermediate places in our rapidly growing agricultural education system, institutions like Reading; and to the 10 scholarships which are available for four years almost exclusively in the agricultural departments of our great universities. From the point of view of the development of scientific knowledge, and not less of a new social spirit in agriculture, it is a matter of the greatest moment that we should have had those 120 scholarships, involving a fund of £100,000, and that they should have been deliberately and by intention restricted to the sons and daughters of agricultural workers. I understand no one is eligible for one of those scholarships whose parents have an income of more than £150 a year, and that the strictest care has been taken in the enforcement of that particular regulation. I have made a number of inquiries recently as to the practical results of these scholarships in the last four years, and I was pleased to hear the Minister's reference to the ability displayed by one of the scholarship winners who has come under his own notice. I am told that these boys and girls, coming from some of the poorest families in the country, are showing very marked ability both at the farming institutes and the 1057 intermediate scholastic institutions as well as at the universities, and that in examinations in which they have to compete, with boys and girls and young men and women from the middle class and some of the wealthiest families in the Kingdom they are not only holding their own, but are in some cases showing marked distinction. From the point of view of the future of agriculture we cannot praise too highly this development. There is one anxiety about it which I know is felt by those who are concerned with the administration of the scholarship and by the wider agricultural community, and that is as to what is likely to happen when this £100,000 is exhausted, as I understand it is likely to be in the course of another year or two. We should all be made happy if the Minister would give us a definite assurance that this scholarship system shall be continued and extended.
Lastly, I would like to say a word not simply about vocational education but about the more general aspect of culture, to which the Minister made such felicitous reference in the closing part of his speech. It is a question of cultural revival among village people. The example of Denmark has been referred to frequently in terms of praise. I happened to spend a couple of years there as joint principal of a college, and had opportunities of investigating their form of high (school training for agricultural young men and women. Might not that system, subject to modifications suited to our needs, be applied in this country? I am speaking now in terms of general cultural education of the high school movement as apart from vocational high schools for agriculture. Would it not be possible to develop, in association with village life, a number of institutes so that in the winter months, when agricultural work is at its slackest, men and women who are engaged in farming should have some opportunity of general studies? I am reminded in this connection of the recommendations which were put forward by the adult education committee in connection with the old Ministry of Reconstruction. In the Report, published in 1920, one whole section was devoted to the problem of rural education, and as one who has been teaching workers through the Workers' Education Associa- 1058 tion, I remember what hopes were raised, in the rural districts of Yorkshire, with which I am more particularly acquainted. There were definite suggestions about the need for village institutes, the need for the provision of cheap travelling facilities, the need for building museums and libraries in the villages, about the need, above all, of the establishment of residential tutors, who should devote their whole lives to the problem of village education, tutors who should not only have had a first-class education in our modern universities but have had some instruction in the technical courses at our agricultural colleges. I am assured that one of the potent causes though not the only cause, of the tremendous agricultural development in Denmark over the last 50 years, has been the great care they have taken to build up a vocational and general system of education which has had special application to those young men and women who intend to devote their lives to the occupation of agriculture.
A carefully worked out scheme of education enthusiastically received and worked by the people in the villages in co-operation with the best teachers which the country can find is not such a development as would promote a great national revival of our system of agriculture, because much more than that will have to be done. There are such difficult problems as our international relations, problems of prices, the whole land problem, social relations and property relations, and I feel sure that whether we like it or not this nation will have to consider the agricultural problem more from a national point of view, and we shall have to give increasing attention to alt these matters, which as a Socialist party we have been putting before the country for the last 10 or 20 years. Until such time comes, I want to put it that we can through, education find a common platform, and we may by adopting a more elaborate system of vocational and general education in the villages of England really lay the foundation, if not for an immediate economic solution, for the development of a common mind, and the capacity for co-operative efforts upon which we can surely and permanently build.
§ Mr. PILCHER
I want to ask the Committee to turn its attention for a moment 1059 or two away from agriculture, and to consider the question of our fisheries. There is one specific point which I am anxious to raise connected with a problem in my own constituency. Before doing so, I should like to say a few words in support of what was said by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) with regard to the organisation of the Agriculture and Fisheries Department. He has put forward a suggestion that the time has come to have a definite representation of the fisheries by a Parliamentary Secretary He gave a list of the sub-Departments of the Fisheries Board, and he put forward a suggestion that they should have a special Secretary in this House to deal with such questions as research, training, and finance. In my very short experience I have repeatedly had my attention called to questions connected with every one of those Departments by those concerned in the fisheries business. I admit that the officials of the Department have on all occasions shown me the greatest consideration and afforded me considerable help, but I think it would be very much more satisfactory if the Ministry of Fisheries and every hon. Member representing a constituency interested in fishing could have that direct representation in the House which the hon. Member for Grimsby has asked for.
I want to refer to the present position of the very considerable oyster fishery in the River Fal at Penryn and Falmouth. This fishery at one time was one of the most successful in the whole of Europe, and many of the great oyster beds of Europe were relayed from it. That applied even to the oyster beds in Holland and Brittany. At the present time that fishery is suffering from a very grave condition of exhaustion. In the year 1911 and 1912 as many as 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 oysters were taken out of those famous beds in a single season, whereas not more than 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 have been obtained recently in a season. One result of this scarcity has been a great advance in the price obtained for oysters, and a corresponding desire on the part of the fishermen to make the most of their opportunity. This state of things has been investigated by a specialist officer, Dr. Orton, who was recently entrusted with the task of reporting on the condition of these fisheries, and he states that 1060 to-day we are faced with the possibility of the almost complete exhaustion of those oyster beds.
I understand that last week there was a conference in Falmouth of the representatives of Truro and Falmouth and the permanent officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, and I should very much like to know what was the result of that conference, and what practical measures it is proposed to put into operation as a result of those discussions. It does appear to me that in the long run it may be necessary to reorganise the administration of the oyster fisheries in that river. I should be the very last person to suggest any drastic change in the method of administration which has been pursued in that particular industry for many generations. The fishermen are, naturally, a little suspicious of any radical change, and I am sure such a change would not be in the interest of the industry. At the present time there is a common-law right to fish oysters in the Fal and the fisheries are controlled under an Order passed by the Board of Fisheries some 30 or 40 years ago. The powers of the two controlling bodies are limited, and, most important of all, those two controlling bodies find themselves sadly short of the funds necessary to control the fisheries in the best interests of those who make their livelihood from them. What are increasingly required, as it seems to me, are fresh monetary resources, which, so far as one can see, can only be brought in from outside, from the Development Fund or some other source, to enable the authorities there to embark on a really intensive system of oyster culture on the lines followed in Holland and other countries. I have here a brief resumé of the report of the specialist who has recently been examining that particular oyster fishery, and he remarks more than once that nowhere else in Europe would an oyster fishery expect to carry on and produce good results with so little attempt to assist Nature as at present obtains in that fishery. The fishery industries of this country stand in very special need of scientific assistance and scientific examination to a far greater degree than they are at present receiving. At present it is a case of laissez faire, and in some instances the industry has been brought to a parlous state. If the Minister, in 1061 his reply, can spare a few moments to tell us what the view of the Ministry is on this matter, and to give any encouragement on the basis of the discussions which took place in Committee last week, it will, as I have said, be very deeply appreciated.
§ Mr. WRIGHT
I agree with the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Pilcher) that the question of our fisheries is of vital importance from the point of view of the food supply of this nation. It has been very gravely neglected in days gone by. I do not think it is yet realised that probably we do not receive one-tenth, or even one-fiftieth of the possibilities which might be obtained by an adequate development of the various kinds of fisheries around our coasts, or the amount of fresh fish which might be obtained from our rivers if the pollution which goes on at the present time were stopped and there were a scientific development of fisheries in this country such as exists in many other parts of the world. It is, of course, well known that the amount of food to be obtained around the shores of this Island is of a far greater total value per acre than can be obtained from the land, but, apart from the question of fisheries, to which I only make a passing reference, I am bound to say that, as is well known to many Members, here I regard the question of agriculture as a fundamentally important question, and one which cannot be neglected very much longer. From a national point of view we are in a very grave position, and we do not seem to have learned any really valuable lesson as a consequence of the late War.
I know that it is a very debatable point, but I am of opinion that we could, without any real difficulty, produce a far greater proportion of the foodstuffs that we require than we are producing at the present time. I have sometimes said, here and elsewhere—I am not going to dwell upon it to-day—that this nation could produce from its soil, its seas, and its rivers, all the foodstuffs that it requires, if we adopted the best scientific methods and the best experience now at our disposal. We are all agreed that a very much larger quantity might be produced, and, in order that it may not be thought that these are merely the views of the Member for Rutherglen, I would like to point out that two very eminent 1062 agricultural authorities have expressed similar views as to the possibility of sustaining our people upon our own soil. Sir Charles Fielding and Mr. Christopher Turnor are recognised by all as very-eminent authorities, who have had very considerable practical experience of these questions, and in publications which they have issued, they have each stated, in reference to the question of the possibility of a much larger production, that we should require a very much larger number of people employed on the land than are so employed at the present time. That, again, is fundamental, because, whether we admit it or not, we can scarcely hope within the next 10 or 20 years to recover the extent of the foreign markets for our manufactured goods that we had in pre-War days—at any rate, that is a view that is very widely held—and we cannot contemplate, as a permanent burden upon this nation, something from a million and a quarter to a million and a half people who are able and willing to render useful work, while we are importing four-fifths of every ton of corn that we require and one-half of all the other commodities that our people require for consumption.
I am absolutely convinced that we could produce, not one ton out of every five tons of wheat that we require, but four out of every five tons, within the next five years, if we used properly the land and the scientific knowledge we possess. In support of that view, I would point out that our average yield of wheat is from 30 to 32 bushels per acre, but we have many instances on record of yields of from 48 to 64 bushels per acre, and, in some instances, up to 96 bushels. That means three tons to the one ton which we produce to-day. Sir Charles Fielding pointed out some years ago that, if we transferred 5,000,000 acres of land which are now down to grass, and almost to waste, to the growing of cereals, and produced 40 bushels per acre —as a good farmer can—we could produce nearly the whole of our wheat supplies without bringing into cultivation any of those great tracts of land which are awaiting cultivation and are now regarded as waste land. One very eminent writer on agriculture, Professor Long, expressed the view that we have 12¾ million acres of land in this country capable of being brought into cultivation, and in the 1063 course of one generation, that would be yielding very valuable crops indeed.
To take another point, there is the question of poultry. The Minister has told us this afternoon that we are spending £17,500,000 on eggs imported from abroad. I will not discuss the quality of those eggs, but will leave that for others to consider; but, at any rate, I had a letter about a week ago from a friend engaged in the poultry industry who is producing 2,000 eggs per day, and there are farms where from 6,000 to 10,000 eggs per day are produced. It is quite obvious that, if we eliminated some of the destructive forces in regard to poultry, we could enormously increase our annual output. The Minister of Agriculture was concerned about the Colorado beetle and the keeping out of undesirable aliens of that kind, but what about the undesirable destructive forces that are here already? For instance, what about foxes? It is calculated that £40,000,000 worth of damage is done to the agricultural industry by foxes year by year. Another item to which the Minister of Agriculture might turn his attention is the destruction caused by rats, which, it is said, also costs about £40,000,000 per annum. I am satisfied that we could produce the whole of our egg supply without any real difficulty at all, and the same thing applies with regard to many other matters.
What we have to do, in my judgment, is to re-organise the whole of our agricultural system on scientific lines, taking advantage of the lastest possible knowledge. We on these benches cannot discuss the question on lines that we should like, but I do not think we shall ever get the full advantage of the soil resources of this nation so long as private property remains in land. That, of course, is outwith this Debate, but when the time comes, as I believe it will some day, when the resources of this nation are available for the people of this nation, we can drain those extensive areas of land which are frequently under water for several months in the year, deteriorating the value of the land, and we can use the scientific knowledge of men like Sir Rowland Biffen, who are giving us new types of wheat year by year in this and other countries. Then we shall be able to add enormously to the yields that we 1064 are getting at the present time, and shall be able to do what must be done sooner or later, namely, to get the people away from the great overcrowded industrial centres, and build up a strong and vigorous population in the rural areas, giving them in their village life those amenities which are now to be obtained in the great towns and cities, and doing something to restore what I regard, and have always regarded, at any rate for the last 30 years, as the most fundamentally important industry that can be pursued, either in this or any other part of the world. We cannot always be dependent upon foreign nations for our food supplies, partly because of the exigencies of possible war and partly because of the shortage which sooner or later must take place in the great wheat-producing countries of the world, and, speaking as an Englishman, I do not want to be fed from food grown in India or in Russia by starvation labour under conditions about which we know nothing at all when we have millions of acres of land here uncultivated, and a very large number of competent agricultural people capable of producing the food we require.
§ Mr. HURD
No one could listen to the Debate, as I have done, without being struck by the fact that, while there are wide differences of opinion on many points between various sections of the Committee, it is surprising how many points of contact there are when you deal with agriculture. There have been remarks made from the Labour benches with which we entirely disagree, and even my hon. Friend opposite made remarks in which some of us could not possibly concur, but it is encouraging to everyone who wants to see agriculture advance to see how many points there are on which we can agree. I listened with interest to the Minister's essay, but with this idea, running through my head all the time: Whither are we moving? Is there any central idea in the mind of the Minister and his colleagues, and is he building his various actions around that central idea? I should really like to know whether there is or is not. After all, we on this side have a special responsibility in the matter. At the last election all the agricultural constituencies in England but one returned Conservatives. In my constituency—and much the same applies to the others—the electors who gave that 1065 result were landowners, farmers, email-holders, farm, labourers and the village folk, and if you look at the figures you will see what an astonishing majority was recorded for this side of the House from the agricultural constituencies. What was the main thoughts in our minds, so far as the constructive part of our words was concerned? It was "never again." It was that the subject of agriculture must become a national policy, and especially that it must be the duty of this country, by some means or other, to encourage more land back to the plough. We had that central idea in our mind. We told our supporters that the present tendencies are against the best interests of the nation. We reminded them that the 14,000,000 acres under the plough during the War had fallen last year to something like 11,000,000, and now to something like 10,000,000. In my county of Wiltshire you have the crux of this arable problem. You have this problem of the land that has fallen back from arable cultivation—these 3,000,000 acres that are on the border-line. When prices are favourable this type of land will come under the plough: when they are not favourable it will go to grass.
The problem that is facing us is how to get more of that land permanently under the plough for the benefit of food production and for the benefit of labour in order to increase the thrifty production of food from our own soil. During the War Lord Ernie told us we had this situation:—For 42 weeks in the year we had our food supplies coming from home sources and for only 10 weeks were they imported. That was under the strain and stress and extra pressure of war conditions. Now we have reversed all that, and for 10 weeks only are we fed from our own soil and for 42 weeks from abroad. What is our attitude going to be towards that main central problem and how are we going to use the lessons of the War, if possible, to get a national policy and to get more of that land under the plough?
The amount of labour on arable land is twice as much as on grass and the food produced on arable land is about three times as much as from grass, and therefore from the point of view of food units as well as the creation of a healthy, thrifty population on the land, this question of the tumbling down of arable land 1066 to grass and this 3,000,000 acres of border area has really to be faced as a matter of national interest and national policy. May I remind the Committee of what one of the most astute investigators of this question has said in regard to food production. One hundred acres of poor grass produces food for four people, 100 acres of medium grass feeds 70 people, rotation of land 100 people to the 100 acres, wheat 200, potatoes 450, and beet sugar 500. Five hundred people fed from 100 acres! That is a very strong justification for the policy of the Ministry as regards sugar beet. I should like the Minister to tell us whether he is still in the mood he was in when he invited the Conference that never came together, that it is a vital necessity for this country to get at least 1,000,000 of those acres back to the plough. Is that still a cardinal feature of British policy?
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Has the hon. Member seen recently a statement to the effect that the farmers are now finding it does not even pay to grow hay? If it does not pay to grow corn, then hay, and then dairy produce, where are we?
§ Mr. HURD
If the hon. Member will spend his August in Wiltshire, he will find that even in one county there are all sorts of variable conditions. What applies in one particular area would not apply to others. You cannot make a generalisation which is true on a question of that sort. The Prime Minister went to the neighbouring County of Devonshire and made a speech on the subject of agriculture. We were wondering at the end of the speech whether this was still a cardinal feature of Government policy. I remember the £64,000,000 which he said had gone from the State to the farmers in various directions, and some of us have been looking very assiduously to find if any substantial part of it really reached the farming community.
We are having many interesting suggestions. And they will really be aimed at that central feature of agricultural policy without which we shall go dithering on year after year without accomplishing the end we have in view. Certain classes of farmers are not doing so badly taking it in the main, but other classes are doing badly. But it does become a question for the nation, and, therefore, for the Government to decide whether, in the national 1067 interests and the interests of labour and food production, we are or we are not to get more land back to the plough. We are doing something in regard to sugar-beet, and I should like to see the production of power alcohol from beet taken up by the Ministry of Agriculture on a far more concentrated plan. Instead of saying, "You have to prove your case and do this and do that," why should not the officials and those who are concerned in this matter say, "It is a cardinal feature of the British agricultural policy to get more land under the plough. Here is a definite suggestion to that end. We will not wait for people to push us into it. We will go into it ourselves and satisfy ourselves and see whether or not the proposal has in it some element that will help forward this cardinal Government policy"?
It is an unfortunate circumstance that there should have to be so much coaxing or wheedling of Ministers to go forward with what they say is a cardinal feature of their policy. I do not say whether the production of power alcohol from beet is feasible or not, but there are those in the Ministry who ought quickly to be able to tell us whether it is or not. Prima facie, there is a very strong case for it. Those who have gone into the matter say that if we could get power alcohol, motor fuel, produced from beet we should go a long way towards solving a very important problem. My hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Drewe), who made an interesting maiden speech, said that they could not produce enough sugar-beet in Devon to feed sugar factories. At any rate, they could produce enough beet to supply a distillery to produce power alcohol.
§ Mr. HURD
We are not dealing with your aspect of the question. This alcohol would poison people if they drank it; the other would not. The capital required is small, and a distillery can be fed economically from an area of beet much smaller than that needed for a sugar factory. Does not the Minister think that, in regard to a proposal of this sort which looks, on the face of it, as though it would help what the Government themselves have told us is the cardinal feature 1068 of their policy, it is worth while speeding up the investigation, so that we may learn quickly whether there is something in it that would help us? I would say the same with regard to the suggestion about wheat insurance. Why have delays in these matters? Why not see at once whether these various proposals will help towards the end the Government have in view? If we are serious in regard to agricultural policy, we must cultivate more of the mood of constructive statesmanship and not hesitate so much at the bidding of this and that section of the community.
There is the matter of drainage, which is of vital importance in the county of Wiltshire. I hope that, following up the cardinal principle of getting more land under the plough, the Government will see that these drainage proposals and developments are pursued with even more vigour than last year and the year before. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) talks of drainage as though we had not a national policy of drainage. We have such a policy, but it is rather feeble and anœmic. I would appeal to my right hon. Friend to use his utmost endeavour to see that this drainage policy is developed, so that we may, through that agency, get more land for the production of food. Take the question of lime. That is directly associated with the policy of getting more land under the plough. It would be well worth the Minister's while to consider this question of the provision of lime for the land in a far more serious way than hitherto. Someone has urged that there should be an immediate survey of lime supplies and of the means by which lime kilns might be got to work again in various districts.
Do let us get on with these matters. Here we have been talking in this Parliament for six months now. We came from the election with a definite mandate so far as this side of the House is concerned. It is time we made progress. We do not find party bitterness in this Debate. There has been a sincere desire shown to help forward the policy of getting more labour on the land, better conditions for labour and more production from the land. With all this agreement, need we hesitate? We are carrying out in the matter of housing certain demonstration houses with the aid of the Government. I do not know whether 1069 the experiment is going to work. Would it not be a good idea to have demonstration farms with the aid of the Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "In every county?"] I do not say in every county. Whore conditions are similar, you would not necessarily need another demonstration farm. On the chalk land of my county there is a Dane who is carrying out entirely new methods of arable cultivation. He is dealing with arable land for dairying, and is carrying out very interesting experiments. That is a demonstration farm, and I would like to see encouragement given so that his place might be thrown open to farmers to come down there and to see for themselves what is going on. Farmers have confidence when they can see a man who is carrying out experiments in this way, and making it pay. I was surprised and interested at some of the figures he gave me as to the results of wheat growing. One feature is that pigs are folded on the land, as we have long been accustomed to fold sheep, and a good example is shown of arable dairying combined with the growing of heavy cereal crops. Lee us have a demonstration farm of that type and of other types of progressive methods. Let us encourage a farmer, a Dane, or anybody else, who will do demonstration work in this way, and show how a 1,000 acre farm, a 100 acre farm, a 50 acre farm, or a 20 acre holding can be made to pay. In that way, under business management, by business methods, you could let the farmers see what is going on, and that would be far better than any number of essays.
Some reference has been made to cottage holdings. I do not think the idea of cottage holdings is to enable a man to make a living out of his own bit of land. That would be impossible. A cottage holding is for the man who is employed on a farm or elsewhere, enabling him to own his cottage and a half or three-quarters of an acre of land, and to be given a ladder, so to speak, on which he may mount to ownership. There are many men who work on the farms who live in the villages and they would love to have an opportunity of getting a little land to work in their spare time and might in time become owners. On the Downs the other day I met a man who was running about with his two boys. I said, "What are you going to do with 1070 these boys?" He replied, "I am a carter. I get 30s. a week, and my cottage is 3s." I said, "Are they going on the land?' He replied, "Well, they look at their father. I have been nine years at it. I have a good boss, but there is not much chance for these boys. They will drift to the towns." That is very bad for England. It is very bad for agriculture. I hope and believe the Minister of Agriculture in co-operation with the Ministry of Agriculture will devise some means whereby these boys may have a future in their own village and on their own land. I am certain that a policy of cottage holdings and a policy of small holdings avoiding the mistakes of the recent past will do a great deal to open up a future for these boys and youths which they have not at the present time.
It is national security we want. It is far better that our people should be living on the land. We want to ease the burdens of our finance by growing more food instead of importing it, and to create in this country once again a peasantry of which we can be proud, and where they will find a full outlet for their abilities. But we cannot do that unless the Ministry of Agriculture are determined to find and to stick to a central policy. My own view is that safety can only be found in a determination to get at least a million acres back under the plough as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The speech to which we have just listened is so full of practical suggestions that the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hurd) will be excused by the Minister for having put a little pressure on him on practical lines in these days when so many people are talking theories which provide the right hon. Gentleman with little to go on with. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that unless you can make a contented peasantry the base of your agriculture you are not likely to make English agriculture prosperous. It is only on that base that the best results can be obtained in this country.
One of the most remarkable features in the part of England which I know best, the North, is that there is such a large amount of intelligence among the hinds who work the land, and who know as much about farming as the farmers who employ them. [HON. MEMBERS: "More!"] In some cases they know more, 1071 and. in others they know less. In many cases the good hind is quite as capable, mentally, to undertake farming on the land upon which he has worked as the farmer. Indeed there is no part of the agricultural community more anxious to see farming done well, and more hurt at the condition of some of the farms than the north country hind. One of the most promising things there is that when a farm falls vacant applications to become tenant are frequently made by men working in the neighbourhood, or men who possibly have worked on the same ground, and some of the farmers are men who only a short time before the War were only hinds or shepherds, and now provide some of the best agricultural intelligence which we can employ in Northumberland.
One of the characteristics of these men is not only that they have worked their way up from the bottom, but that they are prepared to take advantage of the knowledge provided for them in the Armstrong College, and on the Cockle Park Demonstration Farm, where experiments are made under the direction of the Professor of Armstrong College, and large numbers of farmers every week come over to see what is being done there. No one can grasp the results there more quickly than the men who have sprung from the very bottom. The possibility of extension in those directions is almost unlimited. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree with me that when fanciful figures are used with regard to the productivity of the soil of England, though they may sound fanciful, they have some basis in fact. You can by applied research produce more than you are producing at present, and if you improve your culture, and apply the teachings of science and experience in other countries to the land, the results are positively amazing.
One of the things which have added greatly to the agricultural situation of this country in recent years has been the disappearance of the old conservative spirit among farmers, which used to cause them to follow the culture of their own district without change. It was difficult to get rid of the old belief that what was good enough for their fathers was something which they 1072 must follow themselves. Some of them even go so far as to believe that farms must be farmed in a particular way because many years ago other methods were tested and failed. In agriculture, as in all other industries the greatest mistakes are made by people who imagine that there is anything permanent in their system. Permanency of methods is the greatest mistake and accounts for a large number of the derelict farms. Men have no wish to alter existing conditions when they know nothing of the advantages of a change, and the result is that they and all dependent on them have suffered.
When the Minister pleads for security for the farmer I hope that he does not allow his mind to hark back to the Corn Production Act. If he does he is getting on to very slippery ground. I know that by farmers that Act is regarded as having been nothing more or less than a snare; they think that they were let in over it, and there is a great deal of justification for that beleif. It is felt that a return to that policy would be ruinous. Men were induced to plough land which was not fit for ploughing, and a great deal of land which ought never to have been taken away from really good grass was put to a bad use, so that when the price of 68s. a quarter disappeared and prices came down to the market level with a terrible bump a great many of these men lost money, and some of them went into bankruptcy all because) they had their hopes buoyed up with the Corn Production Act. Farmers have had enough of political jerrymandering for the sake of the industry. The general feeling now is in favour of a demand for other forms of support, and if State aid is to be given now it must not be on these lines, but must be by adding to the amount of knowledge provided and available, for the agricultural industry. Security I agree is one of the first necessities for the fanner who is going to till his land well. It is not open to me to-night to discuss legislation, so I cannot go into those topics from which my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough was turned away gently by the Chair, but security in some form or another must be provided for the tenant farmers of England, large or small, if they are to do their full duty by the land.
1073 I come to another aspect of farming economy which is of the first importance. The Minister himself referred, with some degree of pride this afternoon to the progress which had been made in the treatment of disease. I do not doubt that the progress of the last 20 years has had a great deal to do with enabling farmers to keep their heads above water in very difficult times. During the War undoubtedly large profits were made. I am not sure that it is not true that any fool could have made a profit in that period, but when the slump came the assistance given by the Government in the eradiction and prevention of disease was one of the most effective ways of rendering practical help to the farmer. As I looked through the list of services which are rendered by the Ministry of Agriculture I noticed that the amount of money actually spent, not on the slaughter policy, with which we had to fight foot-and-mouth disease, but actually spent in the laboratories of the chief veterinary officer and in research work in the agricultural colleges and elsewhere, is an infinitesimal amount compared with the total capital value of the livestock of this country. There is nothing of which this country has more reason to be proud than of its livestock. Whatever may be said of farming in Denmark or Holland—and farming in Holland is not superior to the Best in England, but is only superior to the average in England—in livestock, at any rate, we can beat them hollow, whether it is in horses, cattle, sheep, or even pigs.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
There is more in that than the hon. Gentleman thinks. What is being learned now by the scientific experts of the Ministry of Agriculture, with reference to the obnoxious insects, is of real value to the farmer. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman realises how much disease is carried in that way. Investigation into the diseases of animals has been far more effective and progressive than investigation into human disease. In the course of the last generation the progress made has been positively amazing. I take only two or three instances. There is no doubt that contagious abortion was one of the things which led to the farmer suffering heavier loss than 1074 was caused by almost any other disease. What the total amount of loss was no one was able to estimate. Unfortunately, farmers who get it into their herds wish to keep it quiet. It is quite natural that they do not want it talked about for many reasons. But the losses must have been enormous, not only in milk, but in calves not born, and the effect of that, particularly in the south-west of England, was so apparent that the farmers, through their own organisation, requested that there should be more active work done by the Ministry in the regulation of contagious diseases, and particularly with regard to contagious abortion. Owing to the services of Sir Stewart Stockman, who is one of the best servants that any Government Department has possessed, great progress was made in eradicating the disease and in preventing its spread. What he has added to the value of our farming herds in that way no one can estimate, but it might easily run, not into hundreds of thousands, but into millions, in the course of a few years.
With regard to swine fever, the progress that has been made in the investigations into the causes of the fever has been very slow. Every now and again, when we thought we were reaching a solution, we found that we had come to a dead end, and little or no progress was made for a long period. But it is true to say now that there is less swine fever than there was 10 years ago, and that is mainly the result of scientific work. In other diseases, particularly those of sheep, a certain amount of progress has been made. If the right hon. Gentleman's officials could tell us more about scrapie, and give us a little more enlightenment about louping-ill, he would add to the value of the flocks in "Scotland and the Cheviots, where there are still signs of disease not having been exterminated. The amount of money spent in these Estimates on diseases is so small compared with the total amount at risk, that I hope the Minister will be able to persuade the Treasury that in adding to these Estimates they will be making an investment which will return itself tenfold to the Treasury in the long run.
The other ground on which great advance can be made is undoubtedly in the commercial management of farming. The right hon. Gentleman might 1075 do much to help towards a better system of costing in farm accounts. The keeping of accounts by farmers is comparatively a new practice in this country. The Inland Revenue have had something to do with accelerating the practice. But on the whole there is a tendency amongst farmers to prefer paying their Income Tax upon gross rent rather than upon Schedule D profits. They make a great mistake in not keeping their costs much more accurately. It is difficult to persuade most farmers that they can get any profit out of spending money on a chartered accountant, but in some parts of the country, particularly in the milk areas, of which Wiltshire is a most striking example, by good costing they have discovered how to get rich milk by comparatively economical food. By food costing they have been able to add to their profits. They could do equally well in other departments of expenditure. I do not want to suggest that the keeping of farm accounts is a simple matter. When you come to actual costing in mixed farming, it is the most difficult accounting in the world. But great progress can be made and the best results attained only by a scientific system of costing.
Combined with that, undoubtedly, much more might be done with regard to the marketing of produce. I cannot speak with the same authority as the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) on co-operative work, but I can say, from what I have seen of agricultural co-operative societies, that they nearly all suffer from one prime fault. When they come to marketing they are nothing like as well officered as the merchant firms. They are beaten in the market by the extra skill of the merchant firm. That is because, to a large extent, co-operative societies do not pay enough for their managers. If they are to be successful they must get the best brains available, and, obviously, if they are to have the best brains they must pay for them. If they had better brains attached to their societies, no doubt they would be able to hold their own in competition with private concerns. Cooperative marketing will always be difficult, but co-operative purchasing ought to be a comparatively simple matter for farmers as a whole. There is no reason why they should not make great pur- 1076 chases, say, of artificial manures, and get the full advantage of buying in big quantities. But if they attempt to buy through people who are not first-rate at the job, they will be "done"; they must have the best officials for success.
It has been suggested in the Debate that co-operation could be fostered only from below. It must be fostered from above if it is to be at all successful from below. Encouragement from above is of the first importance. The natural tendency of farmers towards secrecy, which I believe is their characteristic all over the country, does not induce them to take to co-operation as a means of marketing or purchasing, but they will have to get into the way of doing it as it is done in Denmark and Holland, with the most admirable results. In both those countries it was not only a desire expressed from below, but there was guidance given to them from above. In Denmark, in particular, the great co-operative societies have had the advantage of the guidance and knowledge and skill of some of the best commercial men in Copenhagen. They would never have attained their present great influence, with such remarkably good results for the farmer, had it not been for that valuable assistance.
Co-operation will not provide us with all that we want. I doubt very much whether it is likely to be a permanent element of our farming organisation for many years to come. I hope that the Minister, if he should reply, will tell us what is being done by him and by his officials to foster co-operation in this country. Is he doing anything, or are his officials doing anything, to induce farmers to form co-operative societies, and, when formed, to manage them along businesslike lines? Are they given assistance and knowledge as to what are the best markets in which to buy, what manures they ought to avoid, what new discoveries ought to be adopted? What steps, if any, are being taken to assist those who operate the co-operative societies, but cannot do so successfully without guidance?
I come back to the position of the labourer, as I started with him, because I believe that he is not only the basis, but ought to be the crown of our agricultural policy. If the labourer is 1077 prosperous, if there are enough of them employed on the land, and if they have means of rising—those who are efficient— undoubtedly agriculture is doing well; but agriculture can never be regarded as prosperous, however big the profits made by the large farmers, unless farming is supporting a larger amount of labour, and those labourers are contented and have before them prospects that will induce them to remain on the land. The Wages Boards have undoubtedly done something towards improving and stabilising the wages which labourers receive in various counties. But what is the explanation of the enormous discrepancy between the wages paid in some of the counties in the north and those paid in the south of England? How is it that in some counties farmers are able to pay 45s; a week, and in others they say they cannot afford to pay more than 27s. or 28s.? If it is due to a difference in the quality of the labourer, there is an obvious reply. Those who would pay 27s. for labour in the south are not getting 27s. worth of work, while we who pay 45s. a week are getting fully 45s. worth of work.
The more you pay for labour the better labour you can keep on the land. It is not only a question of preventing the drift to the towns, but you get the ability for which you pay. From my point of view I have no hesitation in saying that, unless you have intelligent labour on the farms, it is impossible to farm successfully, and the only way you can get intelligent labour on the farms is to pay for it. What is the explanation of these great discrepancies? In the North there may be the competition of some of our great industries, such as coal-mining and shipbuilding, but it has not been a bad thing for the farmers in the North to have had the competition of the coal mines or for the farmers in Lancashire to have had the competition of the great industries in Lancashire. There is as good farming in Northumberland and Lancashire as is to be found anywhere in the country, and they have had to pay very high rates for labour. You cannot find the explanation of the depression in agriculture in high wages paid to labour. Many of the problems which now beset the southern counties, such as not having the best men available and the drift of the young men to the towns or the Colonies, are due entirely to the fact that the 1078 sole cure which many farmers had in their minds for agricultural depression was a drop in wages.
In the second place, small holdings must play a larger part in every county in England. It is absurd to suppose that you can plant down smallholders in every county wherever you like. They must be well placed and not too remote from their markets. They must be able to get their stuff backwards and forwards easily and simply. The small holdings must vary in size. In some districts a market garden of five acres will provide a man with as much work as he wants; in others a small holding of 50 acres or more would be scarcely enough to keep a man and his family employed. Indeed, I think it a great pity that the Small Holdings Act, 1908, was limited to 50 acres. It would have been far better to have allowed a much higher acreage. The unit should not be a certain number of acres but the amount which a man and his family can farm well, and in some districts 100 acres would not be too much. If the farm labourer has the chance of going into a little farm where very little capital is required, so he ought also to have the chance of going from larger to larger. I do not like the idea of having anything petrified in the agricultural industry. There ought to be constant movement from the bottom to the top. There ought to be the possibility of a man who, naturally, always wants to farm a few acres more than he possesses, achieving his ambition, if he has the capacity. The small-holding system is one of the most essential factors in the farming economy of our counties, and one of the means by which you will keep the best men on the land is by letting them know that they have some prospect of getting on in their own industry.
There is one suggestion which I should-like to make. I do not know whether it involves legislation or not, and, of course, if it does, I shall have to drop it on the present occasion. I suggest that instead of depending, as we now have to depend, on the purchase of land which is earmarked for the purpose of small holdings—often at excessive costs, and very often land which other farmers will not take—we should have some other system. It is scarcely fair to the smallholder to expect him to take some of the 1079 worst land and make the best of it. It would be a good thing if every farm which falls vacant were first offered to the county council before a, new tenant was put into it. I can see no objection to that system in practice, and I have no doubt it would lead to a very large acreage being made available for the county agricultural committees year by year. It would give the very opening which is most desirable to the smallholder.
The last point I make on the question of small holdings is this. Most smallholders find it difficult to get their produce to market. Those who are in distant farms, some way from the market, are hampered more by defective transport than by anything else. In a crowded little country like Belgium they have used their roadsides for small light railways, which are very cheap. They run long distances from the towns and take people to and fro on tramways which we would scarcely pass in this country, but these little tramways move farm produce right into the markets at exceptionally low cost. The cost of our transport here is all worked out on the basis of heavy traffic, and you cannot run a small holding economically if the cost of transport is always to be on the basis of heavy traffic. The Committee must be aware of some of the amazing contrasts which exist in transport costs. I give one illustration. Only a month ago, wheat was being carried from the Argentine to this country at Is. 10½d. per quarter, that is to say, at about one-half of what it cost to carry wheat from Lincoln into the mills of London.
It is not a criticism which I offer on the railway companies, but there is something wrong when that very large cost is imposed on British agriculture, an industry which can offer in bulk a large amount of its produce and which ought to be regarded by the railway companies as worth fostering just as much as the foreign trade which they bring over here from Rotterdam, Zeebrugge and Copenhagen, and land in this country at rates of carriage which contrast very favourably with those charged on our own produce. The right hon. Gentleman is in close touch with the Minister of Transport. I should like to see him making a raid upon that Department, and in doing so, I am 1080 sure, he would have the support of all parties in the House. Not only under the present system, but under new systems which might be fostered by the Ministry of Transport, much could be done for the benefit of the smallholders who cannot work on the heavy-traffic system and who would be almost excluded from our markets if it were not that combinations of them sometimes make use of the roads. If we are to do more along the roads, do not let us dismiss the light railway altogether. The motor car is not the only means by which stuff can be carried to and fro. It may be much faster, but. I doubt if it is much safer, and one thing is certain that light railways such as those in Belgium might be run in many of the counties of England and would give the smallholder a better chance of reaching his market without a heavy carriage charge on his produce.
While I am speaking of transport, I would like to make one reference to the other heavy charge which falls upon agriculture in every part of England, namely, the charge incurred for the upkeep of our roads. We have surely passed the point where we can justify throwing on to the agricultural counties the enormously heavy cost of upkeep entailed by motor traffic on our county roads. Surely all parties are agreed that this should be a national charge. I know the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he were here, would deplore the suggestion that any further charge should be made upon his revenue, but as a matter of fact this is one of the means by which assistance can be given to agriculture, and it is a means which is far more likely to be beneficial than most of the panaceas which are suggested. You cannot justify continuing on the present scale with the present heavy rates paid by large and small farmers alike for services which are national and should be borne by the Exchequer.
I desire to say a few words in justification of the part taken in an agricultural Debate by those who sit upon these benches. I heard the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Major Ruggles-Brise) say this afternoon that agriculture was suffering from what he called Liberal policy. I will enlighten the hon. and gallant Gentleman and other hon. Members of the Committee on that point. I had the honour of being the 1081 Minister of Agriculture in the years 1910 to 1914. Since the hon. and gallant Gentleman concluded his speech I have looked through some of the things which were initiated in the years 1910 to 1914 and which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister is now administering. First, in education we trebled the amount of money which was given to the agricultural colleges, and, we enabled research to be carried on there which could not have been undertaken but for Votes which were suggested by a Liberal Minister and passed by a Liberal House of Commons. We started farm institutes, and they were only held in check by the outbreak of War in August, 1914. They were initiated by a Liberal Minister and voted in a Liberal Budget. We multiplied the number of scholarships, I think, something like five-fold during the course of that period, all to the good of the farming classes.
In research, we provided not only for large annual votes for research but out of the Development Fund a very large capital grant, and capital grants which, I venture to say, have returned themselves ten-fold to the State. We assisted the research work in the colleges and in other outside institutions. We did not attempt to overlap with the Royal Agricultural Society, but in other directions we assisted, and we initiated. We dealt with matters in relation to the quality of land and what the land would stand, of the quality of manure bought by farmers and whether manures were wrongly or rightly used. We succeeded in promoting research in mycology, entomology, plant pathology and animal pathology, and the Veterinary Laboratory, which is now administered by the right hon. Gentleman, was also paid for out of the Development Fund. Livestock grants which we gave included the grants made to heavy horse stallions which were initiated for the first time. We had hunter grants of course before. We doubled them. We initiated the grants for heavy horse stallions; we gave assistance to the bull societies and the boar and ram clubs, and we did a good deal to raise the standard of the livestock on the average farm. We took, indeed, that higher level of livestock and the finer strains of blood and we spread them out over a very large part of the country. That was done by a Liberal Minister and with Liberal votes behind him out of money provided in a 1082 Liberal Budget, and under those circumstances I think we are fully justified by our record in taking part in agricultural discussions. I do not make these points with any desire to score in a party sense. [Laughter.] Yes, but it is only just to give credit where credit is due. I never allowed agriculture to play a part in my partisanship. When I was in the Board of Agriculture I did my best to keep it out of the arena of party politics, and surely when there is a discussion, the right hon. Gentleman, who is himself a land agent, ought to be a little better informed before he addresses the House. Without a prosperous agriculture this country will perish and die.
The list of polysyllabic benefits conferred on the agricultural industry by the right hon. Member below the Gangway leaves me, for one, entirely cold, because what I am more interested in is what the present Ministry is doing or can do for agriculture. This Debate has roamed over a wide field. I wish for the few moments that I address the House to confine myself to what is before us, and that is the agricultural question. In spite of the speech addressed to the Committee by the hon. Member for Hills-borough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) and also by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the real question of the prosperity of the agricultural industry is not one of who is holding the land, but of what the land is producing by the methods applied. For myself I hold a triple function in being a landowner, the occupier of my own land, and the tenant farmer, and as my own tenant farmer I pay rent to myself as the owner, so that I know where the shoe pinches all along the line. In addition to that, I am not one of the millionaire farmers who have been alluded to, but I am trying to carry on the industry on precisely the same lines as everyone else. What we are after in this question of agriculture is not who is to own how many acres of land, but how to produce two blades or two calves or two gallons of milk where we only produced one before. This question of the employment of labour will follow automatically a prosperous industry. If agriculture is prosperous it pays to have the best paid labour, but you cannot get the best paid labour unless you pay for it, and unless your industry is prosperous you have not 1083 got the making for paying good or bad rates. That brings us down to the real basic question of the prosperity of our agricultural industry.
The Minister in opening the Debate spoke on the question of pure milk. That is a matter in which I am interested and of which I know something. Without wishing to blow my own trumpet as a dairy farmer, I would like to say I have just been successful in winning a gold medal for pure milk in the county in which I live. In passing, I might say I have a Devon herd and there is a shorthorn on the medal which I thought was in very bad taste, but that is neither here nor there. You can produce pure milk and milk of a high butter fat content without necessarily being a millionaire farmer or paying fancy prices. It can be done by personal care and attention, but there is no inducement to the farmer to produce pure milk or milk of a high butter fat content. I do not get a farthing a gallon more than my neighbour who has loathsome conditions and is only just able to scrape through the regulations. It seems to me that the interest of a country to make it worth while in pounds, shillings and pence, because that is really what the farmer is interested in —[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes. He is a business man the same as any other hon. Member opposite. If you want him to produce pure milk or milk of a high butter fat content, which is really a constituent part, you have got to hold out an inducement to get him to produce it. I ask the Minister to consider whether there is not some way, in addition to the milk recording societies and the pure milk competitions, and whether it is not worth while to induce the farmer to raise the standard of purity and of the constituent parts of his milk.
Agriculture is the butt of informed and uninformed criticism, mostly uninformed, and the more there is criticism the more two favourite words are spoken. One is "co-operation" and the other is "scientific research." I am one of those who have had the sad experience of going into a so-called co-operate organisation— and their white bones are bleaching on the path of progress towards the making of a successful agriculture. It seems to me that a great deal of this agricultural co-operation is starting at the wrong end. 1084 The last thing I was connected with that has gone defunct was a co-operative bacon factory. I want to point out to the Minister that bacon is not the product of a farm, but is the product of a manufactory. A farmer's business is to produce a pig, and if he goes in for bacon he is generally going into something that he knows nothing about. That is why I think it is short-sighted to say that we have got to get rid of the middleman: he is very useful in some cases. We shall not reach a proper bacon position here and cope with all this enormous amount of imported bacon unless we get down to the standardised bacon pig. I believe if we want to get standardised bacon it is the only way to compete with the importation. We have got to have first the standardised product of the farmer, and that is a pig and not a side of bacon. That applies to all these other questions of co-operation.
Finally, just one word on the question of scientific research. As many hon. Members know, I have spent more than half my life in an agricultural industry, one of the most highly scientifically developed in the world, and that is the sugar-cane industry, and there I have had the advantage of seeing the application of scientific research to the practical growing of the agricultural produce. Our difficuty is, it seems to me, that we have a great bridge to gap between the scientific researchers on the one hand and the practical farmers on the other. From the point of view of scientific research, your scientist is primarily interested in the carrying out of researches and experiments from a scientific point of view, but the farmer cares nothing about the scientific experiments unless they will help him to make more profit out of his farming operations. Now we have excellently equipped scientific stations about the country, though not so many as one could wish, but the difficulty is that the average or the below-average farmer— and that is the man we want to get at— cannot utilise them. We have some of the finest farmers in this country that any country in the world has got, but we have a large number who, through ignorance, on account of lack of opportunity, or through lack of capital, or through inefficiency, on account of inability to farm in the best way, do require the information that the scientific institutions 1085 can give them, but they are just the men who do not trouble to go and visit them. You may lead a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink, and if the mountain will not go to Mahomet you must go the other way round.
If we want to get the best advantage to the industry, we have to take steps to make the results of these research stations more easily available to these farmers. My experience has been this, that in the industry with which I was connected we had a large central experimental station, which could bear comparison with any other station of its kind in the world. It was as well equipped and well staffed and up to date as Rothamsted, but the experiments carried out there and that were recommended to farmers proved a wash-out when put into operation under their own conditions, because the experiments only proved that a thing worked in that particular station, and the result was the establishment of sub-stations, but that did not carry out what was really necessary. What ultimately was done was that various progressive farmers on a large scale were induced to set apart limited areas, upon which experiments were carried out under the direction of scientists from the station, and by that means little bunches of farmers in close proximity could constantly come across and see these actual agricultural, fertilising, pathological, entomological experiments being carried out, practically by a neighbour, and see the results. I believe that by some developments on these lines we shall multiply a hundredfold the great advantages that are at present available at our experimental stations, but that are not getting to the people to whom we want to get them. I have now occupied the time of the Committee as long as I intended to do, but I suggest that these are a few practical suggestions to the Ministry which do not involve legislation, which do not involve much expenditure, but which do involve a little arrangement and forethought and planning, and I believe that along these lines some very definite advantages can come to the agricultural industry of our country.
§ Mr. WOODrose—
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
On a point of Order. I would like to ask, Mr. Hope, 1086 if you feel that the Debate, as conducted to-day, has been fair to the Members on these benches. I would remind you that there have been, or will have been at 10 o'clock, six and a-half hours' debate, of which the Members who sit on these benches have scarcely had one and a-half hours, while Members in other parts of the House, and particularly hon. Members below the Gangway on this side, where the benches have been empty practically three parts of the day, have occupied more time than Members on these benches.
As regards the time left for the Debate, any change that was desired could only be made by a change in the Standing Order. In regard to the arithmetical calculation of the hon. Member, once an hon. Member is called there is no power in the Chair, as long as he is relevant, to curtail his speech.
§ Mr. J. JONES
On a point of Order. Seeing that some of those who have taken part in this Debate, particularly below the Gangway on this side, have already had the opportunity of removing evils they are talking about, why have we been debarred from taking part equally with them in the discussion?
§ Mr. WOOD
I can assure hon. Members opposite that I should be very willing indeed to give them the balance of time that remains if that was their desire, but I have been asked a good many questions in the course of the Debate, and I think it would be well to endeavour to reply to them. My hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down, the Member for Yeovil (Major Davies), has contributed a speech which was, if he will allow me to say so, well informed and constructive in character, to a Debate that has, on the whole, pursued the same lines, and in that Debate we have also had the opportunity of enjoying, I think, the first speech of an hon. Friend of mine who sits for South Molton (Mr. Drewe), a speech that led those who heard it to entertain the hope that he would often intervene in our Debates in the future. On one point I find myself at sharp variance with him, however, and that was when he ventured to assert the superiority of Devon over any other county. Indeed, he could hardly have 1087 expected the majority of the Committee to find their views in conformity with his on that point.
But there are one or two smaller points, before I come to the general question of policy, that I would like in a sentence or two to clear away. The hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. Fenby), who spoke earlier in the Debate, asked me a question or two as to the present position of small holding colonies. With regard to the particular one that I think he had in his mind in the East Hiding of Yorkshire, as he knows, at the present moment that is the subject of an investigation on the financial side, but I can reassure him on the point to which he addressed some of his remarks, that whatever readjustment it may have been necessary to make in regard to that has not been made at the expense of the labour employed upon it. He also asked me what was the position with regard to the small holdings valuation under the 1919 scheme. That at the present moment is the subject of deliberation between the Ministry and the county councils, and it will be necessary, all being well, to introduce what I hope will be agreed legislation in this House when we reassemble in the autumn to ratify the agreement that I have no doubt will be arrived at. The right hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman), who spoke a few minutes before the end of the Debate, ended up his speech with a great recitative of the virtues of the party to which he belongs, to which I should be the last, of course, to take exception. The only reflection that it induced in my mind as he spoke was what a confirmation it was of the ingratitude of the human race! It would surely be impossible for any body of men to have conferred such benefits on another body of men and to have received so scanty a return! My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hurd) delivered a speech that rightly earned the commendation of the right hon. Gentleman opposite as a speech that was full of suggestions of constructive proposals. It was unlike some other speeches in the Debate.
I hope I am not unduly anxious to complain of criticism, and, indeed, I think any well-instructed person ought 1088 to welcome criticism, but I must confess that I was a little bit astonished at some of the criticisms that fell from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley). He, no doubt, with the best intentions, criticised me, as far as I could gather, for the sins of every Department, in addition to those of my own—the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Transport, railway rates, and I am not sure what else besides. My hon. and learned Friend will, of course, appreciate that, whatever differences I might conceivably have had with any of my colleagues on any of these matters, it would have been both indecent and impossible for me to refer to them in the Committee. Therefore, my hon. and learned Friend is in the very satisfactory position of asking questions which ex hypothesi he must have known were impossible to answer.
I come now, for a moment or two, to say a word about questions of general policy. I did not refer to them in my earlier speech, because I was in some doubt whether you, Mr. Hope, or whoever was in the Chair, would have admitted them within the rules of order, and I think it is quite evident that any general policy the Government might at any time be able to lay before this House would, of necessity, involve legislation and therefore discussion is necessarily restricted. But a good deal has been said about the level of farming. It is quite true, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead said, that there is a good deal of farming in England that could, obviously, be improved. I do not know of any occupation, or industry, or body of individuals, of whom it could not be said that they could do their work rather better than they do it to-day, and therefore do not let that charge be made exclusively against British agriculture.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Bradford asked me whether it was not the case that I propose to make a declaration on agricultural policy to the Council of Agriculture on Thursday. I do not. I propose to hear their policy from them on Thursday, and, when I have heard that, I shall incorporate that with the other elements in my own mind, as a foundation for advice that I may tender to my right hon. Friend the Prime 1089 Minister in the course of the next few months on that general question. But my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead asked me whether I still held the view, and whether my right hon. Friend held the view, that it was desirable in the national interests to increase the production of English soil, and to increase the population drawing their sustenance from English soil? I have no hesitation, and I do not think any Member of this House has any hesitation in answering that question in the affirmative, But I would remind him, and I would remind the Committee, that in every public speech, so far as I know, that any member of this Government has made on this question, that statement of policy has always been coupled with another. It is this: That no policy is going to do any good to agriculture that does not promise to be permanent, and that is liable to sharp reversals by other political parties. I would 10 times sooner see the good that might be done by any agricultural policy left undone than to see a policy which is liable to repeal in the third year, and to reconsideration in the fifth. And if I might, without offence to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, I would in that matter associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman who sits beside him, who said a few moments ago he thought the history of the Corn Production Act had been unfortunate. I would go further and say that agriculture cannot afford more than one such experience as the repeal of the Corn Production Act in a generation.
A good deal has been said about small holdings, to which time does not permit me to refer more than in general terms. I do not think there is a great difference of opinion in the Committee on that question. I think there is general agreement that any small holding policy must be elastic, and that it must vary with regard to the different conditions of districts, and in regard to the different capabilities and qualities of the people you intend to settle on the land. Nor is the question whether it is economic or not, as my hon. and learned Friend also said, settled entirely by the strict meaning of the word "economic." A good many other things have to be brought into the balance sheet, and, indeed, if it were to be 1090 judged by the pure terms of cash, I do not suppose that for the case of which the hon. Member for East Bradford spoke, and which I hope he will, perhaps, show me in the course of a few days, he can make out a strictly cash case. But, as I say, the cash side of the business is not all, and I am satisfied, as I think I said earlier, that, judged by tests of production, acre for acre, and pound for pound, the result of small holdings settlement for the last 10 or 15 years, although I agree with the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that we have only begun what it is possible- to do in that direction, but, judged pound for pound, and acre for acre, you are getting more production and more population out of that policy than you would without it.
The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) asked me several questions about co-operation, and, in reply, I would ask him to believe that I am, I think, fully as much alive to the benefits and advantages of co-operation as he is. I admit that it is of the first importance in that matter, if you can, to link the interests of the producer and the consumer, but in saying that, I do not want to be misunderstood. I do not want to see agricultural co-operation founded on a basis unduly favourable to the consumer. I do not necessarily mean there is a conflict, but I do not want to see agricultural co-operation handed over, bound hand and foot, to organisations that may regard the matter primarily from the point of view of the consumer. If really, there is to be a satisfactory liaison in this business, we must have the producers' organisations strong enough to deal on equal terms with the consumers organisations, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree with me in that.
I would like to correct one misconception, to which, I think, he fell a victim, not perhaps unexpectedly. He spoke about the great toll of landlordism. We have not time to discuss that now, but I would ask him to refresh his mind about one thing. It is the fact that, during the last 100 years, the whole national income has increased something like 12 or 14 times. The income from agricultural land has remained the same, and yet, during that 100 years, landowners have been pouring money into agricultural improvements for which, on that hypothesis, they have received little or no interest 1091 in return. If any hon. Member challenges the good sense of that yet do not let him lend himself to those faulty theories which regard the landlords as expensive parasites.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) used an argument which, I am bound to say, caused me not a little astonishment. He made use of a quotation, I think it was from Sir Daniel Hall, to the effect that we can produce in this country something like £250,000,000 of these £380,000,000 that we import. I do not think I am putting—
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I referred to figures given to me by my hon. Friend the Member for the Hillsborough Division (Mr. A. V. Alexander). I have not verified them, if I may say so.
§ Mr. WOOD
We are all pursuing the truth. I only wish to say at this stage with reference to a possible misunderstanding that I have been in communication with Sir Daniel Hall, and he has informed me that he never made any such statement. Those who quote him in that sense seem to have misunderstood. The right hon. Gentleman pressed me a good deal on the question of an agricultural survey in reference to the Debate we had earlier in the session. I agree with him to-night, as I agreed with him then, that what we want in this matter are facts, and not opinions. I have applied my mind, as I have in all these Debates, to the best way of producing the facts. After mature consideration I have decided, for reasons which I cannot go into now, that the Agricultural Returns Act would not give us what we want. I have, therefore, decided to make a rather extended use of the census of production that, it so happens, falls due this year. I have been able to extend it in a sense which, I think, will give the right hon. 1092 Gentleman and myself the facts relevant to what we want. As a result of these facts we shall be able, I think, to get a pretty satisfactory comparison between the different districts in England which answers the desire of the right hon. Gentleman of having a sample survey, and also a pretty satisfactory comparison between this country and other countries, a comparison which, I think, will come out more in favour of this country than is often supposed. One other thing. There was in the existing system of agricultural returns a gap of something like 6,000,000 acres of agricultural land unaccounted for. I propose to get that accounted for by a reclassification of the returns, and that, in conjunction with one or two other matters, agricultural costings, and so on, will put this House, if they wish it, in possession of the information, and in the way of ascertaining to what use the agricultural land is being placed. They can draw what deductions they think fit from that information. I am afraid, Mr. Hope, that I have not now the time necessary to deal with a great many points that have been raised in the course of this Debate, but I can assure right hon. and hon. Gentlemen that they are not absent from my mind.
§ It being Ten of the Clock, the Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15, to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Vote under consideration.
§ The Chairman then proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15, to put severally the Questions, That the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the several Classes of the Civil Services Estimates and of the other outstanding Votes, including Supplementary Estimates, and the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the Estimates for the Navy, Army, Air and Revenue Departments, be granted for the Services defined in those Classes and Estimates.