§ Sir ROBERT HUTCHISON
I wish to raise a very important topic, namely, the survey of land. This question has been raised in this House last year and repeatedly this year. I think the time has come when we ought to know what the Government intend to do in regard to this matter. As Chairman of a Private Committee more than two years ago, I found the greatest difficulty in getting the necessary information on which to arrive at an opinion as to the condition of agriculture in this country. We have no real information on this question of agriculture. Since 1875, no census has been taken. America, with its enormous territory of 350,000,000 acres, can take the necessary survey every ten years. We have taken no survey since 1875 We want to know what are the economic and social implications of the existing system. We want an economic survey that will cover the land at present cultivated. We want to know the kind of land that is used, how it is used and the quality of the cultivation.
I am glad to see the Secretary of State for Scotland present, because I am sure that his example ought to push along the Minister of Agriculture in the direction in which we wish to go. His survey of Kincardine, of which I hope he will tell us, is a move in the right direction, and I am happy to think that he is going to extend it to two other Scottish areas. Why the Minister of Agriculture cannot have a survey of the poorer lands of England, and why we cannot get a sample census of the land of England, beats me to know. A lot of the poorer lands of England are waterlogged, and we know that there are many of the very light lands in England that are dropping out of cultivation. We want to know the 2658 reason for that. Surely it is the business of the Government and of the Minister of Agriculture to give the necessary information to this House. It is estimated by authorities that at least 200,000 acres of land in England are waterlogged and useless, and that there are certainly 1,000,000 acres that could be reclaimed and made useful for agriculture.
Before we can arrive at a solution of the very serious position in which agriculture is placed to-day, we want to know what land is suitable for the various types of cultivation and what land is suitable for afforestation. How is the land owned? We want to know the number of occupiers, the number of holdings and whether the occupiers occupy more than one holding. Above all, we want to know what form of transportation is available for these various forms of cultivation. Are the roads suitable and are the railway facilities suitable? Can they get their produce to the market and can they get their necessary supplies from the ports to their farms, when they have to get their supplies from overseas? This question of transportation is very serious. Incidentally, we want to know how far the tax on heavy vehicles is taking away the use of such vehicles from the farmers. In individual cases, to my knowledge, farmers who are now farming large tracts of land and who use these tractors for taking sheep and other animals to market, have now ceased to use them because of the heavy taxation
We want to know a great deal about buildings. What many farms lack, particularly in the poorer areas, are suitable buildings in order to carry on the necessary business of agriculture. The buildings are unsuited for housing cattle and for covering up farm implements. Undoubtedly, England, especially in the poorer areas, is much behind Scotland in this respect. The census should tell us exactly what buildings exist, and what are necessary for the successful carrying on of the farms. It should also tell us the buildings that are necessary for housing the farm servants and other workers. I am not one who believes that a tied house on a farm is a bad thing. My experience is that these houses are the necessary equipment of large farms. The men are housed close to their work, they cultivate small gardens in their spare time, and they are much fitter than the worker who has to go long distances back from the 2659 farm to his house, and is very tired when he gets home at night. There are many farms in England where buildings do not exist and farmers are unable to get the necessary labour they require because they cannot house the labourers.
I welcome what the Government are doing towards the repair of worn-out farm houses. It is said that this is money for the landlords, but it is also money for the farm workers, because it is necessary to provide healthy buildings for farm workers. One of the reasons why people are moving from the country districts to the towns is because there is a lack of proper housing accommodation; and in any return that is made we should be told what the real position is. It is only after we have had a proper census made of what is required that we can consider the legislation that is necessary. We also want to know the general position of allotments. In Scotland we have a good system of providing a small amount of land around the farm buildings, but in England there is nothing of the sort, or very little. We want to know exactly what land the houses have got, and what they might have. Then there is the question of the educational facilities for the children of these workers, and their social conditions—whether the social environment is attractive and going to tend towards keeping the men on the land. We also want to know the kind of farming, by districts, which will really give some return on the capital invested. We have various types of farming. There is dairy farming, which sonic people say is the only kind of farming paying to-day. There is also stock farming, but the real foundation of agriculture is the arable farmer, whether he is producing milk or cereals.
The Minister of Agriculture is closely associated, I know, with the use of cereals. Let me tell him that the use of cereals in this country is in a very serious position. Farmers who are trying to run a rotation of crops and make their farms pay find that they are losing money every year. This last season the crop has been a particularly bad one, and the reason is that they are unable to market their cereals. There has been a continua fall in markets. Take the case of wheat. The bulk of the wheat grown in England is not milled for flour. A great deal of the wheat that is milled comes from
2660 abroad. Millers, especially large millers, find that to have a strong flour they must have a strong wheat like Canadian, American, or Australian, and they are unable to use more than a small percentage of home-grown wheat. Any census that goes to the bottom of the agricultural problem should tell us what the. wheat is used for; you have to get down to the percentage of home-grown wheat that is used by our millers. If you go to the large mills at the London Docks, Hull, Liverpool, Edinburgh or Glasgow, you will find that less than 10 per cent. of home-grown wheat is used by them in the production of flour, and the necessary bread for our people. Whether millers want a particularly strong type of flour in order to produce bread which will keep racist for a longer time I do not know, but we ought to know what happens to this wheat. I am satisfied that we might do a great deal towards producing the wheat that is turned into flour by improving the seed, by using this new Yeoman seed that is now produced at Cambridge and which has been tried in one or two counties in Scotland with good results. It has certain characteristics and is used freely by millers. It can be graded and bulk handled. We want to know what has happened to when, throughout the country.
Then as to barley The large barley farmers complain that they cannot sell their barley. The reason is that the products from which beer is made are provided largely from abroad. We want to follow out what happens to the barley; how much is turned into malt for beer; how much beer is made from foreign imported barley: how much whisky in Scotland is made from imported barley, and how much from home-grown barley. I am convinced that there is a very grave decrease in the amount of barley now used as compared with the amount used 10 years ago. Then you come down to the potato crop, one of the most important, not only for the action it has on the land, but as a food for the people. There again you get farmers having to take part in a purely speculative trade. One year potatoes are £10 a ton; next year they are £5, and last year they were 25s. The farmer is entirely in the hands of the world's market. We want to know from the Minister of Agriculture exactly what is the position of this very fine
2661 food. I do not know how far the Committee of Imperial Defence has examined the question of the food supply of this country, but at any rate it ought to be closely examined. There is no crop that can produce food more quickly than the potato crop, and it is most important we should see that it is cultivated to advantage.
One thing I must point out. We do not know what land requires lime, the deficiency of lime, and where we can get lime. I am sure that there are a great many places where lime used to be produced which are now closed down, and it would be of great value to agriculture as a whole if we could get a proper census and know where this lime comes from. Some two years ago—it does not come under my right bon. Friend's jurisdiction, but under that of the Board of Trade—a. census of production was ordered. The late Minister of Agriculture, Lord Irwin, promised that something would be done in this direction to meet the demand for a census. How soon are we to expect a preliminary Report with these figures? We know that the whole of the figures cannot be given quickly, but we might at least have some form of preliminary Report which would guide us in the direction in which we want to go. I would like to remind the Minister of Agriculture what his predecessor said. In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), this day last year, Lord Irwin said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1926; col. 1091, Vol. 187.]Again earlier in the year Lord Irwin said that he entirely agreed that this census was required. He said:I have in mind, if it could be achieved, something quite different. I would like to get a national record of the state and possible productivity of English land, and,2662 therefore, while I will certainly consider what has been suggested on this point, I am inclined to doubt whether this Bill"—
the Agricultural Returns Bill—will give it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th April, 1925; col. 2292, Vol. 182]He again refers to it later on in other Debates. He says that he considers a census of agricultural land or at least a sample of it is necessary, and I am perfectly certain that he has in mind an early census of various sample districts throughout England. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend whether he still adheres to the necessity for this census. I am perfectly certain that he would not be one to go back on what his predecessor thought was really necessary. He ought to take a leaf out of Scotland's book and get on with it, because, after all, it is a very serious matter. We also want to know the amount of land that could be reclaimed. Many years ago, especially in Norfolk, we had large reclamations of lands which are now very fertile, but it seems that in recent years we have done absolutely nothing towards reclaiming land which has been taken from us by the sea and by the rivers and in the waterlogged areas of this country. If you take other countries, you will find that between 1846 and 1923 Belgium reclaimed no less than 558,000 odd acres; Denmark, since 1860, something like 1,000,000 acres; that Germany are at present busy reclaiming about 60 square miles near Berlin; and that Holland, between 1900 and 1918, have reclaimed something like 250,000 acres, and are now busy at the Zuyder Zee. I am sure that there must be quantities of land that could be reclaimed if we only had the requisite information, and, if we could use some of the present unemployed on the work, we could get a real return for our money.
Then there is the question of land drainage. We do not really know the necessity in this country for land drainage. Anyone who goes and walks through the fields knows the condition of the land. It was drained 40 or 50 years possibly with pipes too small, and now the drains are choked and the poorer and especially the heavier lands want redraining. As far as I can see, the Government, since 1921, have done very little in the matter of land drainage. In 1921–22, they spent £248,000 on 2663 drainage schemes; in 1923, £270,000; in 1924–25, £253,000; and now we are down to £170,000. The figures are a mere bagatelle for such an important thing as the draining of land. You cannot grow crops on sodden land; you lose money every time. The lack of land drainage has been estimated by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture to cost at least £80,000,000 a year in England alone. Surely, if he could recover some of that money, it would be well worth doing. I was very interested in the Forestry Commission's Report to September, 1925. There anyway, something has been done, and I congratulate the Government on what they are doing. They have not done enough and they are doing less than the programme and than the Report suggested—there are a good many thousand acres more that might be done—but still they are doing something in that direction.
A census would also give us a very clear idea what land is available for small holdings and the number of people we could put on those small holdings. The real thing is to find out what is the demand, what land is available, and what is the price of that land, whether it is going to he charged at a fictitious value or whether it can be bought, either through a local authority or through a national authority, at its agricultural value. Everyone who has anything to do with small holdings knows that the cost, especially the cost of equipment, is very heavy. It is right that the land that we use for small holdings should lie the best land that we can get hold of. If is no use putting smallholders on to the worst land. I have seen tracts of very bad land all over the country which has been sold for small holdings, probably to people who did not know the difference between one class of land and another. The result has been that the State has lost a good deal of money. A census would give us the type of land available, the position of that land in relation to industrial areas, and the possibility of equipping the land.
I do not think there is any great demand for buying small holdings. I know that the number that has been bought with the facilities given through the county councils is very small, something like 400 or 500 in 30 years. What
2664 the smallholder really wants is good land suitably equipped and a certain amount of financial help over a period of years. He wants to get hold of a little spare money for handling his small holding and to enable him to make it a successful venture. According to the right hon. Gentleman, there were, on 8th July, 1926, 14,847 applicants—I am not quite sure that does not cover those who desire small holdings—and of that number only 612 had been approved. Surely, we can get a bigger move on. If we can only get more people settled on our countryside it will cure many of the evils from which we suffer to-day. Another thing which the census would tell us is the amount of land required for allotments, which I hold is one of the most important forms of cultivation in this country. Allotments, however, must be close to the habitation of those who work them. When I was in Germany I noticed, with a great deal of interest, the development of allotments in the large cities there. New parts of towns were laid out with trams and everything and ground for allotments was apportioned near to the new buildings. Certainly, in looking forward, we ought, in town-planning, to lay down definite areas for allotments. At the end of 1924, we had something like—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I rather think that a good many of these things would require legislation. To-day, on the Appropriation Bill, we are governed by the rules of Supply and must not discuss things which require legislation.
§ Sir R. HUTCHISON
I did not intend to ask for legislation on these matters. I was only pointing out that we cannot know what is required until we have a census. We want to know the demand for allotments and the. position of the land available, and I am trying to point out to the Minister of Agriculture that it is necessary to have this census in order to find out what is really wanted. After all, the real trouble in this question of allotments is the position, the rent, and the question of the fixity of tenure. Many of these people are turned out at short notice. We want to know the tracts of land near industrial areas that can be used for allotments. I look upon this as a very important thing, because allotments will certainly carry through many poor families in times like these, when we have such industrial distress.
2665 Another question on which I would like to touch is that of housing. We do not know what is the position of rural housing. We do not know what difficulties farmers experience in getting houses for their workers. It is most important that we should know what houses are required by the various cultivators of the soil and what houses can suitably be put on the land. As I have said, I am one of those who hold that the iniquity of tied houses has been overstated. The farm worker's house should form part of the equipment of the farm. The nearer such houses are to the men's work, the better. It is the business of the Minister to find out what are the requirements of the farmers, so that he can shape his policy accordingly. This survey has been long overdue, and I hope and trust that almost immediately he will set about taking samples of the various areas in the country, not forgetting some of the poorer and heavier lands, so that we can really know what are the facts, and so that we can get on and try to alleviate and improve a very important and difficult industry.
§ Mr. NOEL. BUXTON
The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken has very cogently elaborated the grounds for urging on the Minister what both he and I have on several occasions urged on him before, namely, the institution of a survey. I will not labour that point again, but I would use my opportunity to support warmly the proposal for a survey, because it is a step which is absolutely required before you proceed to what is above all necessary, the raising of our standard of farming. We must obtain some better means than we have now of improving the production of our land, and a survey is interesting as a step to that. We have not been able to get much change out of the Minister in regard to this question of the survey, for he has been busying himself with other lines of approach to the English and Welsh agricultural problem. I would like to point out what he has been doing. Take stock for a moment of the Government record. Compare the hopes of 18 months ago, when the Government came into office and there was a great deal of talk about increasing our arable area by 1,000,000 acres, with what has been done since that date. It is rather a fall from the sublime to the ridiculous to have had much labour given to very small things, such as weights and
2666 measures at cattle fairs, subventions of drainage, and lately a Bill to increase the number of small owners.
In view of the admitted urgency of making better use of our resources in general, I cast about for a word which properly characterises the Minister's attempts to deal with the great problem, and it seems to me that the word is "footling." I am afraid that my vocabulary does not provide me with a more appropriate word, and if you compare the needs with the work, I do not think my word is unjust. The Minister is genuinely interested in many sides of agriculture. I wish he would pursue them. I remember that some years ago he introduced a Bill on another side of the matter, on the humanitarian side, in connection with operations on horses—an admirable thing. The right hon. Gentleman has a genuine interest in these things. I wish that he would pursue his real interests and not occupy his time over methods which are really small and which would not he necessary if the Government would deal with the fundamental causes of the trouble. When you are trying to deal with the admitted defects of our production, to attack it with these little Measures is like hunting a tiger with a pop-gun. What has the right hon. Gentleman done, after nearly two years of work for agriculture, to improve the level of farming on a single farm? I do not see what any of these Measures is likely to effect in that way. Have they affected the equipment of a single farm? The whole edifice of our agriculture is admitted to he cracking. I need only quote the Minister's predecessor, when he said:Either the soil is going to be starved, and is gradually going to lose some of its fecundity, and the land become waterlogged, or the nation is going to say, We cannot watch this process going on, and the State will come in to fulfil the function of the old landlord by lending capital.'I think that the State will have to come in a great deal further than that. By common agreement, the edifice is, in a sense, cracking. But what are the Minister's Measures doing? They are like the man who plasters over his house to hide the cracks, when what he ought to do is to underpin the building. What do we see as we go about the country? I was very distressed to see in Suffolk, I think in the Minister's Division, the 2667 roofs of some extremely good barns falling in because the owner had not money enough to repair them. In Essex there is an enormous area which is positively handicapped by want of lime, and another great area by want of drainage. The farmer is handicapped because his partner in the business is failing to carry out his share of the bargain to provide the buildings and the drainage.
I want to call attention, in connection with the need of a survey as a step to great progress, to a model which we already possess of the advantages of such a survey. I refer to the Crown lands. In the case of Crown lands we control a very large area. Everyone is familiar with the fact that there are Crown lands; it has not struck anyone as revolutionary that the land belongs to the State. The State has stepped in already. There is an opportunity for model management, and that is the State ownership which provides the State, un that area of land, with the opportunity of completing an efficient survey. I would like to give a few facts in order to show what results from an efficient survey. I was talking the other day to the chairman of a county agricultural committee. He was admitting that the present system is dying, that it is not fulfilling its functions, but his feeling was "I am not going to do anything to replace it with another one." There it seems to me is a characteristic of the Tory mind, which, however, is not appropriate when you are dealing with what is really a very big loss in our national resources. I saw last week a very successful farmer in a Home County. He makes lots of money out of his land and, incidentally, pays wages a great deal higher than the official rates. He was telling me of the great number of farms in his district which are going down for want of equipment and for want of farmer's capital and knowledge. He also cannot see any cure. But all the time we have within our ascertained experience a model of what can be done by good administration, combined with an efficient survey of the land.
Let me toll the House two or three facts about the Crown lands, which naturally come under the purview of the 2668 Minister, as they came under my purview when I was Minister. You might imagine from what is said about the State ownership of land that the tenants of Crown lands were suffering from a horde of officials. But ask the Crown tenants whether they are hampered in their work. The difference to be noticed between Crown lands and most other lands, is that it is well equipped, and that the agency is very good. The farmers' standard of farming is controlled by the condition of their tenure; it is not controlled by a third party butting in and worrying them to do something which they do not want to do. It is controlled in the only possible way which is free from friction, by the control which the owner naturally has in letting the land. All this time, for want of such a method, over great areas we are losing perhaps 20 per cent. of the production which would result, not from specially high-class farming, but, according to the general opinion of the heist authorities, merely by bringing up the low standard to the medium or ordinary and average standard of the land as it is farmed now. Twenty per cent means, perhaps, in rough figures, £50,000,000 of production a year, and that is not a thing about which we can afford to be idle. It is very relevant to the proposal before the House of a survey, to remember that these benefits to Crown lands have resulted from an efficient survey over an area which is nearly 200,000 acres, if you include the two Duchies, and it is not much short of that even if you confine it strictly to agricultural lands. You have also about 450,000 acres under the county councils, which is in principle land in the same position of public ownership.
It is very interesting to notice that, since the Crown lands were taken over by a new firm of agents in 1007, an extraordinary improvement has taken place both in the rents and in the population on the land. In 14 years the rents rose by 37 per cent. and there was not a bankrupt farmer nor a decrease of prosperity on the farms. The small holding area at the beginning of that period was 900 acres, and it has increased in the 14 years to 14,000 acres—from 16 per cent. of the whole property to 19.3 per cent. of the same land. There was not a single bankruptcy among that large 2669 number of smallholders. Owing to having an efficient survey of that very large area, equal to a moderate county the need of drainage was realised, and in that short period £18,000 was spent on drainage. The figure for repairs was extraordinarily low, owing to the good agency, spread over such a very large area. The repairs were actually under 7 per cent, of the rental. I knew an estate once where they were 4 per cent., but that was phenomenal. Most estates are far higher. These farms are in good order at that greatly improved figure.
One might suppose that some Labour Government had established landowning on a great scale like this. Suppose that it came before us as a new proposal, what a fearful shock we should have. If Labour were responsible for the existence of this great public estate, we should be told that the complaints in the counties were loud and long. But what is most distressing for those who are horrified at the idea of public ownership is that there is no complaint at all from these districts. Are the farmers distressed? You find that there is a rush for land on most properties when a vacancy occurs. On the Crown lands there is an even greater demand. Is it, regarded as an eyesore in those counties, I think about 12, where the Crown owns land? On the contrary, you do not see the roofs falling in as you do in other parts of the country on private land. Is it an offence and a by-word to have this Socialist ownership, this red flag land, spread about Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and so on? On the contrary, local feeling is rather proud to have Crown properties and samples of a well managed estate in the district. But you would probably say, if such properties were created by the Labour party, that it was by some extravagant expenditure. On the contrary, the Crown Estate is a very good investment to the Crown, and an improving one.
I adduce that as an example of what can be done with an efficient survey combined with an efficient levelling up of the standard of farming. Contrast what the Minister offers to us as his cure for the trouble. He wants to increase the number of owners of land. There arc familiar arguments for that, but no one 2670 will deny that the English farmers do not want to be the owners of their land. Some of them have had too bitter a taste of it; the rest are anxious to keep out, and they have none too much capital for working their land. All occupying owners, I am afraid, are not models of improved farming since they became owners, and you have just as great difficulty, if not greater difficulty, with private ownership in levelling up the standard and in replacing the indifferent farmer by the worthy farmer, while there are many worthy men who are unable to get farms. If you increase the number of private owners and values improve, as they must improve, with the decrease in area of the world which grows wheat in proportion to population, you are only going to lose for the public the increase of values which is their due. If you increase the number of private owners the labourer has to wait for land a great deal longer, because, I think, even under the scheme of the Liberal party, you are not to have quite a free hand to take the land where you want to for small holdings or allotments, but you are to be guided more or less by the chance of land falling into the market.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I am glad that my right hon. Friend agrees that there must he a perfectly free hand for the public to take that land which is suited for small holdings or allotments. It seems to me, as compared with such a scheme, the efforts of the Government—and they have been numerous in their small way—represent mere tinkering, which leaves untouched t he primary need of the situation—that is to keep the farms in good order, to increase the population on the land where it pays, and to level lip the standard of farming.
§ Mr. ERNEST EVANS
On this day of the year—perhaps the only day in the case of scores of thousands of our fellow-citizens, when they have the opportunity of gaining some practical knowledge of what is meant by the slogan of "Back to the land "—it is not inappropriate that, following the precedent of last year, we should spend a short time in the discussion which has been initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison). I support his demand for a survey of a compre- 2671 hensive character, and I desire to emphasise the urgency of the need for such a census. It is no use any longer talking as if the provision of such a survey was impossible, or was even too difficult, for the Ministry of Agriculture to undertake. As has been pointed out, the United States of America has a survey every 10 years of an area approaching 350,000,000 acres. If that is possible in America, a survey such as we ask for is not impossible in this country. In fact, we need not go as far as America to find an example. An experiment has been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Scottish people seem to be as inquisitive as they are acquisitive.
§ Mr. EVANS
Some of us in this country, although we cannot hope to emulate the Scottish people in the last-named respect, would like to follow their example in regard to the first-named quality. I should like to know when we may have an opportunity of studying the Report of the Scottish survey. I am sure it will be a valuable document, and I hope the Government will extend the experiment and will make similar surveys in other parts of the country. Many people were dubious in the past about such a survey, but it has since been endorsed by many people of experience and practical knowledge of agriculture I would refer to a letter in the "Times" of this morning from Sir Henry Rew, whose experience in agricultural matters will not be questioned in any part of the House. That letter is a strong endorsement of the demand which has been made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Montrose. It is true he points out the difficulties and says those who ask for a survey ought to have a clear idea as to what they intend, and as to what should be included in the survey. He makes the suggestion, which I think worthy of consideration, that if there should be doubt on that point a small Committee should be set up to decide the scope of the inquiry and the survey which is to be made. I pass from the "Times" to the "Morning Post." There is a communication in the 2672 "Morning Post" from Mr. Gavin, who starts by pouring scorn upon this demand and then goes on to say that he would like to see a report on two questions, namely, the use of lime and land drainage. These are obviously questions of practical importance, if a survey is to be useful, but there are many other questions upon which a survey would he equally suitable and perhaps more valuable.
The predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman as Minister of Agriculture appeared to be quite convinced of the desirability of a survey of this character. I am not going to quote the passages which have been read by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Montrose, but the late Minister of Agriculture showed clearly that he was greatly impressed by the desirability of having a survey of this character, although he could not see his way to grant it. At the time he said he hoped to get similar results by utilising the census of production which was due to be made last year. Incidentally, I should like to ask the representative of the Board of Trade when we may expect that Report. Of course it is a report the preparation of which will take some time, and I am not urging any hasty preparation of it, but in the case of the census of population we often have an interim report, and I do not see why a similar course could not be followed in regard to the census of production. I gather that the present Minister of Agriculture is not so impressed by the urgency of the demand as his predecessor. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. C. P. Williams) on 6th July put a question t o the Minister asking whether he had decided to institute an agricultural survey, and what terms of reference he proposed to lay down. I understand the right hon. Gentleman at that time was not in a position to give a definite answer, but said the matter was receiving his careful attention.
Even if the Minister does not realise the desirability of a survey his Department does. His Department issues periodically a series of very interesting and valuable documents known as the "Economic Series." They have issued reports on agricultural credits, on cooperation and many other matters which are full of valuable information. If that can be done in regard to particular 2673 items, why is it impossible or undesirable to have a survey which will not be con-fined to one aspect of the problem but will deal in a comprehensive manner with all aspects of the question. As the late Minister of Agriculture realised, the Agricultural Returns Act is not sufficient for the purpose. Re claimed the credit for introducing that Act and we do not deny it to him but it is not sufficient. It is too narrow and the Ministry cannot ride off from this demand on the ground that they have given us the Agricultural Returns Act. It has been said that narrow-souled people are like narrow-necked bottles; the less they have in them, the more noise is mode in pouring it out. When there is a demand for a large Measure of this sort, Government Departments produce some small return and claim that it is adequate for the purpose. In this case we want a more detailed and comprehensive survey giving us the information which we require. As an illustration of the desirability of such returns I mention the case of smallholdings and allotments. In the series of reports to which I have referred, there recently appeared a report on Land Settlement in England and Wales. This report rose to the height of quoting from "Punch"A warmer be a man as won't own up as 'e's made a profito'ow—artful like; an' small-olders, they be men as won't never admit they be doing badly—terrible obst'nit-minded.In this Report it is stated that since the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act was passed there has been a great increase in the number of people who have been settled on the lend. That is a matter on which we ought to pride ourselves, as showing one of the directions in which an attempt has been made to meet the cases of men who had served in the Forces and who were desirous of being settled on the land. Among some county councillors in agricultural districts you will hear two things said. You will hear it said that the people who have been settled on the land are failing. According to this Report that is not the case. It is said that the number of men who had been provided with holdings up to 15th January, 1923, and who had left for financial reasons and might therefore be regarded as failures was 1,226 or 6.5 per cent. The estimate had been made that approximately 10 to 12 per cent. of the 2674 men settled on the land since the Armistice, had left their holding owing to failure up to 31st December, 1924. That is just the sort of subject upon which we require reliable information, because one of the powerful weapons which is used by those who object to small holdings is the statement that the people who have been settled on the land since the War have been failures.
Another point which is made by similar people is that there is no demand for small holdings. Is that true? That is a question on which we require information. According to a reply which the Minister gave on 8th July there were on 31st March this year 14,847 unsatisfied demands for small holdings in England and Wales, and of these 612 had been approved, but have not yet been provided with holdings, and 8,234 were awaiting interviews or standing over. That again is a matter where reliable information is required in order to deal with the complaints which one constantly hears that rates are being wasted by providing land for small holdings for which there is really no demand. That is only one illustration of the many questions upon which we really are entitled to have information of a perfectly reliable character. Mr. Gavin, in the communication to the "Morning Post" to which I have referred, makes out that those who demand a survey of this character are wanting a return from the Government of people who, in the opinion of inspectors, are good farmers and people who are bad farmers, or a return of the qualifications of a good farmer and a bad farmer. I can assure the Minister that he need not be frightened on that account, because nothing is further from our minds than that. We want a return to show how every acre of land is being cultivated, and how many acres of land which are not at the moment being cultivated can be cultivated. I have seen it stated that there are over one million acres in this country which could be reclaimed. I do not know whether that is true, but it is another illustration of the difficulties and of the importance of this problem.
There is another important consideration. For some reason or other, whenever any reference is made to the land programme, some people suspect that those who mention it are engaged in some tremendous fight against what is called an ancient institution in this 2675 country. I have never been able to find out what that institution is, but, however that may be, the trouble is that we are so busy criticising each other's policies, and the Government are so apparently impressed by the Report which has recently been produced by a Committee set up under the auspices of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), that they have been unable to declare their own policy, and they content themselves with criticising ours. It is said that when the Judges of the High Court, many years ago, were drafting a loyal Address to present to Queen Victoria, one of them suggested that the best way of starting would be with the phrase: "Conscious as we are of our own infirmities," but as an amendment the suggestion was made that the phrase should read: "Conscious as we are of each other's infirmities." That seems to be the trouble at the present time with the Government in regard to an agricultural policy. They claim to be so conscious of the infirmities of my right hon. Friend's proposals, that they seem to be afraid of producing their own.
§ Sir HARRY HOPE
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison), who introduced this discussion, brought forward many arguments in favour of a, survey to be taken of the land, and he said that, if we had a survey, we would then know what sort of legislation we ought to adopt in order to bring about a better state of affairs. While he said that, what do we see? We see that his leader—I suppose he is his leader—has brought forward-a cut-and-dried programme for altering and renewing our whole system of agriculture, without waiting in any way to get the survey and to hear what the survey could tell us. Then the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) also spoke in favour of a survey being made of our land, but without waiting to hear what the survey brought forth, he also commenced elaborating his cure for the evils which exist, in the shape of an extension of Crown lands. I am not against a survey being taken of our land. I quite agree that, if we had it, we might be able to find out some weak spots which could be improved on. I quite believe that we might be able to make improvements, 2676 because it is a very good thing indeed that cannot be improved on at any time, but I think it is a totally wrong impression to form that the agriculture of this country is in a decadent condition.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has, in previous Debates in this House, told us that the numbers of livestock per hundred acres in this country are very much less than they are in Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and some other Continental countries, but he totally ignored the fact that those countries which he compared with ours are all flat and level countries, having no ranges of mountains or hills such as we have in England, Scotland, and Wales. Therefore, any arguments bringing forward the total numbers of stock per hundred acres in a comparison between this country and those Continental countries is a totally inaccurate method of comparison. The right hon. Gentleman and some of his friends have told us that British agriculture is in a hopelessly decadent condition. I have had some connection with agriculture in Scotland, and I. can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if ever he would come to Scotland, I could show him many parts of it where I do not think any improvement could be made. If you go to the stock-rearing parts throughout Berwickshire, Roxburghshire, and the South of Scotland. and again up in the North of Scotland. r if you go to the arable districts in the Lothians or in the County of Forfar, which I have the honour to represent, I say that to characterise these districts as carrying on the industry in a decadent fashion is very far removed from the truth.
The industry in this country is not in anything like the bad way described by hon. and right hen. Members opposite. I know some districts of England. I have made it my business to know parts of England, and I have seen, in a county such as Lincolnshire, land farmed to the very highest possible standard of efficiency. I have seen potatoes produced in South Lincolnshire, in the Spalding district, which my hon. Friend the Member for Holland-with-Boston (Mr. Dean) represents, which I do not think you could find improved upon in any country in the world. Therefore, to characterise this whole industry as being in a decadent, moribund condition is quite inaccurate. I have no doubt 2677 there are plenty of bad farmers, the same as there are inefficient men in every other line of work, but I think the general standard of farming has improved very much in the last 30 years. The improved production of fertilisers has been taken advantage of, and the general quantity of crops produced has thereby been enormously improved. Undoubtedly, the land, especially in England, could be very much improved by the use of wild white clover, along with phosphates and potassic fertilisers, but yet there is an improvement going on. A survey might, perhaps, do good, but, after all, who is going to make your survey? I suppose you are going to employ a great number of people, probably young men, who have been to an agricultural college and think they know everything about it, but suppose you bring in a great horde of inspectors going through the districts, and they make reports and classify their knowledge under various heads. After all, it will mean a lot of work and a great deal of information, but how many people will ever read it?
I quite agree that there may be some good come out of the movement, but think this House does not need to be made aware of the idea that merely because we make a survey of our land we arc not going to bring about a new state of perfection in British agriculture. The prosperity and the efficiency of British agriculture will always rest on the individual enterprise and skill of the man who is conducting the business, and as long as our cultivators are actuated by skill and by the incentive to improve their methods, and if they have got an opportunity of taking advantage of the scientific methods which research work can give to them, I have no fear at all that our standard of agriculture will not be maintained. The right hon. Member for North Norfolk asked what the Government have done to improve agriculture. It would not be in order for me to say all that might be done to improve agriculture, but when we look around and sec foreign produce being sold every day in this country as being of home origin, it is clear that there is an impediment put in the way of the home producer which is grossly unfair, and for which we suffer at the present time. I am sure that if our agriculture were looked at, not with party spectacles at all, but in a practical 2678 manner, with the desire to help the industry and to remove old-fashioned obstacles which are allowed to stand in its way, this industry of agriculture would be, as it can be, a great source of strength to the nation as a whole.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
May I be allowed to remind the House that the first person in these realms to realise the necessity for an agricultural census was a Scotsman? Sir John Sinclair, whose great-grandson takes such an interest in agriculture, and who contributes to our Debates to-day, was the first man to realise the necessity of an agricultural census, and he had compiled, very largely through his own efforts, what is known as "A Statistical Account of Scotland." That was in 1790, and we have now arrived at 1926, and I venture to suggest that, having regard to the changing conditions of the day and to the way in which the land of our country is changing hands, the time is more than ripe for us to take stock again, and have a thorough census of the whole of the agricultural land. The speech of the hon. Member for Forfar (Sir H. Hope) was a very strong argument for the necessity of such a census. He agreed that it would be a desirable thing that we should have a census, but then he went on to say that some people state that agriculture is in a decayed state, and proceed to propound their nostrums, whereas, he said, in parts of Scotland agriculture was by no means, as we all know, in a decayed state.
That is just what we want to know. We want to know where the facts lie and whether or not people who say that agriculture is in a decadent state are justified, and we cannot have these facts without getting a survey. I am afraid we are under a disadvantage in not yet having before us fully the results of the very important survey that is being made, under the auspices of the Secretary of State for Scotland, by the Board of Agriculture in the County of Kincardine is a small county lying along the East Coast of Scotland between Aberdeen and Forfar. It has good soil and bad soil, and good farms and bad farms, and the survey which was made there brought that out very clearly. I have in my hand the Journal of the Board of Agriculture for Scotland, which contains, in the number for July, a short summary 2679 of what the survey effected in that county, and if I may be allowed to do so I should like shortly to refer to one or two of the principal points which that summary brings out. The summary says that during the winter of 1925–26 it was decided to hold this survey 5.0 P.M.with the primary object of finding out what use was being made of all land not accounted for by the agricultural returns.What the survey found out was most remarkable—it was then discovered that the discrepancy between the total area shown in the agricultural returns and that in the Ordnance Survey of the county was due almost entirely to inaccuracies, many of them fairly large, made by occupiers in estimating the extent of their mountain and heath land used for graving.If hon. Members will consider for a moment, they will see what very serious import lies behind those word Statistics based upon facts which were so thoroughly inaccurate can only be misleading, and it is only by means of such a survey as has been held in Kincardine that we can get at the right facts to ascertain to what purposes the land in the counties is being used, and not only that, but whether it is being put to the best use.
While that survey was going on four typical parishes in the county were selected for a more detailed survey. The object of that was twofold—It was intended primarily to describe the present state of agriculture in these parishes. Its ultimate object was to throw into prominence the importance of all factors connected with the proper management of the soils, crops, and stocks of the farms examined.That is exactly what we want to get at, and it is those facts which will be of such enormous advantage to the agriculture of this country. The summary goes on to say that the surveyors found that there were tremendous variations between the results obtained in farms in neighbouring parishes where the sail was good and where the soil was bad. They go on to point out their conclusions that these variations were largely due either to the system of management which followed on the farms or the skill in the management of the farms.
As the hon. Member for Forfar (Sir H. Hope) has just said, the success of farming depends very largely on the 2680 farmer himself. That must always be so, but in spite of that you may have a very good farmer following a system which is not the best in the management of his farm, and a survey could show where the plan is wrong and how a different system of rotation could give a greater production from that farm. The good farmer will get the benefit of such a survey, and will be able to obtain a greater profit through his good farming than he did before. I will only touch very lightly on one or two of the main points in the survey, but I want the House to notice that these facts which have been brought out by this survey are not only vital to any consideration of the future of agriculture, and to the whole of the country, but that they are also of the greatest importance to those who are engaged in farming at the present time. The surveyors go through all the various factors of good and bad management of the farms—the whole system of working expenses, how the different crops improve on different lands, how sheep-breeding can be made an advantage, the management of stock, the question of horse-breeding, and so on. There is a remark which I would like to emphasise, where the surveyors speak of the rotations adopted. They say:Cereal growing is often said to be a non-paying concern in these days. But this statement is loose and misleading. Despite low prices and high costs of production, cereal growing may still be profitable, provided the yields per acre are sufficiently high.… On the more fertile farms close-cropping and high labour costs were frequently associated with very good results.So there again we come to the question of whether agriculture is in a bad state or not, and the surveyors point out over and over again that, where farming does not pay, it is very often due to the want of management on the farm. They point out that it is a question of skill, a question of the want of proper management, or of the want of proper skill in the management, that farms can be shown to give much better profits by a different system of rotation or by giving more attention to poultry and pigs and to the side-lines of agriculture. I am very glad to see that they think that better profits can be obtained by co-operation, and they show that if the farmer is a member of a co-operative society, he will get the best advantage, riot only in buying, but in selling. They point out that a lot of 2681 time is wasted by the farmer at the market. The farmer's time is worth so much, and yet he will go and waste days in the market haggling over a matter of a shilling or two. The question of buildings is not enlarged upon in this summary. I do not know how far it is dealt with in the main Report, but the whole question of buildings which my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir R. Hutchison) referred to in opening this Debate is one of the utmost importance to the whole of the farming system. It is necessary that the buildings should be suitable for working the industry, for housing the people, and for all the work on the farms.
A very important paragraph in this summary is the last one, the General Conclusions, where the surveyors say that the land that they surveyed was generally clean, dry, well managed—as regards organisation of labour—and in very good condition. They go on to say that, in spite of this, the balance sheets, after interest on capital and allowances are deducted, are frequently on the wrong side. There are low prices for what the farmer has to sell and high working expenses, but they do not explain why so many farmers are able to show balances on the right side. It is not all a gloomy outlook on agriculture, and if we could get before us the facts which a detailed survey would give, the bright lines would become very much brighter and stronger. It has been made plain that skill, or lack of skill, in the management of crops and prospects accounted for a wide difference in the results. Anything that we can do to make good the deficiencies of skill, either in agricultural education or by bringing the facts to the notice of particular farmers so that they can make use of them, are all to the good of this great basic industry. I do urge most strongly upon the Minister of Agriculture that he should not merely say that a census might be useful or would be desirable, but he should say how necessary it is for agriculture that it should be done, and we have seen it can be done, for Scotland has shown us the way.
§ Mr. DEAN
I have listened with considerable interest to this Debate. The hon. Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison) who opened this Debate re- 2682 ferred as the principal means of relief for agriculture to the necessity for having a survey of the country. The hon. and gallant Member I am glad to say, has taken much interest in English agriculture. Re has, I think, concentrated his energy more particularly on the poorer land of this country than he has on the better land, and I notice that he said in the first instance the enormous amount of land that we had in this country that was water-logged. I quite agree with him. Nobody knows it better than myself. I have also heard it said that the agriculturist and the owner of land in this country were behind the times, and that they did not make the best use of their land for the growing of cereals. But I would like to point out that so far from their being out of date and behind the times they are very much up to date, much as they would like to cultivate the land, and much as they would like to spend money upon it in order to produce food for the people, they know they cannot do so unless they spend more capital upon the land than they can get out of it, with the present prices and the present competition.
We have also heard that we have in this country nearly a million acres of land for reclamation. I have had an opportunity of seeing land in this country that might be reclaimed, and that might grow very high modern crops. I have the honour to represent a division where there is a great deal of that land—on the Wash, in Lincolnshire. I was viewing it only the other day, and I know it might be reclained, but in conversation with business men I found out that the reclamation of that land would not pay capital expenditure. We have heard a great deal about the buildings on our poorer land not being efficient and in bad repair, but I would like to remind those hon. Gentlemen who take up that attitude that the land on which those buildings stand has for some years, in many cases, been cultivated at a loss. I do not mind whether you have private ownership or State ownership; you are not going to ask the private owner to invest his capital in an industry in which he is not going to get interest, and I do not believe that the State should be asked to invest its capital if no return is to be forthcoming. That to my mind is the situation.
2683 Now I would like to turn to a rather brighter side. I have been speaking of the poorer land, but with regard to the better land of this country that can still he cultivated at a profit, and you can still pay a decent wage to your worker, but that is only a comparatively small proportion of the whole of the land of this country. If you are going to keep the poorer land in cultivation, as it is our great hope that we may do, then you will have to do something by way of relief from rates and taxes and other expenditure in order that that land may be kept in cultivation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) referred to the Crown lands of this country, and to the enormous advantage of the Crown lands being managed by the State. I do not want in any way to depreciate Crown land owners, but I would like to say that they are not superior to the bulk of private land owners of this country. I will give a concrete reason for making that statement. There is a very large acreage of Crown land where I happen to be chairman of the drainage authority of that particular district, and I may say that the central drainage is in perfect order. In this district, where you have the different interior drainage draining into the main drain, nearly all the private owners of land have put their hands in their pockets and produced the money in order to put down artificial pumps to drain the land. The Crown have not helped to put in artificial pumps to drain their tenants' land. In this particular district, which is a fairly large one, the Crown, as the owners of land in that particular district, are behind the private owners. It is not because they do not know about it, because they have been told from time to time, not only by people connected with the Drainage Trust, but also by their own tenants, that people have put down private pumps in order to drain their private lands, whereas the Crown drainage have only the natural drainage to rely upon. The pumps from other fens help to flood those lands where there is no pump, because the artificial pumping prevents the natural drainage.
§ Mr. DEAN
I did not go as far as to say it was negligent, but my right hon. Friend seems to think it is negligent. It is the Black Sluice district of Lincolnshire—the drainage of the parishes of Billingborough, Swaton and others. Where you have something like 20 interior drainage systems, and only about six or seven that have not got private pumps, and in those cases—the Crown tenants—have not in one single instance got any artificial drainage for their land, so far as I am aware. I really give this as an instance to show that you arc not going to get, under public management, anything better than you get under private ownership. You have had in the past, if I mistake not, landlords generally who have taken an interest in their estates, and who know something of the management of estate. We have heard it said that many tenant farmers are very much behind the times. Tenant farmers, in my experience, are very much abreast of the times, but they see all the difficulties they have in conducting that industry to make it profitable. Something has been said—and I believe this Debate started principally with regard to a survey—tha a survey was going to cure all our ills, or, at least, a great many of them. That rather reminds me of the Irish priest who was asked to bless the crops. He went round from crop to crop, and cast a blessing upon each, in order that all might he well. Last of all he came to a crop which was looking rather sickly, and said, "I am sorry, but it is no good my giving my blessing to that: that crop requires muck."
The suggestion is that there should he, a survey, but a. survey will not make the land profitable. At the present time, we in England have a census of all our cereal crops, of our green crops and of our grass land and livestock. There is if I am not mistaken, a county agricultural committee for every county, with its agricultural organisers. I, myself, have hem chairman of one of these agricultural committees, and I know that during the time I was chairman of that committee, our organizer knew how the whole of the land in our county was cultivated. He knew whether it was well cultivated or badly cultivated, and we, had the report before the committee. I am quite sure that the reason why a great deal of that land was not as well 2685 cultivated as it ought to have been, was because it did not make a return. I can point now to a considerable acreage of thin land in Lincolnshire which is very highly cultivated indeed, and I have seen the returns for the last few years where nothing has been wanting in the way of good farming It has been efficiently managed the land has been properly cultivated by men who understand their work, men who during the years before the War, and, of course, immediately after the War, were able to make a good profit upon those lands; men who have never lost money on agriculture before. But you have to see their books to-day— they do not speak lies. Their books show most distinctly, with regard to their Income Tax returns, that they are making an annual loss. I do not say the annual loss is large, but I say it is there, and until you can do something for the poorer land of this country, do not let this House, do not let the country at large, do not let our large industrial population be led away with the idea that it is the farmer's fault, that it is the landlord's, that it is neglected. It is exactly, to my mind, like the case of the coalmines. If the coal does not pay to lift, then you cannot lift it. If agricultural land generally will not pay to cultivate properly, and as it ought to be cultivated, then do not blame agriculturist, if you see that the land is not in as good a state of cultivaton as it ought to be.
§ Mr. RILEY
I said that that is the general opinion. Personally, while I have no objection to the widest survey, if it is going to be useful, I venture to say that in one or two directions we have already perfectly adequate information as to the utility of the purposes which the Department can serve in the domain of agriculture. May I first express regret that, for some reason or other, hitherto the Minister has not thought fit to give anything like an annual report of what the Ministry is doing in its various fields of activity, I know that we have had some excellent special reports, such as 2686 those on land settlement, the marketing of produce, and so on, but there seems to be nothing in the nature of a comprehensive report covering in one annual statement a general review of the work of the Ministry, and I do submit to the present Minister that he would set a good example if he would see his way to initiate a more or less comprehensive annual report, which would cover the Ministry's various fields of activity, and inform Members concisely what the Ministry is actually doing. In other Departments, such as education, that is done.
Having said that, I want to say, that, without waiting for any further survey, or any further information, there is at least one Department of the Ministry's work, namely, that which is charged with the encouragement and promotion of small holdings, about which there is already ample information to establish the success and the utility of that part of the Ministry's work. It has been said in previous Debates, and it is worth while reminding the House that, since the year 1908, something like 33,000 small holdings have been established under the 1908 Act and the Act of 1919. Under the Act of 1908, roughly, 15,000 what are called self-supporting holdings, were established before the War and since 1919, 18,000 have been established under the Land Settlement Act. I want to say, in passing, that while there is no doubt a great need for assisting small holders to market their produce, to organise, to promote co-operation, to make the most of the system of small holdings, none the less it is now beyond all question that the principle and method of small holdings has in this country already achieved a signal success. If there be any doubt about that, there is the fact that 33,000 small holdings have been created, and for the last four years approximately 28,000 more have been waiting—10,000 in Scotland and about 18,000 in England and Wales, have been waiting for the holdings not yet provided for them.
Therefore, it is clear that there is scope for a definite piece of useful work, pregnant with signal success for the country. But I want to complain, that if one looks into the accomplishments of the present Government, as a matter of fact since 1922, those accomplishments are extremely small. Two or three weeks 2687 ago I asked the Minister the amount of land which had been acquired for small holdings, either by the Ministry or by local councils, between January, 1925, and March, 1926, a period of 15 months, and his reply was that only 670 acres had been acquired by the Ministry and only 57 new smallholders, that is 57 out of the 33,000 established under the Acts since 1909, had been established by the Ministry or by local councils since January, 1925. Although the present Government, and their predecessors in 1923, talked about being in favour of small holdings, practically nothing has been done since 1922 to create smallholders. The House ought to remember that of the 32,000 or 33,000 existing small holdings created by Statute, less than 100 have been established within the last two or three years. That is a fault which the Ministry ought to remedy. In view of the experience since 1908, they ought to go ahead courageously with the establishment of small holdings, not on the lines of occupiers purchasing their holdings, but by creating occupying tenancies.
I also asked the Minister a week or two ago how many smallholders had purchased their holdings under the 1892, 1909, and 1919 Acts. The total number of smallholders under these Acts is, roughly, 33,000, and the number who have been in the position to purchase is as follows: Under the 1892 Act, 59 holdings were purchased; under the 1908 Act, 67 holdings; under the 1919 Act, 43 holdings. That is a total of 169 out of 33,000 holdings That is a pregnant fact, showing that what people require is not to be allowed to buy, for they cannot buy, but to have occupying tenancies, so that they can employ such capital as they can command in making the land productive. In emphasising this signl success of the small holdings movement, which was scoffed at in years gone by, and regarded as a mere chimera, I would ask the House to realise what it has meant from the economic and social point f view. I put on the Order Paper to-day the following question:To ask the Minister of Agriculture if he will give figures showing the amount of land returned as agricultural land in England and Wales that was suitable for agricultural use in the years 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900, 1914 and 1924, together with the population of England and Wales for those years, and the number of acres per 1,000 of the population.2688 I have not had the official reply, but by word of mouth the Minister has told me the rather singular thing that the amount of agricultural land now available is practically it was in 1870—it is 25,000,000 acres, roughly the same to-day as then. When we take into account the increase in population we find that whereas in 1870 there were 1,100 acres of agricultural land available per 1,000 of the population, to-day there are only 600 acres per 1,000 of the population That emphasises the necessity of making the most of the land, of encouraging that type of culture which gives the maximum production both from an economic and social point of view.
On that aspect of the matter a remarkable return has been issued by the Government of Denmark showing what has occurred in Denmark as the outcome of the small holdings movement. On farms of from 1 acre to 25 acres the economic yield, the product, was £22 per acre, and the amount going in wages and taxes was £14 Os. per acre. In the case of farms of from 25 acres to 50 acres the product per acre was £20 14s., and the social product, that is, the amount going in wages and in taxes, was £11 5s. In the case of farms of over 250 acres the economic product was £12 2s. per acre, as against £22 per acre on farms up to 25 acres, and the social product was only £7 Is. per acre, as against. £14 9s. Those facts emphasise the great necessity in this country, with a growing population and a limited amount of land, of making the most of the land by intensive cultivation. [An HON.: "What is the tenure in Denmark?"] As to 98 per cent., they are occupying freeholders, I admit, but in recent years, under the new laws, there have been 3,000 occupying tenancies, and the whole tendency now is to go in for occupying tenancy. Henceforth, under the new laws, there will be no further monopoly of land. It is a startling fact that these 25-acre farms in Denmark, according to the official returns of the Agricultural Department of the Danish Government, yield on the average £550 worth of produce per annum. Of that sum there goes to the family occupying the land £375, the rest being absorbed by outlay on production. If we could have a similar state of affairs in this country it would add enormously to our economic and social well-being Therefore, I would 2689 urge the right hon. Gentleman to take his courage in both hands and go ahead with the development of small holdings. He ought not to confine himself to allowing a few individuals, or this county or that county, to take a forward step if they feel inclined to do so, but, in view of the possibility of having to find employment for a surplus mining population, to go forward with the development of group holdings on a large scale, organised by the Ministry, acting, it may be, through county councils. There we have a field in which much may be done for the betterment and the well-being of the people.
§ Sir HENRY CAUTLEY
I sincerely hope the Minister will not listen for a single moment to the suggestion that a survey of agricultural land should be inflicted on this country. I remember the same suggestion being put forward a year ago. The reasons given to-day by the hon. Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison) have been slightly enlarged. Last year the demand by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was based solely on the ground that land was uncultivated and that much more could be made of it, and we were to have this horde of officials sent down to examine each farm, to tell us how to cultivate our land, and to suggest that it was improperly done.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The hon. Baronet is now attributing to me something which I never suggested. To begin with, I never suggested that there should be a horde of officials, and, in the second place, it was no part of the survey that the officials were to instruct individual farmers. It was to be simply a survey and a report on the condition of agriculture in five or six typical counties, such a survey, as a matter of fact, as has already been conducted in Scotland, in the county of Kincardine, where there is no horde of officials instructing the farmers.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
The last thing in the world I wish to do is to misrepresent what the right hon. Gentleman has said. If it is to he a superficial survey of the land such as he now mentions, I fail absolutely to see the reason for it. Without a thorough examination it is quite impossible to say whether land is well 2690 farmed or not; but I go further, and say there is no reason whatever for such an examination in this country. We had an independent examination within the last two or three years by the Agricultural Tribunal of Investigation. Three independent experts were appointed by, I believe, the late Government to examine into the condition of agriculture, and the final Report was only made in May, 1924. I will just read one paragraph, 287, of one of the Reports—The facts do not show that there is ground for depreciation of British agriculture as a whole. It pays wages that are high as compared with those in other European countries; the yield of the area which is under the chief crops compares favourably with that of the areas under the same crops abroad; while the actual decline of the agricultural population as tested by male persons employed has not, over the whole length of our period of reference been so startling as is often supposed or so rapid as that of other European countries. Farmers are not responsible for the natural conditions or the national policies which have affected the form of cultivation that is most profitable; subject to the conditions, the cultivation of the land in Britain cannot he described as inefficient.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
The right hon. Gentleman is not accurate, because each Report was stated by the Commissioners to be supplementary to the others, and each Commissioner was responsible for his own Report.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Yes, that is the Report by Professor MacGregor, Professor Ashley and Professor Adams and they took very different views. I know that Professor MacGregor did not carry his colleagues with him.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
I would like to have read the actual words, but I know that one Report is supplementary to the other and they have to be read together, and each member was responsible for what 2691 he signed. Here is the passage dealing with this point in the Report:We submit for your consideration our final Reports. We wish to say while on some matters we represent different points of view they should also be regarded largely as supplementary one to the other, each Report meeting certain aspects more fully than the others. Each member of the Tribunal is responsible, of course, only for the Report to which his signature is appended.I differ from the right hon. Gentleman opposite when he says this is a Minority Report, because it is no such thing, and I doubt very much whether the right hon. Gentleman can quote to-day any cases in the Report of Sir William Ashley or Professor Adams contradicting the extract which I read from the Report made by Professor MacGregor. If that be so, then the whole basis of the right hon. Gentleman's case goes. We have set up in every county in England an agricultural committee. We are having the position of agriculture discussed and considered in every single county. The position of small holdings is known there and also the state of the agricultural industry. In these matters you have to get a certificate from the agricultural committee. I know the right hon. Gentleman the _member for Carnarvon Boroughs has taken a very great interest in this question in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and I am greatly interested myself in that district, but, surely, he knows the state of agriculture in East Yorkshire. At any rate the county council is aware of the state of things there. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to tell us that in the successful body of small holdings which have been set up in that county, they do not know the whole condition of agriculture in the East Riding of Yorkshire? Of course, they do. Those who understand the position in the East Riding would be the first people to decry the sending of a gentleman from Whitehall to make a cursory survey of the East Riding of Yorkshire district, because that is not what we want.
The one evil we suffer from to-day is what the coal trade is suffering from. It an economic trouble., because our expenses are greater than our returns. It does not need these gentlemen to come down and tell us that some of our farming is bad and some is good, because 2692 we know that already. In our country districts we can easily pick out the best farmers. Do we want another Coal Report on Agriculture? Who is going to tell us our business? I want the agricultural interest to tell the Minister that the whole of this thing is eyewash, and of no use. I agree with what the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) said, but upon different grounds. I was very interested in regard to what the hon. Member said about smallholders in Denmark, and I should like to study that question a little further. In the same Report to which I have already referred, dealing with the small holdings policy in England, I find this further passage:Fourth, the small holdings policy. This rests on the ground of general efficiency and justice to the labourer. There is not evidence to show that sinallholclers are either more or less efficient and productive than large farmers.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
The hon. Member did not tell us what was the nature of the farm to which he referred. The small holdings policy is based upon picking out the best land.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
I am not opposed to small holdings. On the contrary, I am a strong supporter of them, not so much on agricultural grounds, but on political and social grounds. I think access to the land should he made easy. Each labourer ought to have an opportunity of acquiring a small holding, and T strongly support the small holdings policy. I strongly support the Bill put forward by the Minister of Agriculture for increasing the number of small holdings, and going further and making it possible to establish by means of State credit ownership of cottage holdings in order that a man can have three acres of land as a holding, and become the owner by paying an annual fair rent charge. What I want to point out is that small holdings are not going to cure the agricultural trouble which we suffer from to-day. The smallholder's life is one of the hardest in the country. He has to work from morning until evening and he has no standard wage. Not only this, but his wife works as hard 2693 as he does and the children as well, and it is only by great hardships that they can make a living. Therefore small holdings must not be taken as a cure for the agricultural problem.
What we want to see is the industry put on a proper basis and on a paying basis. We want to see the agricultural labourer and the agricultural worker who works on a weekly wage having a much easier time as a smallholder. We want the land kept under the plough; that is our object. The trouble we have to face is the price. It is not a matter of intensive or light cultivation, but a question of balance sheets. I have seen a rich man come into our country districts and produce the heaviest and finest crops, and the worst of balance sheets. If be had not been a rich man, he could not go on from year to year, but because he is interested in agriculture and in good cultivation, he does not care. That, how-ever, does not cure the troubles of English agriculture. It is, the position of the ordinary farmer we have to consider. Like any other trader, the farmer must have some return for the money which he puts into the business, and he must make a profit sufficient to support himself and his family like any other man of business. What is a survey going to do to achieve this object? Who are the surveyors going to be? There is no man at the Board of Agriculture who can take on the job, and are we going to have some broken-down farmers appointed to make this survey? Who does the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs suggest should do this survey? When the right hon. Gentleman gets his survey, what more information are we going to get than we have in one or other of the various Reports which have been issued? I am not aware of the details in regard to the survey which is going to be made. We have the Farmers' Union to protect the industry of the farmers and collect all the information they require. They piece the information together, and that is very useful. But what would be the value of the information gathered by this suggested survey? It cannot be anything that will benefit the industry. I conclude, as I began, by asking the Minister not to listen for one moment to this proposition, because, as a practical farmer, I say it cannot be of the slightest value to the industry.
§ Mr. FENBY
1 am glad that even on August Bank Holiday we are having a Debate upon agriculture. There are two things I want to say in particular. We have been debating the question of whether we should have a survey of the agricultural position of this country. We have had speeches on this question from both sides of the House, but neither from the Minister of Agriculture nor from the Secretary of State for Scotland have we yet heard a single word with regard to the suggestion which has been made. That, perhaps, may come in due course. The hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) has a considerable stake in the Riding to which I myself happen to be sttaked, and which my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) says contains the best agricultural land that he has seen for some considerable time. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that he did not himself object to the small holdings movement, and I remember that I had the pleasure of presiding at an inquiry in regard to the taking of land by compulsion from his estate for the purpose of providing allotments. He also made the remark, which is quite true, that the Agricultural Committee, and particularly the Chairman of the Agricultural Committee, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, know everything about the agricultural conditions in the East Riding. I quite agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman up to that point, but I totally differ from him when he says that, as they have all that information, the Government do not require to have it.
There is one point that has not yet, been made, and that is that the one factor that disturbs those engaged in the agricultural industry more than any other factor with which they have to deal is that of change. They get very sudden and violent changes in the weather, which, although they may account for some profit, account for a good deal of loss to those engaged in agriculture. The agriculturist doe not know where he is from one day to another as regards the weather; and I often tell my agricultural friends that it is little use relying on the Conservative Government for any agricultural programme, because the Conservative Government seem to be just about as fickle as the weather in their 2695 attitude towards agriculture. Let me begin with the Ministry itself. It is very significant that during the lifetime of this Government the only change that has taken place in the Government, if I remember rightly, has been in the Ministry of Agriculture. I quite agree that there were very good reasons. Heaven forbid that I should reflect in any way upon the present Viceroy of India. We were very proud of him. He was the product of the East Riding, and we thought we should get a good deal of help from him, but, unfortunately for us, he has passed on to help India instead. There has been a change at the Ministry; hut I am not going to confine myself merely to what has happened under the present Government with regard to this difficulty of stability of policy—I go further back. There may be tender spots in my own political party. We had guaranteed prices, but not for very long. They led agriculture into a kindof blind alley, and a good many people engaged in agriculture went by the board. Then we were going to have a large reconstructive programme with regard to drainage it, the agricultural areas of this country. Drainage officials were engaged, and we were going to have drainage schemes, but it was not very long before they went.
With regard to small holdings, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) suggested that the Ministry should have something to do with the setting up of small holding colonies, but God forbid that they should ever touch small holding schemes again, in view of the exhibition we have had of a Government or a State setting up small holding colonies, not only from the point of view of money, but from the point of view of the heart-breaking experiences of the men and women who were put on these holdings. From that point of view I think it will not be the Government that will do it best, but the county authority.
My argument for the agricultural survey that is being asked for is this The reason for the changes of which I have been complaining is that one Government or Minister has looked at a section of the agricultural problem, and another Government or another Minister has come along and looked at another section of the problem, and each, from his own point 2696 of view, has been endeavouring to do a certain thing, but they did not hang together. The successor of an innovator has often practically cut the throat of something that his predecessor thought was very useful. I think the survey would be useful for this reason, and I would say to the Minister, who, I know, is very anxious to do his best for the industry while holding his present office, that it is very little use his thinking that, during the lifetime of this Government, be it long or short, he can introduce a. complete policy for the improvement and regeneration of agriculture. It is impossible for him to do it in the time; it is a very slow-moving industry.
What I would like the Minister to do, and to have the honour of doing, if he desires to have it, is to agree with his predecessor in his own Department that the present law, as has been suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend, does not give us all that we want with regard to information. We want a complete survey, and the Minister will find that it will be more useful to him and his Department than to anyone on this side of the House, because, if a Government mean to make their agricultural policy a success, whether it be a Liberal, a Conservative, or a Socialist Government, for it to be possible to have a complete policy they must have a complete survey; they must have the complete facts in their hands before they can begin to make any policy operative that will be at all likely to be successful and prosperous.
What does the agriculturist say? I remember that, when the right hon. Gentleman came into office in succession to the present Viceroy of India, a good many of my farming friends said to me: " Now, Fenby, what kind of a fellow is Guinness? " I said: " He has done very well in the office he has been holding. I do not know how much he knows about agriculture." They said: " Well, you know, there are a great many people talking about agriculture, but, unfortunately, they do not know anything about it; we hope he is not one of them." I tried to give them a very good impression in regard to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am anxious to continue the testimony I paid to him on his appointment, but he can only justify that by the action he will take. He has taken action with regard to small holdings. He is going a 2697 certain way, but, as I pointed out the other day, he is only going a very little way. It is like an infant travelling in the night. We have had experience, which has been testified to on both sides of the House, and particularly by the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead, that the success of small holdings justifies a large Measure, and not a small one, for the extension of small holdings. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is going such a little way. The hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead said that the agricultural committees have the facts in their own particular areas, but, if only the right hon. Gentleman had them, he would be in a much better position. I do not mean the mere report of a political economist or some faddist or other. We want the facts. Someone suggested that the Minister might get them in the same way that the Secretary of State for Scotland gets his facts, but I suggest a much more ready source of information. If the right hon. Gentleman will come down to the East Riding of Yorkshire, he will soon be put in possession of a great many facts that will be very useful to the Ministry but we want to go further than that.
What is the problem? It is really a matter of the condition of the river hank. That is another very important matter. Take one of the most extensively flooded areas I know in this country. What is the trouble? Is it that there is no money to drain it? No. Is it that people are not anxious to have it improved? That is not altogether the point. The difficulty is this. You have the Ouse running eastward. You have the Derwent, a smaller river, running westward, and one meets the other. The stronger water coming down the Ouse running eastward backs all the water up the Derwent that wants to run westward, and you get hundreds if not thousands of acres of good land flooded simply because the river, instead of running into the Ouse, wants turning the other way. [Laughter.]It is not such a difficult thing to do as some hon. Members opposite would suggest. All you have to accomplish—and it would provide a very ready means of absorbing a little unemployed labour in that area—is simply to cut through a neck of about a mile and a-half in width and you would soon 2698 alter the Derwent, from running westward, into running in the same direction as the Ouse. The two would join a mile and a-half lower down and you would save thousands of acres from being overflowed, sometimes for six months in the year. If the authorities had these things put before them, you would very soon find that the agriculture problem was not so difficult of accomplishment as they evidently think it at the moment.
I am anxious that the agricultural policy of the country should partake a little less of a political character and a little more of a continuous character, that there should be certain broad lines of agricultural policy laid down, and that it should be the business of each successive Government, whatever its party colour or its political principles, to carry the policy out in little bits. That would be a great advantage to the agricultural community and to the country as a whole. Something has been said on the success of small holdings. We have been told of the very large number of people who are still anxious to be smallholders. But that takes no account whatever of the very large number of people who are not applying because they are so disgusted with the large number who have applied and the small opportunities they have had of being put upon the land. If you could only get the demand clarified you need not fear at all. Some people have the idea that land for small holdings would be very difficult to get. Since the Small Holdings Bill of the right hon. Gentleman was introduced the authority with which I am associated has had 1,500 acres offered in one lot and between three and four hundred acres offered in another My regret about the Government's small holdings policy is this. We have been waiting for it for a very long time. We had a White Paper, but we got no Bill. Now the Bill has come at the tail end of the Session, and we are not going to have anything finished before the end of the year, if we get it then. The Minister should begin at once, and begin at the right end. He should begin with an agricultural survey and get at the facts. Then let him sketch out a broad policy, which may be a policy not only for the present Government but for all successive Governments to complete and carry on as they come in their turn.
§ Major PRICE
There are one or two facts which have emerged from the Debate so far, but the principal fact that has not emerged is what sort of survey is required. The survey that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) wants is to pick out two or three typical counties and take a survey the same as the Secretary of State for Scotland obtained in one County, and deduce certain agricultural facts from it. I do not know whether that would commend itself to the hon. Member who proposed it. If so, I do not think, if such a survey be made, it will be of the slightest value to agriculture as a whole. We have in every county an agricultural committee and agricultural organiser and an agricultural staff. Each county can make its report, as it does make its report, to the Ministry of Agriculture and from it can be gauged with accuracy the condition of agriculture in each county. All the information that any survey will give is already at hand and it only requires to be used.
There are many reasons, which vary with every county, why agriculture is not flourishing. One party has a remedy. It was suggested, I think on Saturday, in the agricultural county of Surrey by the Leader of the Opposition, that he only had one remedy for agricultural depression, and that was nationalisation of the land. Whatever his supporters may suggest, it is certain that if they are going to put forward any other remedy it has not got the support of their Leader. Now we have a request for this survey in order that an agricultural policy shall be based upon it. The Leader of the Liberal party has already adumbrated his agricultural policy. He has laid it down in the Green Book and in the revised edition. We know that his solution is small tenancy—that there shall he created a whole host of small tenancies under the guidance of certain councils apportioned in the different counties. We have had that backed up by a Member of the Labour party, who told us of the great and flourishing state of agriculture in Denmark. Undoubtedly agriculture is flourishing in Denmark, and I think a great deal of it is due to the spirit of co-operation, but tenancy has nothing whatever to do with it because the tenancy is 99 per 2700 cent. small ownership, with which they will have nothing to do either in the Liberal party or the Labour party, and for which we are the only champions.
The question of co-operative marketing is a very serious one, and I think the Ministry of Agriculture could take some steps by propaganda to try to bring about a feeling in favour of co-operative marketing in the minds of the farmers. Co-operative buying is a simple proposition, but co-operative marketing is entirely different and infinitely more troublesome to carry out. The few attempts which have been made in the country districts have generally resulted in disaster to those who made them, and in ruin, in my part of West Wales, to the farmers who gave guarantees, relying on the Government of the day helping them through. But, undoubtedly, cooperative marketing with small holdings is an absolute essential if you are going to make a small holdings scheme a success. One of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley), and who agreed with hon. Members opposite that small holdings were a signal success, must, I think, be based either upon a misunderstanding of what is a signal success or on a misunderstanding of small holdings. If it be a signal success from the point of view of putting people on the land, much of the criticism which they have given us is baseless. If it he a signal success from the economic point of view, I only ask them to turn to the accounts and to realise the amount of loss small holdings have caused the country up to date. I do not want to labour the point very much, but we have in my own county selected our tenants with the greatest care. They are all doing well, but the amount of loss the country has suffered is just about equal to the amount of rent we get.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is inviting the hon. and gallant Gentleman into the dangerous path of discussing legislation, which would be out of order.
§ Major PRICE
I did not suggest that the loss had fallen upon the county. I suggested that there had been a loss upon the scheme, and it does not matter whether it falls upon the county or the country. If the loss be there, it is an uneconomic matter and one which should not be encouraged.
§ Major PRICE:
It is due to the fact that when you create small holdings you have to equip them. The cost of equipment of a small holding is very nearly as much as the value of the land itself, and you therefore have to treble the rent in order to get a return. In our county we have had no failures. There has been no return of land in the hands of the county' council. The loss, taken as a whole, on the small holdings estate in the county of Pembroke is very nearly 100 per cent. The rent roll is about £5,000 and the loss is about £5,000.
§ Major PRICE
I do not think that interruption has any relevancy. Whether the loss falls upon one body or another., it comes either out of the taxpayer or the ratepayer.
§ Major PRICE
If it be a charge it is a loss. When we turn from small holdings as they are administered by the county council and look at small holdings as administered by the Government, the loss is a startling one. I have here the figures for one farm settlement for eight years. There is loss after loss, amounting on the working account to £28,829 2702 and on the Treasury account to £57,868. There you have a heavy loss on farms carried out under State control, with the whole backing of State machinery and State knowledge. Now we are asked that there shall be another return, a return which is in the hands of every county council to-day, and a return which can only be used in the ultimate end by the county councils themselves. The knowledge is there and can he applied. Undoubtedly small holdings are of the greatest value. We wish to encourage them in every possible way, and we wish to continue the benefit to agriculture by the continuity in policy which has been suggested by hon. Members opposite. When this Government came into power they asked for the right to create such a policy from those engaged in agriculture. They asked the farm labourer. How were they met by him and the Labour party? ".Do not have anything to do with it." They asked the Farmers' Union. They were not at all keen on the job. They asked the landowner, and he was the only one who was in favour of it. But the result was that you could not get agreement amongst the parties themselves for a definite policy, and I am certain I am voicing the opinion of every agriculturist when I say, until such time as we get agreement, Heaven help us from State interference.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I rise chiefly to offer, from my own knowledge, one reason why there should be such a survey as is asked for. In the town in which I live and have been brought up there are three rivers converging. They have been silted up in the course of time by workings from coal pits, and now every year, sometimes eight times in the year, all the land over about 14 miles is flooded. It is not only in one county but in three counties. It is not land held by one landowner. It is held by 50 or 60 owners. It is not one man's job to move the silt out of the river. If one man did it it would not matter. His land in turn would be flooded by the overflow from other people's land. Unless we can get a survey, unless we can get to know accurately what changes are required to give us power to deal with a situation of that kind, we are faced with the fact that about 14 miles of splendid arable land is going out of cultivation and going back to waste. It is not only that, the roads are flooded away every year, and 2703 I make bold to say, though I cannot get the figures from the Minister of Transport—and I know hon. Members opposite have endeavoured to get them too—that the cost to the State during the past eight years in reconditioning the roads has been far more than would have totally purchased the whole of the land in question. There is a case where a survey is absolutely essential. It is not a party matter. Hon. Members opposite have asked the Minister to give us something time and again. We have written to the Board of Agriculture, and we have raised it in the House. Unless we can get a survey we are helpless. That is one illustration of the vital necessity of a survey. The hon. Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) said there was no argument for a survey because of any reduction in the agricultural population.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
During the last 17 years, and these figures are official, there has been a reduction of 30 per cent. in the number of adult males engaged in agriculture in Scotland. There is no other country in Europe that can show such a terrific decline during that period—30 per cent. or one-third of the total agricultural population wiped out.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
It is nothing like so bad. if it can be proven that 30 per cent. or one-third of the agricultural population have disappeared from the land during a period of 17 years, surely that fact alone warrants a survey, and warrants it with the united backing of every party in this House. What the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Price) said about co-operation was correct. if we are to give the smallholders a chance, we must take every possible step to secure a market for their produce at a decent price, and we cannot do that if we allow the smallholders to fend for themselves under the most severe handicap and the greatest difficulty. Here, again,' there is an illustration available of what we want. The Secretary of State for Scotland has in his possession a Report, which he will issue to any hon. Member who demands it, but for 2704 some reason he will not publish it. It is a report of agricultural co-operation in the Orkney Islands, and it is most remarkable. It was started almost haphazardly, at the instance of one private landowner. What has been the result l Here in the Orkneys, separated from the mainland by wild and stormy seas, and with every possible difficulty in the way of transport, purchase and sale, these people, by virtue of agricultural cooperation—they have set up co-operative societies to dispose of their poultry and produce in the Scottish markets of Leith and Edinburgh—are now getting 4d. more per dozen for their eggs than the individualist producer near to Edinburgh, on the mainland.
§ Major PRICE
I think the reason probably why Orkney is getting this advantage is that there is not the haggler at the door there.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
There are plenty of hagglers there. It is because the Orkney people back up their co-operative societies that they are able to carry through their business.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
There is not any place where there were more hagglers, and it is because of the hagglers that the agricultural co-operative societies were started there. Note the identity of the hagglers. They are the private adventurers under the individualist system, which the hon. Members opposite are always hoping for. The hagglers went round the islands with old suits of clothes, pairs of boots, chests of tea or pounds of tea, exchanging these commodities for the eggs. The producers were swindled both ways. Because of these hagglers, because of these private adventurers, whom hon. Members opposite are always proud to support—the report in the possession of the Secretary of State for Scotland shows it—they only got 4d a dozen for their eggs, but under the agricultural co-operation system the price of eggs rose to is. 6d, a dozen. Why should not we have a survey? Why should we not get to know all the facts? The more knowledge we have the better position we shall be in to use our privileges and power in this House to bring 2705 about a satisfactory change in our agricultural conditions. For the life of me, I cannot understand why so many hon. Members opposite should for one reason or another try to prevent the Secretary of State for Scotland continuing the work he is doing in getting his agricultural survey, or to prevent the Minister of Agriculture in England proceeding on the same lines.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Guinness)
This is not the first Debate, by any means, which has taken place on the subject of agricultural statistics and the necessity for a census of agricultural production, in the last 18 months. This subject is becoming something in the nature of an August bank holiday topic. The House devoted considerable attention to it in the Debate which took place on the 3rd August. last year. I had hoped to hear the opinions of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) before I spoke. He has taken a very leading part in the previous Debates, and he asked for this opportunity for debate, and. I think it would have been much more helpful if I had had his considered opinion as to what ought to be done in the way of a census, before I attempted to deal with what has been said.
The proposals made this afternoon have grown, in comparison with the proposals made last year. The proposals last year were much more modest. We have been told by the hon. and gallant. Member for Montrose Burghs. (Sir R. Hutchison) and the hon. Member for the Welsh University (Mr. E. Evans) what that section of Liberal opinion would like to see included. Some of those subjects are already covered by the measures which we are taking in connection with the census of agricultural production, and by the work of the Oxford Institute for Research into agricultural economics. For instance, the hon. and gallant Member for Montrose Burghs said that he wanted information as to how the land was used. We give very complete statistics on that subject in the first part of our annual agricultural statistics. We have been asked this afternoon for a drainage survey. We have already carried out what we consider is a sufficiently detailed survey, with the help of the local authorities, of the land in need of drainage, to enable us to form a 2706 policy. I have on a previous occasion given figures of the land which is waterlogged and the smaller amount of land which can be improved by drainage operations.
We have been told, I think by the same hon. Member, that it is necessary to have evidence as to the kinds of farming which pay in different districts, and on different types of farms. That is being covered by the very exhaustive inquiry, covering 1,500 farms, of which I will give further details, which is being carried out by the Oxford Institute. We have been told by several speakers that we ought to have a survey of land which needs lime. That is not a matter which can he dealt with by a. casual inspection.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
Perhaps the "Morning Post " may not have realised the machinery which already exists for advising farmers as to the benefit which they can expect by the addition of lime. We have a staff of agricultural advisers attached to each of the big agricultural colleges and university departments of agriculture—something over 50 altogether. Besides that, there are the agricultural organisers, appointed in the counties. These staffs are in constant touch with the farmers, testing their soils and advising them as to the treatment to adopt. If hon. Members will go to any of the various agricultural institutes such as Rothamsted they will see the very ingenious and fool-proof methods which have been worked out, so that by simple chemical tests the farmer is enabled to learn for himself by taking a small sample of soil front every field or from every part of a field, what areas in his farm are in need of this and other methods of soil improvement. We believe that this matter can he dealt with far better by these methods, and by propaganda among the individual farmers, than by a widespread census, which really would not give the information or furnish the means of helping the farmer to put things right.
We have been told that we ought to have a census to show what land is available for small holdings. I think the hon. Member for the Welsh University raised that point. I am absolutely puzzled AS to what is meant by that statement. 2707 There clearly is no land available at the moment for small holdings, because small holdings naturally need the best land, and the best land is practically in ail cases in agricultural occupation. I do not see that a census of the land would be any help in that direction. The qualities of the land are fully known to the local authorities who would responsible for acquiring land for small holdings. That is not a subject which can be dealt with sufficiently by any method of wide inspection. I was glad to note that attention is being devoted to other departments. We have been told that we ought to have a census of transportation. We were also urged to institute inquiry into educational facilities.
Coming to the economic side, the hon. and gallant Member for Montrose Boroughs, who has a great knowledge, as I know, of certain classes of cereals, said that we ought to set up machinery apparently for tracing out the transactions in wheat, barley and potatoes. That is a very large measure, and I do not imagine that any section of the community concerned would welcome the control or the form of interference which would be involved by that investigation. I do not in any way complain of the desire of hon. Members in various parts of the House for the maximum of information, but we have to remember that information costs money, and we are bound to see whether we are going to get an adequate return. At the present time, we are spending on our annual agricultural returns £32,600. On the census of production, the agricultural section, we are spending £13,600. The Oxford Institute for Research into Agricultural Economics receives a grant of £6,000. Should we be justified in adding to this very considerable expenditure, in these times of financial difficulty, the £100,000 or £200,000 which would certainly be necessary for the meticulous inspection of the land which has been suggested?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Is the right hon. Gentleman going to tell us what information he hopes to get under the census of production, and also from the Oxford experiments.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
Certainly I will do my best. It is a little difficult to 2708 describe statistics in a speech and more difficult to do so in a form that is readily understood. Let me deal a little more with the objects which hon. Members have in asking for this census. What they hope for is some report as to the quality of cultivation. I have not heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs develop his views this afternoon, but last year he said:The first thing to find out is 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 of those districts and more employment furnished.That is another form of the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has so widely made—My second question would be as to the instances where, by improved cultivation, land has increased largely its yield, and employment had been increased. That is the real test. " — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1925; cols. 1012-13, Vol. 187.]The right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who have spoken clearly want something very different from the usual statistical returns which we furnish. They want not well-founded information, but opinions as to the possibility of increased production. I suggest that any such opinions would be misleading and valueless unless based on the economic factor of prices. That must be the dominating consideration in agriculture, whether it is run by the State, as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norfolk North (Mr. Buxton), or whether it continues in the hands of private enterprise. Information as to the possibility of increased production as the result of inspection by experts would only be conclusive if based upon costs. That would mean the right of access to farms and books, and I am sure it would be regarded as a very inquisitorial inquiry by those who would come under its operation. Already I get a great many letters from people who are indignant as to our curiosity and who suggest, most unjustly, that our existing returns, which I think are well thought out and necessary, have been suggested to us by civil servants who want to make jobs for themselves and their friends. I can imagine what my correspondents would say if we went further and came to Parliament, as we should have to, for compulsory powers to enter into farms in order to examine their business for those 2709 details on which alone you can make a report as to the possibility of increased production really valuable.
There is no industry in this or in any other country which has been more thoroughly examined than agriculture in the last few years. During the War, we had Lord Selborne's Committee on Agricultural Policy. Then we had the Linlithgow Committee, which carried out a painstaking and most useful research into prices of produce which we are now occupied in carrying into effect in, various directions. Then, at the request of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, we appointed the Agricultural Tribunal. The right hon. Gentleman occasionally quotes carefully selected passages from the Report of that Tribunal, but he has never tackled what they themselves point out is the fundamental issue—namely, that the maintenance or an increase of the arable area of this country depends on the willingness of the nation to pay for it, whether by import duties, by subsidies or a guaranteed price. I do not forget that the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for the policy of the Corn Production Act, but, unfortunately, in addition to being the author of that policy, he was afterwards its assassin. The facts of the situation are really not in dispute. There is a dispute as to the conclusions which can be drawn from the published figures and as to the remedy which should be applied. But here again there is no lack of literature. First in the field we have the right hon. Gentleman's Green Book; next to it in point of bulk is the Red Book, which we expect shortly from right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and last in point of bulk, but first, I hope, in point of utility, is the White Paper of the present Government.
I fully recognise that the country is entitled to be supplied regularly with the most up-to-date and comprehensive information that is possible. The annual statistics which have been published are admitted to be as accurate as those of any other country. I have looked this morning at those in America to which the hon. Member opposite referred, and they really do not go any further than the ground we are covering and shall cover by the special inquiries which are now taking place. The first new factor in statistics which will be valuable will be 2710 the report based on the agricultural section of the census of production. I hope it will be published before the end of the year. It will give the information necessary to ascertain the aggregate output completely and accurately, it will furnish information as to the growth of production, of crops and livestock, the gross output of products sold off the land, and, what necessarily must be more in the nature of an estimate, the net output in terms of value, representing the balances which are secured, and available for rent, rates and taxes, wages and profits. Information will be included as to the labour employed, and estimates will be given as to the capital invested.
In recent Debates there has been a good deal of comment as to the 6,000,000 acres of land which is unaccounted for in the agricultural return. We know that 2,000,000 acres is represented by woods and forests, but the remainder, which is covered by towns, villages, factories, mines, recreation grounds, private houses, is being carefully examined by our staff of 300 crop reporters, and we hope to be able to report how far there is a substantial area of potential agricultural land included in that 4,000,000 acres. The Report will cover a very wide and new area of facts, but it will not deal with the possibility of increasing the production of this area or that, or give any opinion as to what may be the maximum capacity of this country. Short of a visitation of farm by farm and a careful examination of books and records, an opinion on this point must be valueless. A decrease in production may not be due to inefficiency or to bad methods, or bad management. It may be due to poor land, low prices, and bad seasons, and nothing but a careful examination of books and costs would really give the explanation. Opinions would be inconclusive, and if they did not bear out the views of hon. Members opposite, which they have so often expressed, I feel sure they would hold that it was because of the instructions on which the investigators set out on their task. We shall give definitely ascertainable facts and a complete statistical picture of the present stage of British agriculture and the changes which have taken place in the last few years.
I come to the Report which is being prepared by the Institute of Agricultural 2711 Economics Research at Oxford. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has seen this book. It is difficult to summarise it, but I will do my best. The institute is engaged upon an agricultural survey, designed to secure data for the study of farm economics as a whole on the lines which have been made familiar by the work of American farm economists. A letter and schedule have been sent to upwards of 1,500 farmers, and after they have had time to collect the information—they are to be personally visited by investigators to clear up points which are in doubt and to help the farmers to fill up all the information required. The reports are then taken back to Oxford and tabulated and statements are made showing—these are only examples—the value of production on particular farms of various sizes, the influence of the size of the farm on the nature of the farming business, the influence of the type of the farm on the labour requirements of the farm, the influence of the size and type of the holding on labour efficiency, the influence of the type of farm on the use of manures, and the relation of crop yields to rent of farms. They will further throw new light on many important economic aspects of farming, some of them questions which often form the subject of political controversy, such as the most efficient size of farm for a particular kind of farming. They will also show the economic factors which influence the system of management, and bring out the conditions which make for the success of small farms and small holdings, and the most suitable types of equipment, stock, etc., required. It will afford definite and considered data as to the methods of marketing produce. Hon. Members will admit that this work of the Oxford Institute will fulfil the same purpose and cover .a much wider area than the inquiry covering 300 farms in Kincardineshire which has been instituted by my right hon. Friend beside me.
Apart from these special inquiries which we hope to see realised in a few months, the Ministry have appointed eleven advisory economists, attached to the principal agricultural colleges and university departments. These economists 2712 are collecting information from the farmers in their areas.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
There are 11 different centres to which they are attached, and they deal with their own -areas. I think perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will realise the work which is being done if I say it includes the work of Mr. Ashby at Aberystwyth; Dr. Ruston, attached to Leeds University; and Mr. Venn at Cambridge. These investigators have great experience and believing, as we do, that skill in management is the most important factor in good farming, we attach great importance to obtaining and spreading reliable information on the true economic position and the best conditions for various types of farms in their own localities.
Finally, and this has been mentioned this afternoon, we arc pressing on with our inquiries into marketing. We hope to obtain greater information, which may help farmers to secure a fairer share of the profits of the home market which now so often escapes. I believe that any really reasonable demand for agricultural information is now being fully met, and that nothing will be gained by a roving inquiry as to whether the land is farmed to its maximum capacity without regard to the, economic factors of cost and price and the profit to be obtained by embarking capital on farming as compared with other industries. At the same time I am by no means contending that all is well and that there is no room for improvement, but I believe the way to improvement will be found by these inquiries which are taking place. It is common ground that there are disquieting features evident to everyone in British agriculture, and it is also obvious all the farming is not up to the level of the best. But is that peculiar to agriculture? Is it not equally true of every other of our great staple industries, and must we not remember that the farmer is peculiarly liable to the law of diminishing returns, and that many of them have had bitter lessons of the truth of the saying that high farming is not a remedy for low prices. We have had a terrible experience for the farmer in the steady and uniform drop in prices, and the index number is now lower than it has been since the War.
Considering that, and considering the reduction of the purchasing power of the 2713 community by unemployment in connection with our present difficulties, it is in no way surprising that there should be at the present time a certain agricultural depression, but we must surely remember that it is not only here but all over the world that agriculture has to face these exceptional difficulties in trying to recover the position which was shattered by the transformation which took place during the War. Nowhere has there been a greater convulsion than in the farming of the United States, in spite of the abounding commercial prosperity with which American farmers have been surrounded. I think it is not only unwise but unjust continually to be depreciating and criticising the services which the British farmer tries to render to the community in the face of the most formidable difficulties. Ought we not rather to remember that there is no industry in which so much capital has been employed for a return lower than the owner could enjoy if he abandoned the struggle, realised his assets, and invested them in gilt-edged securities? Agriculture, as has been said this afternoon by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley), is a slow-moving industry, and must, owing to the differences of soil and conditions" be an intensely personal industry. We cannot hope for any short cut, by an agricultural census or any other means, to the millennium. In the opinion of the Government, the road to the revival of prosperity will be found on the lines of the White Paper, by trying to strengthen the weak places and to discover and teach better methods of production and by removing the obstacles which hamper the free and fair play of private enterprise.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The Minister of Agriculture is rather disposed to complain that I did not speak before he got up. My explanation is that I had already put my ease once or twice on the question of the survey, and I wanted to know what he proposed. I am not in the least sorry that I postponed what I had to say until after his reply, for I think it has been so far the most satisfactory answer to which I have had the privilege of listening from him, and I hope he will go a good deal further next time. The right bon. Gentleman gave an indication of two or three inquiries of first-class importance 2714 which will elicit information of the very greatest importance, and which will be helpful from many points of view as far as those who believe that the restoration of the countryside is the most important, social and economic problem of the day are concerned. There are some who think that there is one method which will achieve that end, and there are others who think you must have different methods, but what matters is that there is a growing opinion as to the gravity of the conditions and as to the importance of something being done from some point of view to restore the condition of food production in this country.
Before I come to the detailed answer given by the right hon. Gentleman, I should like to make one or two general observations as to what fell from him and other speakers. Let rue say at once, there is no attack on the British farmer. I think the British farmer, under the conditions, is making the very best of his industry, and our complaint has bean that the conditions are not favourable for him to make the best use of his ability and that they do not encourage him to expend capital and to do what people in other industries are prepared to do. Our complaint is rather with regard to the conditions under which he works. I am not entitled to go into that question now because that would involve legislation, but I want to make it quite clear that our charge is not against the farmer, or his skill, his ability, his knowledge, or his industry, quite the reverse. I think, having regard to the conditions under which he works, he has achieved marvels, but our opinion is that the conditions ought to be altered in respect of tenure. in respect of the kind of assistance the Government gives him, in respect. of transport and marketing, and in respect of credit. All these conditions ought to be changed, and, until they are changed, the British farmer cannot make the best' out of his business. That is all I want to say with regard to that point, but I would not like it to be thought that we are asking for a survey in order to show what a bad job the British farmer is making of his industry. That is not our case.
The right hon. Gentleman brought a very serious charge against me, a charge of murder and infanticide. He said I was the parent of the Corn Production Act and that afterwards I assassinated 2715 it. Neither of those statements is correct. I am not repudiating in the least responsibility for the Corn Production Act, because it was a- very essential Act in the conditions in which it was introduced. It was done in order to increase the production of food in this country at a time when communications were very precarious, and when it was a matter of calculation from one day to another whether we should have enough food to go through. At one moment we were with only about two months' supply in this country, and we had to devise every conceivable means to increase- production of food here. My impression is that Lord Selborne was the first to suggest it, and the driving force was very largely Lord Milner, whose views on this subject are well known to the right hon. Gentleman. He took a very large and statesmanlike view in my judgment of the essential need of some agricultural policy for the life and security of this country. He was largely responsible, but I myself did use the whole of my influence as Prime Minister to support him.
When you come to the question of how the thing came to an end, it was partly the responsibility of the Treasury and partly that of the House of Lords. It was an unholy conspiracy between the Treasury and the House of Lords that destroyed that Bill. The House of Lords, if the right hon. Gentleman will recollect, threw out the one condition under which the subsidy was granted, and that was the condition in regard to cultivation. They cut that out. The result was that there was not the same inducement for a subsidy, and the Treasury then came in and thought this was the opportunity to get rid of the whole thing, and they did so. We had unfortunately guaranteed, not merely wheat, but oats. The Scotsman said he had no interest in wheat, and the Irishman said the same thing, and they asked, " Why should all the money go to England? If there be any fat going, the Scotsmen ought to have their share."
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Undoubtedly, and Wales. It was said, " If you are going to give a guarantee to the English wheat production, where do we come in? " As a matter of fact, looking back 2716 on it, I think it was a mistake. It was essential during the War that you should produce oats and barley as well as wheat, but after the War I do not think it was essential, and I think it would have been wiser to have confined it to wheat. If that had been done, there would have been a very different story to tell, because oats suddenly broke in the market, and it involved a loss of something like £15,000,000 to £20,000,000, mostly over oats. That really broke the Corn Production Act. I am only defending myself against this charge of murder and infanticide which was brought against me.
The other point I want to make is with regard to what fell from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Major Price). I think his argument was a perfectly fair one, but he quite missed the point. The loss was very largely over the settlement of soldiers and ex-service men on the land, and that was due to conditions which do not exist at the present moment. You had to undertake the settlement of soldiers on the land immediately after the War, because there was a promise given when you were recruiting—a recruiting promise—that when they came back everything would be done to try and get them settled on the land. It was felt, therefore, to be a question not of cash but of honour. It was the same sort of promise as was given in the days of the Roman Empire. It is the sort of promise that has been given in almost every great war undertaken in the history of the world. And there has been always the same difficulty, the difficulty of the cash and the land. You had to redeem it at a time when building cost three times and even four times as much as before the. War. You could not consider the question economically, for it involved an obligation of honour. That is why the £18,000,000 or £20,000,000 was voted. We knew that we could not possibly build at less than three or four times the pre-War cost, and equipment cost so much that we could not possibly let at a rate which was economic. That loss was a calculated loss; it was a loss which the House of Commons knew perfectly well would have to Be faced. It is unfair, therefore, to charge the small holdings policy with something which had reference to that very special condition, when the House of Commons 2717 deliberately ignored the loss in order to discharge its obligation of honour to the recruit.
§ Major PRICE
My point was that the losses had been incurred, spread over, not the years immediately after the War, but the eight years since the War, and that losses had been incurred within the last two or three years. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can suggest that the cost of building is going immediately to fall because that particular Act has passed away. The cost of building will be the same, or approximately the same, next year as this, and the loss will go on.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite wrong. The losses which he quoted are losses incurred from the obligations of the first few years after the War.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I have not the actual documents here, and I do not think that anything will be gained by my saying "Yes" and the hon. and gallant Member saying "No."
§ Major PRICE
We were blamed for not getting to work directly after the War. The loss was not incurred in the first few years.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The £18,000,000 was expended in the main in respect of settlements immediately after the War. I know that from experience. One of the difficulties that we had in Scotland was that we came to a point where the cost of equipment was so high, owing to the cost of building, that we had to decide whether it was possible to go on. We found it extraordinarily difficult. But the cost of building has come down to something approximating an economic level. I am not saying that the community will not have to face a certain amount of expenditure if we are going to put the countryside right. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health is bringing in a Bill to-morrow under which he is going to face a, certain obligation. It is the same with regard to general housing. I do not believe that you will put the countryside right without facing a certain expenditure, in order to make up for the past. That is one of the things to be considered. However, I am not going into that question, because it 2718 raises a very large issue. I turn rather to the question of detail of the investigation. I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman, who is prepared to have the kind of investigation these Oxford gentlemen are initiating, cannot go further. He says that it will involve an inquisitorial investigation into the accounts. Unless these gentlemen have an inquisitorial investigation their report will be of no use at all. What is there to be done? They are to get the costings in all these 1,500 farms. I was very glad to hear that it was to be done.
I know Professor Rushton and the others. They cannot come to conclusions until they get every figure that the farmers can give them. That involves a complete account by 1,500 farmers of what their farms cost, their expenditure and their receipts, and then a balance will be worked out. Unless the investigators get details the reports will be of no use. I do not think that there will be the difficulty which the right hon. Gentleman imagines. They will get the 1,500 agriculturists who are working in that area to supply the accounts, provided that the names are not given. The latter point is of importance, for a man does not want to have all his accounts published. As long as there is a guarantee given by the investigators that the castings will not be published, they will get the information. I am in a mood to urge rather than to criticise, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, before he finally makes up his mind, whether he cannot go further. Why does he not go as far as his colleague beside him, the Secretary of State for Scotland? Let them talk over the subject together. Through the courtesy of my right hon. Friend, I have had supplied a report of what he is doing in Kincardineshire. There you have a whole county where A, survey has been undertaken, and a very searching survey.
The Minister of Agriculture asks, " Are you going to have an inquisitorial investigation? " I do not like to use the word " inquisitorial," but this Kincardine inquiry is a very searching examination of accounts. The method employed in carrying out this survey was, briefly, as follows: Every individual farm and holding, over 30 acres arable, was visited. Then a full account of the profits and the costings was 2719 obtained. As far as I can see from the Report, no one withheld any information. On the contrary, they very readily granted the information. Certainly, I see here no account of any resentment on the part of the farmers in Kincardineshire, nor would there be elsewhere as long as it was known that the information was gathered in the interests of agriculture, that it was not obtained for any political purpose, nor in order to report to the agent or to show up any landlord or estate, but to get general information as to the state of agriculture in a particular county. Every farmer would be treated in the same way, and as long as it is known that you are not picking and choosing, the farmers would not complain.
I had exactly the same experience with the Census of Production Act. I remember the father of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, coming to me behind the Speaker's Chair and saying, "of course you will have the charge made that you are inquisitorial. They brought the same charge against me in respect of some other Act which I introduced." Then he said. " is worth while facing it." We had to get the most detailed information with regard to the yield of businesses, and whether there was a rival enterprise, and the most important thing was to make it perfectly clear that information would not be given to anyone else, but that it would be used in the aggregate for the purpose of knowing the state of industry in the country. I shall never forget the interview that I had with the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion, or the valuable advice which he gave me before I introduced the Bill. It is equally true here. If we convince the farmer that the information is required, not to annoy and harass him, but in order to get information upon which to base a policy for improving agriculture as a whole, no difficulty will he experienced.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for 'Scotland has experienced no difficulty in Kincardineshire. That was a. very searching investigation. I would have liked it to go a little further. The investigation was not inquisitorial at all. I would like the question to be put " Is there a shortage of houses? " There is 2720 no reason why that question should not be asked. That information would be very useful from the point of view of the County Council, and the County Council might be able to answer it. The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Price) seems to think they could do it. Why could not the Minister of Agriculture do it. I hope that we shall have another opportunity of pressing him on the subject, and that he will go still further than he has gone. He has gone very much further than he has given any indication of up to the present. There is a good deal of the information he is getting which will be invaluable, especially after the searching examination as to the 1,500 farms in that area. Why should he not do as has been done in Scotland and take one or two counties, if he thinks six are too many? He might take one or two typical counties.
There is no one here who knows agriculture better than the hon. Member for Forfar (Sir H. Hope). He made a very interesting speech. His scientific farming is an example to the poor Southerner, who does not always achieve the same measure of success. The hon. Gentleman said that farming in this country is very good. That may be the case. But I notice that he took certain counties. For instance, there was Lincolnshire. There is no doubt at all that for very special reasons there has been a very great success in Lincolnshire, but Lincolnshire is not a typical county, and it does not represent the whole of England in respect of the amount of produce that you get out of the soil or the quality of it. Even in choosing counties in Scotland he chose some of the best, and I think he knows that he did so. You must take agriculture as a whole. This is not merely a question for farmers or agricultural labourers. It is a question for the country as a whole. It is a question of food production, a question of employment, a question of reviving the countryside. It is no use saying that agriculture is merely suffering like any other industry. These symptoms were almost as true with regard to agriculture before the War as after the War. It has been a gradual decay. The population has been leaving the land. The output has not been maintained. Since the War there have been special conditions which do not apply to any other industry. This is a 2721 thing which the right hon. Gentleman always ignores, and it is one of the things that a survey of Britain would bring out.
The capitalist in agriculture is no longer in a position to spend the necessary cash in order to keep up the land. It is not a question merely of drainage on a large scale, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for East Bradford (Mr. Fenby), who wanted to divert some river from the east to the west—no doubt a most admirable scheme. I am not referring to cases of that kind. Look at the speech of the Minister's predecessor, who criticised Welsh agriculture and talked about neglected drainage and land becoming waterlogged. It is not a question of great areas being swamped by floods, but a question of general deterioration. I wish that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland would supply the Minister of Agriculture with a few copies of the Scottish Report on Agriculture. For instance, there is the Report which he issued with regard to the condition of drainage in Scotland, where he points out that a good deal of the drainage of Scotland had been very largely neglected because of the lack of capital, and that the land was becoming waterlogged. It is because you have general deterioration owing to the fact that the landlord his not any longer the necessary cash for the purpose of keeping it up. [Interruption.] I do not know what there is to say about that. That is so. The taxation of the War has reduced the surplus which the landlord has available for the purpose of spending upon drainage and other things. I hope, having started this investigation, the right hon. Gentleman will persevere in well-doing and will extend the area of his inquiry.