§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
To-day's opportunity is being taken of drawing attention to the state of agriculture and of inquiring from the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture what steps he and his Department propose to take for dealing with the problems which are pressing more urgently on that industry year by year. In order that our survey might be as accurate as possible, we urged, some two years ago, that one of the first things necessary, both for those who were connected with agriculture outside of the House and for those who were responsible to this House for the administration of the Department, was that there should be a complete survey, county by county, of every aspect of agriculture and of horticulture. We urged more than once in the course of the Debates in 1925 that, until this was done, it would be impossible, either for the Government to frame their schemes with any due sense of proportion, or for those who outside were attempting to deal with these problems to come to them with a sufficient supply of well-established facts to make their judgment worth listening to.
Since that request was made in the House—and I believe it was acceded to with a good deal of readiness by Lord Irwin when he was Minister of Agriculture—steps were taken, through Mr. Thompson, to compile a Report covering the whole of the various problems which have to be met by the individual farmer, landowner, county administrator, and the Department itself, and I would like to take this opportunity of saying that a more excellent Report I have seldom read. It covers the whole field, as far as it can be covered by one individual or by a Department that has not been able to devote much public money to its 890 investigation, most admirably, and it is certainly couched in a judicial temper which is one of the best characteristics of a Government Department. But there have come out in the course of this Report a large number of facts which only add to our anxiety and only make us feel that the state of agriculture in England is bad enough to make us realise that, whatever efforts are made by the Department and by the Government to aid agriculture, are well justified by the facts, but, of course, they must take their steps with some degree of knowledge.
The first and most outstanding fact of all is that there has been a steady decline in the cultivated area and, still more remarkable, in the tillage area of land in this country. What are the causes which have brought this about I propose to ask myself this afternoon and to give such answers as I can, but, in the first place, I would like to draw attention to the fact that the new valuation which appears in this document of the agricultural land of England is, as far as one can tell, based on the principles of land valuation adopted by the Surveyors Institution. There is no note in the Report to say whether this is so or not, but I gather from the public utterances of the Minister that when the Department arrive at the estimate that the value of agricultural land in this country is £815,000,000, they are working largely on the method of valuation adopted by the Surveyors' Institution. I do not know whether the Minister can throw any light on that fact or not. He probably remembers that there was some conversation across the Floor of this House the last time we debated agriculture. We should like to know whether the £815,000,000 is purely a problematical figure based on the principles which he enunciated, either in the House or in the course of correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George).
In contrast with that valuation of what might be called the owners' capital, the Report states that the tenants' capital comes to something like £360,000,000. I think, to most people, it will come as a matter of great surprise that the total should be so large and that it should be spread over such an immensely wide area. 891 Apparently, it works out at an average of about £19 per acre for the smaller holdings and at something like £ll 15s. per acre for farms of 500 acres and upwards. This is an enormous amount of capital to have invested in that one industry, and it is an indication of the fact that in farming the supply of capital is one of the major elements. Unless the supply of capital for farmers he adequate, it is quite clear that agriculture must be very severely crippled. The next fact under this heading which appears to be made clear by the Report is that the gross rent collected in this country from agricultural holdings of various kinds works out at about £42,000,000, and from this the Department makes a deduction of 53 per cent. for various purposes, thus making the net rent receivable only 47 per cent. of the total, or a sum of round about £20,000,000 per annum. I do not know for what reason that small percentage was taken, for as a rule in most parts of the country it is thought that 66 per cent. of the gross rent may be put under the heading of "net rent received by landowners." In any case, the fact remains, whether you take the smaller or larger figure, that the rent received by landlords of agricultural land is somewhere between 2½ per cent. and 3½ per cent., not less than 2½ per cent. and certainly not more than 3½ per cent. on the average. That is one of the facts which we must bear in mind when we are considering the question of the supply of capital for farming purposes.
What is the figure which the Department estimate is the current value of the output on the operations conducted with this large amount of capital—some £1,170,000,000? Last year the total value of the output was something like £225,000,000. Again, we are not given much information as to how the figure was reached, and there appear to be a good many omissions. For instance, sales as between farmers are omitted altogether, and I should like to know whether this means that the sale of cattle, say, from the West of Scotland to the farmers of the East of Scotland or the North-East of England are taken into account or are left out. In my view, £225,000,000 is too small a sum at which to place the total output for the 892 year. I should very much doubt whether the sum is under £250,000,000 per annum. In any case, that works out at the remarkable figure of less than £8 10s. per acre. If £8 10s. per acre be the average, and if the average rent, according to the returns of the Department, be 31s. per acre, it shows that there is still a sufficient margin in farming if conducted with intelligence to enable men to get a living out of it and to live comfortably and happily upon their holdings.
The means by which this has become possible has been almost a revolution in the methods of farming during our lifetime. At the present moment, at least two-thirds of the total value of the output which comes from farming is the product of the sale of livestock. I have no doubt that 100 years ago it was about half that, namely, about one-third of the total output. Crops played a very large part in the gross income, but now only about one-fifth comes from crops, and I gather that only one-tenth of the total output from farming is drawn from corn growing. This is a very remarkable fall and shows how rapidly has been the change in the nature of English and Welsh farming. The value of the output has been on the increase during the last two years. It has followed very closely the rise in the index figures for wholesale commodities, and the change in the value of money probably has a good deal to do with the height of the present figures for output. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the rise in the value of output is something like 77 per cent. over what it was in 1908, under 20 years ago. But the value of the output per acre appears to have gone up rather more than that. If I understand the report aright, it would suggest that the value per acre has gone up 88 per cent., which gives us some indication of improved farming over the tillage land that is still left and over cultivated pastures which are now an important part of British farming.
When we come to the final product of farming, we find that the output of meat has gone steadily down and is now 15 per cent. below what it was 20 years ago. The value of dairy products—poultry, eggs, and so on—have gone up, and the supply of milk to the people of this country is much larger now than it ever was, and it has become in many districts the most 893 profitable form of farming. If the value of the product has gone up, but if the main item, namely, livestock, has gone down, how far is that due to a change in the use which has been made of the land? I am inclined to think that outside influences have probably had more to do with it than any changes in the method of farming. Low freights and a decrease in refrigerator rates on board ship has probably led to a great change in the kind of meat eaten by the crowded populations of our towns. Far more frozen or chilled meat is eaten now than 20 years ago, and that has had a direct effect upon the livestock income of the British farmer.
If one makes a survey of the total areas, such as are there set out, not only in the Report itself but in the diagrams included in it, it appears to be quite clear that there still remains about 31,000,000 to 32,000,000 acres of land in this country which are devoted to agriculture and horticulture. This, of course, includes a large amount of rough grazing, pretty nearly 4,000,000 acres, but there is 31,000,000 or 32,000,000 acres of agricultural or horticultural land which is still cultivated. How much land that might be cultivated is not used? The Report declares that there is only about 420,000 acres of unused land in this country, and of that 420,000 acres a very large proportion is said to be swamp or scrub, common, heath, etc., which is not fit for grazing, building sites, recreation grounds, parks, and so on, leaving only 47,000 acres of usable land which is not used. I confess that this comes to me as a very great surprise, because, as I have moved about the country, I am quite certain that I have seen with my own eyes more than 47,000 acres which might be put to better use. I should like to know what the Minister has to say on that subject. Of course, one ignores altogether for the purposes of this discussion the fact that 4,000,000 acres in this country are covered by towns, roads, railway works, and other properties which are certainly not agricultural. But the change in the area of cultivated land has been remarkable during our lifetime. In 1871, not a very prosperous year for agriculture, but certainly a good deal better than the years which succeeded it, there were over 26,000,000 acres of cultivated land and that rose to 28,000,000 in 1891. It has now fallen in the past year to 25,750,000 acres. Under 894 the heading of cultivated land, I presume is included good grass lands, which are subject to treatment, and the produce of which can be improved by better manuring and better sowing. But the major problem, if I may suggest it, which the right hon. Gentleman has to meet is not in merely taking a large survey of these great national tendencies, but in stopping what is now a movement with very great force behind it, namely, the movement from arable to grass cultivation, from tillage to pasturage.
The change from 1871 to the present time is most remarkable. The right hon. Gentleman must be well aware of the fact that the tendency has not yet been checked, and that within the last 12 months there has been a very considerable area put down to permanent grass which will not be tilled in our time, unless some steps are taken to deal with the problem. We should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind as to the means by which he can put a stop to this tendency. Can he make any suggestions to the House, or give any indications of the directions in which his mind is working for dealing with what is now a very great problem in all our country areas? It is not merely a question of the change in the nature of our farming, but the fact that it must of necessity displace a large amount of agricultural labour. In a good many country districts the cottages are not now occupied as they were by agricultural labourers. People from the towns have taken their place. In many areas cottages have been long vacant, and in other areas there is- nothing like the number of cottages to go round. But the tendency is in most of the North, West and Midlands for more and more acres to be sown down, and I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman has anything whatever to say on this subject, whether he has any plans in his mind, whether he has given any instructions to those who are under him, or whether he can give any indication to farming authorities as to the best way of meeting what is becoming a more and more difficult problem.
In 1871, out of every 100 acres, at least 55 per cent. on the average in each county was arable, and only 44 per cent. grass. Now the figures are reversed. Only about 41 per cent. is arable, and 895 over 58 per cent. is grass, and the change-over is to be seen in a remarkable degree in the ways in which the agricultural population is employed. The tables which are published by the right hon. Gentleman have been taken mainly from the Census Returns of six years ago, but, on the whole, they show what the tendency has been, and it is remarkable that in comparison with 25 or 30 years before, there are more farmers, more relatives and more bailiffs and foremen employed than ever there were in the past. Oddly enough, although the tendency to grazing has been so largely on the increase, there is only about half the number of shepherds employed now that there were 50 years ago, and as for labourers, there has been a remarkable drop since 1871, for if men and women be taken together, the fall has been from 956,000 in 1871 to 581,000 in 1921, and I have no doubt that since 1921 the figure has shrunk still more.
What step is the Minister going to take to put a stop to this exodus from the rural areas into the towns? Is he going to say that nothing can be done, that economic laws must run their course, that it is impossible for him to do anything to alter the general tendency in the agricultural world? That is not the line he has taken with regard to one branch of agriculture, namely, sugar beet, and I should like to know whether he has any ideas to give to the House, or to initiate to the agricultural public, as to the means he will take to put a stop to this tendency? I am well aware of the fact that a good deal of the drop may be due to the extension of machinery. No doubt machinery has done something towards making a large number of harvest hands, for instance, unnecessary. The extension of machinery in the farm steadings may also have had something to do with the drop in the number of those employed, but the main cause has been the tendency to turn over from tillage to grazing.
I come back to a point I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks—the fact that no less than two-thirds of the income of the British farmer comes from live stock, and, naturally, that indicates the direction in which we can most profitably devote our attention to improving his income and the value of his output. 896 The increase in the number of cows is, of course, due to the increasing demand for milk, and the large part that plays in the dietary even of the very poor. But there has been a considerable fall in the number of cattle as a whole. I do not know what explanation the Department can offer for that fall, but I think it is one which very few people expected to find in the ultimate returns. But there it is. There has been a drop of rather more than 300,000 in the number of cattle, as a whole, in the last 12 or 13 years. That figure, of course, includes cows in milk, heifers and bulls. What is not so surprising is that there has been a very great fluctuation in the number of sheep still to be found on British grass. The number of sheep varies from year to year, and the curves of the sheep population every year are affected by the price of wool, the price of mutton and by the natural market fluctuations, which affect the sheep farmers of Scotland as well as of England. The drop in the sheep population has also been most remarkable. In 16 or 16 years there appears to have been a drop of no less than 2,000,000.
I should like to draw attention to one or two of the causes which may have affected this. In the first place, there are animal diseases. Those enormous figures cannot be explained by the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, although, undoubtedly, foot-and-mouth disease has had its effect in some parts of the country—in Cheshire, for instance, and some parts of the South-East. But there must have been something more potent even than foot-and-mouth disease to account for those very large figures. The truth is that the decline is, as far as I can ascertain it, in the counties where there has been no foot-and-mouth disease —in Wales, for instance, and in the extreme North and in the North-West of England. What has brought this about must, undoubtedly, have been some very powerful economic influence, which has made the keeping and the breeding of sheep less profitable than it used to be. [An HON. MEMBER: "Prices!"] That is what I mean by economic influence. Of course, prices are far away the most potent.
The way in which the action of the right hon. Gentleman can have a direct effect upon the value of our live stock, 897 if not upon its price, is by improving its quality. We have, fortunately, in this country, some of the best stock in the world, and it is a very remarkable fact that nearly every country in the world has to refresh its blood from England or Scotland, and that tendency —a very sound one—has had its effect upon second-class animals. But when one gets down to lower grades—and I am afraid this is especially true of the milk areas—there appears to be singularly little care among the breeders as to the quality of the bull used for the purpose. Undoubtedly, bull clubs in many areas have been of great benefit to the farmers, but in milk areas far too little attention has been paid to the sires used. What is the right hon. Gentleman doing to improve the strains which are available, not for the rich farmers, who can look after themselves, but for the poor farmers, who cannot even afford to keep a bull at all, but who, under the bull club arrangements in the past, have been able to get the advantage of rather bettor class animals than they could have afforded themselves.
Here, certainly, is a direction in which co-operation can be of direct benefit in producing a far higher quality of product. If the right hon. Gentleman can make a contribution to any areas in the quality of the animals, even although he cannot make any contribution to the increase in numbers, he will be doing something to improve the value of the output, and make farming more likely to be a profitable proposition. If he also takes a very wide survey, as I have no doubt he does, of the interests of the live stock breeders, he will also not neglect the arrangements which are made now in the university colleges and in the farm institutes, as well as elsewhere, for coping with animal diseases. I might mention one at this moment as having a direct effect upon the problem to which I am directing his attention. There is no doubt far more epizootic abortion in this country than most farmers are prepared to admit. They keep it dark; they do not like it to be known, as it is bad for their reputation among their neighbours, their stock does not sell, and so on. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any information as to the results to be obtained from the Board's laboratories and those of the colleges in dealing with that very infectious and very harmful 898 disease? There is a direction in which he might do something towards increasing the numbers of our animals.
Then, I presume, the right hon. Gentleman's research work is not being starved for lack of money. The right hon. Gentleman is very successful in getting money for sugar beet. What amount of money is he getting for research into animal diseases? At the present moment he is distributing money by millions to sugar beet companies. If he could distribute money by tens of thousands to research societies, he would be probably doing more general good service to farmers as a whole. The reason I direct his attention to this is that the figures which are now available for national expenditure on sugar beet cultivation have reached such a stupendous total. To begin with, no less than £2,215,000 has been advanced to the sugar beet companies for the building of factories under the Trade Facilities Act—a far greater sum than has been advanced for any other agricultural cause since the Corn Subsidy was abolished. That, of course, is a capital grant of which some day, it is hoped, the Treasury may be able to get back, in fact, 100 per cent. of what it has lent. That remains to be seen. But, as far as the annual subsidy is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman will, by the end of the coming financial year 1927–28, have distributed no less than £9,000,000 to the sugar-beet companies in the form of subsidies. If £9,000,000 were devoted to live-stock problems in this country; if £9,000,000 were devoted to drainage in this country, it would almost revolutionise whole areas. If we are to go on with the sugar-beet scheme for 10 years more, by the end of that time, I presume, the right hon. Gentleman will have distributed between £30,000,000 and £40,000,000, and almost everyone of the Departments over which he presides could re-double its efficiency if only he could have more money made available for it out of the Development Fund or elsewhere. I am sure he would not deny that far more could be done in animal diseases, if, instead of having 100 researchers for all scientific work, he could devote at least 100 of the best scientific brains of this country to the solution of disease problems. For certain, he could make an immense impression upon the crops grown in this country if 899 only a larger amount of money were set apart for research institutions; and, mark, that every penny which goes into research institutions is of general benefit to farmers as a whole, whereas this £9,000,000, which we shall have spent by the end of the coming financial year, goes to the benefit of a comparatively small group of farmers.
The justification which the right hon. Gentleman makes for this enormous subsidy is that it increases employment in the sugar-beet areas. How many extra men has it employed? I wonder whether the number is much over 6,000. As a matter of fact, it would have kept 6,000 men employed on great drainage operations, and on a great many other national works like the clearing of canals, and so on, for far less money, with far more general benefit to the community as a whole. The fact remains that there is still going on in the areas around the sugar-beet factories a movement, to which we drew attention last year, namely, that the factories themselves are refusing to employ unemployed agricultural labourers in their own areas, and they are going elsewhere to bring labourers into the factories, whereas we had all assumed, when the scheme was first introduced, that it would be a wonderful means of adding to the amount of employment of the agricultural labourers. The right hon. Gentleman, I dare say, feels that he is doing a service in the problem of unemployment by employing more men in tillage than formerly. Can he tell us how many thousands more he is employing in tillage owing to this subsidy? I am sure it comes nowhere within the region of 5,000. If those be the total figures, and we have not heard them controverted, I would claim that this expenditure of £9,000,000 on subsidy in four years has been about the least profitable expenditure ever undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture.
I drew attention a moment or two ago to what could be done in the way of drainage. It is very difficult to follow, in the Report which has been published, exactly how much land might become profitable agricultural land if it were properly drained. On one page it is stated that there are 1,000,000 acres urgently in need of drainage, and 500,000 capable of improvement. About two pages earlier the Report says that the land liable to 900 flooding, more or less permanently waterlogged, might be improved by small drainage schemes and by the clearance of main ditches and other water courses, and that 650,000 acres can be treated in this way. The Report is not clear on the subject, and it is by no means easy to follow, but it does make it clear, whatever be the figures, that an immense area is affected. Everyone knows there is a great deal of land badly waterlogged; whether through lack of field drains, or open drainage, or of larger drainage systems, a good deal of it has gone out of cultivation, and t could be made valuable again if only it were properly drained.
The right hon. Gentleman was very conscious of that last year when introducing what is now the Land Drainage Act, 1926, but all that Act does is to allow the county councils to undertake drainage schemes, and then a certain amount of money is to be made available for them. I do not believe the county councils will ever be able to undertake drainage schemes unless the drainage survey is done by the best surveyors in the country and the impetus is given by the Board of Asrieulture itself. The facts staring us in the face in the area of the Wash do not need demonstration in this House. We know perfectly well that land reclaimed from the Wash has proved to be among the most fertile in the United Kingdom, and has amply repaid the capital involved. A great deal more might be done there. We might follow the example of certain foreign countries which are adding to their cultivated area year by year. What is possible in the Zuyder Zee is equally possible around the shores of the Wash. But I was not thinking so much of these very large schemes as of the immense amount of land all over the country which, by a comparatively small expenditure, could be made once more either into good tillage land or into good permanent grass. I do not despise good permanent grass on good, well-drained land. Good cultivation will turn permanent grass into something almost as valuable as good tillage. But unless land is drained we cannot get produce out of it, and a great deal of it is falling back. and the more it goes back the more expensive it will be to reclaim.
The right hon. Gentleman ought not to be satisfied with having passed the Act of last year; he ought not to be content 901 with saying he will be glad to see advances made to groups of owners who may combine for the purpose of draining their land, but he ought to regard drainage as a positive, active policy by which, through his own Department, he can do something to increase the cultivable area of the country and, I hope, add to the output, thus increasing the income of farmers as a whole. These observations arise directly out of the Report which has been signed by Mr. Thompson, and for which we have good reason to be grateful, but I doubt very much whether that Report is the last word on the data which is required. A good deal of it will require revision as time goes on, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be averse to adding to the information which we all require.
Before I sit down, I wish to say a few words with regard to the general problems of rural life. The justification for a policy such as the right hon. Gentleman apparently had before him last year, when he published his Paper of February, 1926, was not only to make fanning pay, but also to provide a larger and happier rural population. I have no doubt that was in his mind. It was certainly in the mind of his predecessor, who made one notable speech in this House entirely devoted to the social surroundings of those who live in the country districts. What did the right hon. Gentleman say in his Paper of 1926? He made it quite clear at that time that he despaired of doing any good by way of subsidy—he was making an exception, I presume, of sugar beet. He declared it to be impossible to devise any scheme of subsidies which would not result in the payment of a bonus to farmers who did not need it and for which no return would be received by the nation. Then he went on to say that no case had been made out on defence grounds which would justify the expenditure necessary to induce farmers in time of peace to produce more than economic. considerations dictated—a very remarkable statement to come from a Conservative Minister. He added that none of the schemes put forward could make the country self-supporting as regards breadstuffs, except at an impossible cost. On these grounds, therefore, he discarded subsidies altogether as a means of adding to the amount of tillage land or helping the farmer.
902 He proceeded later to deal with each one of the points which most keenly interest the agricultural community. Having said that a subsidy was impossible, he pointed out that direct financial assistance would involve control, which he knew the farmers disliked, and he remarked that agriculture was not adapted to spectacular action by the State but that it ought to be treated as a business which could be assisted and stimulated by the Department set up for its guidance and care. He declared himself in favour of education and encouraging enterprise—which is a common form with all Ministers of Agriculture—and thought there might be useful assistance on these lines. When he came to definite proposals, however, what were they? Let us see how far he has gone since he first published this paper in February, 1926. He declared the first thing a farmer required was increased credit, that he was seriously short of working capital. When one remembers the enormous capital which is now involved in British farming, £360,000,000, one can well believe the right hon. Gentleman had that in his mind when he talked of the farmers being short of working capital, particularly those of them who have bought their farms. Credit he regarded as absolutely necessary to their prosperity.
What has the right hon. Gentleman done in the past 12 months to increase that credit? Can they borrow any more cheaply now? Immense numbers of advances are made to farmers by the banks, and very often are made on the farmer's personal security. What more has the right hon. Gentleman done than is already done by the banks? I hope he will inform the House. He stated next that he hoped to see the development of small holdings on sound lines. As far as I can ascertain, all he has done for small holdings in the last 12 months has been to pass the Act of last Session. In its way, that is quite good, and I heartily support it, but it does not go far enough or fast enough. It will deal with only a small handful of men —at best it will deal with only a few scores—whereas what we want is to see thousands more smallholders wherever they can cultivate land profitably and with advantage to themselves. Then there comes some commendation of the Agricultural Wages Regu- 903 lation Act, which is now in operation all over the country and appears to be working with satisfaction to both sides. We can all commend that.
The right hon. Gentleman's fourth point was that there should be a large extension of forestry. The amount of progress made in the last four years is really deplorable, and no fulfilment of the promise made in the past or of the indications given by any of the Royal Commissions which have sat. There still remain very large areas in this country which, if they cannot be used for cultivation or any form of permanent grass, can at at any rate be put to good use by the planting of more trees. The progress made with the extension of forestry is so lamentably slow that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will assure us there is to be more improvement in the coming year. Then he makes a reference to the drainage and the Land Drainage Act, 1926, with which I have already dealt, after which he passes on to co-operative marketing. He quite truly says that a good deal of money is lost in the market towns of the country owing to lack of co-operative marketing. It is only within the last two or three years that much has been done in the way of co-operative carriage: undoubtedly it has made a good deal of difference in the prices obtained in the market towns. It is remarkable that in the sheep areas there should have been such a great increase of the double-decked motor wagons which now bring sheep fresh into the market, saving them having to trudge 20 or 30 miles along the country roads and arrive at market tired out. What has been done for co-operative marketing under the impulse of the Ministry of Agriculture within the last 12 months could not be seen with a microscope. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman has been unable to do anything whatever to extend the area of co-operative marketing, although he has said he regarded it as one of the schemes essential for the prosperity of agriculture.
Mention was next made of the programme of research and education. The Report of Mr. Wilkins on research, which was recently published, is a very valuable document, and we only hope that more will be done in that direction. Nothing can be done, however, without without money and more men. Housing and roads came under his purview. The 904 extension of housing in the rural areas may be more properly within the function of the Ministry of Health, but the Ministry of Agriculture must take a first rate interest in it, for without good housing for those who work on the land, it will be impossible to keep young families in the country districts. As the standard of housing has risen it has increased the attractions which the rural labourer has to face when he is considering whether he will spend his life in the country or the town.
Finally, the Minister came to the subject of roads. In the ease of roads he has had to reckon with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has taken a very large part of the money which would have been available for second-rate roads, and has devoted it to meeting his swollen expenditure. What has the right hon. Gentleman done to obtain out of the Road Fund money for the assistance of the local authorities who now have to spend so much more on their roads? He is well aware of the fact that the question of roads plays a very large part in farmers' discussions. There are very few candidates for Parliament in rural areas, no matter to which party they belong, who do not declare that the one reform they wish to see is a diminution of the rates in the rural areas. The rural councils are all to be relieved out of some undefined fund. The right hon. Gentleman had at hand here a fund which could have relieved them of the upkeep of many of their roads, but he has allowed the money to go into the Chancellor of the Exchequer's main pocket, and the rural areas will never see anything of it.
Such was the lengthy programme enunciated by the right hon. Gentleman in 1926. Of the items I have read out, in only two or three cases have the promises been fulfilled, and their effect upon agriculture has been infinitesimal. With problems so great as I have described, one can only say that unless the right hon. Gentleman bestirs himself and his Department, and lays a larger claim on the attention of his colleagues, the future of agriculture in this country will be dark.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
It seems to me to be a rather curious commentary on the interest displayed in agriculture by candidates put forward in support of the existing Government at election time that the major part of the time of this 905 Session should have been devoted to an effort to increase the number of Charlie Chaplins and not an increase in the number of Hodges on the land. Last week the Government issued the Command Paper 2815 which has been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runci-man) and there we see the magnitude of the problem. In that document it is stated that between 1871 and 1925 there has been a decrease of one fourth in the cultivation of arable land in this country. In 1925 alone there was a decrease of 247,000 acres, and by the end of last year we reached the lowest acreage of arable cultivation ever recorded in our history. In 1921 in England and Wales alone the number of men and boys employed in agriculture was 612,000 and in 1925 the total was 579,000. We have more unemployed to-day than the total number of persons who are engaged in agriculture, and we have a smaller proportion of the population engaged on the land than any other country in the world. Besides this we depend more upon foreign sources for our food supply than any other industrial country in the world. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea said that he could not make up his figures from the Command Paper which was issued last week, but I would like to point out from figures given in the "Observer" yesterday that there are 1.000,000 drowned acres, and 200,000 acres which are uncultivated for lack of drainage. In my view that figure is certainly an under-estimate, because we have the testimony of Mr. Harling Turner, a member of the Duke of Portland's Committee, that there is between 50 and 75 per cent. of the arable land in this country urgently in need of drainage.
Almost from my own bedroom window at home I can see miles and miles of land which within my memory was cultivated, but which now is flooded eight or nine times a year. It is land upon which cultivation has ceased owing to the silting up of three small rivers. The result is that no individual proprietor will expend a penny upon drainage because of the flooding which comes from the workings on other proprietors' lands. This flooding has affected and closed up roads upon which public money has been annually spent, and they are swept away. Within 906 the last eight or nine years more money has been spent on these public roads from the Road Fund and out of local taxation than would have prevented all this enormous waste of public land altogether. We could quite easily find employment for 300 or 400 people upon this land, but if we began to spend our money upon that object we should immediately raise the value of land of individuals who would not contribute a penny towards the expenditure. I am aware that I cannot go fully into these matters now, but I put it forward as a fact that the Estimates given in regard to the big estates by the Ministry is a complete underestimate of the acreage of land which is uncultivated or under-cultivated at the present time as a result of our bad drainage system. I have here a report from the West of Scotland Agricultural College relating to some very remarkable experiments which have been carried out upon the moss lands of Scotland, and it states that there are 3,000,000 acres of this kind of land in Scotland. They experimented at Cowar, Newton-Stewart; Daligan, Helensburgh; and Inverlochy, Dalmally, and they say in their report:So far the experiments have been of an encouraging nature, and afford support to those who hold that there would be little need, at least for a considerable time, for our people to seek for work abroad if the S,000,000 of acres of moss land of this country arc brought under cultivation.They proceed to give the quantities of crops that have been secured from this moss land as a result of the experiments in the direction of bringing this class of land into cultivation. The fact of the matter is that private enterprise has completely broken down from whatever cause. I am not going to argue whether this is due to the Death Duties or Monte Carlo, but from whatever cause it has been undoubtedly proved that private enterprise cannot supply the necessary capital to make agriculture an efficient industry in this country. I have here a remarkable article written by the present Viceroy of India, who was Minister of Agriculture, and it is an article which I think has escaped general attention. He says:All who are accustomed to live in the country who watch this process going on see to-day a deterioration in what I may call the capital equipment of the land and the soil whether in buildings or in drainage.907 He goes on to say:That means either that the soil is going to be starved and is gradually going to lose some of its fecundity by becoming waterlogged or the nation is going to say, 'We cannot watch this process go on and we will step in and fulfil the function of the old landlord, but if we do that the State will claim some control of the business that it finances, and you may well find yourselves within measurable distance of something like nationalisation by a side wind.'In any case from whatever cause landlordism is unable or unwilling to supply the necessary capital to keep this land of ours in full cultivation. The only justification the landlord ever had for possessing the land was that he put the necessary capital into drainage, buildings and fences, and so on, in order to secure an efficient agriculture. To-day we find this very important industry of ours, upon which our whole social system rests, a sweated industry; sweated wages are paid and the farmers and other people are unwilling to pay decent wages. Chaos prevails throughout the whole of the industry and land is going out of cultivation and all the Government do is to produce a Films Bill to provide us with more Charlie Chaplins. Who gets the benefit of all public expenditure on the land? Why, the present inefficients, the people who cannot or will not supply the necessary incentive or capital to keep their farms and estates in decent order! The same applies to afforestation, in connection with which every penny we spend under the present system of landlordism goes into the pockets of the landlord. The result is that all the public money spent on the improvement of the land under the present system of private landlords sooner or later disappears into the londowners' pockets. I notice in the "Quarterly Review" for April, 1924, Mr. Christopher Hussey declares:There is a sum of £15,500,000 invested in fox-hunting in this country and there is spent annually £8,750,000 upon that sport.Mr. Hussey is a well-known Conservative writer, and he was writing in a Conservative publication and as a matter of fact he was defending sport.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Perhaps the Noble Lord who has just interrupted me will explain later on how this money goes to the farmer? I think all this money spent on fox-hunting is a crying shame and a disgrace to the country. I know one part of the country where, within recent years, they have actually planted coverts on good cultivable land as a protection for the foxes, and that is something which no civilised nation will stand. Lord Eversley, who I think will be accepted as an authority by hon. Members opposite, in the book he published on this subject, describes what has happened in the ease of 11 Aberdeen parishes between 1860 and 1908. He was at great pains to find out all the details in order to make the results as accurate as possible. In these 11 Aberdeen parishes he found that the rent had gone up by 36 per cent., the population had gone down by 1,747, and no less than 363 small farms had totally disappeared from the valuation roll. This picture of depopulation, poverty, and misery in these 11 Aberdeenshire parishes can be duplicated in almost every agricultural parish North of the Tweed.
You have had Royal Commission after Royal Commission, some of them staffed by the political friends of the present Government, and one of these Commissions found that in five counties alone there was 1,750,000 acres under sport. The Scottish Board of Agriculture issued a Report last year declaring that of the smallholders who were provided for only 2 per cent. were failures. While of those who were sent to Canada the failures amount to 16 per cent. Therefore it will be seen that when you send them abroad you get 16 per cent. failures, whereas if you kept them at home you would only get 2 per cent. failures, and yet the present Government is really doing nothing whatever to settle these people on the land. Another Royal Commission which dealt with the question of coast erosion and afforestation puts the figures pretty high, and declares that there are 9,000,000 acres of land suitable for afforestation in this country 909 6,000,000 of these acres being in Scotland. Sir J. Maxwell takes a German estate of 13,000 acres and contrasts it with a Scottish estate of the same size. He shows that in Germany the estate provides employment for 303 men all the year round and half-yearly employment for 80 men. But in Scotland that same estate finds employment only for 15 men. What is to be done? The first necessity, I think, is for an adequate survey. There should be no objection to letting us know all the facts which can be got as to what land is suitable for afforestation, what land is suitable for grazing, what land is in need of draining, what land is badly farmed and what land is efficiently farmed. Surely there could be no objection to that. We have already had one survey. The Secretary of State for Scotland has surveyed one county, or rather some parishes in one county, the county of Kincardineshire. What is the result? The right hon. Gentleman tells us that the survey shows that 10 per cent. of the land there is badly farmed, that 11 per cent. of the arable land needed drainage, that the farmers do not get 5 per cent. on their invested capital, plus a working wage. We ought to know all the facts before we can deal efficiently with this question. 'Of one parish in Kincardineshire, the parish of Strachan, the Report says that a landlord simply could not replace or rebuild the farmsteadings: the whole thing was going to rack and ruin. Yet the Government put up no considered policy which will assist the nation in its hour of need.
The second necessity is for the immediate State acquisition of all uncultivated land; all land that has not been used should immediately be taken over by the State. If the present alleged owners or holders cannot put it to use, they have no right to withhold it from use, and they have no right to prevent other people from using it. A civilised community would immediately take over that land and put it to use. Sir Daniel Hall, in his remarkable and interesting volume, "Agriculture after the War," says:The most effective lever to secure the better farming that is now needed in the national interest would be to give the State powers to take over any land that is being inadequately used.910 That I believe to be an urgent necessity, and sooner or later it will require to be done. Sir Daniel Hall added:The State should become the universal landowner.I am afraid that, with the present Administration, we have no hope whatever of securing that, particularly after the experience of the denationalisation of Erribol which was discussed in this House last Thursday night. There is no use whatever in appealing to the Secretary of State for Scotland to do anything in that direction.
The third necessity is that county committees should be set up, and that these county committees should be responsible for a decent standard of good farming. Where a farmer is unable, through whatever cause, to farm efficiently, he should either be encouraged to do so or he should be put out. The nation can no longer stand inefficient farming. There must be a decent wage paid. An industry upon which the whole economic life of this country is based cannot afford to remain an industry in which a decent wage is not paid. There must be an added product, and that added product must not go into the landlord's pocket, but we must take measures to see that it goes into the producer's pocket.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
We would get any number. Other civilised countries get them. One has only got to look across to Denmark to see what happens there. If that is the sort of objection which is-going to be put up, that you cannot get farmers, if those farmers are going to be asked to pay a living wage and if the industry is to be compelled to pay a living way to its employés, if that is to be the objection put forward by the Conservative party, the sooner it is clearly stated the better.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
I have never suggested any such thing. I said you would never get a tenant to farm if he was to hold his farm on the condition the hon. Member suggested, that he could be turned out at the whim of somebody else.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
As a matter of fact, that is the condition upon which present farming is carried on. That is the 911 condition upon which thousands of the farmers to-day have the lease of the land. They must farm efficiently or the landlord fires them out. It is really no use the hon. Baronet opposite putting up that kind of argument.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
As a matter of fact, the average decent farmer in this country is not inefficient. The decent ones would be delighted to have some form of compulsion put upon their inefficient members which would bring up the whole level of farming and make it possible to pay a decent wage to the workers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea referred to the necessity fur a great propaganda on co-operation; cooperative markets and co-operative purchase. That is the fourth necessity. In Denmark, for example, between 83 and 85 per cent. of the butler and bacon is now marketed co-operatively. In certain Husmand districts, like the Odense district, which I visited, I was amazed to find how the propaganda for co-operation had penetrated everywhere. You can go through these rural areas in Denmark, you can go into all sorts of by-places and rural districts, and you never see anybody who looks as if he were earning less than £5 a week.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I am not arguing what he gets; I am arguing what he looks like. I said that I wanted to avoid anything like little arguments about the value of the krone, or the purchasing power of money, and I deliberately abstained from bringing in the wages question at all. I simply-said that there are numbers of the people who look like that. The farm servants have their motor-bicycles, their gold watch chains and their pianos in their houses. I have been in them.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I am talking about what I have seen. The Scottish Farmers' Union sent over a delegation to inquire into the facts. They came back with the report and confirmed the fact that there is a far higher standard of civilisation there than we have here. I 912 am prepared to take the considered opinion of the Scottish Farmers' Union, upon which deputation the hon. Gentleman the Member for Forfar (Sir H. Hope) sat, than to take the opinion of the hon. Member who has been so busy with his interruptions. At any rate, we believe that there must be co-operation. It has worked in Ireland. We do not need to go to Denmark. Co-operation has worked in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, Ireland and Denmark, and it needs something more than the mere denial of the hon. and gallant Member who has interrupted to make us drop our propaganda in favour of that co-operation. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland last year issued a report about the resalts of co-operation among the egg producers in the Orkney Isles. He says that as a result of co-operation, abolishing the middleman, and selling in bulk direct to Leith and other ports, the egg producers there are receiving from 2d. to 4d. a dozen more for their egg3 than the other egg producers in that neighbourhood who sell to the big towns in Scotland. That is a fact.
Lastly, I should like to add that there is another necessity, that of abolishing the chaos in marketing and the terrific waste that goes on. In the "Daily Mail" the other day, I think it was on Tuesday of last week, I saw an account of how the Cornish farmers were getting 3d. for a cauliflower. That was in the midst of a glut of cauliflowers. Cauliflowers were being sold in London at 6d., and in some cases at 3d., apiece. We do not need to go to the Linlithgow Committee or any other committee for evidence. Surely, it is clear that the difference between the price which is paid to the primary producer and the price which is paid by the consumer is so great that some active steps should be taken by the Ministry of Agriculture in England and the Board of Agriculture in Scotland to deal with the matter. We know, for example, that milk is sent 200 miles by railway from one part of Scotland to another, while other milk, 50 miles away from the first town, is sent back to that first place. What a farce! How ludicrous it all is! All this in spite of the fact—[Interruption.] I can quite understand that these things tickle the risibility of hon. Members opposite, but the fact remains that your agricultural 913 working man cannot get a decent wage. He is being driven off the soil, and, as a result of inefficient production and marketing, agriculture is becoming a sweated industry. The Irish Free State Government last week brought in a Bill to take over the proprietary creamerles and re-sell them at a cost of £365,000 to the co-operative societies, to be run as co-operative creameries. They wish to do away with the inefficient creameries and to see that all the creamery production in Ireland is conducted on an efficient basis. Steps are taken in other countries to make farming efficient, and why not here? I think I know why not here. The agricultural correspondent of the London "Times," on the 11th May, 1925, told us that under the present system bountiful production and liberal reward for the producers are not synonymous results. He says:It will pay to sacrifice part of the output in order that the markets will not be so depressed by over-supply as to lower prices unduly. One hears news of this description uttered respecting such products as potatoes, fruit, green vegetables, milk. and other perishable articles.And he adds—The farmer is only acting in conformity with other classes of producers and traders. He is no more a philanthropist by design, or in his correct relationship to the public, than any other member of the community.…His concern to obviate congestion in the markets, therefore, is perfectly understandable and legitimate.Under the present system it pays to destroy food; under the present system it pays to limit production; under the present chaos in marketing and production it pays to limit the output. Could there be any greater indictment of a form of agricultural production than is outlined by the Agricultural Correspondent of the London "Times"?
In conclusion, I only want to say that, whatever else we fail in, if we fail in this. if our land becomes steadily more and more derelict, if we fail in recreating a population on the soil of this country, then we, as a great nation, will pass away. Personally, I do not care whether we lose our trade in chocolate mice, our trade in barbed wire, our trade in all those useless occupations, or not; hut, if we lose our agriculture, if we lose the cultivation of our soil, if we lose our peasantry on the soil, then we will pass away, as other great nations 914 and other great Empires of the past have gone. Egypt passed because 2 per cent. of her people owned 97 per cent. of her wealth; Persia went down when 1 per cent. of her people owned all the land; Babylon fell when 2 per cent. of her people owned all her wealth; Home fell when 1,800 men owned all the then known world.
We are passing into this situation, that our populace cannot get a decent, honourable living on the soil. Their numbers are decreasing. They are fleeing the land to Australia, to Canada, to South Africa; they are fleeing to the congested cities; they are fleeing to the unemployment bureau; and this Government proposes nothing. It does not make it a major issue, it does not bring in Bill after Bill, Measure after Measure. and keep us sitting here discussing and thrashing out the whys and the wherefores and the remedies for it all. This Government sits supinely by while our nation is being drained of its best blood, and that, in the days that are to be, will be the greatest indictment that can be raised against this Government. If this Debate can do nothing else this afternoon, I trust that it will secure from the right hon. Gentleman in charge on the Government Bench some firm declaration that we are going to reverse the present policy, that we are going to start planting our people on the soil, that vested interests no longer shall bar the way, that land presently unused and uncultivated shall be taken from the hands of those who do not use it and do not cultivate it, and that we shall begin to compete on level terms again with other countries like Denmark and Ireland.
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
If the Government find among their supporters no one to say a good word in defence of their administration, there is one other point which might be referred to, and which I think has not been covered, either in the interesting survey of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) or in the convincing argument in favour of national land which my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) has just expressed. The light hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea made a very brief reference to the question of the position of the labourer, and it is on that point that I 915 think, when we are reviewing the administration of the Ministry of Agriculture, rather more ought to be said. The right hon. Gentleman pointed to several very urgent spheres for activity, but they are spheres in which legislation would be required, and it is more appropriate that to-day we should dwell particularly on administration. He omitted, I think, to dwell on one of the very serious handicaps under which the farmers of this country find themselves now, namely, the shortage of labour. Skilled labour is very seriously lacking to our farmers in many parts of the country, and it is on the position of the labourer and the drift away to the towns that I think, on the whole, the greatest attention needs to be concentrated at the moment, when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee said, we must despair of big Measures such as would give us greater control of the land.
The right hon. Gentleman did, indeed, allude to the weapon of the Agricultural Wages Act, which, he said, is apparently giving satisfaction to both sides. In that connection, I should rather like to dwell on some aspects where a good deal more satisfaction is required, and I think no apology is needed from me if I concentrate on the wage problem. I heard the other day a lecture at the Society of Arts by one of the leading authorities of the Ministry, the head of the School of Rural Economics, in which he discussed what he called the present transition in agriculture, and dwelt upon the wages factor as the most serious one in sizing up the nature of the transition. The refusal of the farm worker, now that he has for the most part seen the world in the Great War, now that he is beginning to learn on the wireless, and in other ways, what is going on, and is getting for the first time freely to the town at the week-end—his refusal to be debarred from the conditions of modern life bids fair to leave agriculture without the men that it wants, and the need for keeping them on the land must be tackled. There are many other urgent subjects in connection with the administration of the Ministry that I would like to dwell upon, but it seems to me that this is paramount.
The success of the Minister's policy in regard to wages depends, of course, mainly on his administration of his 916 powers under the Act itself; but it depends also on his administration in general. For instance, the sugar policy does affect wages, and I recollect that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders) a couple of years ago spoke of the rating question as one of the important factors in the wages question, and urged on fanners that what he had done in connection with the rates was a good reason for higher wages. The present Minister, in regard to this question, issued the White Paper, which is a blank in respect of proposals for dealing with the situation; and there is, of course, as we all know, an extremely serious depression in the minds of farmers, which is having a general effect on their attitude also with regard to wages. A certain hostility is felt to the Minister in the farming community, which led to their resolving to oppose him at the time of his re-election, but it is much more the false hopes that were raised, when this Government came into power, by all the talk about a million acres that might easily be added to the arable area, which have led to the very strong feeling that exists at present in the farming community against the Government.
This depression, among other things, disinclines farmers to keep land under the plough, and is partly a psychological cause which is leading to grass leying in several parts of the country. That grass leying is one of the causes of a lower demand for labour, and, consequently, a lowering or a non-raising of wages, and we hear from the farming community such expressions, which must be galling to the Minister, as that this is a Government of rabbits and rooks, when we learn that, the most important Bill of the year is to be a Rabbits and Rooks Bill. I should not be so rude as to describe the Minister as a rabbit, but it is a saying that is characteristic of a certain section of the farming community that the Government is giving them nothing but a peddling policy, and I find to my satisfaction that contrasts are drawn between his action and that of the late Government. It certainly is a fact that without the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act there would have been very serious trouble in the farming world by this time. There would have been strikes, there would have been a greater 917 drift away from the land. If the farmers did not advocate it, they have profited by it, and in the long run it is to their interest that the men should be kept satisfactorily earning a living and preferring the country to the town.
What I want to call attention to, in particular, in regard to the Minister's administration of the Act, is that he has not used the powers that he might have used. The White Paper contained a promise that the Act brought in by the Labour Government would be carried on and there would be no change of policy. I do not think it is true to say that there has been no change of policy, because there is a definite power under the Act which the Minister has not employed. Under Section 6, the Ministermay direct an agricultural wages committee to reconsider any minimum rate which has been fixed by them, and thereupon the committee shall reconsider the same and notify to the Minister the result of their reconsideration.The Minister's attention was called to this when there was a prospect of serious trouble in the Eastern counties, in the district which he and I know best, where a big strike would have occurred if the standard rate had been left last year below 30s.; but the Minister came to the conclusion that this was outside his powers. He said—I take this from the Report of the Ministry on the administration of the Act—The powers contained in Clause 6 were not intended to be used as a means of criticism of a decision arrived at by a committee. Such a decision must be assumed to have been reasonable at the time it was made by the only body which under the Act is entrusted with the power of deciding the matter. A request for reconsideration would, therefore, only be justified if new circumstances had arisen which were not present to the minds of the Committee when they arrived at their decision.That seems to me to be a rather farfetched excuse for not using the powers contained in Section 6. It amounts to a refusal to work it at all. My interpretation of it—and perhaps I ought to know as well as anyone else, as I was in charge of the Bill—is that it was intended to avoid flagrant neglect, and to remedy any flaw in the harmonious working of the Act. The right hon. Gentleman's view assumes that the Committee is an infallible authority on what is the proper wage unless fresh circumstances have arisen. Surely that is an absurd assump- 918 tion and reduces the Clause to an absurdity. He also assumes that the Committee may have been ignorant of new factors which have arisen and did not proceed to take them into consideration. Surely that is not flattering to the Committee and cannot be a real, sound view on which to base a decision. Why should they have been asleep more than anyone else? They were the people most likely to take account of any new factors, and it can hardly have been in view of those new factors that the Clause was designed. The point is that it was not a new factor that was under review but whether the original decision was correct. During the progress of the Bill the Central Board's powers were knocked out, but it is laid down that the Board was established with a view to being consulted, and it is at least appropriate that before coming to a decision on this question the Board ought to be consulted. It consists of very great authorities. Lord Kenyon and his colleagues are the greatest experts to be obtained on this question, and they unfortunately have been given very little to do. I think they ought to have a voice when the question of reconsideration is under review. The Clause was inserted not as a substitute for a Central Board but as a mild safeguard. The Minister is empowered to ask for a reconsideration, though not to impose one. That was the difference. The Central Board was not adopted by the House but the power of the Minister to ask for a reconsideration was adopted, and he surely ought to use that power.
What is the standard that we ought to have in future? That is laid down in the Act itself. It occurs in these words:In fixing minimum rates a Committee shall, so far as is practicable, secure for able-bodied men such wages as in the opinion of the Committee are adequate to promote efficiency and to enable a man in an ordinary course to maintain himself and his family in accordance with such standard of comfort as may be reasonable in relation to the nature of his occupation.That is really the question. Can the Minister, or the Board, or the local committees regard the low rates that prevail in so many counties as conforming to that standard? It is true that under the Act there has been a very great improvement. There has been a rise which now brings all counties up to or about 30s. Formerly in five or six counties the rate was 24s. in winter and 25a. in summer, 919 and there were a great many cases of utterly preposterous hiring of men at a £l a week, and in some cases less. Those scandals have been removed, but can anyone say that according to this standard laid down in the Act such a figure as 30s. is adequate? There have been quite serious reports lately from the Ministry of Health on the underfeeding of children in the villages. There has been an expert Report from one of the officials under the Ministry, Mr. Ashby, which is very relevant to this question whether such a wage is adequate. Mr. Ashby shows that in an average family in 1913 there was spent on food about 13s. 6d., and the equivalent of that now would be, he finds, 27s. 6d., and it is impossible that that amount can be spent on food out of 30s. Mr. Ashby examined the conditions in 20 counties, and he estimates that they are spending in those average families 22s. 5d. on food, 2s. 2d. on rent and 5s. 5d. on fuel and light, and he estimates that, whereas they ought to be spending about 9s. a week on clothes on the average, they are only able to spend about 2s. 3d., which they get out of harvest money. He says you ought to aim at a standard which will give something like 25s. for food, 9s. for clothes, and so on amounting to 46s. That is without allowing anything for the amenities of life for any man who has a taste for going to a ham tea or buying a book or a newspaper, or even smoking a pipe. But for bare necessities, he says that according to the standard of efficiency and health there ought to be really a wage of something like 46s.
Now comes the question, what sort of wage can he paid? I want to submit that conditions do justify a considerable higher wage than this very prevalent one, against which I want to urge the Minister to ask the local committees for a reconsideration. He himself has used the argument that the sugar subsidy ought to indicate higher wages, that it. has improved profits over a very large area, and it is the case that some farmers are paying very good wages in connection with sugar. I know a case where the women employed on the farm have been earning in the season 30s. and the men 46s. and 48s. We all know that there is an extraordinary disparity of wages even on exactly similar land, and a low wage even over a large 920 area is no proof that there could not be a higher wage paid. I know a farmer in Herefordshire who always pays about 8s. above the rate and makes a very good profit, and we probably all know cases of that kind. Even in connection with sugar there is an extraordinary disparity, and I have come across cases where there is a good deal of disappointment that the rates paid in connection with sugar, which often involves a singularly heavy and irksome work which the men do not like at all, are scarcely higher than the ordinary labour rates. In view of these considerations, that the rate ought to be better and could be better, what is it that the Wages Committee have been doing? Many of them have viewed the thing from a different angle. They have generally considered what the wage has been and then discussed and decided for a small rise of perhaps 3s., just enough to secure peace and get the decision accepted. But surely what they ought to have done was to aim at a reasonable level and then work, perhaps by degrees, at getting as near it as they can. I think the Ministry should ask the Board, as it is the greatest authority on the subject, to study what would be a reasonable minimum and express its opinion. The old Board, under the Corn Production Act, did make such an examination and had the influence to which it was entitled. I find in the last Report of the working of the Act there is given a speech of Lord Irwin to the first Board in which he used words pertinent to this question. He said:It is easy to imagine that circumstances may often arise which will enable the Board to exercise the very valuable power of advising either the local committees or the Minister on this question of labour and wages.I call the Minister's attention to that view of his predecessor and I hope he will consider whether there are not further powers that he might very properly use in getting the Board to make such inquiries and asking them for their advice. The rise of wages, although it is very great in percentage on the previous low wages, has not really been more than slight. It has not apparently done more than secure a return in the work value of the workers. It seems to me a very surprising thing that there has not been a demand for lower rents in connection with the working of the Wages Act. I certainly thought there would be, 921 and it seems to me it would be very proper if a rise of the rate, which everyone admits was quite impossibly low in former years, led to a lowering of rent, but it seems to be the case that the rise of wages has only been in proportion to the improved work got from the men. Therefore I urge the Minister to realise that, although he may be pleasing the farmers by inaction in the matter, he is not really serving their interests in the long run because inaction may mean the ruin of farming by losing the supply of labourers on the land. Agriculture must be got out of the rut and one of the biggest ruts that it is in is owing to this shortage of labour, increasing every day.
There is one other side of the administration of the Act that I want to touch on and that is the enforcement of it. The Minister gave me a few days ago figures in answer to a question. It had amounted, in the matter of fines for disregard of the Act, to £504 and the arrears were £2,481. The Report recently issued on the working of the Act appears to me to be rather ominous on the question. Is the Act really being applied after the two years as fully as it ought to be? I hope the Minister will be able to show that he intends to make certain that it is really carried out. It is disconcerting to find the degree of law-breaking that is reported in this publication. Before 1926 it is shown, for instance, that the. Minister carried out 150 test inspections. Those 150 farms employed 915 labourers, of whom 206 were not being paid according to the county decision. Not less than 22 per cent. were being defrauded. That was not in a few districts but in typical districts. Some were much worse than others. It is reported that the Ministry hopes that things are not so bad elsewhere. On what ground is such hope based? We all know that widespread illegality may very well prevail because of the fear of the workers of taking action, and the extreme difficulty for them of organising or of openly protesting, and there is the pathetic fear among them of being left without employment. That, by the way, suggests how important it is for the Minister to go into the question of insurance for agricultural labourers. One can very well imagine that over wide areas the men like to say nothing if, having made contracts, as the Report 922 says they do very often, at an illegal rate, below the legal rate. That seems to indicate that the inspection ought to be strenuous. I know that the Minister has increased the number of inspectors but it seems to me that the number is still inadequate. The old Board was much more active in regard to enforcement than the Ministry of Agriculture is to-day.
One further matter which arises in connection with the question as to whether the Act is being carried out, is the subject of the guaranteed week. I have been disappointed lately to find many cases where the old practice of losing wet days and living on five, four or three days a week prevails. The county committees have quite lately, with the exception of Herefordshire, prescribed a weekly standard, but it does not appear to have been fully enforced. One must admit that if men arc offered work on wet days they sometimes do not want to take work that day. However, such a standard laid down by a county committee is entitled to be taken by the farmers in a loyal spirit, and I do think that inquiry might be made and something might be said by the Minister in regard to the conduct of the farmers in disregarding the county decisions on the question of the guaranteed week. There does not seem to be universal compliance: very far from it. There are many complaints that some farmers take no pains to carry out the spirit of the Act. Surely, it is the duty of the Ministry's inspectors to support the decisions of the county committees and to encourage the men in their claims for a full week.
The question of the half-holiday is one of the most gratifying fruits of the Act. Everyone agrees with that. It enables the men to work in the allotments, besides other important things. The committees are required by the Act to set up a half-holiday standard as far as is practicable. The importance of the half-holiday question came home to. me the other day when I had a letter from some men in Northumberland who had lost their jobs for a peculiar reason. These men were very good at growing vegetables and were fond of showing at local shows. They made a. yearly contract with their employer for a certain number of hours, but a certain Saturday came when one of the men, I under- 923 stand, was judging. the farmer said: "You can go if it is a wet day, but if it is fine I want you here." It was a fine day. The men had already put in some extra hours, and at 12 o'clock they decided to go to the show. Legally and strictly, they broke their contract and they lost their jobs, and I believe they have gone, or they are going, to Canada as a result. They are, obviously, the sort of men we want to keep in this country, if we can. The farmer appeared to me to have been showing a strong bias against the: whole idea and method of regulation. That is the sort of spirit which helps to depopulate the villages and has a most disastrous influence on our farms.
§ Mr. BUXTON
No. He has not taken the trouble to see me, but the men have written to me. I know his answer. The farmer is strictly and technically in the right, but I submit that it is a case which shows that increased inspections and reports to the Minister are needed if the Act is to be carried out in spirit, and if we are to make the weekly half holiday a reality. That is the sort of folly which, incidentally, would be prevented if the land were State land. If that land were Crown land, I do not believe such a thing would occur. I think the tenants on Crown lands would be a bit cautious about doing anything of that kind. The inspectors could help very much in that kind of case.
The alarming thing is that the trek to the towns continues, and it will be hastened when urban industry improves. The Minister might do something to limit this trek to the towns, by action in regard to education. I attended a meeting the other day of a rural community council, one of the most active councils, and they were discussing, on a Saturday afternoon, the possibilities of better technical education for men on the farms. It is a question of great difficulty. We want more men who are used to machines. The farmers are hampered 924 by not being able to get that class of men. The young fellows do not want to lose their Saturday half-holiday, and no one will blame them for wanting their football, and in the evening the centre where they can attend a class is too far off. Therefore, it is a great problem. The farmers would be serving their own interests if they combined or were more active in sending young men to learn how to work a tractor and repair it, much more freely than they do. I hope the Minister will work with the Education Department and the Joint Committee in considering questions like that.
The time question, enforcement and reconsideration are three things on which the right hon. Gentleman might be more active than hitherto. The standard of wages has certainly to be levelled up. Whether it ought to be or not, the men will go if it is not. That is the only way to save farming, and the only way in which good men can be kept on the land. That is, I think, the most urgent question for discussion in connection with the Ministry's work in the administrative sphere. The best farmers, undoubtedly, do want to see better wages paid and to to be assisted in paying them and be saved from the competition of less sagacious farmers who do not want to pay them. There is no greater service which the Minister could render than in this way of keeping' more men on the land.
§ Mr. LAMB
The hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) referred to the comparative condition and position of arable and grass land. He also referred to the general condition of agriculture as a whole. The whole cause can be summed up in one word with a very few letters, and that is, "prices." It all depends upon prices. Those who have availed themselves of the opportunity of studying the conditions of farming during the years of the War, when prices were high, will admit that farming was never so good and the land was never so well farmed as it was during that period, showing conclusively that when it paid the farmer, and he had the capital with which to farm well, he was only too anxious to do the best he could on the land, not only for himself, but for the country as a whole. Prices are fixed by economic conditions, and unless we can alter the 925 economic conditions to enable the farmer to obtain better remuneration for the cultivation of his land, I am afraid that a great deal of our talk will be useless. The general community have decided that neither protection nor subsidies are to be given to agriculture. I am not going to debate whether protection or subsidies should be given to agriculture, but so long as the general community have come to that decision and there is no artificial raising of prices, undoubtedly agriculture will be open to the economic conditions existing, not only in this country, but in the new unit of the Emipre.
The right hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) referred to the Rabbits and Rooks Bill. I hope his reference to that Bill was not jocular in the sense that he is going to oppose it. I can assure him that agriculturists as a whole are very desirous that this Bill—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I would remind the hon. Member that we are now discussing the Consolidated Fund Bill, which includes Votes passed, in Committee of Supply, and we cannot discuss legislation.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LAMB
I will not refer to legislation. I was tempted to do so in reply to what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman. Reference has been made to the decrease in the number of cattle in this country. I believe I am correct in saying that the numbers of dairy cattle have increased. The fact that the farmer has found that dairy farming has been the brightest spot in agriculture in recent years has led to an increase in that class of stock. Possibly, the decrease in the other class of stock may be attributed—[Interruption.] I am told that there is a general increase. Therefore, the point which I was going to make is not as strong as it would have been. The farmer, particularly the Welsh farmer, who had been previously concerned with the production of store stock, when he knew that legislation was to be brought in for the importation of cattle from abroad or from the Dominions, found that his confidence in that class of agriculture was somewhat diminished, and perhaps that may have been the cause of his temporarily not producing as many cattle. Reference was also made to the fall in agricultural labour in this country; that the men were leaving the country and going 926 into the towns. I do not blame the men. This is a condition which exists not only in this country, but in our Dominions as well. I had the honour of being one of the delegates who went to Australia, and the same thing is occurring there; the men are leaving the rural areas and going into the towns. Sixty-two per cent. of the population in Australia are living in the towns. We have to seek the cause in quite another direction. There is such a discrepancy between the wages which are forced upon primary producers—and in primary producers I include not only agriculture, but other industries as well—and the wages which can be demanded and obtained by secondary producers that naturally a man engaged in a primary industry is tempted to go into a secondary industry and will be tempted as long as these conditions exist. In a secondary industry a man can fix for himself a standard of living, and the consequences of that standard can be transferred either to the consumer of the article he is manufacturing, or to the producer of the raw material used in his industry. The agricultural industry is debarred entirely from doing this.
In the first place, the agriculturist cannot transfer the consequences of any standard of living to the consumer, because the consumer has open to him the competition of the whole world. He cannot transfer it downwards to the producer, because the producer is the land. That is one of the reasons why workers in a primary industry are unfortunately condemned to a lower standard of living than that which is enjoyed by those engaged in a secondary industry. How can you blame a man doing the best he can for himself and getting the mo6t he can for the powers he employs in a secondary industry? The right hon. Gentleman opposite referred to wages; to the Act which was passed and the conditions under which wages should be based. Let me draw his attention to the last paragraph of the conditions he read out, which is:According to the condition of the occupation.That is an answer to the question he raised. The whole point is contained in this sentence, "According to the industry in which he is employed."
§ Mr. LAMB
That will do for me. The nature of the conditions of the industry of agriculture is such to-day that, in the considered opinion of the Wage Boards, the wages now being paid are as high as the conditions of the industry will stand. That is the reply to that point. The farmer himself is anxious to pay his men more money, but it is not possible for him to do so. He cannot pay out of capital. The right hon. Gentleman may laugh, but that is the fact. The farmer is as desirous as any other individual that his employés should have the advantage of a higher standard of living, and I do not think anyone can say that agriculturists as a whole are desirous of underpaying their men. Undoubtedly, there are some who break the law, but can hon. Members point to any Act of Parliament which has never been broken? There are inspectors of the Ministry of Agriculture, and, wherever they find a case of a man being underpaid, I can assure the House that organised agriculture does not support any man who does not keep the law. It is desired that the law should be respected and that such wage as is considered to be feasible by the Wage Boards, during the time that wage is operating, should be paid by the employer. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the half-holiday. It is unwise for us in this House to discuss any particular case without hearing both sides. I do not know, but I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said with regard to the workers' side. I have not heard the farmers' side, and, therefore, I think it is unwise to discuss the matter in detail.
§ Mr. LAMB
Yes, as heard from one side. The right hon. Gentleman has not heard the farmers' side; he has only heard the farmers' case as put by the advocates on the other side, and that is hardly what I term the regular mode of securing justice in this country. Perhaps it is a mode which agriculturists may expect from certain quarters, but we do not accept it as the general way of obtaining justice in this country. I was rather surprised by the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that under a form of national farming this would not occur.
§ Mr. LAMB
Very well, on Crown lands. The whole case depends on the value of the occupation during that half-day. If, as I suspect, it was to gather in the crops, that to the farmer and to the community is the most important occupation of the farmer. It is the culminating point of 12 months' labour, and, unless he gathers his crops at the time when they should be taken in, the whole of his 12 months' work is spoilt. It may be that the consideration of gathering in the crops was much greater than the occupation which the man himself wished to follow during that half-day. As to Crown lands, if the gathering in of the crops is not to be considered of first importance, then it will account for a good deal of the losses which have occurred on national farming. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) referred to the capital which has to be found for drainage purposes. I will not discuss this except to say that he himself mentioned an area where it was reported that 10 per cent. of the land needed draining. If the land needs draining it requires capital, and he made what I thought was a most unfair reference when he said that the landowners, as a class, were at present inefficient. That was in my view a most unfair statement.
There is no industry in the country in which capital has been provided at such a low rate of interest as by the landlords for agriculture, and because certain individuals have made it impossible for them to continue to be as beneficent to the State as hitherto, by the provision of capital for agricultural needs, it is, I think, most unfair to say that they arc inefficient. The landlord has, in many instances, provided capital at a low rate of interest, and there are some eases in which the whole of the return which a landlord has had from the capital he has invested in his estate has been the amenities of living in the large house and perhaps enjoying the sporting rights on the estate. The interest on the capital invested has been practically nil. The hon. Member also referred to fox hunting. I am not going to discuss the merits or demerits of fox hunting, except to say this, that a great deal of the capital expended on fox hunting does go to the 929 farmer in the form of assistance in horse breeding and provender for horses, but a very large, if not the largest, amount goes to the payment of hunt servants and other forms of labour. Labour has a very large proportion of the money that is spent in the sport of fox hunting.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Does the hon. Member mean that fox hunting is conducive to the very best interests of agriculture?
§ Mr. LAMB
On the whole it is. I have never had my crops damaged carelessly by fox hunting, except in one or two wanton cases which were never supported by the hunt. A great deal of the money which is spent on fox hunting goes in the payment of labour in some form or another, arid it comes very ill from those—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not quite in order in discussing the question of fox hunting, because the Minister for Agriculture does not control the various hunts.
§ Mr. LAMB
I will not go into that question any further. The hon. Member also contended that the land in the country is inadequately used and that the State should take it over. What has been our experience in the past when the State did take over land? When it did, during the War, the State lost money though everybody else was making money. I do not think it is necessary to say much more about that, because our experience is so recent. He also said that the State should take over land which is not being well cultivated. It is not necessary for the State to do this, because the owner has the right himself to take over the land. If it is being inadequately farmed all he has to do is to appeal to the Agricultural Committee, and they will give him a certificate which will free him from any responsibility of paying for disturbance, and he can take over the land and let it to another man to farm, or farm it himself. He referred to the great advantage of small holdings. I believe in small holdings, and they are a success under suitable conditions. But if you are going to turn all the land. which they say is inadequately farmed, into small holdings where is the capital coming from? You cannot turn land, a large area, into small holdings without the expenditure of a large amount of 930 capital, and if the Minister of Agriculture came down to this House for the sum necessary to do this hon. Members opposite would turn him down at once.
§ Mr. LAMB
Hon. Members opposite have refused a subsidy in any other direction, and this is a subsidy, not solely to help agriculture, but indirectly to enable a new industry to be started, wihch it is hoped will eventually be economic. Farmers have taken very great advantage of this help for sugar beet, and a large area of land has been continued under arable cultivation, employing labour, which is the main thing. The land otherwise would have gone down to grass. Another question was asked, why did we not co-operate more? The case of Denmark and Ireland has been cited. I mention only those two countries because they have been mentioned to-day. The conditions in both those countries are quite different from those in this country. That is the reply to the question which was asked. I am not against co-operation, but I am in favour of it only where the conditions are such that co-operation can be successful. In both Denmark and Ireland the fanners are producing for an export market. Here the farmer is producing very largely for a home market. You can-quite see how difficult it is here to obtain the greatest necessity for co-operation, and that is loyalty amongst the farming community. In the one case they are-compelled to be loyal to the society in order to get into the export market, but in the other case, where there is at home an alternative market, co-operation may at times be of little benefit. You can get no society which will carry you through adversity and not require your co-operation in better times.
931 That is very largely the reason why co-operation is not the panacea for all ills in agriculture, as some people expect us to believe. A good many of those who criticise agriculture do not co-operate themselves by demonstrating how the farmer can do. what they say he should do There is land in this country which could be taken up by any of the people in Denmark, and they could come here, where their market is, and they could demonstrate to us, on the land here, how we could farm under their conditions. But they do not do it, because they know that the conditions are not the same. me man who is successful in Denmark would not be able to apply his remedies and be successful in this country. it would be very much better if, instead of the tremendous amount of criticism which agriculturists get, some of these critics were themselves to take over an estate and demonstrate some of the theories which they advocate for others to lose their money upon. The co-operative societies have done it, but they did not remain in the business very long.
To my mind, the cause of the depression of agriculture can very largely be summed up in this fact—it is the effect of a new unit, and the new unit is not the British Isles but the Empire. Communication and the transport of material and individuals are so much easier now than formerly. It is easier to communicate with far lands in the Dominions and to obtain from them supplies of food. When I was out in Australia I spoke to several people whose parents—in some cases my informants also—had taken six months to get to Australia in the old windjammers. I returned from Australia in less than a month. That proves the difference in the unit to-day for food production, compared with former times. I believe that the product of the soil should be obtained in the most economic area, and that if there are certain crops which can be produced in the Dominions under more economic conditions than those in operation here, in the interests of the new unit they will be produced in the Dominions. But that will necessitate great alterations in the system of farming here. It is unfair for criticism to be directed against the farmer in this country because of the way he cultivates his land, unless the critics take into con- 932 sideration the climatic conditions elsewhere, where the improved methods of farming are entirely different from what they were a very few years. ago. National land is no remedy whatever for the trouble that we are considering to-day. Unless the community in their interest—not in the interests of agriculture, but in the interests of the community as a whole—decide that it is necessary that artificial prices should be maintained in this country, uneconomic prices as compared with the prices which would be maintained in competition with the whole of the Empire—
§ Mr. LAMB
Prices which are raised or affected by subsidies or tariffs. It is to those that I refer. Unless the community as a whole decides that those are necessary in the interests of the community, economic conditions must continue to rule, and those economic conditions will be the economic conditions not of this country as a unit composed as in the past, but of the new unit of the Empire as a whole. If those conditions are to exist, then I say that unless the Government—any Government —are prepared to assist agriculture more on the lines I have suggested—I hope sincerely that not only this Government but the whole House will support us in our application for long term credits when the time comes—unless the Government are prepared to do that, the best thing they can do is to give minor assistance to the agriculturist in the practical endeavours which he himself makes to farm his land as best he can under the new conditions. But do not, for goodness sake, impose so many Regulations upon us!
§ Major OWEN
I must confess that I am rather in a difficulty in having to follow the last speaker, whom we all recognise as an authority on this subject. I do not quite know what was the case that he wished to put before the House, whether it was that there is nothing wrong with agriculture and that it is in a perfectly satisfactory state. If that be what he wanted to prove, it seems to me that he should point to the Minister of Agriculture, who up to the present seems to be the only optimist. regard- 933 ing this particular industry. I believe that the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken was at one time President of the National Farmers' Union.
§ Major OWEN
The hon. Member has certainly had a great deal to do with it. It is obvious that he does not agree with the present President of the farmers' Union with regard to the condition of agriculture in this country. Mr. Baxter, who took office last month, opened his presidential address in these terms:He wished ho was taking office when agriculture was in a more prosperous condition. He had watched very carefully the position since first joining the Union in 1919, and it appeared to him that agriculture since that date had slowly but surely declined in prosperity.
§ Major OWEN
I am very glad to find that the hon. Member agrees, as do most people who have studied this matter, that the position of agriculture to-day is a very serious one. As it is a matter that affects vitally the well-being and the prosperity not merely of that industry but of the country as a whole, it is necessary that we should call attention to it more often on the Floor of this House. As I said, the Minister of Agriculture seems to be the only optimist. The Prime Minister in October, 1924, just before the General Election, gave expression to his view with regard to agriculture. He said that there were two very serious consequences likely to arise as a result of the decline in farming in this country. One was the decrease in the area under wheat, that is to say, the production of food, and the other was the constant flow from the countryside in to the towns, thereby increasing the amount of unemployment in those areas. He said further that the stopping of this? drift, of this decrease in the area under wheat,is the problem that lies ahead of statesmanship in this country and is one that will have to be dealt with.It is rather a commentary on the view taken generally in the country with regard to the interest taken by political parties in the question of agriculture, that on this side of the House there is scarcely a Member who represents an agricultural constituency. Agriculturists have always 934 turned to the Tory party for support. They turned to the present Government, and now we find that practically nothing has been done to help agriculture in any shape or form. I will come later to the very small legislative action that has been taken. The Minister of Agriculture, speaking at Bury St. Edmunds, is reported to have said:I am afraid no politician can honestly pretend that it is in his power to bring prosperity to agriculture. It would be a very cruel policy to try to do something for agriculture which would not be permanent.The right hon. Gentleman also said that he was afraid he had to rule out direct State assistance in the farmers' present difficulty. Therefore, the promise made by the Prime Minister in October 924, is obviously impossible of fulfilment.
§ Major OWEN
No, but that something very important and drastic was required in order to improve conditions in agriculture. The Minister of Agriculture says that no politician can help. Therefore, the Tory party, with its great majority in this House, has, through the Minister of Agriculture, agreed that it can do nothing. The Report that has recently been issued, and to which reference has been made frequently, seems to me to be one of most serious documents ever published by a Government Department. The thing most apparent in the Report is the serious decline in agriculture, which has continued and is continuing year after year—the decrease, for instance, of the rural population, the decrease in the area of land under cultivation, and the decline in the value and amount of products obtained from the land. Eight hundred thousand acres have gone out of cultivation during the last 50 years. The total arable area has declined in the same period by over 4,000,000 acres, and since 1921 by nearly 500,000 acres. Let us take one of the crops only. In 1871 there were 3,400,000 acres under wheat; in 1925, there were only 1,500,000 acres, showing a decline in area of 1,900,000 acres. The total area under corn crops in 1871 was 8,000,000 acres. In 1925 it was 5,200,000 acres, a decline in area of 2,800,000 acres. The amount produced of particular cereals has also gone down in the same way. In 1886 there were produced 935 1,700,000 tons of wheat and in 1925, 1,300,'000 tons, a decrease of 400,000 tons; and the only increases during that period we find in potatoes, in mangels, and in hay. Even a more serious decrease has taken place in the amount of our meat output. In 1908 our meat output was 17,600,000 tons; in 1925 it was 14,900,000 tons—a decrease during that period of 2,900,000 tons, or as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) put it, 15 per cent. The Report comments on this in the following words:This is a very striking decline, particularly when the potentialities of the home market are taken into account.The danger of a continued decline in meat production in this country is also emphasised by the agricultural correspondent of the "Times" who, writing on 21st February last, made this statement:The dependence of the country on overseas sources for its meat supplies continues to increase at a perturbing rate. The question has long been threatening to assume an acute form, and the threat (namely, of a reduction in home food supplies) is now being realised in an intensity exceeding the worst anticipations.As has been pointed out, the only bright spot in the whole of this Report is the increase in dairy farming. Between 1908 and 1925 the number of cows increased by 400,000. Milk production is estimated to have increased by 150,000,000 gallons per annum or 15 per cent. This is the only welcome piece of information in this very exhaustive Report. Cattle other than dairy cattle have remained practically the same during that period: they show little change. Sheep, on the other hand, show a very marked decrease. In 1871 the number of sheep was 21,600,000, and in 1925 it was 16,000,000, or a decline of 5,000,000. Further, the Report shows that during the last 30 years there has been a decline in the number of agricultural holdings. In 1895 there were 440,500 holdings of over 50 acres. In 1925 the number was 405,700, a decline of 34,800."With regard to small holdings, holdings of one acre to 50 acres, there has been a decline of 34,600 in the same period.
In spite of this very serious decline in the cultivated area, in spite of the fact that we find on all sides a great body of unemployed, the Government have done little of any importance towards bringing 936 into use the waste land of the country. Several figures have been given with regard to the amount of waste land. The Minister of Agriculture has supplied us with figures on this matter. The amount of land urgently in need of drainage by reason of hooding is, according to the estimate of the Minister, 1,279,000 acres. The amount of land capable of improvement by drainage schemes is 476,000 acres, making a total of 1,755,000 acres. Is so not only in certain portions of the country that you find water-logged land. Go where you will, all over the country you find large areas of land water-logged and going out of use. I quote here from the journal of the Ministry of Agriculture for February, 1927.In Durham there are numbers of separate small areas, amounting in the aggregate to some thousands of acres damaged by mining subsidence, and consequent flooding.…The condition of much of the land in the Southern Midlands calls for vast improvement. The valleys of the Thame, Even-lode, etc., are in an extremely bad state.…Some 4,000 acres of land in Kent and East Sussex are liable to flooding.…In East Suffolk there are approximately 11,350 acres which could be improved.…In Wiltshire it is estimated that 135,000 acres of land are in need of drainage operations. and there are approximately 54 miles of derelict canals.Those are facts which you can find everywhere throughout the country. In Wales it is estimated there are 120,000 acres of land which could be brought into good cultivation by effective drainage. The Government have practically left this matter alone. The Coalition Government, which is not often blessed by anybody, was at any rate the originator of many schemes which have proved of great benefit to the country. They set up drainage schemes in 1921, as a result of which 1,250,000 acres benefited between 1921 and 1923, and employment was provided to the extent of 2,000,000 man days. In 1925-26 only 100,000 acres benefited, and only 218,000 man days were worked. The Government contribution in 1921-22 was £232,000, and in 1925–26 it was only £46,000. Last year it is true the Government set aside a sum of £1,000,000 to be spent on this purpose for the next five years; but at the very time when their Drainage Act was being passed, the Out Commission issued their Report in which they said a sum of £2,500,000 was required for that, object alone, half of which was to be supplied by the Gov- 937 ernment. The inadequate help given by the Government in this direction is the most severe condemnation of all.
I have recently had a communication from the county council of my own county. They had a report early this year on the amount of waste land in the county. In 1910 the waste land was estimated at 3,800 acres. In 1926 it had increased to 12,100 acres. After consideration the council resolved to ask the Government to appoint a commission of inquiry with judicial powers to find out the exact amount of waste land throughout the country. They pointed to this fact, which is a very important one, that in 1926 a sum of nearly £45,000 was spent on unemployment pay, and they suggested to the Government that it would have been far better had the money been employed in reclaiming this waste land. They want powers from the Government to purchase this land at its present value, so that if the Government fail to take; up this work of drainage they themselves may take the matter in hand. Other countries have spent and continue to spend large sums in this direction with the result that the agricultural industry and the community in general have largely benefited. In America, the land irrigated by the Federal Government in 1924 produced crops worth nearly £32,000,000; and it is estimated. by the Under-Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Noble Lord who sits in another place, that if we could recover only 2,000,000 acres of water-logged land, and bring it into proper use it would mean an increase in the value of the food production of this country of £18,000,000 per annum.
The shortage of credit is a point on which I am very ready to support the last speaker. Those of us who represent agricultural constituencies constantly receive resolutions from local branches of the Farmers' Union urging us to press on the Government to inform the House of its proposals regarding long term credits. Many of us have put questions, but we are constantly put off, and I would urge the Minister to give a definite answer as to when the Government intend to submit their proposals for extended credits for agriculture. What is the effect of the shortage of credit to-day? It is affecting boards of guardians and other bodies charged with relieving dis- 938 tress in the country. Last week, I received a resolution from one of the boards of guardians in my constituency, namely, the Pwlhelli Board of Guardians, on which sit men who know agriculture, who are practical farmers, and who are acquainted with the position from A to Z. They know exactly how it is that farming to-day suffers from lack of capita] rather than over-capitalisation. Men who were forced to buy their farms during the land boom after the War, and had insufficient capital to pay for it, are now paying very heavy interest to the banks, and are in danger of being adjudged bankrupts in many cases. The result is that they are unable to give employment. They are cutting down the number of agricultural workers in that part of the country. A week or so ago the emigration officer, acting on instructions, I think, from the Ministry of Health, tried to prevail upon this board of guardians to encourage their men to emigrate. The effect of that is to be seen in this resolution which they passed:That the Board desire to emphasise to the Government first, the importance of the provision of credit facilities at a moderate rate of interest to enable tenants who so desire to become owners of their holdings; secondly, that provision should be made to enable occupying owners to obtain loans on favourable terms for the effecting of improvements on their land.Those are, I think, important questions. They not merely affect the industry itself, but the community as a whole, and it is time that the Government seriously took in hand this question of coming to the assistance of agriculture in the way of both long and short term credits. Then, I consider, they will have done something to justify the enormous majority which the agricultural constituents have given them in this House.
§ Sir ROBERT SANDERS
So far, I have been rather disappointed at the course of this Debate, for when I heard that the Liberal party had selected agriculture as the topic for discussion, I was hoping that we should hear a little more about the concrete proposals which the Liberal party have to make. It is quite possible that the exigencies of Debate—
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
On a point of Order. I have no objection at all to having a discussion on that subject, but 939 I understand that it would be out of order to introduce a discussion on anything that would involve legislation.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
I was going to say that the reason why the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Debate did not deal with that subject was no doubt due to the Rules of Order, but I thought that perhaps a few more hints of the future proposals of the Liberal party might be given, because those proposals are undoubtedly arousing a great deal of interest in my part of the country, and I have such very great difficulty in finding out exactly what they amount to.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
If one member of the right hon. Gentleman's party makes a speech on the subject, I am quite sure that some other member of the same party will make a speech very shortly afterwards largely changing what was said by the first speaker. I have no doubt there will be some future occasion when we may be able to discuss that interesting subject in this House. The Debate has had to go, necessarily, I quite admit, on less ambitious lines, and we have had what we hear always whenever an agricultural Debate comes on, namely, a statement of the evil. The number of speeches that I have listened to in this House, stating—so eloquently by the hon Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) —the awful consequences that are coming to us unless something is done, is so great that it is part of the common form of an agricultural Debate in this House. One has it every time, and one listens expectantly to hear some remedy for the evil that we all admit. I admit the evils quite as much as anyone else.
One thing that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) who introduced the topic referred to, and on which he asked for an explanation, was the fall in the number of sheep. It is a thing that I have inquired into, and the reason that has been given me by farmers is that undoubtedly the number of sheep on our Down country, like the Wiltshire Downs and the Sussex Downs, has gone down on account of the increase in the cost of labour. They tell me they can keep stock cheaper and with less labour than 940 they can keep sheep, and the consequence is that they get wire enclosures on the land in which to keep stock instead of sheep. That is an explanation that has been given to me on more than one occasion, and I think it is probably the true one. It is undoubtedly the fact that you are getting stock on these Downs where you used to get sheep. I was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that the head of stock had gone down also. I cannot find that in the Report from which he quoted, and I think he has made some (mistake in his figures. If you compare the years 1915 and 1925, you will see that dairy cattle have gone up by between 300,000 and 400,000, and that other classes of cattle have gone up by nearly 300,000.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I think my right hon. Friend is taking the wrong column. If he will look at column 6, he will find that, of two years and over, other cattle have gone down by 92,000, and that, of two years and under, other cattle have gone down by 42,000.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I pointed out that there had been a rise in the numbers of cows and heifers in milk. The increase in them has been greater than the decrease in the other two categories of cattle to which I have referred.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
The total has risen, in my view, because where formerly sheep were kept, cattle are now being kept instead. That is not one of the evils of the present system. Land going out of cultivation is, of course, the first and greatest of the admitted evils, and land going down to grass. There again there is no doubt about the facts. There is less land in cultivation and more land going down from arable to pasture. No one disputes that. There is also, I dare say, more land that is now waterlogged than there used to be, and it is true that the drainage system of the country has not been properly kept up. The reason why land has gone from arable to grass is that cultivating it as arable does not pay, does not show a profit, and, after all, unless things are made good to the farmer in some other way, he is going to employ the most profitable method of cultivation.
941 It is the same with drainage. I was inquiring the other day about some land that seemed to be in a very waterlogged condition, and I said to the farmer: "Would it not pay to drain this land?" He replied that it would not, that with the cost of labour as at present, it would not pay to drain the land, and that the amount that he would have to spend on it would be so great that the extra return he would get from the increased fertility of the land would not compensate him. You will find that, I think, in one part of the country after another, and it is undoubtedly the reason why land goes down to grass, instead of being left under the plough, and it is, as far as I can see, the reason why men do not undertake to drain the land, because they do not think it will pay them to do so. It is all a question of pounds, shillings, and pence. You will get these things done if it pays a man to do them. The agriculturist is just as ready to make money when he sees a chance of a profit and, I think, just as enterprising in that way as any other class of the community, but when he does not see a profit or the possibility of a profit by spending money, he is not going to spend it.
If you think it worth while to have a prosperous class on the countryside, if you think it worth while to have a thriving industry of agriculture, you can do it by Protection and you can do it by subsidies, two questions which I must not discuss now, because I think they would both involve legislation, but, short of that, there is no big remedy for agriculture. The sugar subsidy is a thing that I am entitled to discuss, because it is already the law of the land, and undoubtedly that has been a very great boon, especially to the arable farmers in the east of England. I was talking to one of them yesterday, and he told me that it had just saved the situation. Undoubtedly it had, but it is a very expensive way of saving the situation, I quite agree. Short of that, we can only do little things. It does help the farmer if you can reduce his expenses in any way, and reducing the rates is one of the best methods that you can adopt. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the Road Fund, and it is the fact, after all, that for the first time grants have been given to the rural district councils within the last 12 months. The burden of the roads in these rural districts has 942 been increasing by leaps and bounds, and that is a very substantial benefit to those who till the soil. Money that is spent on educational research is, I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman, well spent. The Government could do something in that way, and I think they are doing a good deal, and that more and more money is being spent every year upon agricultural education.
Then the question of co-operation has been introduced. I am all for co-operation. I think that, if it could be efficiently established and efficiently worked throughout the country, it would do an enormous lot to help both the farmer and the consumer. The worst of it is that, in practice, we have tried this thing over and over again, and I do not know how many of my hon. Friends around me have burnt their fingers over it. I expect a good many have. I have myself. One after another of us has tried to help in setting up these co-operative societies, and one after another has lost his money as one after another of these societies has become insolvent—-[An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] That is the difficulty. I cannot say. It is partly that co-operation in dealing with internal trade—and our agricultural trade is almost entirely internal—is very much more difficult to work than cooperation such as they have in Denmark, which deals pretty nearly exclusively with an export trade. I think that is one of the reasons. I do not want to say that there is not in some cases want of loyalty to the co-operative societies. I think that is quite true.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
Is it not a fact that in Denmark practically all the agricultural buying is done by co-operative societies?
§ Sir R. SANDERS
I believe it is. I quite admit that it pays in Denmark and has been a very great success there. I think that in a great many cases it has been a success in Ireland, but it is not for want of trying that it has not been a success here. It has been tried over and over again in this country, and the Government have found the money for trying to finance co-operative societies. But in one case after another it has come to grief, and when you find it coming to grief you cannot go on. If we could introduce a good co-operative system it 943 would undoubtedly do good, but it is not as if it had not been tried. It has been tried over and over again. I have tried to point out some of the smaller things in regard to which I think some useful work might be done by Parliament on behalf of agriculture. On the two vexed questions of Protection and subsidies, I do not think that without them you can do anything to put agriculture on its legs. nor make it that thriving industry which we all want to see, and, if you cannot do that, I say do not worry it more than you can help. If you cannot do something really substantial and solid to help the agriculturist on, then, I say, by far the best turn you can do him is to leave him alone.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I want to give the Minister of Agriculture a fair opportunity to reply before Eight o' Clock, when, I understand, the Debate will be switched off on to the Scottish question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders) experienced the same difficulty that we all have on these occasions when the Rules of the House make it impossible for him to expound his remedy for the evils from which agriculture is suffering. He very frankly says that he accepts, on the whole, the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) as to the character and extent of those evils, but he finds it quite impossible to discuss the remedies he would like to suggest, just as I shall find it impossible when it coines to my turn. Perhaps I may be permitted to say that I have already regretted that it is impossible on these occasions to get a full, broad, and comprehensive discussion upon these subjects, whether it be education, agriculture or trade, for you are instantly pulled up—and rightly so under the present Rules—whenever you suggest anything which involves legislation. From the moment we had the guillotine system in Supply, which made it impossible to outline suggestions of that kind for the purpose of deferring Supply or of making it impossible for the Government to get their Supply, I have never thought there was any reason to curtail discussion and prevent it roaming over the whole subject and enabling 944 the House to get a comprehensive view of its cost. I do hope that at some time or other, if we ever come to alter the Rules of the House, that it will be made possible in Committee of Supply to have a real discussion of questions like agriculture, education, and the rest.
Before I come to that topic, I have a little personal question with the Minister of Agriculture to deal with. The last time he and I had a discussion across the Floor of the House we had a little controversy on the question of years of purchase, and there was a correspondence which I concluded by saying that I would bring it before the House at the very first opportunity. This is the first opportunity. It is rather an important matter, and not merely a personal issue between him and myself, as to the reason why small holdings are very often not a success. It is that the price paid for the land is so high that it makes it impossible to let the land at reasonable prices to the smallholder. On that occasion, I stated that 25 years' purchase of the gross rent was often paid in respect of land at that time. The right hon. Gentleman then corrected me, and I will quote exactly what he said:Under the provisions of the Act of 1919, as applied to the purchase of smallholdings by the Land Settlement Act of the same year, the average of the years' purchase of the net rent, not the gross rent, was 22½ years' purchase of the net.These facts have been looked into, and if the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to accept my word for it, I shall be delighted, if he challenges it, to submit the figures to the Surveyors' Institution for them to certify that the land bought under the 1919 Land Settlement Act, was bought at an annual value not exceeding 22 years' purchase of the net rent."—[OFFICIAL RE-FORT. 30th November. 1926; col. 1092, Vol. 200.]That was a very clear and explicit challenge made in his speech, and I accepted it. I was very delighted that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to submit a definite issue to that important body. There was no difference between him and myself as to what net rent meant. It is very fairly defined, and I think the right hon. Gentleman accepts the definition by the president of the Surveyors Institution, who says:After ascertaining gross rent you will then ascertain the average outgoings falling on the landlord over a series of years, 945 for instance, repairs, insurance, tithes, land tax, fee farm rents, etc., and will take these from the gross rent as shown above in order to arrive at net rent.The right hon. Gentleman's proposition was and this is a question of fact, not of opinion—that under the Land Settlement Act, 1919, the amount paid was 22½years of the net rent, after deducting tithes, cost of management, repairs and so on—the outgoings which fall on the landlord before he receives the money for his own use. I knew it was a perfectly preposterous statement, and I was quite willing that it should be referred to the president of the Surveyors Institution. The first thing I want to say about this reference is that I was not called in to submit it as & joint reference. I think the right hon. Gentleman might at any rate have asked me—because it was his challenge and not mine—as to the question he referred to the Surveyors institution. I am going to ask him now to produce the reference he sent to that body. I can only judge what it was by the answer the president gave. The answer he gave had no reference at all to the issue in this House—none. The question here is, not what the landlord can expect or what the principles of valuation are. It is a question of facts —whether the land bought under the Land Settlement Act, 1919, was 22½ years' purchase on the net rent. The right hon. Gentleman in his last letter to me said he had discovered that it could not be done. When did he discover that? He said there were 2,000 cases, and that it would cost too much to investigate. But he had said ho had already investigated it. He said:These facts have been looked into, and if the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to accept my word for it I shall be delighted, if he challenges it, to submit the figures to the Surveyors Institution.He said he had looked into it and had got the facts and complained that I did not accept his word. Now he says that it is too costly a matter to investigate figures which he said he had already looked into. As a matter of fact, he could easily produce those figures. I have the statistics for two counties, Cambridgeshire and Anglesey, one in the extreme east and the other in the extreme west. I have understated the amount that was paid. The amount is upon the gross rents, and most of the cases in Anglesey, and 946 I think in Cambridgeshire also, were over 25 years' purchase. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman saying that it was very difficult to investigate cases where you have bought a field and you cannot say how much of the rent is attributable to that particular field, and therefore you cannot estimate how many years' purchase it is on. I do not mind at all his leaving that out, because I am going to press him for these figures.
I know perfectly well that when you take a field out of a farm you pay more than you would if you were to buy the whole of the farm, because it is tearing up the farm and you have to get a severance and there arc all sorts of troubles. I am quite willing to leave this out. Let the right hon. Gentleman take cases where the whole of the farm has been bought and where there is no difficulty at all in knowing what the rent was and what the years of purchase were—cases where the whole of the estate is bought. I am going to ask him to ask for a return—because he is giving the challenge to me, and he complains that I do not accept his words—I ask him to ask the county councils to give returns of cases where they have bought the whole of a farm and to ask them what the rent and the price was. Then you can easily make a sum showing whether it was gross or net. In some cases they paid 30 or 35 years' purchase. I have got some higher ones. There was a question put on Thursday last in regard to what was paid in the Soke of Peterborough. The land had been bought for the purpose of the Settlement Act, 1919, and the figures there even ran up to 40 years on the gross.
§ Mr. SHEPPERSON
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman if the land was let previously at a true annual income?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I know nothing about its true annual valuation. I only know on what basis it was. I have had information from a gentleman who knows all about it and who tells me that the price paid by the county council was £191,605. This gentleman knows all the details and I am prepared to take his word unless I have the actual figures from the right hon. Gentleman. I am quite prepared that this among other cases should be referred to the Surveyors' Institution because I am dealing with a challenge given to me, not a challenge given to the right hon. Gentleman. This 947 gentleman to whom I have referred says that this sum represents over 40 years' purchase on the gross rent. The actual sum was £191,605. That is the figure which has been given to me and I ask that that amongst other cases should be submitted to the Surveyors' Institute.
Having accepted that challenge, I awaited the reference which the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to make. I only ask that in regard to that reference as in any other reference, that I also should have an opportunity of submitting the facts and of seeing what is referred. I have not seen it yet. The answer of the Surveyors' Institution shows that this question was not referred -that the question of fact was not referred. I ask that the question of fact which the right hon. Gentleman stated in the House should be referred. I am quite willing to accept his word as a reference. I do not want my own words. I do not want to alter the words which he used. I will take the very words of the challenge which he gave to me, and not I to him. Is he now prepared to submit that question to the President of the Surveyors' Institution and docs he stand by it? He says he has now discovered that he cannot get the whole of the facts in 2,000 cases. I ask him will he take the cases where he can get the facts, which means cases where whole farms and whole estates have been sold, and where the gross rent is easily ascertainable. That is all I have to say upon that question.
Of course, anybody knows perfectly well that you cannot purchase land which is fit for small holdings on a 22½ years' rental. If you could, it would be very easy to establish small holdings and make them pay. But the right hon. Gentleman has only to look at this book, and he can see the figures quoted. I think the gross rental value was £42,000,000. The total, I think, is £815,000,000. That is. roughly, about 20 years' purchase of the gross rent. But that includes rough grazing. It includes all sorts of land no one would ever dream of buying for small holding purposes. But here, upon this basis—47 per cent., I think, my right hon. Friend said was the figure for net rent; I agree it is rather low—but upon the basis of this very book submitted in the last few days 948 to the House of Commons, that would be 40 years' purchase of the net rent.
I would like to add one or two figures with regard to the decline in agriculture, because it is not merely an agricultural problem; it is a great national problem, which we ought to tackle without any reference to any party considerations. It is a vital matter. The most important industry in this country-is going down. It is going down by general consent. Some hon. Members will probably say that the way to deal with it is by Protection. At any rate, we are all agreed that it is something which the State has got to take in hand on a big scale. I agree with every word that was said by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. Unless you can tackle it boldly, you had far better leave it alone. It is no use worrying about fiddling little things which simply annoy and irritate the farmer, and put him off his stroke, without helping him In the least. Protection is a big thing. Subsidy is a big thing, and the proposals we put forward and the proposals that are put forward by hon. Members above the Gangway arc all on a big scale. We are all agreed. at any rate, that if you arc going to deal with it, you must deal with it by some big measure from every point of view, because it is the greatest of our industries which is going down steadily.
Very startling figures have been given. showing that since 1891 there has been a decrease of 2,245,000 acres, not in land under tillage, but in land under cultivation. That includes tillage as well as permanent pasture. Let me give the figures—and they have been going down steadily in recent years. Take the figures which are given in this book of what has happened since 1918. A more startling figure than the figure of land converted from tillage to pasture is the figure of land which has been converted into what is called rough grazing, which means land they have ceased to cultivate at all. Since 1918- I am taking the Government figures—the rough grazings have increased by 1,073,000 acres. Surely that is a very startling figure, and this is the only country of which you can say that the area of the land under cultivation has gone down. I am not quite sure about Belgium, because of the enormous development there. It is a very small 949 country, and where you have enormous development like that, very possibly they have absorbed land into towns. But if you take every other country, there has been an increase in the area of cultivation. Germany, in spite of its great industrial developments, and in spite of the spread of the towns, has increased. Holland is a very remarkable case. There are a great many hon. Members who object to your mentioning Holland or Denmark, because they say they are not a case in point. But the one thing is that they are countries where agriculture gets on without Protection. It is a Free Trade experiment in both cases, and Belgium is much more Free Trade than it was before the War. In Denmark there has been an increase in the course of the last 40 or 50 years of 238,000 acres under cultivation. In Holland, the increase has been 1,137,000 acres. In Germany there has been an increase of 1,433,000 acres under cultivation, and that during a period when the industrial development of Germany was gigantic.
Reference has been made to the fact that our agricultural population is going down. So it is. A more serious fact, I think, is that the young people seem to be going away. I have had the census figures analysed. In the case of Devonshire, which is agriculturally as prosperous as any county, of the total males employed in 1871 33 per cent. were under 25. and in 1921 the figure was 26 per cent. The percentage of males over 25 in 1871 was 66 per cent., and in 1921, 74 per cent.
§ Sir R. SANDERS
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the total population has not increased considerably in the same period?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has interrupted, because it shows I did not quite make clear what the percentages were. These are not percentages of the total population; they are the percentages of the male agricultural labourers employed in Devonshire. Although the population of Devonshire has gone up considerably, the number of agricultural labourers has gone down considerably during that period A more striking fact than that is that the percentage of males under 25 employed in agriculture has gone down in the same period. What does that mean? It 950 means that the young people are leaving the land, that they are going into the towns, and that the old fellows are remaining. Everybody knows perfectly well that that is the case, and that is what makes the matter serious. I do not see why there should be any dispute about the facts between us, because whether your remedy is Protection,, or Subsidy, or whether it is the remedy we suggest, it is vital to have the facts, and the facts are sufficiently serious. Other countries are coping with it, some, I agree, in the way that recommends itself to my right hon. Friend who has just sat down. Germany has tackled it by means of high Protective duties. France has done exactly the same thing. On the other hand, Denmark and Holland have done it by means of a great national effort, very largely organised by the State,, with a liberal use of State credit, and in some cases by the State undertaking a great task on behalf of agriculture.
A good deal has been said about figures, and there was a little difference of opinion between my right hon. Friends with regard to cattle figures. Let us look at the cattle figures of the Western European countries which, like ourselves, have gone very largely into the cattle business. Denmark has given up the cultivation of corn. It found it more useful to go into the dairy business. That is a matter where, I agree with my right hon. Friend, a farmer must judge for himself what is the most profitable business to carry on. The agricultural business, like any other business, must be profitable; otherwise it cannot pay the farmer, and it cannot pay the agricultural labourer. Therefore, you have to judge on merits. Denmark has decided that corn growing is not its business. I am not quite sure about Holland, but take the figures of the cattle units in Western Europe. As far as numbers are concerned, we are fourth; and as far as growth is concerned, we are fifth. For England and Wales the stock units in 1873 were 30–7. In 1925 they had risen to 32¾9. So that there was an increase of 2¾2 in the units in England and Wales between 1873 and 1925. Belgium had increased during that period from 31 to 42; Holland, from 32 to 44; Denmark, from 24 to 43, and the same thing applies to Germany. There was an increase there, although not to the same extent,, because, as the 951 House knows, they have gone in for corn cultivation, and they have done their very best to make their country self-dependent in corn.
It is a very serious state of things in this country. The figures are continuing to go down. Here I quote a sentence from the speech of Mr. Baxter, the President of the National Farmers' Union. He said, speaking about a month ago, that he wished he had been taking office when agriculture. was in a more prosperous condition. He said he had watched very carefully the position since first he joined the union in 1919, and it appeared to him that since that date agriculture had slowly but surely declined in prosperity. That is a very serious state of things. I have repeatedly called attention to it. I think it is the duty of everybody to do so who realises the importance of this great question from the point of view of population and of food supplies. Let me quote a figure with regard to food supplies. My right hon. Friend referred to it, and so did the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston). I will give the figures of the food supplies we were buying from across the seas in 1872, food of the kind which could be raised in this country. I have converted the values of 1872 into the values of 1925 by taking the index figures for those dates. In 1872 we bought £235,000,000 worth of food from across the seas. In 1925—here I am taking the figure of the Government—we purchased £383,000,000 worth from abroad. The figure has gone up by very nearly £150,000,000. That is a serious fact when our land is going out of cultivation and our people are unemployed, and I think it is the duty of everyone who has been considering this problem—1 had to consider it from the point of view of national security during the last few years in the War—to consider it from the point of view of maintaining a population in the healthiest of all industries. It is the industry which is the nursery to a very large extent of the vitality of our towns. It is very important that the House of Commons should consider it, and consider it at an early date. I am afraid it is not very much use making appeals to the Government. I have made them over and over again. The House of Commons ought to consider this, which is one of the 952 gravest problems facing us, and take steps on bold lines for dealing with it, and dealing with it at an early date.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) began his speech with a reference to a subject which was not, perhaps, directly relevant to this Debate, but which is, I think, of some importance in connection with the wider issue which he raises in the country about the genera] position of the land and the necessity of the State buying out private owners because of the alleged excessive terms they seek to exact. On the occasion of the Third Reading Debate on the Small Holdings Bill the right hon. Gentleman made two statements. He said that in buying land the price was fixed on the gross rental value multiplied by so many years purchase, and he said that if you reduce the gross to the net you will not get a matter of 18 or 22$ years' purchase, representing 5½ per cent. to 4½per cent. on the money, but you will get from 40 to 50 years' purchase. The value to the investor obviously depends not on the gross rental, including all the outgoings—the rates for drainage, the upkeep, the tithe —it depends on what the investor is going to receive as income, in other words, the net rental; and I was therefore obliged to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, in spite of his knowledge of the law, as to the present practice in buying land. I have had this difference with the right hon. Gentleman on two occasions. On the first occasion, speaking from my small experience, but with the advice of the officials responsible, I gave definite information as to the basis on which this land has been bought. The right hon. Gentleman did not accept my assurance. In the next Debate he repeated the assertion he had made a few months before. He adopted the very unusual attitude of doubting information given deliberately by a public Department. On that matter of fact, as to what was the normal procedure of purchase, I asked him to accept the decision of the President of the Surveyors' Institution. There was no mystery about the terms of reference. They were sent to him, and they were published in the Press.
Mr. LLOYD GLORGE
I really must intervene. The challenge was not in respect of the practice. I will give the right hon. Gentleman his actual words:Under the provisions of the Act of 1919,I am quoting now the actual words—as applied to the purchase of small holdings by the Land Settlement Act of the same year, the average of the years' purchase of the net rent, not the gross rent, was …22½ years' purchase of the net.That is a definite statement of facts. I will go on to quote the right hon. Gentleman further:These facts have been looked into …and if the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to accept my word for it"—that is, for the facts,I shall be delighted, if he challenges it, to submit the figures"—not the practice—to the Surveyors Institution for them to certify.Certify what?that the land bought under the 1919 Land Settlement Act was bought at value not exceeding 22 years' purchase of the net rent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1926; col. 1092, Vol. 200.]I now ask the right hon. Gentleman, will he submit those figures to the President of the Surveyors' Institution?
§ Mr. GUINNESS
As I made clear in the correspondence, the collection of those figures would involve so large a public expenditure that I do not feel justified in incurring it.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
The right hon. Gentleman can pick out particular passages from two Debates showing that those figures were the issue. I agree that I was not aware at that time of the large expenditure which would be involved in collecting all this information and tabulating it for the President of the Surveyors' Institution, and I do not think—
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell roe this? I really must clear this up, as he gave me the challenge. He says I doubted the word of the Department. Does he mean to tell me that the Department informed him that the land bought under the Land Settlement Act, 1919, was bought at 22½ years' purchase of the net rent?
§ Mr. GUINNESS
After all, the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for these purchases of land. What is he trying to get at? Is he trying to get at the present position or the position for which he was responsible?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am only trying to get the right hon. Gentleman to carry out his own challenge to me. That is all I want. This is his challenge to me. He gave me figures. He said he had looked into them. He said if I doubted them, he was willing to refer them to the President of the Surveyors' Institution, and he is now trying to "skulk out of it."
§ Mr. GUINNESS
The right hon. Gentleman may say it is a matter of" skulking out of it, "but I do not think that his repeated misstatements are any justification for the expenditure of a large sum of money to prove that the right hon. Gentleman was wrong on detailed figures when it has already been amply proved that he was wrong on the principle, which was really the point at issue. After all, the Acquisition of Land Act, 1919. which was passed under the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman, and of which I presume he-approves, laid down that land had to be bought on the basis of valuation as if there were a willing seller, and the Land Settlement Act purchases were carried out either under the provisions of the right hon. Gentleman's Acquisition of Land Act, which followed the ordinary market practice. or, where compulsion was not resorted to, on voluntary terms. The voluntary purchases were more favourable to the Government and cost considerably less per acre than the compulsory purchases. The compulsory purchases had to be carried out on the basis laid clown by Mr. Dendy Watney. and under existing conditions this would be 18 to 22$ years' purchase of the net rental value. That, surely, is all that concerns the House—that the land is bought at the market value assessed in the ordinary way according to the practice of surveyors. The right hon. Gentle 955 man tries to ride off by saying I have not given the figures, which I admit that I thought at the time I could get without undue cost.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
When I get the assurance of the civil servant responsible that the law has been complied with, I accept that assurance. The right hon. Gentleman this evening referred to purchases in Anglesey and Cambridgeshire. Those are an illuminating example of the fallacies of the right hon. Gentleman, in the covering note published in regard to those purchases it was stated that the figures were arrived at by taking a uniform deduction of 35 per cent. from the gross rental. Gross rent is a very misleading basis. It is the practice to take the gross rental value, and the deductions are by no means a uniform 35 per cent., they vary very considerably. I have had the figures referred to by the right hon. Gentleman examined. Let me take the first Cambridgeshire case. The right hon. Gentleman argued that 40 years purchase on the net rental was obtained. The rental value of this farm has been estimated by the responsible officials, and not only by the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, but by the officials of the county council and the Inland Revenue officials, who also checked the figures. The gross rental value was estimated at £351, and has been taken at the actual rental of £210.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
Yes. Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not suggest that when land is bought you are to take the rent and not the rental value. The right hon. Gentleman has a large knowledge of this subject and when he was practising as a solicitor, and came to work out this matter, surely he did not take the rent without considering the rental value. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that good landlords often do not raise their rent 956 to sitting tenants. That is a matter of common knowledge, and I cannot imagine that he would wish to encourage the rack-renting of tenants during the term of their occupation. The total outgoings in the first case were not 35 per cent. but 20 per cent. The statutory outgoings were £9 11s. 6d. and repairs and insurance £61 Gs., making a total of £71. The result is that instead of 41 years' purchase on the net rental value which was suggested by the table referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, it works out at 21.1.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
Does the right hon. Gentleman really suggest that the purchase price should be based on rental regardless of rental value?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The right hon. Gentleman is really getting away from the challenge he made. He said it was 25 years upon the gross rental, and now the Minister of Agriculture goes into figures which are conjectural in this case, and he says the gross rental is £210, and he makes the valuation of premises and says it ought to be C310. If the right hon. Gentleman wants a court to revalue the land, and base it upon what the rental ought to be, of course that is quite a different thing. I am dealing with rentals as they are, and the statement I made was that the purchases were 25 years of the gross rental, that is the gross rental received at the present moment.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
The right hon. Gentleman keeps on repeating that statement that capital valuations are arrived at from gross rentals in spite of the fact that this would be meaningless to the investor, and that the President of the Surveyors' Institution has stated that no surveyor would ever dream of basing the purchase price on any such irrelevant basis.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
Under the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, land was bought at a very high price. At that time 957 the acquisition of land for ex-service men was of great importance, and whatever the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs thinks ought to be the basis of land purchase, the fact is that it was based in these cases on the estimated value of the. land at the time of purchase. Therefore if public money was wasted in these cases it was wasted by the Government for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was responsible.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
It is true that this land was bought at a boom price because land then was at a high value owing to the promises which the right hon. Gentleman made about making the land fit for heroes to live in, and naturally since then when the Corn Production Act was repealed, it brought down the value of land, and not only did the farmer lose but the State lost as well.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Both the right hon. Gentlemen to whom he has referred were Conservative Ministers of Agriculture.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
The right hon. Gentleman is now trying to run away from his responsibility. He has already told us the importance of this discussion is that the land which was bought for small holdings was bought at such a high price that it made the rental which would have to be demanded from the smallholders quite impossible for them to pay, because they could not afford it. The right hon. Gentleman has obviously not read his own Act or else he would know that the price at which the land is bought had nothing whatever to do with the rent which the smallholder had to pay. The best rent that can reasonably be obtained is the standard value laid down in the Act, and it has no conceivable connection with the price which the county council paid for the land. The case which has been made with regard to small holdings this afternoon is that we have dealt with this problem on too small a scale, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) said that we were dealing with scores of cases instead of with thousands. We are going to deal, according to the amount of money which the Government is prepared to provide with about 2,000 cases a year. Apparently 958 hon. Members opposite think that is un-sufficient, but the Act which was passed by hon. Gentlemen opposite in 1907 produced on the average between 1008 and 1914 1,838 small holdings per annum. That was in the days when small holdings were provided at practically no cost to public funds and on a rising market. if the right hon. Gentleman has such contempt for our provision of 2,000 small holdings a year, how much more contempt must he have for the achievements of the Government of which he was a member before the War, which in spite of easier conditions achieved a much smaller result.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I know the hon Member who has interrupted me takes a great interest in small holdings, but obviously in this case you cannot expect new machinery to get to work at once, because you must have first of all the negotiations for the land. Then you have to get the county council to approve of the scheme, and county councils do not meet more often than once a quarter, and the usual months are January and April. As a matter of fact, the Act only came into force just before Christmas, and the Circulars had not even reached the councils by their January meeting. At the next quarterly meeting in April the county councils will have an opportunity of considering their action. Hon. Members opposite are very fond of crying out about the necessity for economy. They say that the Government spend too much, and I notice that in another place Lord Oxford said the other day that Government Departments ought to be rationed. Surely, under these circumstances, it is not unreasonable that we should place a limit in these hard financial times of £150,000 a year for the provision of small holdings by the end of the fourth year of the Act.
When hon. Members opposite tell us that we ought to have more money to spend for this purpose, our answer must be that, under present conditions, we do not feel justified in asking for a larger sum of money for this particular object. The Debate has dealt in some detail with the recent census of production figures which have been embodied in the Report relating to agricultural output, and a good deal of comment has been made of the change which is shown there in the method of cultivation in this country. 959 British agriculturists have to fight worldwide competition, and it is not surprising that their industry has changed. They have to compete with large scale production in other countries where they pay proportionately much less wages, and their other costs of production are less. Under these circumstances it would be unreasonable to criticise the English farmer because he has been obliged to react to those conditions.
The Report shows that we lost in corn growing but have gained in dairying, market gardening and the production of poultry and eggs. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea mentioned the case of cattle, but the Census figures do not show recent history in this connection, and I may point out that in the last two years we have increased our herds of cattle by 360,000 and the increase in the flocks of sheep between 1924 and 1926 has been 2,000,000. The outstanding feature of this Report shows that the value of our agriculture output as a whole has been maintained in spite of all these adverse conditions. Of course the drop in arable land was inevitable, owing to the repeal of the Corn Production Act, and the decision of the country in 1923 that they would not accept the subsidy proposed by the Conservative party to keep the land under cultivation. The result is-that agriculture has been driven back to a purely economic basis.
There is one exception from the purely economic basis. and it is sugar beet. I do not need to deal with this new industry in a special way because we knew that our policy was not to be reversed, and it was agreed to by hon. Members of the party opposite. It is interesting now to learn that the Liberal party are opposed to these Grants-in-Aid of the sugar-beet industry, and consequently they are resisting the chief measure which has been brought forward in recent years to try and keep arable land under the plough. The hon. Member for Carnarvon (Major Owen) commented on the decline in the number of holdings. It is quite true that, taking a period of 50 years. there has been a decrease in the number below 20 acres, but there has been an increase in the number between 20 and 50 acres, and between 50 acres and 300 acres. No 960 doubt, the smaller holdings have been absorbed by the growth of the towns and by the absorption of accommodation land and pleasure grounds, but the consoling fact brought out in the Report is that, although the number of separate holdings may have decreased, the number of farmers, according to the Census Returns, increased by 42,000 between 1911 and 1921. Hon. Members opposite want to know what the Conservative Government proposes. The answer is laid down in a White Paper which we issued last year. We are driven to indirect means of helping agriculture by the fact that, owing to the attitude of hon. Members opposite, there is no possibility of an agreed policy of assistance, and because we certainly are not justified in risking a repetition of the misfortunes which overtook agriculture from the reversal of policy in connection with the Corn Production Act. But we can avoid dislocating agriculture by the methods which have been suggested by hon. Members opposite, by interfering with the farmer, by controlling his operations, by upsetting the basis of land tenure, and destroying all sense of security.
§ Major OWEN
Have the Government definitely decided not to proceed with their policy for the establishment of long credits for agriculture?
§ Mr. GUINNESS
Certainly not. I have answered, at least 10 times during the present Session, questions on this subject, and I have made it clear that we are exploring this question. It was well understood last year, in the then position of the money market, that it was a most unfavourable moment to launch any new scheme. It is a very difficult matter to divert the streams of British credit, and we have got to find some way of providing an adequate volume of credit at terms which are within the reach of the borrower. I have every hope of finding a soution,, and, as I have already stated, as soon as we are able to reach a conclusion we shall make an announcement.
§ Major OWEN
Will the right hon. Gentleman be able to persuade the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to provide better financial assistance if they pre able to borrow at lower rates of interest?
§ Mr. GUINNESS
It is not a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer; it 961 is a matter for the money market. Hon. Members opposite do not seem to understand that you cannot turn on credit as though it came through a tap. You have to bring in the investor, and it is perfectly useless to work; out paper schemes which will not be acceptable to the lenders.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
"We are subsidising the sugar beet industry, but there is no money being borrowed in connection with the subsidy. That has absolutely no connection whatever with the problem of long term credits. The hon. Member for Carnarvon, and others, raised the question of land drainage, and they said we have left this matter alone. Between 1921 and 1926 schemes were carried out with a view specially to giving employment in the slack part of the year. These schemes were limited to the winter months, because they were prompted by the object of giving work. One thousand eight hundred and twenty schemes were carried out at a cost of £856,000 to the State, and, at the end of that period, it was found that the number of schemes suitable for these grants was decreasing. Last year we felt that we. must settle the larger needs of drainage. We passed an Act to give compulsory powers to county councils to carry out smaller schemes and ensure their maintenance, and we announced that we were to spend £1,000,000 during the next five years to make larger schemes possible that would otherwise be outside the financial powers of the statutory drainage authorities. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) apparently objected to any further expenditure of public money on land drainage, because he said it would go to the benefit of the inefficients who had allowed the land to get waterlogged. But he cannot have understood that the new scheme is not for the individual, it is for work which cannot be undertaken by any individual, but must be in the hands of the statutory drainage undertakings.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
What my hon. Friend said was that the money expended on drainage would finally go to the landowner. Is there any denial of that?
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I think there is. The landowner, I think, invariably pays the 962 drainage rate, and these schemes will cost a large amount of money which will have to be found by the drainage authorities, because the £1,000,000 will be a small part of the total expenditure. We believe that it is necessary to deal with arterial drainage in the way that we propose. It is quite untrue to say that we are neglecting this matter. I hope, in the course of the next day or two, to introduce a Drainage Bill which will affect very large areas of fertile land which are threatened with flooding and with loss of fertility. We are also in negotiation with other drainage authorities, such as the Arun and Rother authorities, with a view to making grants towards the cost of various works of permanent improvement, and have recently approved considerable grants for work in Somerset, and in the Pevensey Levels in Sussex.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
The Out scheme will not altogether be covered by the £1,000,000, but the schemes outside the Out will certainly come within this sum. Hon. Members referred to the social side of our programme, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) complained that, in regard to certain rates of wages, I had not referred the matter back to the Wages Committees. He also suggested that, in these cases, I should invite the Central Board to impose a minimum wage to apply to the whole country. That is the very system of fixing wages centrally from London that we on this side of the House contended was an unsound system when the Bill was passed three years ago. Of course, in the case of these committees in Norfolk and Suffolk, it would have been in my power to refer hack the decisions, but Clause 2, Sub-section 4, lays down a definite standard for committees, subject to what is practicable, and, in both these cases, I examined the minutes of the committees very carefully, and I came to the conclusion that the committees had carried out their statutory duties and fixed the wages as high as they considered that the industry could bear, in view of the economic position. Under these circumstances, I did not think that, except in the case of new facts emerging, we had any reason to refer this matter back. The right hon. Gentleman the 963 Member for Northern Norfolk mentioned the test inspections, and he said that the inspections of last year showed a great deal of irregularity on the part of employers, and that we were not doing enough in this direction. As he knows, we increased the inspectorate last November, and whereas last year we were able to carry out only 196 test inspections, this year, since the 1st of January, we have been able to complete 259. We are, therefore, making these inspections in five or six times as many cases as we did last year, and, having dealt with the more backward areas In the first instance, we are getting much more satisfactory results from the inspections we are making at the present time.
Various references have been made to the drift to the towns which is alleged to be taking place from the country districts. I do not think that the case is altogether so bad as hon. Members have suggested. It is true that there has been a drop in the number of casual workers, not shown in this Report but shown in our agricultural returns, of 23,000 between 1925 and 1926; but, on the other hand, we have the very encouraging new fact of the increase in the number of regular workers. For the first time for many years, we have an increase of 15,000 in the number of men and women regularly employed on the land. We all recognise the necessity of keeping a large and contented agricultural population on the land, but no hon. Members opposite have suggested any method of achieving that object beyond the methods we have already put into force. We have tackled the question of small holdings with a view to increasing the opportunities of advancement among the rural population. We have also increased the facilities for education for those who have no means of their own, to enable them to become proficient in the scientific side of their industry. We are doing much in various directions to increase the amenities of the countryside, and we are doing everything in our power to help the fanner by removing the obstacles which beset his path, and at the same time to make life more profitable and more attractive to those who work on the land.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
There are three questions which make it very interesting for a back bencher to sit quietly and 964 watch what is going on. One is mining, one is unemployment, and the third is agriculture. Everyone seems to dance round these three questions, in case anyone should hit upon a solution of the problem that the House is trying to solve. The problem of agriculture might be solved if Parliament and the good people who are anxious to nurse it into good health would leave it alone. These may seem strange words to come from these benches, since bureaucracy and State authority are synonymous with the policies advocated from this side. Hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite are always upbraiding Members on this side for wanting to introduce more restrictive Measures, or Measures which will give Parliament power to control the destinies of agriculturists. I would be quite willing to take their advice, and leave agriculturists alone to look after the land and the development of agriculture, if they on their side would give us the guarantee that they would instruct their friends the landowners to leave the agriculturists alone also. So long, however, as the land monopolists have control in agricultural areas, it is necessary for something to be done to protect agricultural workers against the inroads which those monopolists may make. To that extent, although I believe in freedom, although I believe in mutual cooperation among free men rather than subjection to the dictates of a grandmotherly State, I am compelled, individualist though I am, to agree to a certain amount of State protection for the working classes who are engaged in agriculture.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Lamb), who is a good Friend of mine, for whom I have a considerable regard, and who knows the whole question of agriculture intimately, made what, in my opinion, was rather a strange statement when he was speaking about the Danish agriculturists. Denmark stands as an example to England of what might be done in this country. I have travelled through Denmark, and, like one of my hon. Friends on these benches, I was amazed to notice the measure of comfort and the great sense of independence prevailing among the smallholders, and, what is more, the great loyalty of the Dutch agriculturists to the principle of co-operation. So strongly is the principle of co-operation ingrained in the 965 Danish agriculturists that the requirement of keen inspection from State Departments is to a large extent eliminated, because the Danes consider that their reputation as an exporting country stands so high that no man would willingly send in diseased meat or any form of corrupt agricultural produce. When one comes home to England, one finds the right hon. Gentleman and his friends in the Agricultural Department asking what we can suggest to resuscitate agriculture in this country. I suggest that we should send the Minister of Agriculture and all his permanent officials to Denmark for about three months to see what is going on there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone said that we could not make comparisons between Denmark and this country, because Denmark is an exporting country, whereas we in England are more or less selling our goods at our own door—in the home market. Another point he made was that England is open to the vacillations of the world's markets, but I would remind my hon. Friend that Denmark, as an exporting country, is also subject to the fluctuations of an international market as well as England, so that point does not stand. The point, however, that I want to make is that, if it pays Denmark—and undoubtedly it does—to export an enormous amount of agricultural produce to England every year by shipment over the sea, how much more successfully should the English farmer be able to carry on agriculture when he has the English market at his very door. The Dane has to export over the water; our farmers have London, Glasgow, Leeds, all these vast aggregates of human beings who would consume his produce if he could get it there, and could be sure that, when it got there, it did not land into the hands of a few Welshmen who are rigging the market and the shops. There is no argument in the point that Denmark is an exporting country, and that there they have some advantage over the British farmer, but there is force in the argument which I am now advancing, that, if the great market upon which Denmark depends more than any other, namely, the English market, is lying to the hand of the British farmer, it is all the greater disgrace to the British agricultural industry that it is not in a flourishing condition.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I know that peasant proprietors are very numerous in Denmark, and we have numbers of them here, but greater facilities are offered to the peasant proprietor in Denmark to settle himself on the soil and co-operate with other peasant proprietors. Indeed, it is not so much the question of peasant proprietorship in Denmark, as the existence of this sort of second nature in the Danes to work co-operatively, not only in their production but in their purchases for the purpose of carrying on their agricultural industry. It was rather amusing to notice the Minister himself, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders), when they came to this question, asking why it is that we cannot co-operate in British agriculture. They say that they have lost money in it, that they have attempted to do it, but that those who have ever touched this enterprise of co-operation in British agriculture have always lost money. It is interesting, however, to notice that they gave no reason why it is that the agricultural industry in England cannot develop this sense of co-operation. I saw a very interesting note in the Press of last week, which is worth quoting. I take it from the "Daily News" of the 22nd March. In Lincoln, Sir Archibald Weigall, the Chairman of the Committee of the Lincolnshire Co-operative Bacon Factory, made some very pertinent remarks. He opened his speech by saying thatThe chief reason for the failure of this bacon factory was the flooding of the country with pigs from the Danish market.I wonder if hon. Gentlemen agree with him. The next paragraph goes on to say:Speaking of the disloyalty of the Lincolnshire farmers. Sir Archibald said that only 60 out of 600 members had regularly done business with the factory. Some even used the factory to obtain a better price from other dealers. So long as the Lincolnshire farmer 'did the dirty ' like that, there was no hope of his ever being able to understand the fundamentals of co-operative marketing.And the possibility is that every one of these gentlemen will be voting for a Mom- 967 ber who sits on the other side of the House? The reason you have not got co-operation in British agriculture has been the generic causes, historically understood, which make it no perplexing problem to anyone on this side of the House. For centuries the agricultural worker could not call his soul his own. I well remember the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) saying, in reference to this relationship between the dominating gentlemen of agricultural areas and the serfs of agricultural workers, "In Russia you have one Tsar. In England you have 6,000 little tsars more powerful than the Tsar of Russia." These are things which have left their mark on British agriculture. True, the power of the landowner is going back a bit, but it has left its mark on the mentality of agricultural people. They are Conservatives by nature. They are believers in paternal good government. They have not yet arrived at the condition when they believe in standing on both their feet and demanding their liberty as free individuals in society. They believe in still cringing to the landowner on the one hand or to the Farmers' Union, which is more or less the tool of the Landowners' Union, on the other. These may be laughable, but they are none the less serious facts.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Of course. you would, because you sit on that side of the House and you are identified with the Farmers' Union. My point is that the reason why it is difficult to get the British farmer to co-operate is that there is not yet that mental condition in his brain that predisposes him to enter into co-operation with his fellows. I have discussed this matter not only with farmers but with very large landowners, and they tell me the farmer looks over the hedge of the other fellow and is afraid that he knows anything of what he is doing on the other side of the hedge. Co-operation is a thing they are dead afraid of. They will believe they are free British individuals refusing to co-operate with their partners, and all the time the whole thing is frittering along into this condition of destitution. The Minister is a new man at his job for whom I have a 968 very great amount of sympathy and admiration. I think he is doing remarkably well considering the short period he has been in office. I do not think he lost all the high marks in his dialectical battle with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. If I may comment on the little passage-at-arms, it really does not matter whether the land is bought at 22 years' gross rental value or 40 years' net. The point is that whenever the public enters into the market to get land to put the people upon it, even on your own statement at that Box, to open it up, to find opportunities for unemployed men and discharged men—I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman will read that speech tomorrow with the same complacency as he delivered it to-night. He said, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs shoutel aloud from the housetops, "We are going to give I and for heroes" because he heralded that policy the landowners put the price of land up against the Government. I hope he will not forget that. We will use it with some effect when we are dealing with agriculture in the country. The right hon. Gentleman to-night says the Government have endeavoured, by rather meagre funds, heavily circumscribed by the overshadowing power of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to buy land. I think it is a good job the Chancellor has the brake on because if the entire wealth of the Exchequer was put at the disposal of the Minister of Agriculture and he was told. "There you are, you are free to run on this fund to get land for heroes and for the unemployed," the same thing would happen as happened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. He said he was in the market looking for land. It is always the way and it will always remain the way.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I think the hon. Member will find the right hon. Gentleman was referring to the greater prosperity the Corn Production Act offered to the British farmer and not to the fact that the British Government was going into the market.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I am in the recollection of the House. You said the land 969 rose in value the moment the then Prime Minister said he was going into the market to get land for heroes. It is also true the right hon. Gentleman said to-night that the Corn Production Act had the effect of inflating the value of land. To that I immediately agree. I pointed it out at the time. That is why I would be the very first, if once we could remove the land worker from the dominating power of landlordism, to oppose bureaucratic interference from this side of the House. As a matter of fact as we have this condition of affairs for the land worker, and those who want land are under the power of landlordism, you are always given the excuse for bureaucratic tampering.
I want finally to make this point, that you cannot hope to do anything for agriculture by entering the market as a purchaser of land—and I am sorry to say I see it sometimes advocated on these benches. I have here some figures that were given last week in reply to a question by a Member on this side of the House as to the prices asked for land for local authorities in 1925. This is how we encourage agriculture. I hope some of those who still believe in purchasing land for State control or peasant proprietors or anything else you like will endeavour to appreciate what the figures mean. I see it is stipulated here that Liverpool—I do not know when it became an agricultural centre—wanted land for small holdings—15 acres—for which they had to pay an average price of £200 per acre. Then we come to Blyth, where the average price chargeable for small holdings was £254 per acre, and Smethwick—a place of recent fame—£250 per acre. Then I come to Harrogate, where the amount charged per acre for agricultural land was £343.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I think the hon. Member is quoting from a list of small parcels of land bought for allotments, and not for small holdings.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
That makes it all the worse. It is true these were patches of land bought for allotments, but the right hon. Gentleman can visualise what would happen if these were the prices now chargeable not by the pressure of arbitration but in voluntary negotiations between the councils and the people who own the land. What will be the effect in 970 the immediate future if we encourage this idea, which seems to me prevalent in the House, that the only way to solve the agricultural problem is by inflating more money into the purchase of land. What will happen in face of those facts? We are spending millions out of the Road Fund to make new roads We are on the verge of developing a great electricity scheme. There are proposals on foot for deepening and widening canals. When all these national services are brought up to the point of efficiency the net result of all this will be just as has been referred to with regard to drainage, to increase the capital value of land, and if on the one hand the Government is spending millions on good services, roads, canals, electrification of railways, drainage, and so on, enhancing the value of the land, and on the other you are going out into the country and advertising the fact that you are coming forward to solve the agricultural problem as a buyer of land—with both those movements you are bound to enhance the price of land and make the solving of the problem utterly impossible. There must be hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, as there are on this side, who look on this condition as nothing short of a tragedy, especially when they compare it with the happy condition which prevails in Denmark. Last year, when I was in Denmark they showed me ex-convicts employed upon the marlpits, drawing marl out of the pits and reclaiming land and redressing the soil. When I saw the feverish activity of the Danes in that small country and I thought of the much better land which I had left behind in England, in a derelict condition, it made me feel that there is no question that could come before this House that is more important than, or even equal in importance to, agricultural development in England.
Let us contemplate to-night the position of 2,000,000 children looking for employment after they have left the schools. We are turning 600,000 boys and girls out of schools annually. These children cost the State a good deal in a monetary sense, but the cost in regard to demoralisation is much greater. Here, we have our land going out of use, and yet there are all these possible students who might be moulding and preparing the land of this country, and they are 971 not taken in hand. One cannot look upon any other country which one visits without a feeling of pride in the fact of the magnificence of our own country, but it always makes mo feel depressed beyond measure when I see the possibilities of our land which are not being utilised, and when I think of the mass of the people who are traversing the streets without work and who are becoming an incubus upon the taxes and rates of this country. It is an enormous question. I hope that one day the Conservative party may be endowed with a large and liberal sense of the immensity of the problem and of the courage which will be required of them to challenge the vested interests which intimidate them to-day. I will never ask the Conservative party of to-day to do anything, because they sit in this House as the representatives of those who own and control the land of England. It is not likely that they will ever use the scythe to cut down the growth of this monopoly, and it will be left for those of us who succeed them to do it. The policy which the Conservative party has pursued in its career carries with it the inflation of the land monopoly and keeps the workers where they are. A bolder policy is necessary, based upon economic laws and not upon mere political expediency, and that policy, I hope, will come to us in the near future.
§ Sir D. NEWTON
I will endeavour to obey the repeated requests, which have been made recently, from the Chair and make my speech as brief as possible. There have been several offenders to-day; but we have had only three speeches so far from this side of the House. I would like to refer to the allusion which was made by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs to the administration of the Small Holdings Act, 1908, and the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, 1919, by the Cambridgeshire County Council, which operates in the constituency which I represent. I will not attempt to follow the personal differences of opinion which arose on that matter; but I would like to point out that before the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, 1919, was introduced small holdings were most efficiently administered by the Cambridgeshire County Council, and that no loss fell upon the ratepayers of 972 the county. If there was extravagance at a later stage, it was not due to county council administration but was due, possibly, to the faults contained in the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, which led eventually to a burden being placed upon the taxpayers of this country of between £17,000,000 and £20,000,000.
I would like to make one or two suggestions which might add to the amenities and advantages of agriculturists. We have heard a great deal of criticism in regard to small holdings, land drainage and co-operation, but we have heard very little of a practical, constructive, administrative nature. I would like to refer to the application of electricity to the industry of agriculture. So far, not one word has been said on that particular point. During the passage of the Electricity Bill recently we were told that we should be able to get a cheap and plentiful supply of electricity. I am sorry to draw the attention of the Minister of Agriculture to the fact that a situation has arisen which is not very helpful and not very hopeful as far as a cheap and plentiful supply of electricity to agricultural areas is concerned. This is an important matter. When we travel abroad we find that electricity is available to the farmers on almost every homestead. The fact that a large volume of electrical power is available on the farms enable farmers in Germany and other countries to use larger and more efficient machines, such as threshing and other machines, than those which can be driven by tractors and ordinary steam engines in this country.
It is a matter of some consequence to farmers and agriculturists both from the economic point of view on the farm, as well as from the amenity point of view of those who live in the country, that electricity should be made available to them; but if a cheap and abundant supply of electricity is to become available, steps must be taken to provide greater facilities for the erection of the overhead lines. Arrangements should be made for official recognition of standard rates of payment in connection with the provision of wayleaves for overhead lines Payment at so much per pole, and similar arrangements for obtaining consents in a more simplified and a cheaper way 973 should be made. At the present time it costs something like £l,200 per mile to run an overhead electrical line, to which you must add £100 or even £200 more for the expense that has to be incurred in obtaining consents and way-leaves. This is a matter which demands the attention of the Minister of Agriculture, and I hope he will take early steps to get into touch with the appropriae Government Department to arrive at some working arrangement in order that these difficulties may be overcome.
The difficulties which arise are not in all cases due to landowners. The Postmaster-General is himself an offender in this respect. Even when the Postmaster-General is not a first-comer, he sometimes subsequently calls upon the undertaker who brings the current to provide protection for Post Office wires. If these restrictions are to be allowed in the case of a Government Department, it will indeed be bad for the consumer of electricity. Electrical development will continue to be retarded until a general power is given to undertakers to use overhead lines, provided that they erect them in compliance with a certain standard basic specification. I hope that this matter will be looked into in order that sanction may be given to use shorter poles than the existing Regulations allow; this will make the cost less and bring the current within the reach of more villages and outlying farms which at present cannot be provided with current owing to existing Regulations.
§ Mr. HARDIE
May I ask the hon. Member why it was that he opposed these proposals when they were before the Electricity Committee? And may I ask what height he would place the poles in order to guarantee safety?
§ Sir D. NEWTON
That is a matter of detail on which the House will not perhaps wish me to weary them with my personal views. I think the present height is unreasonable and might be reduced. I want to point out that the electricity which we hoped to obtain is delayed in its coming owing to certain administrative difficulties, which I think should receive the attention of those responsible. They can be removed by a little further consideration. I trust this matter will receive the early attention 974 of the Ministry of Agriculture, because I am sure it is in the interests of people living in the country districts that this question should be dealt with at an early date.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I see the Secretary of State for Scotland in the House, and I hope hon. Members will bear with me if I transfer the discussion of this problem across the border. The House learned the other day that agriculture in Scotland, on its administrative side, is in a transition stage, and I do not know how far I can go in the direction of finding out from my right hon. Friend what he ultimately proposes to do with regard to the position in Scotland. We have in Scotland various Land Settlement Acts, and I propose in a few words to discuss the administration of these Acts under two heads. First the settlement of holders upon the land and, secondly, research and scientific investigation. With regard to the first, settlement on the land. It is generally admitted in all parts of Scotland that settlement upon the land has been bad administratively, and very unsatisfactory. It is an extraordinary thing that though these Acts have been in force for so many years—I admit the War intervened—that there are still thousands of people, fitted and competent to settle upon the land, who have not been so settled. I was interested to hear the other day a reply to a question. An hon. Member asked how many men in a certain island on the west coast of Scotland, who had applied many years ago for land, still remained unsettled, and the reply was 700. Other questions have been put to the Secretary of State in connection with the seizure of land in one of these islands. I do not excuse any breach of the law, and I do not think any Member of this House would excuse any breach of the law.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Well, I admit that the disappointment created in the minds of these men must be very trying indeed. There is undoubtedly a land hunger in the Islands of Scotland, and in many parts of Scotland, but in no part is the land hunger so severe as it is in the Outer Islands, where the main commodity upon which people can work, apart from the sea, is the land. I do not know what attitude the right hon. Gentle- 975 man proposes to adopt towards these men, although I have a fair idea. He is perfectly entitled to deprecate a breach of the law, but their disappointment is so severe a trial that I beg him, in view of the fact that lawlessness may increase, to do something to alleviate this land hunger. He rightly said in one of his speeches that it would be no aid to these men, when he came to consider their cases, that they had actually seized land which was not theirs, but I am afraid that they will be forced to do something of that kind, and I beg him to take immediate action, in places where there is really nothing for them to do except to settle upon the land, to see that they get a fair chance of obtaining their wishes. If there has been no satisfactory settlement of people on the land, what is the other salient fact which meets one's eye? I was reading in a newspaper a statement made by the Public Accounts Committee, and I find that there has been a huge annual loss on Scottish small holdings. I am reading from the Press, and I am sure the right hong. Gentleman will understand that I am reading correctly, and I find it said:The loss mentioned above differs materially from the aggregate loss calculated on an ordinary commercial basis. On this basis the loss on the small holdings colonies for the year ending 25th March was £252.817, including a loss on revaluation of £150,000. The aggregate loss on all holdings on 31st March, 1925, similarly calculated, was £750,000.The House will easily realise that the taxpayer, not only in Scotland but in every part of the country, is anxious when statements of that kind are made after investigation by a disinterested public body. I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman will dispute these facts. They are in black and white, and they have been investigated by this semi-judicial body. While all this expenditure has been wasted—there is no other word for it—a solution of the problem, a. solution of land settlement, is not a bit further advanced. We know that at certain times it was very uneconomic to settle men upon the land; I say that in favour of the Department in charge. A great many men were settled on the land when prices were high, and the suggestion was made that the moment when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) uttered the war-cry 976 that we must have land for heroes, up went the prices. I do not know whether there is any justification for that statement, the hon. Member who preceded me said there was, I do not know, but I do know that a great many men who were settled on the land then bought the land at the top of the market, or the Government bought it for them, that the price of implements was higher than at any other time in the. history of the country, and that the price of stock was higher. And these men, who came back after fighting for four-and-a-half years for the country, looking forward to a settlement on the land as their life's work, found after a year or two that they could not make both ends meet. The situation is, therefore, becoming not only complicated but extremely difficult.
In my judgment it will require the genius of statesmanship of my right hon. Friend and all his colleagues to solve that problem now. I for one was not at all anxious to see so many men settled at that time. But since then prices have become lower, and you have still no serious and determined attempts made to settle men on the land. I think it is a great pity, in the interests of the country, that land settlement has been stopped, because you are depriving the heart of the Empire of some of the finest stock the world has ever seen. From that point of view you are doing the country and the Empire a great injury. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Lamb), I had the honour of going all over the Empire, and I realised then the very high value put upon that stock there. But that stock does not wish to leave its own countryside and its own glens. These people are very anxious to be maintained, in comparative comfort at least, upon the soil upon which they were born. It is indeed distressing to all who are sincerely interested in land settlement in Scotland that the results by 1927 are so extremely unsatisfactory.
It is proposed now, I understand, to abolish the Board of Agriculture under whose aegis the land settlement was inaugurated in 1911 and was maintained. What does my right hon. Friend propose to do now? Does he propose to continue land settlement with Small Holdings Commissioners? Does he propose to advance any money as it is advanced in other parts of the country in 977 order to help those men who settle on the land? What is the proposal? I do not know how far I am allowed to go into the discussion of this subject, because legislation is proposed, but I think I am entitled to ask my right hon. Friend whether he will not in his reply tell the House of Commons, which is deeply interested in this problem, whether he proposes to go on with the land settlement, as the House of Commons by huge majorities enjoined him and his predecessors to do, or whether he does not.
Now I come to the second part of my subject. I refer to research and scientific investigation. Incidently may I ask whether there is any proposal to do justice to the agricultural colleges in Scotland in the matter of salaries? I remember that two years ago I put that question to my right hon. Friend or to his predecessor. As I understand the situation, the colleges of agriculture in England are well situated so far as salaries are concerned. The reasonable request of the assistants and lecturers in the agricultural colleges of Scotland is that for doing the same work as their English brethren they are entitled to the same pay. I do not think that even the Chancellor of the Exchequer would object to that doctrine. At any rate, it is a sound and safe doctrine. In the interests of justice and fair play and good teaching and discipline the promises or pledges that, I understand, they received, should be fulfilled as soon as possible. While I had a reason earlier to express my own views and those of my colleagues in regard to land settlement, I must say this about the work of the Board of Agriculture. I think that the Board has done an enormous amount of good in improving the stock and strain of the cattle in the North of Scotland. I think it is entitled to a great deal of praise because of that. If one goes to a Highland show in the autumn one cannot fail to see the enormous improvement in the stock of the smallholders. I believe that it has been almost entirely due, first of all, to the keen spirit which has been engendered by the teaching of agriculture and stock rearing by the Board, and to the assistance and direct financial encouragement of the Board and Government to these breeders in the various 978 glens of the north. I hope that that work will be continued. I and my colleagues wish as much money as possible to be expended upon scientific investigation and research. We have received letters with regard to the wart disease in potatoes, and I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland has had similar letters. The complaint, I understand, is that because certain potatoes in a small garden area have been found with warts, the whole of the county has been scheduled as a prohibited area and is not allowed to send out for the purpose of sale any potato seed of that particular variety. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reassure the many potato rearers and merchants in Scotland that something is being done. I mention that incidentally, because it is one of the topics which are exciting the agricultural community in Scotland, and it is one where the value of scientific research would be enormous.
As has been said to-day, you cannot perfect any system of agriculture by any spectacular action. By that I mean that it is a careful and gradual process of hard work. You cannot stand up and say that by a stroke of the pen or by an Act of Parliament you are going to introduce into the country a fine agricultural system. I do not believe there is a man in the House who would subscribe to any such proposition. But you can do a lot of good by a series of carefully thought out measures, and you can attempt in some way to solve what I regard as one of the direst problems affecting the life of the country—the rural problem, the problem of the exodus from the countryside to the town and the competition thereby set up in the labour market of the town. What are the suggestions of those who are sincerely anxious to help in solving this problem? I think that just as you have it under the various Land Settlement Acts in Scotland for smallholders, the first thing that the farmer requires is security of tenure. I strongly object to the individual who is called a pluralist farmer. I think it is wrong that one man should have more than one farm. If you allow one man to have more than one farm what happens? I know one who has five or six; and probably the only farm which is arable and tilled is 979 the home farm. The others are out in pasture. In proportion as you take away tillage, in the same proportion do you lower the population. Very often on one farm you would have three or four families to bring custom to the local village, to the tailor, the blacksmith, the boot maker, and even to the church and the school.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
That may be true of Glasgow, but in the North of Scotland we do not regard the publican as one of our assets in that direction. I think security of tenure for the farmer is one of the essential factors in any solution of this problem. Then again I think you must have what Members from England have been asking for, namely, an extension of the credit system and also co-operative or State banks. In regard to small holdings, in my judgment you must not only make them larger but you must give transport and road facilities to the community. I could take the right hon. Gentleman to parts of the North of Scotland where people have been living for generations, if not for centuries, under a road system which is a disgrace to modern civilisation. Very often in the winter months, the children cannot go dry-shod to school, because of the want of a bridge. These are conditions which militate against the desire to remain on the countryside. When one sees £9,000,000 and sums of that kind granted to Kenya or to some other new Colony or mandated territory which has just come within the British Empire, and when one sees at the same time that the people who have been the lifeblood of that Empire are unable to get a single thing to help to make life happy, pleasant or contented for them, it gives one pause.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The hon. Member says they are sent to China. The Scotsmen for whom I am pleading have never been backward when the country was in danger. They have always been in the van and the forefront of the battle for their country; but there is no use in talking about the repopulation of the glens and the countryside unless and until you make life comparatively com- 980 fortable for those people who wish to stay there. You cannot effect that end until you have good transport, good roads, good communications, even good postal facilities, for these people and proper arrangement for the children to go to school. It is asking too much from men of spirit, to ask them to endure the sort of thing which now prevails; and when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering the problem as a whole, I hope he will consider it in that light.
If you are not going to extend the small holdings so that the men and their families can live in comparative comfort on them,. you must have a subsidiary occupation, and there is no occupation so sound, so safe, and so good in the country districts as afforestation. It is a suitable occupation for the countryside. It is a fine open life, and when the smallholder is not busy on his holding, there is always work for him in it. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is not directly connected with the forestry movement, but the Board of Agriculture has, and the new Department which is to be created will have a great deal to do with the Forestry Department, and it should be possible for them to co-operate in a movement of this kind which will do more than anything else to settle people peacefully, happily and contentedly upon the land. I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention once again to what I regard as the urgency and insistence of this problem. From the point of view of Scotland and from the point of view of the Empire there is no problem so important. It concerns not only the life of the countryside but the life-blood of the Empire. My colleagues and I will support him in anything which will effect our desire to see a real land settlement in Scotland and to see a happier countryside. That is the only way to solve the problem of depopulation. It can only be done by Measures of the kind I have indicated which, in the long run, will prove to be of priceless benefit both to Scotland and to the Empire as a whole.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I should not have taken part in this Debate but for the remarks made by an hon. Member opposite who spoke of what might be done by cheap electricity in agriculture, and who 981 appealed to the Minister in his own Government to take some action in that matter. That hon. Member was on the Committee which dealt with the Electricity (Supply) Act) when it was before (his House, and he voted against the very proposals which he is now asking the Minister to carry into effect. It seems to me a useless kind of life to act against what you know to be required, and to vote against what you know to be the realities., and then to come along and ask that a certain thing should be done when you have helped to pass a Measure which makes that thing impossible.
There is one way of not getting cheap electricity into agriculture, and that is by the present Act of Parliament, which regulates the supply of electricity, but in no way encourages the cheap supply of power for the agricultural districts. If you take Scotland in this relation, you will see that nothing in that scheme was ever considered by the Government from the point of view of the national need of agriculture. There is not a single thing in those provisions that gives power to link up a possible supply or over-supply of electricity for the needs of agriculture. Some people think that, when you speak of electricity in agriculture, you want to use the current so as to assist growth. That can be done, but in places like Scotland the first thing you think about in connection with electricity and agriculture is cheap transport, because unless we are going to get cheap transport we are up against a real difficulty, as the right hon. Member for Hoes and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) showed when he dealt with the condition) of the roads, but with a scheme properly thought out we could, if we were sensible people in this country, for the money we are now paying per mile per road, put clown, electrically driven, a means of transport both for passengers and for goods in country districts all over Scotland and England. But vested interest is such that even an idea like that, being expressed by myself, is met with every form of opposition; vested interest, and not national interest, comes first.
We held land as a nation at Gretna which we bought at fabulous prices for war purposes, and instead of the nation retaining this valuable land, where settlers might have been established, where the houses used by the workers 982 making explosives during the War might have been used by ex-service men as settlers, what happened? Take the Government returns to show what was paid for the land and the price that was received when they sold it—only they did not 6ell it, because the money they got for it does not represent a sale so much as a gift back to the landlord. The Secretary of State for Scotland knows one case where the sale price to the Government was £18,000, and they bought it back again for £1,800, but there is no sense of shame in vested interest. The whole attitude of every Tory Government in the history of this country is this, that wherever the question of land comes up, wherever, at any time, the nation in stress has had to buy land to do something, the moment it gets rid of the stress a Tory Government always insist that they must not own land as a nation but must give it back to private enterprise, and they give It for almost nothing. Here was Gretna, where there was everything necessary as a village, as a community, even to the picture house, and look at the devastation that has taken place in that area today. Look at the houses that have been destroyed. It was a community with churches, picture houses, everything, and the destructive element of the Tory mind has done this after building the finest water-purifying scheme that was ever built anywhere.
They spent a million and a quarter to purify the water there, and then sold the pipes which carried that water to the community to some contractor or broker, and now they are left with the water mains out of the ground. Was there ever anything so stupid? But we expect nothing but that from the Tories. They are up against allowing even a pipe to remain in the ground, and here is agricultural land absolutely being denuded of all these appurtenances that were there for another purpose. What did they do with that scheme? They first of all sold a third of the power in machinery, then they sold another, and they left another to be sold, and now they have left the people who have bought the houses from the Government without gas or electricity, and now without a water supply. We have had a Member of the Tory Front Bench talking about their interest in agriculture, yet here is an agricultural area owned by the nation, and in case 983 anything might have been done to help the ex-service men or agriculture, the Tory Government said: "Nothing will be allowed to be done unless it is done by private enterprise." That is their attitude, but I think that some day there may be some little streaks of light coming in to show how these things should be done. No Minister has ever dared to reply to the questions which have been continually raised in this House in regard to Gretna. The swindle has been so great—
§ Mr. HARDIE
I can answer that quite well. It is just a part of the Tory scheme. Before we came into office, the Tory Government had made arrangements for the sale, and they were such arrangements that it would have been illegal not to carry on the sale. That was done by the Tories, and we could not do what we wanted to do because they had made it impossible. The hon. and gallant Member can tell the electors of Dumfries that when he goes back; it will explain things to them. Here was an electricity supply at Gretna, where the cooling costs were nothing, and what we are all working for in electrical matters is to get near water for cooling purposes. It is much more important to be near water than to be near coal, but the Government said they could never allow any community-owned or nationally-owned thing to work, and, therefore, they sold the plant at scrap prices, beautiful copperplate machinery that I have seen there that cost about £8,000 to put there being sold as waste, as scrap. You get what one would expect from a, Tory Government. You get men with beautiful properties that were built, perfect for what they were intended, and the Tories were quite happy, because they belonged to the nation, to see some stupid men who bought them sitting with hammers breaking these things up.
That is starting at the nearest end of Scotland. The returns for last week-end show that 2,000 people from the agricultural areas left Scotland for Glasgow last weekend. I was up in West Perthshire on Friday, and that is an area that can be called a purely agricultural area. 984 I got in touch with many people there, and in one place a farmer who was talking to me took me for a Tory. [Interruption.] He was very shortsighted I admit, but I had the great advantage of getting to know exactly what that district was thinking about the Tory Government, and I should not be in order to say the things about the Tory Government that that farmer said about them. What is the complaint in that agricultural area? It is the same as it is everywhere else, that the Government are paying no attention to the problem, and that there is persistent depopulation in that area. Right across to Gleneagles the whole area is being denuded year by year, and not a single thing is being done to try to stop the rot, because it is rot. If you allow your agricultural population to rot off like that, then, of course, you can never hope to be able to maintain a country. You cannot maintain any country when you destroy the possibilities of its agricultural production. That is what is being done rapidly in Scotland. We are changing everywhere in order to play into the hands of ownership.
When you take the upper reaches of Scotland, the argument always is that the ground is so bad that one cannot grow anything, because four inches down there is the igneous rock. All that is so much piffle. The growing capacity is faster when it gets to that igneous rock. It is no use trying to generalise in that way. The last big windstorm was a revelation to a great many people in Scotland, who never thought that trees could grow as far up as in those areas. What has the Secretary of Scotland been doing since that storm? I noticed, in going through the area where the storm played its greatest havoc, that the trees were lying just where they were. I should have thought that the Secretary of Scotland would have seen that his Department took the matter up. Most of these trees, if lying against another tree, are injuring its growth by making it. grow out of the straight line. Why do they not take some of the unemployed there and get them to remove those trees and turn them into money, instead of letting them destroy the value of other trees? It is losing national money. It does not matter who the trees belong to; it is a national loss. I hope the 985 Secretary of State for Scotland is going to tell us to-night that he has been thinking very closely about these questions and is going to come forward with some great new scheme and to reconstruct the whole of the agricultural districts of Scotland.
§ Brigadier-General CHARTERIS
I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down through all the discursive remarks he has made, but there are one or two points on which I would like to put him right. In one stage of his speech he spoke of* a large area as having been bought for £18,000 and handed back for £1,800. If he taxes his memory and looks up his facts, I do not think he will find that there was any such area handed back from the Board of Agriculture in Scotland to any landowner. It may be that some land used for munitions may have been sold back in the market to the highest bidder and it may have been the old landowner. I doubt his figures very much. I do not think he will find in any case that the land which was handed back had any relation to small holdings. There are, as a matter of fact, in Gretna some 14 small holdings in existence. There are one or two small farms still to come into the scheme. These are being watched and, when they come in, I have no doubt that small holdings will be put up. The hon. Member referred to the water pipes and spoke about the great pipes being sold instead of being used for the water supply. What are the actual facts? These big water pipes are far too big for the supply now required and the county council, who are responsible for the water supply, would have been guilty of the crassest folly—almost as great as some of the other schemes of the hon. Member —if they had taken over these pipes to supply water to the community at Gretna as it now stands. The hon. Member also spoke as if the cinema and all the amenities of Gretna life had been destroyed. That is not the case. Within the last two months I was speaking in the cinema and, if my recollection is right, my hon. Friend was billed to speak there.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I did not say they were destroyed. I spoke of the nation running these things and handing them back.
§ Brigadier-General CHARTERIS
His implication, if his speech had any, was that these buildings were destroyed or now in the market. That is totally inaccurate. He also alluded to the houses as if they had been destroyed.
§ Brigadier-General CHARTERIS
They are being lived in by members of the nation cheaper than if they had been retained in Government ownership.
§ Brigadier-General CHARTERIS
I am well aware of my facts. If the hon. Member will look into his he will find the answer. As to the electricity supply, I do admit that there he is on firmer ground. It seems incredible, but some of his statements were very nearly correct. The electricity scheme was left, as far as the buildings were concerned, intact. There was an enormous big generating system which was far too big. That was sold—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain. FitzRoy)
I am not quite clear how this Gretna matter comes into this particular subject which we are discussing.
§ Brigadier-General CHARTERIS
Of course, I bow to your ruling. I was putting a few facts against the rather random fantasies offered to the House. As regards the general question of small holdings in Scotland, I am entirely atone with the hon. Member in a keen desire to see men, ex-service men in particular, put on small holdings wherever it can be done—not absolutely on economic terms, but on terms that will not involve too great a loss to the nation. I am not in favour of a large expenditure of Government money at the present moment on Small holdings that may not be suitable. If the hon. Member has any practical scheme to advance, I will be glad to hear of it and give it my support so far as it is practicable. I shall not detain the House any longer for my purpose in rising was to correct certain statements about my own constituency. As far as the limits of order would allow me to do so, I think I have done that.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
I desire shortly to reinforce the remarks that fell from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross 987 and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) with regard to land settlement in Scotland. In the course of the last few years I have spoken several times on this subject, and make no apology for returning to it again, because it is a subject which is very vital to Scotland. The public to-day are—not to put it higher—very uneasy at the result of what has been done so far. They are uneasy on two grounds—first at the slowness with which the money is being handed out, and, secondly, at the high cost of the work. It has been urged, during the earlier part of the Debate, that everything possible should be done to encourage people to go back to the land. Now here in Scotland we have a stream of people ready to go on to the land, but, owing to the difficulties and delays that are put in their way, that stream, instead of becoming a stream that will flow quickly over and spread over the land, becomes a mere trickle.
With the leave of the House, I am going to quote a few figures which I have quoted before, but they are really most remarkable as shoving how little has been done by this great country in the way of settling people on the land in Scotland in the course of the last 15 years. Under the more recent Acts from 1916 to 1921, there have been 1,368 new holdings and 354 enlargements; that is, a total of 1,722. The total settlements on the land under all the Acts since 1921 only amount to 4,241. The stream goes on, as the Board of Agriculture say in their Report. The last Report we had is for 1925. During that year there were T05 new applications, and there were still remaining to be dealt with over 10,000 applications. They put 257 people on to the land in the course of that year, and it is a simple matter of arithmetic to work out that, at that rate, it will take 40 years to deal with the applications now before the Board, assuming no new applications come in. I ask the House, is that not a ridiculous position for this country, in dealing with the great question of land settlement? People ready to go on the land, people sifted by the Board and approved, and here they are being put on at the rate of 282 a year. With the names actually before the Board and approved now, it will take 40 years to work through the list of applicants, many of them ex-service men. 988 Take the ease of a man of 22 when demobilised after the War. He would be now 30. So that by the age of 70, he might look forward to getting a small holding in Scotland. That is a very unsatisfactory state of things.
Let us look across the water, and see what has been done in the little country of Denmark. I make no excuse for referring to Denmark, because Denmark has learned more and understood more about small holdings than all the other countries in Europe, and if we can learn anything from Denmark we should do so. During the years 1920 to 1924, Denmark settled 15,000 holders on the land, while Scotland from 1912 to 1925 only settled 4,241. That is to say, Denmark was settling people on the land at the rate of 3,000 families a year, whereas Scotland only settled 282. Surely if Denmark can do that, and if we really mean business in Scotland, we can do it equally as well. As to the cost, it is very difficult indeed to ascertain what has been the cost of settling people on the land in Scotland. I have spent a very considerable time over the figures, but I am so uncertain that I do not like to give the result. But of this I am assured— in fact the whole House knows—that a great deal of the land settlement in Scotland was done at a time when prices were exceedingly high, when the prices of stock, implements and everything were entirely abnormal. All the big prices paid during those years have had to be cut down, and everything has had to be re-valued since. As a consequence, the money which has been spent on land settlement in Scotland during the last five or six years has been a great deal more than would have been the case in more normal times. Be that as it may, we have only to look, on the one hand, to the enormous sums of money going out in the dole—£50.000,000 a year, and what do we get for it? Just keeping people alive and getting nothing for it, whereas a few millions spent on land settlement is the best investment the country can make. It not only ensures people being brought up in healthy surroundings, but increases the productivity of the country.
It is only necessary to look at the Report of the Board of Agriculture for Scotland to see how successful the settlement has been as far as it has gone. The Report says that 989The holders on the schemes in question were settled at various dates between 1919 and 1925, and cannot be regarded as firmly established.…Notwithstanding this fact, the reports received show generally that the land is being more intensively worked, and that a larger head of stock is being carried on the holdings than was the case when the farms were worked as single subjects. From the national point of view there is also the important consideration that a much larger population is now being maintained on the land.The Report gives the results achieved, and shows how the stock carried on the land has been increased. I will quote some very remarkable figures of schemes carried out in 1925, where dairy cattle increased from 159 to 441, horses from 22 to 98, cattle from 405 to 568, poultry from 300 to 1,289, and so on. More important than all, the population prior to the settlement on four pastoral farms was 97, and after the settlement 545. With results like that before us, I am sure this country should strain every nerve to get the suitable people who are waiting on to the land.
My right hon. Friend referred to the question of the reorganisation of the Scottish Office about to take place, and I would like to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he can give any undertaking that in the reorganisation of what will be the Department of Agriculture, there will be a section of that Department whose duties will be exclusively devoted to enlarging and pushing forward the settlement of people on the land. The right hon. Gentleman, as we know, always has had a hankering after the large farm rather than the small farm, but I do not think that in the face of the results which have been already achieved on the Reports of his own Board, he could do better than by seeing that the new Department of Agriculture shall make a special object of pushing forward the land settlement in Scotland. In connection with this question of land settlement, I want particularly to refer to the question of co-operation, and on that point I will quote for a moment from the Report of the Board in which they say:There is no doubt that improvement is possible on most of the settlements in the methods of co-operative buying, selling and marketing, but co-operation is of slow growth, and while it may be helped forward. the rate of growth cannot be forced without the risk of harming the whole scheme.990 Later on they say:Very gradually and slowly holders are beginning to realise that a readiness to join with others for a common purpose is to their own advantage as well as that of their neighbours. When this lesson has been more fully learned, developments of the business side of co-operation may be expected to follow as a matter of course.To go back to the country of Denmark. It is admitted there that the whole success of their small holdings scheme is due to co-operation. Curiously enough that country learnt its first lesson in cooperation from England, but whereas the English schemes of co-operation have been almost entirely confined to towns and urban areas, in Denmark the idea of cooperation was applied to rural activities. That was not entirely without assistance. The co-operative movement in Denmark was pushed forward very largely by the Government. People have to be educated in the advantages of co-operation. As the Board of Agriculture very rightly say in their Report, you have got to teach and advertise and bring home to the people what are the real advantages of cooperation. With the leave of the House I would like to quote from an official report of the Foreign Office of Denmark issued in 1924 in which this reference is made to co-operation. They say that co-operation has proved itself absolutely indispensable:Without it the small holdings movement could not have developed its present strength, and the small holdings legislation could not have been so effective. It has only been through a co-operative movement comprehending in its activities agriculture as a whole, smallholders as well as others, that it has been possible for the smallholders to carry on their work on a footing of equality with the farmers proper.Then they go on to set out the activities of the various co-operative societies of Denmark, which cover everything that the farmer does—the marketing; the buying of the feeding stuffs, fertilisers, seeds and implements; bakeries; co-operative uses of power; co-operative transport and, more important still, co-operative banking, giving the great advantage of cheap credit to the farmer. We shall not get satisfactory systems of credit for agriculture till we have co-operative banking by which farmers can raise their short and long credits on the system of mutual co-operation.
I do not think we half realise how important it is that this question of cooperation should be brought before the 991 mass of the farmers. I have done my best to put in before them in my own constituency. Farmers must have it demonstrated to them that co-operation is definitely of advantage to them in pounds, shillings and pence, and it has to be proved in a way which no ordinary private person can do it. The Government have to put their weight and power behind the movement, and convince the agriculturists, not only the small ones, but the big ones, though, of course, it is the small ones who benefit most from cooperation. I know the Secretary of State for Scotland is a great believer in co-operation, and what I want him to do is, not only to believe in it, but to get behind a big movement which will say to the agriculturists of Scotland, "Here is a way out of your difficulty. It has been proved to demonstration, and it will help you if only you will take it up and carry it through." Those who take up co-operation must support it. That has been our great trouble in this country. People have not backed up their societies; the road of co-operation is strewn with the wrecks of societies.
When I was in Denmark I asked what happened when a co-operative society failed. They said, "A co-operative society fail! Such a thing does not happen in this country. Our people always stand by them and back them up." That is all that is wanted to make them a success in this country. Once the farmer realises that buying and selling co-operatively is going to be an advantage in £ S. d. to him, but that in order to ensure success he must stand by his co-operative society, it will be one of the greatest blessings to agriculture this country has seen of late years. Therefore, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us an assurance that he will do what he can to see that co-operation will receive the advantage of his backing to the very fullest extent.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I have listened with great interest to the many views which have been expressed in this Debate. First of all we had the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie), speaking with that great vehemence with which he always speaks when the word "Tory" enters into his mind. It always seems to have the same effect upon him as "Foreign devil" upon the Cantonese.
992 It works up in his mind an imaginary, monstrous person, and we glance apprehensively at the Treasury Bench to see ii it is possible to discern the cloven hoofs and the tail. One would think some demoniac possession had got hold of him. I thought his speech went to prove the thesis which he was attempting to disprove. Members of Cabinets do not discharge the work of Government in the sense of carrying through all the details of buying and selling. That has to be done by Government officials. Even the work of Labour Governments has to be done by the bureaucracy, and if there is one thing which is established in alt countries—and perhaps in this country more than in any other—it is the fact that no body of public officials can carry on commercial or industrial business. They may carry on monopolies, just as they used to carry or; the Glasgow tramways when that undertaking was a monopoly, but the moment anything ceases to be a monopoly, and the private citizen comes in, 'the whole thing tends to go sky high. If there is one thing clearly shown by the history which the hon. Gentleman gave us of the Government deals at Gretna—I do not care which Government it was—it is that when it comes to disposal of assets a Government Department is not a very good seller. It is all very well to try to blame the Government of the day. The party to which the hon. Member belongs have been in office since. They may not have had the necessary majority, but if they could have set up an overwhelming case, one to justify his bitter epithets, they ought to have been able to convince the House and thus have secured that legislative effect was given to their proposals.
§ Mr. HARDIE
If the hon. and learned Member had been taking the interest in the House which he ought to have done he would have known that a special Report was issued about Gretna, but on the night I brought that Report forward there was a smaller House than we have to-night. Those who were not present should not complain that the subject has not been brought up.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
All I can say is that I am sorry for the hon. Gentleman. I thought that the moment his name went up there would have been a crowded House.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
On that particular evening there must have been something more interesting going on— though it is hardly possible to think what it could be. All we have heard of the failure of a Government Department to settle people on the land goes to bear out the contention that Government Departments work creepily and slowly. In 1920 I worked out the figures of the cost of administration of the Scottish Board of Agriculture from 1913, and I found that with all the money that had been spent on travelling expenses and salaries they could have provided each man who has been settled on the land with 30s. a week and have left him to find a small holding for himself, which, I have no doubt, he would have done very much better.
I do not say that the members of that Department are more inefficient than members of any other Government Department. They have got the disease which affects all Government Departments, and that is want of initiative. If a young and energetic man goes into a Government Department and shows too much initiative, he immediately becomes unpopular with his seniors who, perhaps, have lost a little of their own spring. It is an unreasonable position to take up to expect any Government Department to show enterprise and initiative, because that is the special quality of the private individual. Most people are afraid to exercise initiative in finding employment and they want the work put before them. They cannot start off on their own account, and that is why you find the failure in life looking to the Government or a town council to find them a job. If you overhaul the staffs of any Government Department you will find there people who have failed in other walks of life for want of initiative, and there is always a tendency for a Government Department to become the home of the lost dog. There is no more popular body in the Highlands to-day than the Scottish Board of Agriculture. Even when the Forestry Commission take over a sheep farm and put a lot of shepherds out of a job that Board incurs a great amount of unpopularity.
Unlike other countries, we start our small holdings in Scotland on a very expensive scale, and consequently the smallholder starts his career with a con- 994 siderable burden round his neck. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) has spoken about the fishing industry in Norway and Denmark, and he knows very well how they deal with trawlers in those countries when they injure inshore fishing. In these instances the trawlers are not merely fined for this offence by the imposition of small penalties, but heavy fines are imposed. There are many of these crofter settlements which are not large enough for the crofter to make a living upon and if the fishing industry were restored and protected he would be able to earn a better living.? Really, we do not know what fishing is in this country. I have just returned from the disturbed area in China and Japan and I have been to the United States, and I have seen there an amazing development of the fishing industry where they do not allow their fishing grounds to be destroyed by trawlers. Every time. I go to the Highlands I hear nothing but complaints about trawlers who enter the fishing grounds at night. We all know what the fishing was like immediately after the War. The inshore fishing was splendid, but when the trawlers- came back the fishing was quickly destroyed and in one night the trawlers could easily ruin the fishing for a whole year in one area. I know the Secretary for Scotland sent a seaplane and they were able in this way to capture one or two of the trawlers,, but I do not think that method is now being employed, and I believe the seaplane has been withdrawn. I think provision ought to be made for regular scouting round the coast, and boats for this purpose ought to be there with their searchlights and when they capture these trawlers they ought to take the boats into port and lay them up for 12 months. They need not sell them in the open market because they would be bought in by the original owners, but, at any rate, they should be taken into port after being captured. If that is done, then I think the crofter will get back one of his principal means of livelihood of which he has been deprived at the present time.
The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) said that more fish was brought in at Grimsby than was caught at Loch Fyne in one day. I think the fishermen of Loch Fyne have reason to 995 complain because many of the herrings sent to Grimsby masquerade as Loch Fyne herrings. I agree with what has been said about transport facilities in Scotland not only in regard to roads but other forms of transport. I know that proposals have been made to construct roads in the Highlands, and it is not long ago that the Highlanders objected because they did not want to be contaminated with the lower grade morality of the southern Scot. There is no doubt that roads will be made, and if they are properly made then the islands will be visited by large numbers of the people from other parts of Scotland and England. Rough as many of our roads are they are made more rough by the motors that run over them.
I also wish to say a few words with regard to the supply of steamboats. There has been a worthy concern which has done as well as it can, and the captains and crews can hold their own with any other men in the world. It is wonderful to see how they can get round the rugged coast and out and in among the inlets, and there is hardly ever an accident. But the system under which they run is wrong. A large subsidy is given by the Post Office to this concern to carry the mails; it is really in the nature of a grant-in-aid, and the result is that this concern practically possesses a monopoly. A Government may have a monopoly, and it will probably lose a great deal of money on it, but, when you have a combination of monopoly and private interest, you have all the evils of nationalisation and all the evils, because there are some, of private interest combined. I suggest the time has come when this system of steamer monopoly for the Highlands should be overhauled. I am told by the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Livingstone) that in his part of the community they supply subsidised steamers from the North of Ireland much cheaper than the steamboats which serve Argyllshire and other parts.
I suggest that the whole system should be overhauled, and that the subsidy should be sub-divided among a number of people. The Post Office should be approached to give long-term contracts, because it is impossible to expect people to build steamers or engage in an enterprise which they are liable to have terminated in a 996 short time. There is, for example, the Island of Lismore, only five miles from Oban, which is without any regular steamboat service. It is a large island, produeing more foodstuff, perhaps, for its size, than any other area in Scotland; but only a small boat 25 feet long serves this island. It ought to have a daily boat, but by some arrangement, this island is completely cut off from the mainland, except for this trifling means of communication. The Secretary of State for Scotland should take advice on this matter, but not from his Departmental Committee. He had a Committee which travelled round and saw the steamers in harbour, where they looked quite comfortable. I would advise them to go out in some of the storms that afflict these parts, and the Departmental Committee would find that the steamers were not so efficient as they thought they were. I was in one some time ago that looked as if it would take it all its time to sail in Loch Lomond, let alone in the sea, and I entered my protest. I do not want to be drowned, but if I am to be drowned, I object to being drowned in what looks like a cardboard box on the water. I made my protest, not to the ocean but to the Board of Trade.
I would suggest to the Secretary of State for Scotland that there are some good Highlanders in London who know The whole locality, and who know what is wanted, and who could put the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Office on to a method of dealing with steunboat transport which would be much better and would bring prosperity to all (hose parts. And the means of prosperity are there. There are lobster fisheries which would be very profitable if the lobsters could be got to the market in good time. Then some of these islands are taxed and have to pay into the Road Fund—Jura and Islay, for example—but they cannot get a road from the county council. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney (Sir R. Hamilton) spoke about co-operation in Denmark, but ho could get a useful lesson in co-operation in his own constituency. I know of no more striking document than the typewritten script which was issued some time ago about the co-operation in the production of eggs in Orkney. It seems that, prior to this co-operative system of marketing, small farmers in Orkney only 997 received 4d. a dozen for their eggs, whereas they receive now Is. 6d. a dozen, the reason being that, before co-operation, the egg6 were stale before they got into the market, and now they are fresh.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
When I was referring to co-operation, all that I was saying was that the system ought to be extended.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Co-operation in Orkney has been an enormous success. It is far better for the farmers to get Is. 6d. a dozen for fresh eggs than 4d. a dozen for stale eggs. You certainly want to extend that system. I do not know how the Danish Government manage to inculcate the co-operative spirit into their people. I wish it could be made part of the school curriculum in this country, but, being such individualists as we are, it is difficult to get a Committee of any kind to meet on anything without them beginning to talk as the Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) talks about the Government Bench.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I do not think any human being is nearly so bad as you indicate that the whole Government Bench is. This matter of co-operation is a matter of getting the atmosphere, and getting into the minds of the people. Is there not something in our system of education which is driving our people off the land? The education that is given in our schools in rural districts is not rural education. The children are all taken at a tender age and shut up within the walls under close cover, generally in schools where the atmosphere is bad, because I have never seen a properly-ventilated school yet except it was an open-air school. I was talking to a youth the other day, who told me he had been educated in one of the greatest schools in England, and he said there was not a classroom that had not one side of it open to the air. One result was that not one of the boys educated there took a job in an office; they wanted jobs in the open air. The father of the boy wanted him to become a lawyer, but the boy had more sense. Our system of education, as I have said—the whole training, the whole atmosphere of the teaching of children in these schools, and the close confined quarters that we have 998 in our schools—tends more and more to make them seek urban occupations, and make them' dislike the land. I believe the reason why young people do not take readily to agriculture is purely because it is not so exciting, though, if it is only properly understood it is one of the most interesting and highly skilled of all human avocations. I believe it is largely the schoolmaster that has driven people off the land, because our educational system is unsound. I am glad to see that in the Board of Education some glimmering of this is beginning to dawn, and I hope that with greater enlightenment people will realise, and our education authorities will realise, that agriculture is not only one of the oldest, but one of the noblest and best of our occupations. Then it will be possible for a generation to arise which will occupy these vacant places, so that they may blossom once more with a strong agricultural population.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
It is not very easy to follow the hon and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) in the speech that he has made, but I would remind him that some officials believe in private enterprise, and. that they are only putting their beliefs into practice. The hon. and learned Member has described the state of tilings in the. Highlands, and in out breadth he begins about subsidising boats, while in the next he wants the subsidy divided over a number of boats. I would suggest to the House that we require a more efficient service in the Highlands, but spreading it over a big number will not give a more efficient service. If you put on good boats and try to get a quick service, the probability is that much advantage can be gained for the people there. I was amused at the suggestion that the Highland people do not want roads because they do not want to be contaminated by the Lowland Scots.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
I think General Wade made the roads then, and the Highlander was not to be contaminated by the Lowland Scots at that time. I want to suggest that the Highlanders are now contaminated by a cosmopolitan population that is very difficult to describe. You see them at certain seasons in the year making for the North of Scotland, but I do 999 not think it is any advantage to the people in the North. There is a tendency for these people to have more money than they ever worked for, and that is felt to be a bad thing by an independent people. I would much rather the Highlander got free access to the land, to which his forebears had free access at one time—in other words, that the Highlander should use the Highlands for the production of food, and should not be contaminated by an idle, useless class which comes from every part of the world. The other point I would like to suggest is that you cannot condemn road-making in the Highlands and at the same time-complain about some of the Islands not getting roads. I think that roads are required even in the Islands, in order to give, the people a chance—
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
You should not condemn roads in one part and complain that you are not getting a share in the other. You cannot have it both ways. We require transport in every part of the world, not only in the Islands, in order to bring about improvement, and I suggest to the Government that they might pay attention to what can be done in the Western Isles to make life a little bettor than it is at the present time. We require to look at these Islands, not from the point of view of pounds, shillings' and pence, but from the point of view of food production. They have produced probably the finest men and the finest women that the world has ever seen—
§ Lieut.-Colcnel ACLAND-TROYTE
The hon. Member said the finest men and the finest women were produced in Scotland, and I said, "What about Devonshire?"
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
I am sorry I was not able to catch the interruption. Perhaps it is that the hon. Member's accent is peculiar to Devon, and there may be some difficulty in locating it. Meantime, I am talking about the Highlands, and I think it would pay the Government to try to develop more and more that part of the British Empire. We do not require 1000 to look at it always from the question of pounds, shillings and pence. The best way is to try to quicken transport and put on better boats and take away any restriction between the people and the land on which they want to live.
§ Mr. MAXTON
There are two points of interest to agriculturists in the West of Scotland on which I should like the Secretary of State to give us some information. One is the question of where the Auchencraig School of Dairy Research scheme now stands and what steps are being taken there to make the fullest possible use of the very generous use of land which has been made to either the West of Scotland Agricultural College or the Scottish Board of Agriculture. I think people interested in agriculture would like to know exactly the position of that matter now. The other point I want to bring to his notice and urge him to give some serious support to, is the soil survey that has been going on, largely unaided, or only aided by very small grants from the Development Fund, by the Professor of Agricultural Geology in the West of Scotland Agricultural College. Practically on his own, and in his leisure time, he has been, with very little financial or other assistance, and I imagine very little encouragement from the Board of Agriculture and the Secretary of State, doing this work of sampling the agricultural qualities of the soil in the West of Scotland. I think that should not be left to the unaided, un-encouraged efforts of one man, but should be a matter for the active support and encouragement of the Board of Agriculture.
There is one other point I want to put to him arising out of the question of agricultural co-operation. I think in honesty we must confess that the agricultural population of Scotland up to now has not shown any very great capacity to carry through co-operative schemes among themselves, that a group of farmers formed into a co-operative society for either marketing or purchasing' purposes do not seem to be able to maintain the continuity of life for a given period without having internal feuds and disputes of one sort or another, but I should like to direct attention to the tremendous-work that is being done by the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society, the national organisation of the ordinary con- 1001 sumers of the co-operative society, in regard to the dairy industry in the West of Scotland. The Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society is to-day the biggest purchaser of milk in the whole length and breadth of Scotland. I do not know whetner the Secretary of State knows the quantities, but I should think they are the purchasers and the distributors of more than half of all the milk produced in the middle belt of Scotland, and they are not only acting as purchasers of milk from the fanners and distributors to the households, but they are also, through the appointment of technical experts at their expense, acting as the direct agency for the establishment of a pure milk supply.
§ Mr. MAXTON
They are the agency for transferring the milk from the producer to the consumer. They purchase from the ordinary farmer and they have found it absolutely necessary in the interests of their customers and their best producers to go round and demand a standard of purity and cleanliness in production. In doing that, they are performing a definite service to the Board of Agriculture and the nation generally, and I would draw the attention of the Secretary of State to that Service which they are performing and ask him to encourage the work of the Scottish Wholesale Co-operative Society in this direction and stimulate them perhaps in other directions to interest themselves in the agricultural industry.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir John Gilmour)
This Debate has ranged over a fairly wide field, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will forgive me if, in reply, I should inadvertently miss any of the points which they have made. At, least, one may congratulate those who have spoken on the fact that they have dealt with very live problems affecting the industries of agriculture and fisheries. That does not of course mean that I can agree with everything that has been said either by way of criticism or otherwise. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) had a good deal to say about the efficiency of bureaucrats. I hope that his purity will never be inter- 1002 fered with by his being brought into close contact with them; but I am very much inclined to say that if the hon. and learned Member were to probe a little more deeply into the working of that machine, he would find that the State is very efficiently served by those who are the civil servants in Government employ.
The hon. and learned Member dealt with the question of transport, and the problem of dealing with the fishery service in the West of Scotland. All I would say on that point is that the Government are not unmindful of the necessity for improving the transport service on the western coast of Scotland. If the hon. and learned Member has any practical friends who can come and put up any real business proposition for improving that service, of course. I am very willing to listen to them.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Are we ever to get the Report of the Departmental Committee, or is it to be preserved as a secret document? The Highlands would be very interested to see it.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
The Report of the Departmental Committee, as of other Departmental Committees, is made to the Department concerned. In consultation with the Postmaster-General I am at the present moment in close touch with those who are concerned in the service, and some progress is being made, and I hope shortly to be able to announce something very definite to the House, and to Scottish Members in particular. The provisions which are being made for the policing of the fishery coasts and the protection of the fishermen against illegal trawling are as effective, I think, at the present time as they have ever been. I do not think that in any circumstances has that policing been more effective than in the. last few years, as, in addition to the extra boats, which have no doubt had a beneficial effect, the fact that we have dealt severely with those who have been involved and caught in breaking the law has, I think, had a good material effect.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) put one or two definite questions to the Government. He asked as to the progress made with the dairy scheme. In regard to that I can only say that we have made considerable progress. We have set up, in connection with the proposed dairy institute, a combined Com- 1003 mittee, presided over by the Principal of Glasgow University and composed of distinguished gentlemen who will be found capable of directing its operations upon sound lines. I hope that an ultimate solution may be found without much delay, and that it will be a satisfactory one. At the present moment I am unable to give a definite idea as to what will be finally settled. I am glad the hon. Member mentioned the question of soil survey. The Board of Agriculture and myself have been taking steps to interest ourselves in this problem. Only a year ago a distinguished representative from the American Universities, who is an expert in this research work, placed his services and advice at the disposal of all the Agricultural Colleges which make these surveys, and there is no doubt that a development of these surveys will be of great advantage to the agricultural community. Several hon. Members have spoken on the problem of agricultural co-operation. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) who has taken a very active interest in this matter, knows that not only my Department but the Government generally have interested themselves in this question.
It is true that co-operation, as applied to agriculture, has been slow in developing. The work which is being done in connection with dairy and milk in the West of Scotland is a feature which is rapidly making good and will, as time goes on, strengthen its position. But the fundamental thing in all these cooperative movements, as hon. Members have said, is the necessity for loyalty on the part of the members of these organised bodies, and too often the temptation to cut prices by some outside body or person has led to a break away which has been disastrous. I think we may say that the position of agricultural co-operation is stronger now than it has been, for this reason, that not only have we been able to increase the number of our societies but we have broken fresh grounds and are going into new fields. Only recently there has been established in Scotland a strong body for the co-operative sale of wool. That is a matter which affects a very large number of the farmers of the country, and I hope the loyalty of the farmers to the movement will show that it is worth supporting, 1004 There is another very excellent feature. At the outset these agricultural cooperative societies were formed from 8 number of active enthusiasts who, having learned of this problem from men like Sir Horace Plunkett in Ireland, started in a small way They have been strengthened by the acquisition of representatives of the Farmers' Union and of the great agricultural societies in the country, and' gradually, though slowly, this movement is being strengthened. Anything that the Government can do to help the development will be done.
The right hon. Member for Boss and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), who opened this Debate, spoke, as did others, of the two sides of the agricultural problem in Scotland. On the one hand, there is the problem of what is commonly called land settlement, and, on the other hand, that of research. A good many hard things have been said about the methods which have been adopted to carry out land settlement. Settlement is said to be slow and costly. It is quite clear that it is a costly problem in every country. I am not going to use figures in great numbers to-night, but I think I am right in saying that even in Denmark it is a fairly costly problem. In any case it is a costly problem in all the great Dominions, and it is a costly problem in this country. If we take what has been done under what have been very difficult circumstances, since 1911. when the Land Settlement Act was passed, this country has spent large sums of money upon land settlement. I am not going to say that the methods or the machinery or the results have been satisfactory. If one were to criticise one would say that a great deal of this settlement, particularly that which was done immediately after the War. was done in great haste and at a time when a great deal of expensive machinery had to be bought and everything was at a high cost. But we have been able to settle a large number of men upon the land.
If we turn to the Outer Islands, hon. Members who have studied the problem will fee constrained to concede that those islands are now so settled that there is very little opportunity for further settlement. Indeed, out (here, as I visualise the problem, it is a problem of bringing away from that area a large number of people to settle under other circumstances, and to give an opportunity to 1005 those who are in the Outer Islands a chance of making a living. Indeed, unless there goes with the holding some fishing or other subsidiary employment such as afforestation, there is little hope of a large number of these men being able to make a living. The fact is yon cannot produce food in that climate and in those circumstances except it be sheep and cattle; and that being the case, the policy of putting a large number of very small people into those areas, of allowing what are bound to be called out there "squatters" and of permitting a system like that to be perpetuated, is only asking for failure. In those circumstances, this problem, which is peculiarly a problem of the islands, must be recognised by any Government or any responsible Minister. To come to the mainland, there are some parts of the country which are peculiarly suited to this purpose because of convenience of access to markets for the produce. If we concentrate upon those selected parts rather than upon schemes of attempting to put down settlers in places where they have not suitable opportunities, that, in my judgment, will be a sound policy.
It has been hinted that I am in favour of the large farm, as against the settler and the small farm. Not at all. What I want to make clear to the House is that, in my view, you must get a proper balance between the various sizes of holdings. To sweep away every moderately-sized farm as in the Outer Islands, and to leave everything upon a dead level where there is no opportunity for the progressive men to move by steps into something a little better than the small holding, would be to create an evil and that is one of the difficulties which we have to face. That is one of the things which is lowering the position of the holder. Something has been said about that part of the work of the Board of Agriculture which is concerned with improving and raising the standard of the stock. That is one of the most useful aspects of the work of the Department. But how are you to continue to maintain that high standard if, for any foolish reason, you sweep away those farms where the farmer, more than the smallholder, is able to keep a good class of stock and to raise the standard in his own district? I would do everything I could to improve the class of sheep and 1006 cattle. On that point I would again say that co-operation can play a very large and important part. The question of the transport of the stock from the islands to a suitable centre can be solved to a great extent by co-operation—by a wise bringing together of the farmers in a district, to put their stock upon the market in the proper numbers and at the proper time.
Something has also been said about the problem of research. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty who spoke of the necessity of paying good salaries to the staffs of the colleges. I think that is essential and I am happy to be able to say that I think we are very close to a solution of that problem. I had to-day an opportunity of discussing this matter with the representatives of the agricultural colleges. I trust that as a result of those conversations and of the efforts which they have made in raising the necessary contributions from the county councils and education authorities in Scotland, where they bear a share and a proportion of this expenditure, that that problem will be solved and that the increases of salary will go back to 1926. I think it is essential that the House should realise that the Treasury in the past and at the present time have been contributing something like 79 per cent. of the total expenditure of these colleges and that that is very materially higher than is being contributed to the similar bodies in England; and if indeed the work of the colleges is to go on it must and ought to receive the active co-operation and support of those counties where they operate. It is very essential that there should be that help and cooperation, and I trust that by the joint committees which have recently been set up between the colleges and the county authorities, we will go a long way towards doing what is required.
I was asked a question about the decrease of wart disease in potatoes. It is impossible to protect the potato growers of this country against the spread of the disease without Regulation. The Regulation is imposed by the Ministry of Agriculture, and I think that the restrictions imposed are essential. There is no county which is absolutely prohibited, but it is true that there are areas where the restrictions are 1007 severe, but the restrictions have to be imposed in the general public interest. At the same time, I hope that very shortly there will be a great improvement in that question. In connection with that, the Government have done everything in their power by setting up one of the most up-to-date seed testing stations, which I am glad to think, is being used, not only by the ordinary farmers, but by the seed merchants and those who are concerned both in the potato industry and in the general trade of Scotland, and the more that is done and the more we really make use of the highest scientifically trained people who are running these matters, the more we are going to do for the progress of agriculture in our country.
I do not know that I need go further into this problem at this time, but I would like to say to those who have made inquiries as to the future plans of the new Department of Agriculture in Scotland that, as I told the House in introducing the Bill, my desire is to abolish the system of boards and place the control of agriculture in Scotland on the same basis as the Department of Agriculture in England. It will be clear that there will be a section of that body which, so long as Parliament votes money for land settlement and small holdings, will be detailed to carry out that work. I trust that the machinery which will eventually be devised will prove to be even more efficient and perhaps a little more economical than some expedients which have gone before.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
That, of course, is in the hands of the House, but I trust that we may be able to convince hon. Members that this proposition is a practical method of achieving the very purpose which every one of us has at heart. I would add that this is in no sense a Measure upon which there should be party feeling. In fact, it is a matter of administration which is bound to be the instrument of future Governments, from whatever party they may be. It is submitted to the House not in a party spirit, but as hon. Members will, I trust, recognise, in the best interests of agri- 1008 culture in this country. I think I have answered the bulk of the questions which hon. Members have put to me.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to. Bill read the Third time, and passed.