§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN
I beg to move,That this House is of opinion that the Government should do all in its power to foster the development of village life and industries, and to promote good craftsmanship in agriculture.I propose, very shortly, to give a view of village life in Tudor times, to trace the changes made by the industrial revolution, and then to offer some suggestions as to how the Government can help, under present conditions, to foster the development of village life and industry. I do not propose to say much about the last part of the Resolution, concerning craftmanship, because the hon. and gallant Member for Yeovil (Major Davies), who is to second the Resolution, will develop that part of the subject. If I may refer to our splendid old English history, I would ask the House to cast their thoughts back a thousand years to the time when the Romans brought us civilisation, or, at any rate, good roads and the starting of civilisation. That was all blotted out by internal dissentions and strife. Then William the Conqueror came and gradually restored law and order, and during 500 years we came to better times. Not on my authority but on the authority of that great historian, Mr. Trevelyan, who writes about that period, there was never a time when village and rural life was so characteristic of our national culture and character as it was then. Every village in those days was self-contained. It had its own industries, it provided its own food, its own bootmakers, its own basketmakers, and the builders of houses, and everything that was needed. Wool was the one industry common to every village and town in those days.
1352 Let me tell a story, quite authenticated, of a Mr. Jack, of Newbury, the constituency which I have the honour to represent. He made a bet that in 24 hours from the shearing of a sheep he would turn out a coat for his customer to walk away in. You see in the old records pictures of a man bringing in the sheep, the customer selecting the sheep, the village girls with spindles and loom weaving the cloth, and the tailor making the coat. The customer walked out of the shop in 2–1 hours and Mr. Jack won his bet.
That was a typical instance of the industry of every village and town. That was the reason why we had more cloth than we knew what to do with. It was this industry which enabled us to start our Empire, because we had to look for markets for our coth in America and India and other places, and cloth was then the one thing which we had to market. Is it from the point of view of markets that I wish to regard our rural industries. In those clays three quarters of our people lived in the country, and we only had about half a million people in London, out of a population if about 5,000,000 or 6,000,000. The roads were so bad that these industries had to be in the villages where they were started, and long lines of pack ponies used to fetch the wares of the merchants to the coast for transport abroad. Then came the industrial revolution which changed all that. As our trade grew, our merchants wanted more wares to sell. Then they thought it would be cheaper and better for them to get our skilled craftsmen from the villages into the towns. They brought the men into the towns, but they did not build houses for them, and that started our slums. Under the old manorial customs, the village craftsmen were looked after in olden days and were properly housed and were treated as part of the 1353 family of the head of the firm, but when they were brought into the big towns, the merchants for the sake of cheapness or for some other reason, neglected housing, and also introduced Free Trade because it meant cheaper food, and therefore they were not compelled to pay such high wages. I should like to refer to a book which I always have on my table, and this is "The Letters of Charles Kingeley." This is what he says about the Manchester School:To pretend to be the workman's friends by keeping down the price of bread, when all they want thereby is to keep down wages and increase profits, and in the meantime to widen the gulf between the working man and all that is time honoured, refined and chivalrous in English society that they may make the men their divided slaves, that is —perhaps unconsciously, for there are many excellent men among them—the game of the Manchester School.That is why village life, as it was formerly known, disappeared and why we have to face the present situation. In the present situation we have foreign competition and mass production to meet, but on the other hand we have much better communications by means of our roads and railways, and as far as markets are concerned the country around the big towns is gradually being urbanised. I should prefer to see it being ruralised instead of urbanised and I hope to suggest means by which that can be done. The question of the marketing of our goods is as important to village industries to-day as it was then, but the method of marketing has changed. Before making any suggestions may I refer to some of the country industries which I think ought to be helped and encouraged? I am leaving out the primary industry of agriculture because we have had many Debates on it and at all events, so far as markets are concerned, these other industries are linked with the agricultural industry and where the agricultural industry thrives, all these industries will thrive with it. In the Report of the Ministry of Agriculture on agricultural output for 1925 I noticed a reference to osier basket making. There are 16,000 tons of osiers sold annually. This is an industry in which 10 or 12 counties are interested and in the county which I represent, Berkshire, along the banks of the Kennet the osiers grow better almost than anywhere else. That industry was 1354 very useful and indeed very necessary in the country and is at a standstill. This industry applied to be placed under the Safeguarding of Industries Act and why its application was refused I do not know. I understand that baskets are sent into our markets here which are made by prisoners in the gaols of Holland and Belgium and which undersell our home produced baskets. If that be the case, I would ask the Minister of Agriculture if this industry applies again, as I understand it will apply again, to be placed under the Safeguarding of Industries Act, to see if he cannot help it in some way or other. The county in which I live had the old Sussex iron industry, some of the product of which we can see in the Crypt of this House. That industry was not confined to Sussex. I have seen in the village of Pangbourne in Berkshire beautiful work done by village smiths, who took more interest in the fashioning of beautiful things when they had the whole work of fashioning an article to do themselves and when none of the parts was made by other people or by some big factory.
A few years ago in the village of Yat-tenden a generous gentleman encouraged the starting of copper and iron making industry and it added great interest to life for the people of this very rural district. We have with us now since the War what we had not previously, namely women's institutes in the villages and country districts and these are doing great work in the interests of the rural population. They have helped to inspire the people of the villages with the spirit of useful industry. They encourage such work as gloves, rabbit skins and moleskins and woollen stockings, and in some of our villages articles of this kind are being turned out which will compete with the best to be found in any market in the world. I would suggest to the Minister of Agriculture that industry of this kind ought to be encouraged in connection with the work of the Empire Marketing Board. We should be able to display these goods in the markets of our Empire and sell them to our Dominions in return for things which they could send to us. There is a modern movement started about four or five years ago —I believe we owe it to the then Leader of the Coalition Government—for agricultural education in the counties. Lecturers are sent round to give details 1355 of bee keeping and lectures and practical demonstrations in hedging and ditching and so forth and if we look through the Report to which I have already referred, of the Ministry of Agriculture, we can see that in matters such as poultry keeping a great deal is due to the instruction which is provided by the county councils. These are great assets to agriculture in this country and to the people of the villages.
I was interested in an article by Mr. J. Beal of Saxilby, on rural industries in which he described a man of brains and individuality, the type which we want to encourage, who set up in his village with an oil engine and a saw bench and in a few weeks the farmers of the district were coining round to him to get him to mend wheels and so forth. He extended the business until now, instead of employing only himself, he is employing a great many hands. That shows the necessity of encouraging individual effort, and I hope that our schools, instead of teaching only education, will teach some practical trades, such as engineering and so on. I know an instance in my own constituency of a little village under the Berkshire hills, composed mostly of independent smallholders, where one man set up with a saw bench on these lines, and he is now certainly increasing his business and employing a good many of the village hands, teaching skilled men, and turning out the best wheelbarrows that I have bought for my farm for many a long day from anywhere. There are many of these little industries which only need encouragement and which need not cost the Government anything, if they are properly treated in the matter of gates and roads.
I want to come to some suggestions as to how the Government might—and will, I am sure, if it does not cost them anything, and I do not think these will —try to encourage the village industries and village life. As I said before, the whole question of the development of our roads in these days has altered the situation that was brought upon us by the industrial revolution, and it is now possible, owing to better roads and better communications, to think of getting back factories which had settled round the towns into the rural districts. If we do that, at all events they give better 1356 markets, not only for agriculture, but for all these village industries that I have mentioned. In my own constituency, again at Newbury, in the last few years, at Thatcham a paper mill was started, and it operates there in far better circumstances than it would do where there are so many factories in the big towns.
Two years ago I happened to go round a little engineering works which, when full, employ from 150 to 200 men, a firm which has been working many years making these engines, and I found they were making the whole of the engines for the King of Egypt's yacht. I went a few doors up, in Newbury, to a newly formed carpentering firm, and I found that they were making the whole of the interior furniture for the King of Egypts yacht. Those are two little industries, one of which has been going over 100 years, in the country, and those orders have been given to these two industries in a typical English town instead of to big firms, and surely it is much better, if we can help and encourage that movement with proper safeguards. There is one thing necessary if you are in earnest about encouraging these things. You must see that these factories or businesses, when they are put out in the countryside, provide houses for their people as well as houses for their machinery or whatever it may be. I know it is rather an impossible thing that I ask, but I think that every industry ought to provide houses for its own people, which was always done by the old squires and by the old agricultural landowners. [An HON. MEMBER: "Dead now!"] They are not dead now, and they still do it. That motto ought to be followed, but I quite understand the handicap to industry that it would be, and whatever method is followed, there is no question that if you industrialise the countryside and get these factories back, you must see first of all that the people are housed. I am quite sure that if the Minister of Health could come and see some of the housing conditions in the country, he would be very anxious to clear the slums and to do something more than he has done up to date for housing in the country.
There is a movement now on foot which, I believe, it is the time and the opportunity to encourage, a voluntary movement, for the planning of the rural 1357 districts. I refer to the Society for the Preservation of Rural England, for which many distinguished professors and others are now trying to enlist the sympathy of all sorts of bodies in the country. I will give, as an instance of what I mean by the planning of rural areas, what they have done lately in Kent. There the industry was not brought in, but it started itself. I mean the coal industry, and from Canterbury to Sandwich and from Sandwich to the North Foreland and Folkestone, all the owners and all the councils and others interested have arranged a plan for the preservation of rural England in that district—the "Garden of England," as they often call Kent. I have not personally seen it, but one of my hon. Friends will, I hope, develop it later. The thoroughness of this development, with the villages of the workers in the mines on one side and the country village and agricultural land on the other, and the way in which it has. been done, show no reason to fear that if we set our minds to this job and if rural England is to be industrialised instead of urbanised we can still keep up rural England.
The chief objects of that Society are, of course, like the Welwyn Garden City, the preservation of agricultural land and the grouping of building land together, and I suggest that the rural industries should be incorporated and made a part of their programme, a programme which I hope that everybody in this country, of all parties and of all classes, will do their best to support. There is another suggestion that I have to make. Many of these good societies are doing their best, either for rural England or the industries thereof, besides the women's institutes, the Playing Grounds Association, the Society for the Preservation of Rural England, and so forth, and I suggest that the Minister might take some means of amalgamating all those societies under one head. I went the other day to the Rural Intelligence Bureau, which is a very poor little show, only I do not suppose it gets much money and cannot get much help, and I think all these movements to do good for rural England should be incorporated under one head in aid of this Preservation of Rural England Society, and be the god-child of the Government or the Ministry of Agriculture for the whole of those purposes instead of only one.
1358 I want to refer to one more thing, and that is that I hope the Electricity Act, which we were told was going to do so much to help provide power and light in our country villages, will not be forgotten, because it seems to me to be the system on which we should try to develop our rural country. I do not believe in Government control of these industries, nor in State management, but I think the time has come when we have arrived at the need for some national supervision and co-ordination to be exercised in all these matters. As I understand the Electricity Act, that is the plan on which it is founded, and that is the plan on which I hope the Government will co-ordinate all these rural efforts to better the country. The crying scandal, to which I hope my hon. Friend will refer, of the way in which they are building houses along the roads now is one of the surest ways to produce slums in future that has ever been invented in this country, and it is not only private landowners who are responsible. I happen to be on a Local Legislation Committee upstairs, and there I see the way in which boroughs and towns are trying to extend their powers along the main roads, instead of taking a circle and planning proper economical ways of providing gas and lighting, not for 10 or 15 miles along a road, but around a compact little village or town. It makes one very anxious for the future of the country, and I hope that everyone will take the advice on this matter of the Society for the Preservation of Rural England.
There can be no hard-and-fast rule laid down as to the conditions of rural industries in various parts of the country, but I think we should not forget the importance of remembering the motto in Tudor times—a great deal better slogan than anything we have heard lately—"Speed the shuttle as well as speed the plough." That is not impossible if we all set our minds and unite together to try and ruralise the country side in the best way for agriculture and for the workers who will come to the factories, provided we take time by the forelock in making plans for the industrialisation of England, and take a warning from what happened 120 years ago, when towns were made so unhealthy by the industrial revolution. I am quite sure what was said in Tudor times is the wish of every- 1359 body in this House. It can be done. England can still be made into what Shakespeare describes as:This happy race of men, this little world;This precious stone set in the silver sea,Which serves it in the office of a wall,Or as a moat defensive to a house,Against the envy of less happier lands;This blessed plot this earth, this realm, this England.
I beg to second the Motion.
One has little hope of drawing a horse, still less a winner in the House of Commons sweepstakes, but in this case, I backed myself both ways, and find myself obtaining a second place. It is a remarkable thing that there are two subjects which, whenever they can be debated in this House, seem to produce speeches of inordinate length, and, to judge by the audience listening to them, of appalling dullness. Those subjects are education and agriculture; but when they are combined in one, as is the case this evening, when we are considering, in some aspects, agricultural education, it opens a vista of such hideous possibility, that we are appalled at the thought of what lies before us. I cannot hope to avoid dullness, but I shall endeavour to achieve brevity. My hon. and gallant Friend who moved this Resolution confined himself very largely to the side of what I may call the lesser industries in rural England. I would rather direct the attention of the House to the more important of all our rural industries, and that is the industry of agriculture itself. But when we come to consider, from the point of view to which I wish to direct the thoughts of the House this evening, the question of the welfare of agriculture, we are faced at once with a problem of a much wider issue.
It is a problem that is not peculiar to this country, for several countries in the world seem to suffer in the same way. It is the problem of the drift of our population from the countryside into the towns, a matter that is of exceedingly grave importance, because while it is happening, so to speak, slowly, and therefore we are not, perhaps, inclined to pay too much attention to it, it is achieving very anxious proportions. That drift, of course, is caused by economic reasons; we must admit that at once. But whatever our doubts may 1360 be in the diagnosis of the causes, or whatever our varying suggestions may be for dealing with it, I think there is one thing upon which we must all agree, that it is infinitely better physically, morally and spiritually for our people to be born and bred in the country, among the successes of God, rather than in the towns among the failures of men. If we are. at one on that, then we can, perhaps, begin to see some little light as to how we may aim at achieving an object common to us all.
There are, of course, various sidelights with regard to the question of the amenities of rural life, some of which have been touched upon by my hon. and gallant Friend. And yet amenities are not sufficient, because, after all, one must come down to the question of remuneration. When we were discussing questions of agriculture in the House last Monday, the right hon. Gentleman who was Minister of Agriculture in the Labour Government devoted most of his time to the problem, simply, of wages, and it seemed as if his suggestion towards the rehabilitation of prosperity in agriculture was to be by a process of increasing wages. While we are all agreed, particularly those of us who happen to represent agricultural constituencies, and have more than a passing acquaintance with agriculture, its charms and problems, that the payment of present wages in rural England is not adequate to the scale demanded to-day, by agricultural work, which is not second to that of the skilled mechanic in the town, it must also be borne in mind that that rate of wages depends directly on the ability of the employer to pay the wages, and that ability depends entirely upon the profits of industry, or the difference between the cost of production and what the farmer can get for his produce. The Minister of Agriculture on that occasion quite rightly pointed out, that for various reasons we are debarred from any striking theatrical or empirical method of dealing with agriculture, and restoring by legislation, or in some other way, immediate prosperity in that depressed industry.
If that be so, we are driven back to minor considerations. If the price of your article has to remain constant; if you wish, for the reasons that I have tried to indicate, to increase productiveness and the remuneration of the work in rural Eng- 1361 land, it can only be achieved by greater efficiency and output Therefore you come back to what I was speaking of, and that is the question of education, or scientific research, so that we may, by the application of science and experimental development in agriculture, get a greater output at the existing cost, and, therefore, in that way, perhaps, be enabled to pay a remuneration which will in itself help to stem this drift from the country to the towns.' It is true we have agricultural colleges set up throughout the country, and we have excellent county farm institutes, and not only have they made very remarkable progress along scientific and applied scientific lines, but, what is more gratifying from the practical point of view, they are no longer content to sit like Mahomet waiting for the mountain to come to them. They are going to the mountain of prejudice, of inexperience, of suspicion which the fanners of this country as a whole are apt to display to new methods. 'They are bringing clean milk demonstrations right on to the farm; lectures on poultry keeping and various other industries are being brought into the villages; and we are seeing farmers themselves beginning to appreciate the exceedingly valuable work which is being done all over the country —though not on as great a scale as many of us would wish to see it—in our various agricultural colleges and scientific research institutes. But in other industries if we wish to put young fellows to learn the craft we do not send them to a college. One cannot imagine a boy who wants to become a skilled bricklayer going to a bricklaying college and taking a course in bricklaying. He is apprenticed to the craft direct, in order that he may learn his job, and while it may be true that the first thing he will learn is that he must always avoid breaking the speed limit in the matter of laying bricks, nevertheless he has the opportunity of becoming a master of his craft, because he knows full well it is a skilled occupation which he must learn from someone who can teach it to him. In our greatest industry, agriculture, this does not happen, however.
If, in connection with the drift of population from the country to the towns, we analyse the labouring population throughout rural England, we find that the average age is constantly 1362 increasing. Young men are not coming into the rural districts, it is older men who are employed there, and one by one those village crafts which we still have are dropping into disuse because the younger generation have not learned the craftsmanship of the job. There is a great difficulty in getting experienced hedgers, ditchers, thatchers, men who can make hurdles, men of that class. In this connection I would like to emphasise the point that side by side with this we are finding a loss of efficiency in a craft which utilises primarily the raw materials with which Nature has surrounded any particular little locality. In the place of things manufactured on the spot we get manufactured articles from the towns, and that is why, instead of hedges, we see miserable con-crete-post-and-wire fences, or fences of barbed wire, which is as dangerous to the cattle shut in by it as to the hunter who tries to soar over the top. Or else we see, instead of the thatched roof made from materials on the spot, those monstrosities, asbestos tile roofs appearing like pale pink armadillos all over the countryside. By teaching crafts to those who are to be engaged in agriculture we can restore the activities which make use of the materials at hand. That observation applies to building, too. We have to carry machine-made bricks all over the country, though we still have on the spot the materials from which cottages were built in the past and could be built to-day, if people had not lost the craft.
The amenity side of life is as important as the remunerative. Man does not live by bread alone,Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?While bread and meat and raiment are necessities of life—except, possibly, that the feminine sex are trying to prove that the last-named is not as necessary as the other two—nevertheless there are conditions attaching to the amenities of life which will sometimes outweigh the consideration of an addition of so many shillings a week to wages. I suggest to the Minister of Agriculture that he should endeavour to apply to our agricultural industry the old principle of apprenticeship. Side by side with its benefit to our own agricultural industry at home it will have a direct, potential bearing on the 1363 question of emigration and the fitting out of our younger generation at home to take up life overseas.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members being present—
After that little demonstration of addition and subtraction, perhaps I may be allowed to complete the train of thought I was trying to develop. I was saying that side by side with the advantage which might accrue to our own agricultural industry at home we should be doing something which would not be altogether without its effect on emigration. If we could establish here a system of agricultural apprenticeship it would be somewhat along the lines of a great deal of the work which is already being done, on far too small a scale, between this country and our Dominions. We have excellent institutions, which only deal with a mere handful of our people, for giving them the necessary preliminary agricultural training, so that they can get the countryside touch before they go overseas. Those who have gone out at an early age have been kept in touch through the Big Brother movement, which it seems to me is a necessary corollary to the success of a movement for apprenticeship in agriculture such as I have in mind.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Shipley Division of Yorkshire (Mr. Mackinder) in a speech on emigration the other night, to which the whole House listened with intense pleasure, pointed out that it did not follow that the man who made the best worker on the land overseas was the man who came from farm life here at home, but it was the young fellows from our towns and coal mines. It seems to me that this question of the development of apprenticeship in agriculture should not be confined to what I may call the lad3 of the village, but should be extended to boys of leaving school age who have the pioneer spirit of adventure, who make the best scouts in the town, who love to make things for themselves instead of buying them at a shop. That is the type of spirit we want, not only to send overseas, but for their potentialities here at home. We want them to make the fullest use of those inborn tendencies in. our own countryside.
1364 It would be a disastrous thing if lads, at such a critical age, were to be sent to any particular farm and at some distance from their own homes unless there were some form of liaison control. That has been supplied splendidly out in our Dominions by the Big Brother movements. Surely, we have here at home enough people with a patriotic instinct, who are still willing to give voluntarily of their best for the sake of the old homeland. Those are the sort of people to make the best type of patron or Big Brother to look after the moral welfare of the lads apprenticed in this way. It-is also necessary to choose suitable places to send them to. There are good and bad farmers, like there are good and bad Members of Parliament, and it would be a disaster if the movement were to come to grief because of the unwise selection of the farms to which they are sent. I feel strongly that here at home, instead of spending large, sums of money for setting up agricultural institutions, we have the finest agricultural training ground you could wish for in our own farms, and we do not make the fullest use of it. Some hon. Members opposite may criticise this suggestion and say that it is a scheme to enable the farmer to get cheap labour and to replace men to whom he would otherwise be paying a full wage. That might be an objection. It is certainly the last thing I had in mind. Some way of dealing with it might be devised, and I foresee that there are difficulties in the suggestion I have made.
In conclusion, I do urge upon the Minister that he should really take this suggestion of mine into serious consideration, not with a view to having difficulties raised by his Department, but with a view to seeing if it is not worth while to get over such difficulties as he may find in order to achieve a three-fold advantage. One advantage will be the stemming, if not the reversing of the drift from the country to the town; the second would be laying the basis for the development of those minor rural industries such as those spoken of to-night; the third would be that that movement on our own land should work in common with the emigration movement for those going on the land of our Dominions overseas. If the result of this Debate, which has nearly flickered out during the time I have been speaking, should be that the 1365 Minister would find it worth while to pursue that suggestion, I feel that the Debate will not have been altogether in vain.
§ Mr. WRIGHT
The hon. and gallant Member who opened this Debate has covered a considerable period in the history of agriculture in these lands, and I listened with a great deal of interest to his observations, though I sometimes regretted he did not speak a little more fully as to the causes that were at work affecting rural life. For instance, he might have reminded us of the times when the gallant men on the land were deprived of their land and treated as vagabonds and some 67,000 of them were quietly put out of existence at the time of Elizabeth. He might have reminded us also of the time, immediately after the Napoleonic Wars, when the starvation wages paid on the land helped to drive so many people into other industries. There is no doubt that many of them would have preferred to have remained where they were. They were brought up in the villages, they were attached to the villages, but economic necessity drove them into other departments of life. They very readily fell into the new labour of making railways and into going to distant parts of the world and to the great industrial centres. The chief reason for that, at any rate from our point of view, was the economic conditions which prevailed and which were not always a part of the economic conditions of agriculture. The hardships which were imposed at that time were such that they had no alternative. I met an old gentleman a few days ago, very severely crippled by rheumatism, who told me he began life on the land at l½d. a day or 9d. per week. He very often went out to work with the promise of breakfast being sent to him, but his mother had no food to send him and his dinner was merely an apology for breaking his fast. His two brothers, driven by starvation, joined the Army, grew up very strong, powerful men, but they came back to the rural conditions which prevailed.
There is no question at all, in my opinion, that the chief cause of the rural depopulation in this country, which is to be deplored, is the semi-starvation wages, the shocking conditions of housing, and the uncertain conditions of life. Rural life without any prospect before the agricultural labourer has been 1366 in the past, and is to-day, one of the chief factors which have led to the decline of the rural population in this country. It is perfectly true that until the time of the industrial revolution we were chiefly an agricultural population, and now we are largely urban. We have changed the proportion. Two hundred years ago probably 80 per cent. of the people were connected with agriculture and its kindred industries on the land and in the villages; now that has been reversed, probably to a greater extent than in any country in Europe. We have had a decline in the physique of our people to a corresponding extent. Mr. Braseey, the great railway contractor, in his "Work and Wages," makes a statement that in 1857 some hundreds of rural labourers were required for railway work and were taken from my own native county of Lincoln and that the average height of these men was 5 feet 10$ inches. It would be very difficult to find, in the rural part of our land to-day, such fine types of physique as obtained in those days.
We have not only that aspect of the question to consider, but also the further matter dealt with by the hon. and gallant Member who seconded the Motion. I have taken a few notes of many of his observations and with many of them I am in perfect agreement, but some of his suggestions do not commend themselves to hon. Members on this side of the House. I have known in the past friends of mine, the boys of my early life, who served their apprenticeship in the factory system. They served it on. the smallest possible wage which the factory owner was willing to pay. I have known men, 20 and 21 years of age, working for 8s. to 10s. a week and, when they attained their majority and were entitled to their full wage as men skilled in the industry, they were given notice and had to leave and the industry was carried on by apprentice labour.
That has been a shocking feature of the factory system of this country in days gone by, a system which we do not want to see encouraged as far as agriculture is concerned. I do not agree that there has been a lack of skill as implied by the hon. and gallant Member opposite so far as the rural workers are concerned. I remember 50 years ago we had highly-skilled hedgers, ditchers and thatchers and they were all capable of 1367 following every aspect of rural life and able to turn their hand to that kind of work. My own father was that kind of man, and he was highly skilled in all the various aspects of the agricultural industry. It was my good fortune to see him transform a 200-acre farm which, when he took it over, had been badly let down for want of capital and good management. In the course of seven years my father turned that farm into one of the most prosperous farms in South Yorkshire. After he left it failed, because two farmers got it who had insufficient capital and were without farming experience, and when my father's supervision was withdrawn the farm reverted to its original condition. One can remember the lessons of one's youth for a long period, and I have always been thankful to have that particular experience in my early days because it has been a most valuable lesson to me all my life.
I happen to belong to a race of people who for generations were cultivators of the soil, shepherds and agriculturists in the premier wheat-growing county of this country, and all the members of my family were highly skilled, efficient and sober. I never knew a single one of them under the influence of drink. It is rather remarkable that of that family only one surviving member of four generations has remained in his native county, and the reason why they went abroad to such places as Australia and New Zealand and to Manchester was the semi-starvation wages which were paid in the agricultural industry. It is estimated that we are wasting £40,000,000 worth of sewage matter which might be used for fertilising purposes, and which would help to restore certain aspects of agriculture.
The question of agriculture in itself is too large a subject to be dealt with in a brief speech. I readily admit that, but I would like to point out that we are importing round about £500,000,000 worth of foodstuffs, year by year, for man and beast, all of which could be produced in this country, and from a national point of view I regard that as a very grave matter. We have a population rapidly approaching 50,000,000, who are dependent for 40 weeks out of the 52 upon imported foodstuffs. That is a national danger of the first order. Even 1368 if it could be said that this quantity of food could not be produced in this country, it would still be a very grave matter. When we recollect that only 80 years ago the vast majority of the people of this nation were fed upon home-grown produce, and our ability to produce food has increased more rapidly than the population during that period, that is a question which, in my judgment, demands the most serious attention of the Government.
I want to deal with two aspects of this large question. First, I am convinced that pig products, on the import of which we spend £58,000,000 to £60,000,000, could all be produced in our own country just as well as in Denmark, the United States or any other part of the world. I think it is upon those lines there is the possibility of adding enormously to our national wealth. Another aspect of this question is our egg supply. We are importing £20,000,000 worth of eggs from various parts of the world. If we could get the capital, I am sure that quite another £100,000,000 worth of our imported foodstuffs could be produced in this country within the next few years. At the present moment we are confronted with two problems. We on the Labour Benches are constantly being called upon to encourage higher production. That story has been dinned into our ears until we have got weary of hearing it. Behind that statement is the implication that nearly all workmen are "slackers," who are not pulling their full weight, and not producing to the extent they might do. I would like to point out, however, that the workmen do not control the supply of raw material and, therefore, those who do control the raw material are primarily responsible in this matter. If in the course of the next five years we could increase our produce from the soil to the extent of £100,000,000 per annum, all that would be to the good, and I am sure that is a suggestion that will meet with the approval of hon. Members in all parts of this House.
There is another instance which I will quote from my own experience. There was a widespread belief 50 years ago that a profitable orchard of five or six acres on a farmstead of 200 acres in a fairly good year would pay the rent of that farm. I have known cases of that kind. We are now importing large quantities of 1369 apples. Three-quarters of our supply of apples are imported fruit, and toe orchards in many parts of this country have gradually been getting down to a shocking state. Only the other day we had a Cabinet Minister suggesting that we should buy New Zealand apples. What is wrong with the Baldwin Pippin or with the fruit from Devonshire? I remember the story of a farm run by Dr. Streeter, who developed a factory farm of 350 acres. He did not sell his produce in the ordinary way, but fed cows and pigs and produced apples, and so on, and in five years on a farm which was regarded as being in an inferior condition, he made of it a very prosperous speculation. He paid quite double the average wages given for ordinary farm work. He guaranteed his employés a full year's work, and he provided all the amenities of city life for the people he employed. He employed three times as many people on his 350 acres as the ordinary farmer does, and he made this a prosperous speculation. If we had 1,000 factory farms of 1,000 acres in this country developed during the next five years on the lines of Dr. William Streeter's farm, we should have set an example of a new type of agricultural life which would be of immense benefit to this country and its people.
We never can settle the people back on the land under the old conditions. They were impossible conditions. Reference has been made to the slums in rural areas. You cannot visit a single Cathedral city in this country, or go within a mile of any great hall in this country, without seeing slums characteristic of these Cathedral cities and rural areas. That ought not to be. You cannot expect people to go back to rural life on semi-starvation wages and on such conditions. I do not share the views expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Yeovil (Major G. Davies) with regard to apprenticeship. We do not want to train men in this country to became accomplished and expert agricultural workers and then go abroad to cultivate the lands of other parts of the Empire. Why should they go 12,000 miles to Australia or New Zealand when, given the same conditions here, they could do just as well in this country as they can there? I want to see this country developed, I want to see this country colonised, I want to see this country recover something of the stamina 1370 of its rural life that it had in days gone by. We have as good material here as there is any other part of the world, and we have a greater market for agricultural products than for any other kind of product. If we do not grow them here, they will have to be grown in some other part of the world, giving employment to men in other parts of the world, while we have a million and a half of men and women unemployed in this country, eating their very hearts out because of the conditions under which we are living.
I believe that agriculture is the most important, the basic industry of this nation. It is one of the greatest industries. It goes back into the dim ages of the past, and it will remain, although many years will expire before the time comes when the mineral wealth of this nation will have been exhausted. You cannot exhaust the possibilities of agriculture, of fruit growing and all the various aspects of rural life. We can make the amenities come from the rural areas by developing the latent characteristics of the people in those areas. Isaac Newton was the son of a farmer; Robert Burns, the great Scottish national poet, was a farm-worker himself, and the son of a small holder in Ayrshire. Dozens of instances might be quoted. But it was not possible to develop the spiritual side of the rural worker's life so long as life was one unending daily grind of monotony from four o'clock in the morning till eight o'clock at night, as it was at an earlier period of our history. Some improvement has been made, but much remains to be done. The children should remain longer at school, and should be taught a knowledge of those industries by which they are going to earn their living in the years to come, but not with a view to their going to some distant part of the world.
I stand almost alone in this House I am afraid, and am one of a very few men in this country, almost as a voice crying in the wilderness; but I am convinced, and I have given a considerable amount of time to the subject, that it is possible, on the soil and waters of this country, rightly used and wisely applied, with the machinery and the scientific knowledge available, to feed the vast majority of the population of this country so far as all materials are concerned, apart from tropical products. I am convinced of 1371 that, and I believe that, if any person will look dispassionately into the question from that point of view, they will see that we do not need to discuss a great emigration problem. So long, however, as the land of this nation remains the private property of a comparatively small number of people, we can never get the full value from the soil, the rivers and the ocean. Develop our fisheries, develop our fruit, develop vegetables and flowers as they are being developed now in Cornwall and might be developed in many other parts of the land—fruit in the Vale of Evesham, the district of Holland, in certain parts of Scotland, and so on—and I am satisfied that we can solve the unemployment problem, and give a new lease of life to this old nation, of which we all ought to be proud, by resettling the people upon the land of their birth.
§ Mr. FENBY
The discussion so far has ranged over a long period of time. We began with William the Conqueror, and are going to finish with the Minister of Agriculture. I am by no means a pessimist concerning the agricultural industry and rural life of our land. London, Liverpool, Manchester, all the great urban areas will pass away very speedily, unless they are continually replenished from the rural areas of our land. I am an optimist with regard to agriculture and an improvement in our village life and industry, remembering that William the Conqueror has gone, and that the present Minister of Agriculture will be going also before very long. So far as this problem is concerned, nothing can be done unless you have imagination and initiative, and so far as the present Government are concerned—and I want to deal very gently with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture—his Department up to now has evinced very little evidence of imagination or initiative with regard to the agricultural question and the rural problem.
I notice that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who put down this Resolution does not throw compliments towards the Government which he supports. In his Resolution he asks the House to declare that it is of the opinion that the Government should do certain things. We are all agreed, and anyone who knows the agricultural problem knows that a great deal 1372 can be done to improve the position of agriculture and rural life in this country —I do not mean by interference on the part of the Government, but by initiation on the part of the Government. No one has disappointed me more, in my short period in Parliament, than the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Debate. I do not at all agree with the speaker on the opposite side who said there was a dearth of skilled men in the countryside. It is not true. You will find as skilled men as ever you had in this good old country to-day in the countryside. That I know, at any rate. So far as hedgers are concerned, and other expert men dealing with ditches, I think you will find in the East Riding of Yorkshire the finest that there are in any part of the country. I listened with very great interest to the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Wright). He said that you could not find men of the same fine physique to-day as you could many years ago. I do not agree with that. You have some very fine countrymen yet in the rural parts of good old England. Where the Minister of Agriculture has failed is in this: He has absolutely failed to give them that chance that they are waiting for, and that is the condemnation that comes upon him and the Government and the Department for which he is responsible.
Something has been said with regard to the low wages paid in the agricultural industry. Quite true. No one would attempt to justify that, but the significant fact is that in spite of the low wages the employé and his wife are saving money now. Please do not use that as an argument for not increasing the wage, but the frugality, the care, the sobriety and the abstinence with which these people work and live their life is a great compliment to them and they are fully entitled to any assistance the Government can give them. The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me mentioning a matter I have discussed with him outside this Chamber. He brought in a Bill which is now on the Statute Book with regard to the provision of small holdings but there is absolutely no drive behind that Measure on the part of the Department. The very first application that comes before his Department for creating a homestead—because the real demand in the rural areas for small holdings is 1373 not so much for spare time land as for whole time occupation with a house and farmstead—proposed by a county authority endeavouring to encourage and assist him in applying his own Act to the countryside, for the countryside's benefit, a holding of 26¾ acres—all it wanted was a house. The only loss that was going to fall on the Treasury or the local authority was £60 a year. It was freehold land, the buildings were quite adequate, it was near an urban area with a market, and yet the Minister cuts it down and says, "No, you cannot build a house there. You must sell the 26¾ acres for small holdings and let it off field by field."
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Guinness)
Is the hon. Member not aware that the local authority had thought out two different schemes and the alternative which was accepted was not our proposal but one which they themselves suggested?
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I do not ride off by putting the responsibility on the local authority. The responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture is to see that a reasonable and fair return is achieved for the Government contribution. I have not got the figures, but the cost of one of the schemes was inordinately high in proportion to the benefit to be received by one person, and the local authority had worked out another scheme which seemed to be far more beneficial and gave an advantage to, I do not know how many people, but anyhow a much better return, and it is not reasonable for the hon. Member on two occasions like this, when he knows the details cannot be dealt with, to bring it up as a reproach to the Department that we accepted one of two alternative schemes which seemed to us to give the greatest advantage on balance, and it is absolutely untrue to say we did that to sterilise or discourage the provision of small holdings.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
Will the hon. Member take an occasion when we are discussing small holdings of raising this point? It is really not fair to the Department when we are discussing rural industry to bring up a matter of this kind without notice when it is impossible for the Minister to give the absolutely convincing answer which is in his possession.
§ Mr. FENBY
I shall be glad to do that because the more this point is rubbed in on this case with regard to the administration of the Ministry of Agriculture the less the Ministry will shine. I shall be glad to bring it up, and the more it is brought up the worse it will be for the Department. If you are going to encourage rural industry you have to get the rural areas more thickly populated than they are to-day.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. FENBY
No, the five people to whom those five fields were sold were already living there. If you wanted to bring another man, you wanted a house in which to put him. We wanted to build a house and the Minister says "No." If you are going to improve rural industry, if you are going to make it better for the people to live in the rural areas, you have to find more employment of a remunerative character, and one of the methods which lies already at the hand of the Minister is the provision of more small holdings. The hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Wright) has been saying why do we not produce more food in our own country. I quite agree. That is what everyone is saying, and the report of the Ministry of Agriculture, which was discussed last Monday, said that wherever you have small holdings you have not only more people but more stock and you grow more food and produce more for the people to eat. Then what is the Minister doing in regard to drainage? His own report again says there are thousands of acres that really need drainage. We have an Act, passed last year, to deal with drainage, but it does very little. There is neither initiation nor imagination on the part of the Government with regard to the problem of drainage, which is so much required.
1375 Then with regard to craftsmen, apart from skilled agriculturists, take the wheelwright or the blacksmith. Where they can get a living they are as highly skilled in industry as ever they were in the annals of this country. Why is it that you have so many of our rural forges and wheelwrights' shops closed? There are scores of smiths who are not making their own shoes, so far as the farriery side of the business is concerned. They are being made in Sheffield and Manchester and other places, and instead of buying a bar of iron and making his own, he buys them by the cwt. and fixes them when he gets them. In my own time I can remember, so far as agricultural machinery is concerned, there was a great deal more work for the village blacksmith's shop than there is to-day. That was a question of replenishing a part by forging it, by hard work. Instead of that, new machinery is so standardised that when a particular part of an agricultural machine wants repairing or replenishing you simply send it to Lincoln or somewhere else where it is made, and you get the particular part and it only needs bolting and putting on. All this is doing away with a good many of the smithies that you had in your rural areas. Then take the wheelwright. I quite agree that there are not so many wheelwrights required so far as carts are concerned in this country, but those that are required in many instances are made by the score in Leeds and other great urban areas. That has done away with the craftsmanship and the craftsmen in rural areas. But what I want to get at is this. What is required is the provision of power to the rural areas so far as agriculture and the other industries are concerned. I hope the Minister of Agriculture and his Department will urge that the provisions of the Electricity Act, which went through this House last year, shall not only be applied to urban areas but that it shall also be applied at the earliest possible moment in the rural areas. Who will say that we know all the advantages of electricity, or that we have been able to secure the full application of electricity to agriculture, and particularly with regard to rural crops? Who will say that we know anything about that? This is a particularly important matter, and yet here again I think the Govern- 1376 ment stands self-condemned in regard to the appointments which were made only at the end of last year or the beginning of this year in regard to the Board which is to operate the Electricity Act. Not a single person appointed to that Board was specifically interested in agriculture, or was an expert in regard to agriculture or the rural side of the industry. I know the defence has been that my friend Lieut.-Colonel Willey represents agriculture. I would not say one word against him, but I would say a great many for him. He is a friend of mine, and a man who knows a great deal about the industries of this country, but no one can say that he is purely a representative of agriculture and of the rural industries of this country. Ha is interested, I know, but he is not a direct representative, and I want the Minister, if he desires to revive rural life, to improve the industries in rural areas, and to bring more employment in order that the smith, the carpenter, the ditcher, and all those men may have something more to do than they have to do now, to press, so far as his Department is concerned, not only for the Electricity Act to be applied to the urban areas, but that it should be applied to the rural areas as well.
My last point is this. I am not sure that the authorities that we have now, so far as the county administrative authorities are concerned, have sufficient power, or whether the authorities that we have have ample Dowers to deal with the requirements of the industry and with the problem which we are discussing to-day. I think the Minister might review the position. I know that under the 1910 Act, so far as the Agricultural War Executive 'Committees are concerned, their power has been taken away, and I think we need some authority in the county areas. But so far as the Minister's own Department is concerned, when he comes to the 1926 Smallholdings Act, there seems to be no drive from his own Department. The drive is absolutely gone. I stand here a friendly critic, I hope, of my right hon. Friend, and one who would like to help him because I am so much interested in the rural life of this country. My business and all my rural life is tied up with rural interests. But what I want to see developed is the gift of imagination and 1377 initiative. The field is there, wide. The opportunity is great, and if, in this Debate I have said some things to displease the right hon. Gentleman, if they have roused him to a stronger sense of his responsibility, I am glad to have done so, and I could have said even stronger things. But it is a lamentable thing, and it is rather a serious reflection upon this House that says it is desirous of doing all it can for the rural side and for village industry, to keep up the rural craftsmanship, that we have to have a count in the middle of a Debate on an important subject such as this. I am glad to find that, from the Government-benches, in this Resolution, that there is evinced a keen disappointment so far as the Government and its work are concerned in dealing with the work of agricultural life, and I hope the Minister will show a little more diligence and imagination than he has hitherto shown on this subject.
§ Colonel Sir GEORGE COURTHOPE
The Debate to which we have listened this evening has been very interesting in more ways than one. First of all, I should like heartily to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friends who moved and seconded this Resolution upon the very interesting and excellent speeches they made. They were followed by an equally interesting but a very different speech from the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Wright). Until he got to his peroration, I thought he was making a very admirable speech in favour of extending the principle of the Safeguarding of Industries or, if you like, of Protection. But if you are to consider this matter from the broad point of view of agricultural employment and the rural population you cannot get away from the facts upon which he insisted, that you must have a better wage, and that to get that better wage you have got to have better and more stable prices. Sooner or later this House and the country have got to realise that essential fact and tackle that problem. The country has got to decide whether it wants to maintain and increase its rural poulation, and whether it wants to maintain and increase the proportion of our essential foodstuffs that are produced at home. If it does, it has got to take the necessary steps—I shall not attempt to define them in the short time at my disposal—to ensure improved and 1378 more stable prices than modern conditions provide, because without those prices you cannot get an improved wage, and without an improved wage we shall not, as the hon. Member opposite said, quite truly, maintain the rural population that all parties believe to be important to the nation.
But I do not wish, in the few minutes that are available to me, to go into this difficult, thorny, and very large question. I want to say a word or two about a rather narrower point, because I think there is a great deal that can be done for rural industry through this great question of agricultural employment and the production of foodstuffs at home. Let me approach the subject from the point of view mentioned by the last speaker; the point of view of small holdings. We want to see small holdings increase and small holdings successful, but I think most of us who have been in intimate touch with small holdings recognise what I believe to be a fact that if the small holdings are to be successful, except possibly in one or two highly favoured districts, those small holdings must be accompanied by the: opportunity for wage-earning on the part of the smallholder for a part, at least, of the year. The most successful holdings in the country to-day are the holdings that are being set up by the Forestry Commission in connection with the new forest plantations that are being made under their policy.
The Forestry Commission set up a certain number of holdings for every thousand acres of woodlands that they plant, and they guarantee the occupiers of those holdings a certain minimum number of days wages during the year, particularly during the winter months. That wage, plus the occupation and cultivation of their holdings, enables them to make their occupation and livelihood' a success. That principle ought to be extended to many local industries other than forestry. It might quite likely, I think it might, adapt itself to the sugar beet industry when the sugar beet industry is thoroughly established in certain districts. There are certain periods of the year when additional labour is required on the farms where the sugar beet is grown, and there are certain period of the year, relatively short, when additional skilled labour is required in the factories where the beet is converted into sugar, and there is a 1379 considerable period of time during the year when that particular industry does not require so much labour either for the cultivation of the sugar beet or the manufacture of the beet sugar. It is possible that this question of small holdings may link itself up, or be linked up, with that industry, but I do not think the Minister can well he in a position to embark on a policy of that kind, although I think he could do rather more than, as far as I am aware, is being done at present.
Something might be done to encourage certain village handicrafts, as has been done in one particular county. The County of Kent is a shining example in the encouragement of skilled handicraft among those village industries which are tending to die out. The hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. Fenby) mentioned the smith. The village smith is, for the reasons which he has stated, gradually disappearing. The coming of the motor car and the modern agricultural machine leads to the replacement of broken parts by a rapidly purchased spare. There are not so many horses to shoe, and the shoes are ready made. The smith is finding and will find little to do, unless he is encouraged and helped to find a market for highly-skilled work, which will always sell if it is well done, and for which the hereditary smith of this country, whose trade passes from father to son for many generations, is well fitted to carry out. That is one example and there are others.
It would be well worth while the Ministry considering whether they cannot establish, by competition, or some method of that kind, a local industry in English furniture. It is far too long since in this country we developed a new style and character of furniture. We are too prone to be content with taking up the furniture of 100 or 150 years ago, and it is quite time we developed a new style. I do not mean furniture which is reproduced in vast quantities by machinery. I mean furniture made by hand, by skilled local craftsmen and from local timber. We grow the best timber for this purpose; and I hope the Minister of Agriculture will consider whether an impetus cannot be given to some such movement as this, in addition to the more obvious village industries of the 1380 basket maker and hurdle maker, and the construction of toys. All these industries are admirably adapted for village life. Their raw material is produced now, and will be produced in still larger quantities as the forestry policy develops, at their own doors. These are industries which should be encouraged, because they will enable small holdings and allotments to be a success and will help to maintain, to some extent, the prosperity of our village life.
There is much more that I should like to have said but time is getting late, and in conclusion I only wish to refer to a subject which was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Motion—namely, the movement for the preservation of the countryside, the encouragement of local authorities and others concerned to prevent the destruction of some of the most beautiful parts of this country by the uncontrolled spread of hideous buildings along the frontage of our great roads. This can be effectively done by the creation of popular opinion, and popular opinion can best be helped in this matter by the opinion of this House. A great deal can be done to save the beauties of the countryside not only by checking the ribald development which is now going on but by giving opportunities for the development of residential houses in suitable areas and by giving special opportunities, through the Electricity Commissioners or other bodies, for the development, again in suitable areas, of local industries and factories which will help the rural population. I hope that all parties will combine—it would be a great pity if it became a party question —to encourage a movement which will do so much to preserve the best features of the countryside, which we all alike love so well.
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
This Debate has oscillated between the general interest of the village in the prosperity of agriculture and the special interests to which the hon. and gallant Member has called attention in his Motion. The subject covers both fields, and I agree with the hon. Member behind me that the real question, even in the interest of these industries alone, is how to promote the prosperity of rural industries in general in those conditions under which the maximum success of the industries will alone 1381 be secured. The particular subject raised by the two hon. Members this evening seems to me as important as any that could be raised in this House and to be dealing with a matter which is absolutely vital for national welfare. I am very glad that they have called attention to an aspect of agriculture which is different from that on which we not infrequently dwell in agricultural Debates. You might, I suggest, call it the social aspect of agriculture, the part of the question which is represented by the point of view of the villager. It is most interesting and appropriate, I think, that we should look at the matter for this one occasion from the point of view of the villager, which, after all, is the real test of the success of our agricultural policy. I do not wish to overstate the urgency of the problem in this aspect, that, namely, of the hardship in which the worker lives. In order not to overstate the distressful outlook of the farm worker in most of our villages let me just quote an authority who will certainly be accepted on the other side of the House. Lord Ernie, speaking of the agricultural workers, says:Most are poorly paid, precariously employed and poorly housed. Among all poverty is chronic; and though destitution is certainly rare, dread of it is seldom absent. All the employing classes have moved upwards in wealth, in education, in tastes, in habits, in their standard of living. Except in education the employed alone have stood comparatively still. The sense of social inferiority thus fostered has impressed the labourer with a feeling that he is not regarded as a member of the community, but only as its helot.Another quotation which will carry equal weight with hon. Members opposite is from Lord Bledisloe:There is no country where the really competent agricultural worker has a poorer outlook than in England.I do not want to labour that point. We all know that the village worker lives in too many cases under a sword of Damocles. His life is not secure and he cannot express himself freely, or be active in causes and movements that would naturally interest him. We know that the men find it extremely difficult to combine in a union, and where they do combine, as in Norfolk and Suffolk, it is very often because in the villages there you find certain men of slight independence. I am thinking of a man who was a fish curer. 1382 He was the only man who could be got to be the secretary of the local branch of the union. It is not safe and the whole position is insecure. When we try to think of a remedy for this state of things —we are not at the moment dealing with the greater aspects of agricultural reform —we realise that there is a great deal that the Minister should envisage in his scheme of village amelioration. Not only is his Ministry concerned, but also the Ministries of Health and of Labour and of Education, and you might say the Home Office in regard to public house reform; and the Post Office is very closely concerned, and certainly the British Broadcasting Corporation and other Government Departments are actively concerned now. It is a very vast field, and in the moment or two that I have available I would like to suggest one or two of the ways in which more might be done.
If I attempted to select the most urgent call for new kinds of activity not specially concerned with agriculture in the strict sense, I would recall to the House that there is a Department concerning itself in some degree with industries and with village welfare. The Development Commission is making grants which filter down to industries and village halls and certain other things, but on a small scale. I suggest to the Minister that there should be a more definitely organised department of rural welfare. If there were a regular welfare department, it would help, if only indirectly, in rousing the public to some interest in the subject. Immense progress was made in Ireland through the Congested Districts Board, and I do not see why in this country we should not do a good deal on the same lines by an intensive rousing of interest in the various concerns of the village. Certainly Ireland never needed such help in its village life and in its rural life more than we need it in our villages here. Although our people are better off, there is just as much feeling for encouragement of local effort. Is it not the function of the Ministry to stimulate village reform in the first place by stimulating private effort? The Ministry does few things more profitable for the money which it costs than to subsidise women's institutes. Some of my hon. Friends may doubt whether in every case the village institute is a perfectly impartial body, but it is open to the mem- 1383 bers to make it what they like, and there are few things more profitable than the subsidising of village institutes and of village clubs.
It seems a great pity that the subsidy to the Village Clubs Association came to an end. Under its influence there came to be 450 clubs and the institutes now number 3,400 with over 200,000 members, and very great effects have resulted. Then you have the Rural Community Councils. Where they exist they are doing magnificent work. They study and advise; they are already used to a small extent as a channel of assistance by the Ministry or the Development Commission in the founding of village halls. They arc doing something as in Cambridgeshire, for the founding of industries which will not, certainly in some cases, prove to be short-lived. I suppose many of us have experience of industries in which we have been concerned coming to an end all too soon, but on a basis of high organisation such as that of the Rural Community Councils, the subsidies seam to be well worth while. There is a hopeful feature on which the Minister can work. Country life is not now characterised by the dullness and unattractiveness which many-people thought it had a few years ago. If economic conditions are not too bad people are much more willing to stay in the country than they were.
The other function which such a Department might have would be to stimulate the utilisation of local government machinery. The county councils are assisted by the Ministry to send lecturers on many subjects through the counry, but they are not using their powers fully. Ever so many powers of local bodies are neglected. Take only the matter of access to land. I know many villages where there is really an economic handicap owing to the failure to acquire allotments even in these days. Housing, of course, is a great field of local government not at all adequately occupied by the work of the rural district councils, and among the things that local government has here and there dealt with, but not at all generally as it ought, are playgrounds, village halls, water supplies, drainage, lighting, footpaths, postal arrangements, libraries, bathing places, and the disposal of rubbish. These form not at all an unimportant element in village life which has got to be dealt with, and all these 1384 things, it seems to me, could come under the influence of a Welfare Department avowedly aimed at stimulation.
Apart from these things, the fundamental causes, in the view of us on these benches, need to be dealt with in a more drastic way. The control of the land, and the wage, and education are essential, of course, to reform, but in the particular sphere that the hon. and gallant Member has raised this evening, it seems to me that, if we cannot expect from the present Government a drastic dealing with agricultural interests such as would appeal to us on these benches, there is a very great deal that the Minister might do—and I hope that all parties would agree in supporting him if he could see his way to do it—by the promotion of a special Village Welfare Department in the Ministry.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I quite agree with the right hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) that the improvement and the maintenance of our village life depend on social conditions, on wages. on housing, on education. The problem nowadays is that rural life remains in great contrast to urban development and we have to find some way of preventing it being crushed by the competition of this very strong organisation, and from losing its most desirable recruits owing to the temptations which town life offers. The hon. and gallant Member for Yeovil (Major G. Davies) devoted, if I may say so, a most thoughtful and fertile speech chiefly to the special interests of the agricultural industry as contrasted to the other subordinate rural crafts and occupations, and he drew attention to the present difficulty from the lack of young skilled men in agriculture and the difficulty in finding suitable recruits. The problem of the farmer to-day is largely due to the fact that after the disastrous series of years, with prices steadily falling, through which he has passed, he now finds himself in a position where his costs too often are above his receipts. It is necessary for the farmer to make his labour cheaper, not in wages, but in greater efficiency. He can help his labour with up-to-date machinery, but he can get perhaps even more by making that labour more simple in its methods. In this movement the farmer must clearly play the chief part, and there is no doubt that a great deal can be done to speed up the 1385 output of labour on the farms, if the workers are shown the proper manual processes. A good deal of evidence is to be found nowadays that employers, perhaps, are not quite so efficient, or not so interested, in the proper development of manual processes as before, when machinery had not been developed in the same way, and where the necessity of manual labour being more efficient was more fully brought to their notice.
The hon. and gallant Member for Yeovil suggested that we might gain advantage by applying a system of apprenticeship to agricultural trades. There is no doubt that that system has worked with advantage in the case of training farmers. We all know how many farmers take pupils, and how it is quite possible to work out what is, in effect, an apprenticeship system for that object; but I do not quite agree with him in his suggestion that it could easily apply to the wage earner. First of all, you have got the difficulty of the Wages Act, and you have also this consideration, that the farmer to-day finds difficulty in getting young men to train in agriculture. He is quite willing to pay for efficient labour, and perfectly willing to give that labour an opportunity of learning, and it does not seem necessary in the case of agriculture that premiums should be given to help the farmer to employ recruits whom he is quite willing to take on and pay in the ordinary way.
I think that we can better deal with this problem of recruiting and secure the necessary supply if we can make the life more attractive by reasonable wages, by increasing the prospects of advancement, by means of small holdings and cottage holdings and by developing the various voluntary agencies. The Ministry can, of course, do a good deal in organising those sides of training which the individual cannot well provide. This duty begins in the school. We have to make the young realise the value of the opportunities of country life. That is the object of what is known as rural bias in education, to adapt the schools and the children to the special needs and opportunities of rural life. Rural bias is quite separate from any kind of vocational training. It is a matter of linking the teaching in the elementary schools with country surroundings, to open the eyes and ears of the 1386 children to country life, and, of course, it depends for its success on the particular aptitude of the teachers. The Board of Education have set up a Committee under the Chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Lamb) which is exploring this problem among other subjects, and I hope we shall be able to advance this very important object.
When children leave school they can be encouraged to remain on the land by rural continuation classes, and an interdepartmental Committee of the Ministries of Agriculture and Education has recently been exploring this matter, and a circular has been sent to the local education authorities urging them to organise educational facilities for the gap between leaving school and the age of 16, when boys and girls can take special training in farm institutes and other centres. These continuation classes deal with rural science, carpentry, manual processes, dairying, poultry keeping, horticulture, and, in the case of girls, domestic economy also. The House knows what is being done at the farm institutes, but side by side with them, to deal with boys of the same age, we have instruction being given in manual processes by means of travelling teachers. These processes include instruction in hedging, ditching, ploughing, thatching, sheep-shearing, basket-making and milking.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
We have 38 County education authorities taking part in the movement, there are 230 courses, and we do all we can, by contributing two-thirds of the cost, to make it possible for the rest of the County education authorities to join in the movement. The hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Clifton Brown) dealt, in the very interesting speech in which he opened the Debate, with the other side of rural life and occupations, with industries which exist in our villages independent of agriculture. He truly pointed out that the real problem which confronts these industries is the great problem of markets. Owing to large-scale production and distribution in this country, these local industries have lost their old customers, and they have to seek their sales much further afield than under more primitive conditions.
1387 There are three bodies that are doing a great deal to help on this movement. There is the Rural Industries Bureau, the National Federation of Women's Institutes and the National Council of Social Services. These bodies have all been started with some assistance from outside —in the case of the Rural Industries Bureau and the National Federation of Women's Institutes, with grants from the Development Commission, and in the case of the National Council of Social Services with grants from the Carnegie trustees—but it is most encouraging to find that they are very nearly self-supporting and will shortly, I think, become quite independent of any Government assistance. The Rural Industries Bureau is now receiving a grant of about £4,400 a year and they act as an intelligence service for these rural industries. They give advice, they give training, they issue leaflets and a quarterly journal and they keep a register of craftsmen who are working in these scattered industries so as to put them in touch with their markets. The work of the National Federation of Women's Institutes is probably more in the public eye and therefore better known. There are now 3,800 of these institutes within the Federation. They do very good work in teaching and developing handicrafts, and they have trained 656 teachers who go out as missionaries to start new sides of rural developments. The National Federation is now self-supporting, though originally they were receiving about £10,000 from the Development Fund.
The National Council of Social Services, which is under the Presidency of Mr. Speaker, is a body which co-ordinates the work and prevents overlapping on the part of these other organisations. The Development Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture are represented, on the Council which assists in setting up the Rural Community Councils, organised on a county basis. They have now started a new step in the form of village Community Councils. They are erecting and enlarging village halls and doing very much to improve the amenities of village life quite apart from their work in promoting rural industries. It has been suggested to-night that opportunity should be taken by offering exhibitions to help the public to realise the importance of this work. A good deal 1388 is done already. Hon. Members will have seen the most interesting and beautiful exhibits at some of our agricultural shows, which give evidence that the rural worker is a real craftsman who only needs an assured market to turn out many artistic and useful articles. Undoubtedly the industries which used to exist in our villages have too often decayed, but with the efficient organisations which are now growing up to revitalise them I am confident they will grow from strength to strength, and add prosperity and a new interest to country life.
I am very glad that my hon. and gallant Friend has raised this question in the House because I think it is necessary that we should apply our minds to this matter. During the Debate to-night most valuable suggestions have been made as to organisation within the Department, and so forth, which I will very carefully consider. I realise that the health of the rural community is absolutely vital to our national prosperity, and to secure this health we must ensure the recruitment of the main industry of agriculture, and the continuance of its subordinate industries. The rural population is absolutely necessary to our national health and physique, and will be more necessary to future generations for the food of the country when foreign countries develop their production and manufactures, and are perhaps not so ready as they are to-day to take our manufactured articles, and send us their food in exchange. I did not need this Debate this evening to be convinced that recruitment for our basic industry of agriculture, and the maintenance and development of our rural craftmanship is absolutely necessary for the prosperity of our rural life, and for the interests of the nation at large.
That this House is of opinion that the Government should do all in its power to foster the development of village life and industries, and to promote good craftsmanship in agriculture.