Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,332,310, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Expenses under the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, 1924, a Grant under the Agricultural Credits Act, 1928, Loans to Co-operative Marketing Societies, Grants for Agricultural Education and Research, Grants for Eradication of Tuberculosis in Cattle, Grants for Land Improvement, Grants-in-Aid of the Small Holdings Account, and other Grants including certain Grants-in-Aid; and the Salaries and Expenses of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew."—[NOTE.—£980,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Noel Buxton)
In recommending this Estimate to the Committee, I desire to thank my friends of the Liberal party for having given, at last, an opportunity for a discussion on agriculture. I am glad that the commendable curiosity which has prompted questions as to our agricultural policy week by week has at last taken shape. The great interest felt by the Liberal party recalls to my mind the days, now long ago, of the Land Inquiry, when my hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. C. Buxton) co-operated with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in introducing that valuable proposal. Though to-day we are only able to deal with administration, it is, after all, the day-to-day activities of the very expert officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries which remove many of the handicaps which stand in the way of the farmer's success. In reviewing the work of the Ministry, the Committee, no doubt, would wish me to make a strict selection of topics, rather 1474 than attempt to cover the vast field of the Ministry's activities.
The questions which most interest the House and the country are, I think, what is the state of things in agriculture, and what is being done to meet that state of things? Everybody is giving his mind to the degree of depression which exists in agriculture, and flow far that depression extends. I would like to say two or three things on that subject. In the first place, the slump in prices from which agriculture is suffering is a slump which affects many industries. It affects, indeed, almost all, industries. It is a slump of a unique character. We have hardly realised how exceptional it is. Mr. Keynes writes that:It will take its place in history as one of the most acute ever experienced.Another point is that agriculture has been adjusting itself with some success to the new situation created by the fall in prices, and also by the increased cost of labour. Agriculture was developed in times of cheap labour and it has had, in the last few years, to meet somewhat modified conditions. It was doing so when a renewed and sudden fall met it in the last few months. Thirdly, other industries have been equally hit, but have greater facilities in meeting troubles. They can close factories or they can reduce their output very much more easily. Of course, we must recognise that the agricultural slump is a world slump. Farmers in every country are suffering, and in some countries even more severely than here. That is cold comfort for our own farmers, but we ought, after all, to see the matter in perspective.
Let me give two or three figures which represent the actual situation. The April index of prices above pre-War level was 36, the lowest figure since 1915. On the other hand, the figure for feeding stuffs was only six above pre-War level, and 39 below that of a year ago, while the figure for fertiliser prices was only two above pre-War level. These figures indicate, of course, that some sections of the industry have gained, and it is also a curious fact that the number of bankruptcies has been very low. I should not have raised this question of bankruptcies, because I do not think it is a good index of depression, if I had not been asked a question about it and compelled to give the figures the other 1475 day in the House. It is a fact, of course, that the banks are not calling in in hundreds, and even thousands of cases when the farmer is doing very badly, but still it is a noteworthy fact that the number of bankruptcies is the lowest since 1926. I do not, on that account, for a moment minimise the serious straits in which our farmers are placed, especially those who have anything to do with cereal growing, and yet, on the other hand, some parts of the industry are prosperous. The chief interest of any cause is that the truth should be known. The public will sympathise most with depression if it, feels that it is not being given exaggerated information. The sections of the industry which certainly cannot be suffering include sheep, pigs and poultry.
The late Minister of Agriculture was good enough to notify me that he would be raising the question of bounty-fed corn, and, as that is a question which undoubtedly interests the public and the House in a high degree, perhaps I might say a word upon it. The man in the street might very well think that the depression in this country was due to dumping of bounty-fed foreign corn, but that simply is not a fact. I rather blame myself for the fact that that impression has got abroad; I think I ought to have given the facts more fully. The nature of this so-called bounty is very well known, and I need not take up the time of the Committee by repeating it. It is a familiar phenomenon. It began in 1894, but the outcry with regard to it is new. In regard to wheat, one would suppose that the imports from Germany had very much increased, but the fact is that, whereas in 1925 the import from Germany was 4,000,000 cwts., in the present cereal year, for seven months, it has been only 493,000 cwts. In the previous year, the corresponding figure was 1,800,000 cwts. When we come to the question of a remedy—
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BUXTON
With regard to oats, I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who will be speaking later, would wish to deal with that matter, as it very specially affects Scotland, while the question of wheat affects England a great deal more. With 1476 regard to wheat, what is really significant is the extraordinary increase in the Argentine imports. In 1925, we imported 14,000,000 cwts. In 1929, during five months only, we imported 23,000,000 cwts., while in the corresponding five months of the previous year we imported only 8,000,000 cwts. That colossal increase is, of course, the governing factor. The German wheat import has been 3,000,000 cwts. since the summer of 1928, but it has received far more notice than the corresponding figure of 56,000,000 cwts. which came from the Argentine. It might be said that this was wheat of a different character, but both wheats are soft wheats, and therefore the comparison is correct. It has, of course, been a matter of great psychological importance that a sudden supply should arrive on local markets, and I was under the impression that in certain markets there had been a marked effect on prices. Strangely enough, the records do not confirm that in regard to local markets.
§ Sir ARTHUR STEEL-MAITLAND
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of importation from the Argentine, could he give us any idea of the selling price of Argentine wheat in British markets as compared with the home selling price in the River Plate, and what is the cost of transport?
§ Mr. BUXTON
It has also been thought that the German imports have knocked our wheat down below world prices. That also is not borne out by the statistics.
§ Mr. BUXTON
Any figures that we have shall be given in full. Attempts have been made to get the Government to denounce treaties and deal with the matter, but everyone knows that that raises a question of general policy which is of very high import. What we have done—and I do not believe that anything else could be done—was to make representations to the German Govern- 1477 ment. Those representations were confirmed by the President of the Board of Trade when he was at Geneva, and we are taking all possible steps to expedite attention and communication from the German Government.
There is another reaction of low prices which touches the public very nearly, and that is the effect on agricultural employment. It has been specially raised on this side of the House in connection with the desire for the insurance of agricultural workers. As it falls upon the Minister of Labour to deal with that question in this House, I will not attempt to add to what she said on a recent occasion. We have attempted to get more definite facts in regard to unemployment. It is an unfortunate necessity that the figures cannot be more than approximate, but, none the less, we have valuable information which we have secured through our crop reporters. We took the month of February, as that was likely to show the most marked rate of unemployment. One difficulty which arises in the absence of exact information is that there is always some uncertainty on account of the difference between annual and seasonal workers and between casual and regular, and then, again, workers out of employment who are agricultural have been very largely employed by county councils as a form of relief, and to be out of employment is not the same as to be out of agricultural employment, though the worker might be mainly agricultural.
The information shows that the trouble has been almost entirely confined to casual workers. The regular staff has been reduced to a minimum in the last few years, and, therefore, regular unemployment has been very limited. In regard to casual workers, it has been material. We must, of course, attribute some of the fall of employment to new methods, economy in machinery and rationalising of different kinds. Reduced ploughing has been, of course, one cause. The worst part of the country has naturally been the cereal belt from Yorkshire to Dorset. The potato districts have been bad, and the vegetable districts, I believe, very bad. The number of unemployed in Biggleswade in February was nearly 800. There appears to be a total of 30,000 to 40,000 unemployed, which figure is drawn from a total of 660,000 workers.
1478 Now I will turn to what is being done to meet these conditions. The operations of the Ministry are too numerous and varied to permit of even a general review, as they range from a, very high figure for the beet sugar subsidy to contributions to water supplies and the claying of fen land. The net estimate is £2,300,000. Research and Education have risen to £750,000; the Land Section costs £1,000,000, and, among the remaining items, the Fishery Department accounts for £160,000.
Before I state some of the direct actions for which we are responsible, I will say a word about the Agricultural Conference which I was fortunate enough to convene. I wish to pay a tribute to the spirit in which the members of the Conference have contributed their great knowledge to a large number of discussions. I think that at all events, the Conference will lead to closer social relation between the different sections of the industry, an understanding which must help in the long run, because we can never get progress without good will. It will certainly help us in many ways.
Two questions will, perhaps, demand an answer in regard to our administrative action. In the first place, what action of ours is new and has to be put down to this Government, and, secondly, what events have been important in the past year? To run over the new actions. The Government have allotted £500,000 to the Development Fund for research and education. That includes some fishery items and also includes Scotland. Beyond that, we have provided new money for field drainage, water supply, a farm management survey, additional wage inspectors, the promotion of village halls, and especially marketing organisation and publicity.
A word about research—the Labour party has prided itself on taking a very special interest in the application of science to agriculture. I will give one example of the direct practical value of research, namely, that in connection with the new industry of canning. I think that last year the late Minister told us of the formation of the Canning Council. Very good progress has been made. This has resulted from the work at Chipping Campden, where the model preservation factory exists. The demand for canned fruit and vegetables has greatly increased, but until lately it was met almost 1479 entirely by imports. At the end of 1929 38 canneries had been formed, and they have already been successful in preventing the disastrous effects of flooded markets. I opened a factory at Wisbech last summer for which now hundreds of acres are contracted to grow peas for canning. That gives a marked relief from uncertainty, which is of the highest value. Last year it was noticeable that, whereas in former years a good crop of plums had been very largely lost, a very good crop was saved for the country and the flooding of the market prevented by the existence of the new canneries. In a very short time I hope that we shall apply the national mark also to canned fruit.
Among noticeable fruits of research there is one in connection with animal nutrition, which leads me to express the loss which the country has suffered in the death of Professor T. B. Wood, who was so prominent in research work at Cambridge. One of the feats which may be put down to him is that in the short period since the War the average annual yield of recorded cows has increased by 80 gallons, from 590 to 670. While I am dealing with research, I would like to give one more illustration from a sphere which I would otherwise leave to my right hon. Friend, because he has been specially engaged in it, the sphere, namely, of fisheries. I will give one illustration. Without awaiting the final Report of the inquiry over which my right hon. Friend is presiding, the Government have decided to build a survey ship for fishery research. The Admiralty is to build it at a cost of £80,000, and very good results are warmly anticipated by the trawling section of the industry.
By the way, research is also of the highest importance in another field, and is attracting great public interest. I refer to river pollution. There we have no direct power. The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture are both concerned, and it is our business to encourage in every possible way the activity of fishery boards, because they have the powers. I do not propose to say more on this, but it is undoubtedly a public scandal that so many of our rivers are being turned into open sewers.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Will the Parliamentary Secretary, in dealing with fisheries, tell us about furunculosis?
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of AGRICULTURE (Dr. Addison) indicated assent.
§ Mr. BUXTON
There is an extraordinary change in the attitude of farmers towards the Ministry's diffusion of knowledge by education. The inquiries addressed to farmers are answered now in a manner which compares very well with that of the past. The answers, of course, sometimes are humorous. I will quote a very valuable answer given at an inquiry the other day asking for particulars of motive power used on farms. One answer was, "A wheel-barrow." A better answer was, "Strong language." That is, perhaps, going a little out of fashion as applied to farms, as being power in the wrong direction. But it is a fact that inquiries are welcomed now where they used to be resented.
With the aid of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we are able to push on with several lines of education. As the result of his help, I have sent a circular to county councils inviting an extension of educational work. Forty-three counties have already presented schemes dealing with extension of staffs, scholarships and classes and various other schemes. The answer from the counties, although it involves some addition to the county rates, is most satisfactory. The scholarships for agricultural workers have been continued with good success. Since the institution of the scheme in 1921, there have been 963 granted. Six hundred and fifty of those who have held scholarships have returned to agricultural work, 10 per cent. have qualified for teaching posts and 12 per cent. have actually got places as farm bailiffs and other managerial posts. I might say a word about another educational and research matter, the Royal Veterinary College, which has been the subject of questions in the House, and is a matter of extraordinary importance. The Treasury has sanctioned a grant of £100,000 from the Development Fund on a £ for £ basis. I am most fully alive to the need of assisting this cause, which is very urgent both for this country and for the Dominions. I have been lately to see the College. Its condition is certainly most deplorable. It ought to be rebuilt at the earliest possible moment. We shall be prepared to help in every possible way.
1481 Let sue say a word about an important event this year, namely, the International Poultry Congress at the end of July. We are collecting exhibits from all parts of the world and such honour to the domestic hen has never been paid in this country. I would ask hon. Members to note the date. It will be at the Crystal Palace and the Duke of York will open it on 22nd July. In these days when there is so much talk of land drainage, I should like to call attention to the fact that we are now for the first time assisting field drainage. £40,000 has been allotted as a grant for a beginning and the Ministry, as during the previous year, has been busy on surveys in view of the Drainage Bill. That is now in another place. It is not a party Bill and it is of very vital importance. Naturally some interests are concerned at the loss of status which may be involved to them but no section would face the responsibility of causing the loss of the Bill. It is one of the contributions, incidentally, to employment which is of the greatest importance.
I should like to be able to record more activity in the sphere of small holdings. The Estimates provide for an expenditure of about £1,000,000. That is mainly amortisation of losses on small holdings in former times. The result of the 1926 Act has not been happy. There are now 2,100 approved applicants on the list. Very little, however, is doing, chiefly because of the expense, which the county councils are unwilling to undertake. Since 1926 only 390 new holdings have been actually established. I decided that we might possibly induce counties to be more active than they have been if we reminded them that the Act implied that it was their function to exercise activity in the promotion of holdings. There is extraordinary variety between county and county and I am hopeful that many councils will come to see that it is up to them to be more busy than they have been.
I have found a very extraordinary situation in regard to wages. The 1924 Regulation Act, I think, has amply justified itself, and no party proposes to upset it. Whatever difficulties it may have brought about for many farmers, undoubtedly we must put on the other side the fact that if there had been no Act, if the slump 1482 in wages had continued as it was going in 1923, we should have had strikes on all hands and there would have been much trouble for the farmers, which has been avoided. When we were in Opposition, I heard a good deal about evasion of the Act and I wondered how far it was true. It was my first duty to get information as to the actual facts, and new information was collected. I found that a very strong case exists for safeguarding the worker still further in his legal rights, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has authorised a considerable increase in the staff of inspectors. Hitherto they have acted mainly on complaints, and one knows, of course, that in thousands of cases men are perhaps afraid of claiming their rights and in many eases are unaware of the rights that they hold.
Therefore, we decided to take whole areas and execute a kind of drive and ascertain the situation of the whole of the farms in that area. We found in some areas that there were no fewer than one in ten men receiving less than their legal rights. I should like to pay my tribute to the National Farmers Union and the farmers' leaders for the genuine interest they take in seeing that the law is carried out. In several counties they have expressed their disapproval of employers who were not obeying the law. One sees allusions to the bogy of inspectors and I recollect at the last election a very imposing poster representing a cowering citizen hemmed in by the long noses of inspectors impaling him and making him suffer. What is the reality? When our inspector calls upon a farmer, in nine cases out of ten there is no exasperation. There is a friendly talk. I know that very often the inspector is invited to see the men in a convenient place without the employer, and every facility is afforded. The pleasure on the workers' side is illustrated by an incident which occurred the other day. The Ministry recovered arrears in the form of a cheque made payable to the worker and, for the convenience of the worker, offered to cash it and forward the cash. Of course, the worker in that case had to endorse the cheque. The cheque was forwarded for endorsement and it came back with the following written across the back: "I heartily endorse this cheque."
1483 Now I come to what, I think, is our most important administrative function in these days, the promotion of better marketing.
§ Mr. BUXTON
From 15 to 21. The marketing operations of the Ministry are a new function. They had their inception five years ago and the great change in the public interest, and the farmers' interest, in marketing is illustrated by the books of the Liberal party. The Land Inquiry Book of, I think, 17 years ago was brought out in days previous to the rise of this interest and it is interesting to note, as a comparison with those days, that a whole book comes from the same source on agricultural marketing. I do not say it is as good as our book, but still it shows the great rise of interest. No division of the Ministry is more active now than the marketing division. If that division had been set on foot 20 years ago, agriculture would certainly be in a very much happier position now. After all, most of our production is non-cereal production, and of our non-cereal supplies we grow still a good 50 per cent. In regard to this we have great leeway to make up and great additional profits to make through organised marketing and, therefore, our main duty is to promote marketing in every possible way.
My right hon. Friend and I have spoken I suppose, at every possible meeting or dinner that afforded us an opportunity of advertising it. We have undoubtedly ruined our digestive capacity in this manner. I note that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Yeovil (Major Davies) the other day charged me with breaking trade union rules in working excessive hours in this cause. He must admit that I broke them in a very good cause, and it is very satisfactory that the farmers are assisting better marketing in every possible way themselves. Their attitude is far different from what it was. It is very difficult for them to combine, as in other countries. Farming is the most individual of all tasks. But the National Farmers Union is coming to see the im- 1484 portance of working together, and I should like to pay a tribute to the help they have given in the matter of national marketing and co-operation.
Standardisation has been a very brilliant success in the short time that has elapsed since it started. It is a debated question who can claim most credit for it. My humble part has been to institute the marketing branch of the Ministry in 1924, and I very gladly give credit to the right hon. Gentleman opposite for the Grading Act which, I think, was facilitated greatly by the existence of the marketing branch. In the matter of the egg trade, the most extraordinary results followed in the short space of about a year. Some 200,000,000 fewer eggs were imported as the result of grading and marking and the establishment of National Mark Egg Central, Limited, is the first expression of the co-operative methods to which we on this side have particularly attached ourselves, and in accordance with which policy we have secured from the Chancellor greater facilities for loans to co-operative societies.
That leads me to say a word on co-operation in general. We all know how it was in days past encouraged by grants and by artificial organisations, and that many Members of this House including, indeed, myself, have done a great deal to try and promote it in former days, but it never took a spontaneous form. Now in connection with better standardisation it has lost its spoon-fed character, and grading stations have been seeking registration as co-operative societies. This is really the first time that co-operation has taken a form which, without any special assistance, is bound to grow. We are now granting loans to co-operative societies on greatly improved conditions, and the outlook is far better than before. In short, in regard to marketing, the new thing that we have done has been to make a grant of £12,000 a year to pursue inquiries into such organisation as has led to the Egg Central Company, and we have further made a grant of £55,000 a year for the publicity and advertising of home-grown stuff, not to speak of better conditions for loans to co-operative enterprises.
§ Mr. BUXTON
Yes, it is actually in the Estimate. I think that we may fairly assume that we have improved the system, which will cover all our main agricultural products apart from cereals. I must not take up any more time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on!"] I know that we have the Scottish Agricultural Estimates before us as well, and I must remember how many Members are anxious to speak. I have by no means exhausted the list of activities, but I have only selected those of main public interest. I hope that I have shown the extraordinary value of the help that has been given in tiding over very difficult times. While that help is very great, I cannot help saying that I think it might be very much greater if the Measures advocated by us on this side of the Committee commanded a majority in the House.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the Government are going to give us their agricultural policy?
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
It is with great diffidence that I rise to intervene in this Debate on the Estimates for the Ministry of Agriculture for England and Wales, but I was told that the Estimates of the Scottish Department were not coming on, although the Minister has said, in a sentence, that they are. In any case, although the Minister's direct responsibilities extend only to England and Wales, he is the Minister in charge of all those agricultural activities which are common to all three countries. He is, therefore, the proper mouthpiece of the Government's agricultural policy. I confess that I was a little surprised at the extraordinary economy of language which the Minister exercised in describing the present condition of the industry. I should have said—and I intend to support the words which I use by duly authenticated statistics—that it was facing a crisis of unprecedented gravity, and that this crisis is the common concern of farmers from Land's End to John o'Groats and from Anglesey to Kent. The Minister has given us an extraordinarily interesting speech in his description of various activities of his Ministry, some of them very important—particularly the marketing activities— 1486 and others of less general interest but which may bear fruit in the future; but I remind myself of the King's Speech in July, 1929, when we were told that schemes were being prepared for the improvement of agriculture. Are these the schemes to which we have been listening to-day?
The Minister showed, when he began his speech, that he realised the motives of right hon. and hon. Friends of mine in taking the first occasion on which we have had an opportunity of choosing a Vote in Supply and using it in order to obtain a discussion on agriculture. It was to get from him an indication, at any rate, of the direction in which his mind was moving—I know it is impossible on this Vote to discuss legislation—in framing the policy of the Government. Instead of that, I was surprised, and, indeed, almost startled by the description which he gave of present conditions in the industry. I do not want to give any exaggerated information, as the Minister himself said. I do not want to take up any time in giving harrowing descriptions of the conditions of the countryside. My view, as a matter of fact, is rather detached, because the county to which I belong happens to be rather more fortunately placed than a great many other parts of the country. Yet even there there are disquieting signs. There is an absence of capital in the industry and urgent and necessary improvements in regard to buildings and so forth are not being carried out. Adaptation to changing economic conditions has been hindered by lack of capital, and lack of confidence on the part of those connected with the industry.
It is not only from farmers that you get the information. I had a talk at home, only the other day, with a blacksmith. We were not talking about agricultural depression at all, nor was he complaining. He was all right, and his sons were well placed, and therefore he had no particular complaint to make, but, he said, trade was very bad. He could not go into the side-lines into which some blacksmiths enter because he was too near the town, but, he said, the farmers were not bringing stuff to him. They were cutting down their bills, black smiths' bills like other bills, everything, in order to save money. That was his experience.
1487 My submission to the Committee is, that the position is worse now, in important respects, than at the end of the 'seventies and 'eighties. The structure of the industry has suffered from prolonged depression. It has never really had a chance to recover, and to burnish up its equipment. At the end of the 'sixties and early 'seventies people flocked to this country from every country in the world in order to see farming at its best—examples of agriculture practised at its highest standard. The farmers used to issue challenges to people to find a single weed on their cultivated ground. Fences, ditches—everything was maintained at the highest possible standard.
Then came long years of depression. There was a slight recovery just before the War with which came more prosperity to farmers. It is true that they made great profits during the War but under circumstances of great difficulty, and not under circumstances best for the permanent interests of the industry. Permanent pastures were ploughed up which ought not to have been touched, because of the crisis with which we were faced at that time. It was not putting the industry into the really healthy condition it was in before the crisis of the 'eighties. Then, too, labour was scarce. You could not get the men to do a great deal of the necessary work. The men were wanted for the War, and after the War, when the men came home, there was a series of very bad growing years and wet harvests, and a great lack of confidence, and unsettlement. There were those great sales of property which unsettled farmers and threatened them with eviction, so that a great many men, instead of being able to put their capital into increased stock, the improvement of their buildings, and the draining of their land, had to put their capital into the purchase of the title deeds of their farms. Therefore, the result of all this is that the structure of the industry is weaker now than at any time since the great agricultural boom of the 'sixties and early 'seventies. I would like to quote in support of this a letter from a county agricultural officer of very wide experience. He says:Farmers to-day have less capital than in 1913. The fact is that to-day their capital has dwindled down to nothing except in the value of their stock and what is entirely inseparable from their holdings …. The 1488 reason for this is that farmers for years have lived on their capital, failing to make sufficient profit from their holdings … The land is therefore uncultivated. The farmers have neglected necessary works as they can carry on for a period without executing them, for instance, repairing fences, opening ditches and field drainage. This has been possible as you can farm for a time without paying much attention to these important facts. Now, however, the evil of this neglect is making itself apparent and farms are not producing what they would have done had these matters been attended to …. Before the War in my part of the country it was the custom to keep a man for six months to repair fences, open ditches, etc. Now these extra men have been done away with.Nor can any county or any district afford to stand aloof. I find those who speak for agriculture are in three classes. There are those who talk about agriculture as if it were one industry, and there are those who realise that there are a great many industries and a great many different branches and a great variety of conditions in different districts, but it must not stop there. Thirdly, there are those who realise that particular branches of the industry in particular districts depend for their prosperity very largely on the prosperity of different branches of the industry in other districts. There is an underlying unity in the industry and a large measure of mutual dependence between the different branches. For example, away up in my country we depend very largely upon sheep. It is our good fortune, for at the moment that branch of farming is relatively prosperous. The people who live in the South and grow crops buy our lambs in the Autumn. If they are going to put all land down to grass, they will start breeding lambs for themselves and the market for our lambs will, therefore, not be so good. This is the kind of thing which shows the inter-dependence of different kinds of agriculture. The Minister referred to sheep as fortunately prosperous as though we could brush aside sheep. I am not so sure about it. I have been watching and gathering as much information as possible. I have been reading the informative and interesting articles of Sir William Haldane in the "Times" and watching other indications, and I am not at all sure that we can look forward with such security to the continued prosperity of sheep farming.
The real and ultimate test and the one to which I particularly wish to draw the 1489 attention of the Committee this afternoon of the progress or retrogression of the industry is to be found in the agricultural returns. The Minister did not refer to them; yet, surely this is the test and shows what is being done in the industry at the present time. Let me compare the year 1928 with that of 1927 before I come to 1929. There were in the year 1928, as compared with 1927, 27,000 fewer acres of cultivated land in Scotland and 197,000 fewer acres in England and Wales. In 1929, the process continued. Some 21,000 acres fell out of cultivation in Scotland in 1929 and 160,000 in England, making a total of 400,000 acres falling out of cultivation in the last two years. The reductions in live-stock were also increasing. People make easy the assertion that if your cereal farming is bad you can turn to live-stock, and that it comes to very much the same thing; perhaps it may do in the future and perhaps it ought to, and perhaps that is the direction in which we ought to move, but it will not be any use unless there is an application of knowledge, and of research and of organisation on a large and comprehensive scale to make the thing work and that is absent at the present time In 1928, as compared with 1927, there were 250,300 fewer cattle in England. Scotland and Wales and 716,800 fewer sheep. In 1929, as compared with 1928, there was a slight increase in cattle in Scotland amounting to 10,500, but against that increase there was a reduction of 70,400 in England and Wales. Taking the three countries together there was a reduction of 377,000 sheep and ewes, 641,000 pigs and sows and over 40,000 horses.
These figures show what is going on in connection with our farms at the present time—the emptying of our fields and the gradual decay of the industry. These are official figures. This is not exaggerated information. These are official figures from official reports, and I was surprised in listening to the Minister that we found no reflection of these facts. When I come to the question of the number of workers, I understood from the Minister that there are 660,000 employed but my figures give 770,000.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Perhaps that explains the difference in our figures. My figures are 770,000 for the whole lot. The higher figure, which includes males and 1490 females in England and Wales, represents a reduction of 100,000 since 1921 and an ominous feature of the situation is that that reduction is mainly in young male workers under 21 years. The Minister says that new methods are responsible for a reduction in the numbers employed. New methods need not necessarily reduce the number of workers. There are a great many new methods in farming which will not necessarily cause a reduction of labour. Poultry farming means no reduction in the amount of labour used, and modern grassland farming requires a great deal more labour than it did in the past. We must look further for an explanation of the reductions. It is true that many complex causes have brought about this disastrous state of affairs, many of which are outside the control of the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fall in the prices level—25 per cent. in the case of wheat and meat and 20 per cent. in the case of other foodstuffs in the last five years. He might have referred to the Economic Conference at Geneva in 1927, which found that the main fundamental cause of the depression in agriculture was the depression in other industries, the general industrial depression in Europe and China, leading to less buying.
This fall in world prices, serious as it is for the industry, which, as the Minister rightly said, was outstanding in the history of world economics, or a phrase to that effect, has not been accompanied by a corresponding fall in the costs of production. On the contrary, the costs of labour have enormously increased. The Minister referred to the cost of feeding stuffs and manures not having increased since the War to anything like the extent of the cost of food, but he did not mention as against that fact that the cost of labour has slightly more than doubled since before the War, which completely wipes out the very slight margin of difference to the farmer that there is as between the rise in the price of his produce and the relatively smaller rise in the price of feeding stuffs and manures. These handicaps are serious enough, and although the Minister cannot control them they should be an incentive to the Government to take every conceivable step, every possible step, every step that they can contrive in consultation with all whom they can bring 1491 into consultation on this grave subject, to give intelligent support, and vigorous leadership to the industry.
The Minister referred to the vexed question which has aroused so much contention, namely, the importation of dumped cereals from Germany. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the case in regard to wheat has been absolutely disproved. I have the figures with respect to the imports of wheat. The imports have dwindled since the high figure which they reached a year ago—it has not been a regular, constant decline; they have gone up and down—and for the beginning of this year they were lower than they were in the earlier months of last year. A great number of hon. Members from all quarters of the House heard Herr Schindler, a distinguished member of the German Agricultural Council, speak in a committee room upstairs the other day, and I have his figures and the official British figures. The German figures of the imports of German wheat into this country show that the wheat imported represents only 1.9 per cent. of our total imports of wheat, and according to our own official figures the percentage is slightly smaller—1.4 per cent. That is negligible. The case in regard to oats is very different. The figures that I have show that in the case of oats the imports have gone up enormously since 1925, when the imports were 6,000 metric tons, to nearly 56,000 metric tons in 1928, and nearly 116,000 metric tons in 1929, or 34.8 per cent. of our total import of oats. Undoubtedly, the price has been forced down and has followed this import of German oats. The Minister referred rather vaguely to certain negotiations that are going on at Geneva, but he gave us no other information. What steps are the Government taking to bring home to the Germans that we in this country do not consider this import bond system a fair method of trade?
It may be—I am convinced myself that it is—true that it is not along the lines of increased cereal production that agriculture in this country will find salvation. Cereals are pouring into Europe from across the seas and sweeping over the paltry tariff barriers which Continental countries have raised; and behind them are reservoirs of cereals dammed up by complicated credit systems which are 1492 waiting to be poured in as soon as there is room for them; and behind that, again, there is the fact that research has discovered new varieties of wheat which ripen earlier and will enable vast new areas of land to be brought under wheat cultivation in Canada and other countries. I do not believe that we can find salvation on the lines of cereal production, and I also think that it is fatally easy to exaggerate the importance of wheat production. It has a sentimental hold on some minds, although actually the production of cereals is only about one-tenth of the value of British agricultural production, while the meat, milk and dairy products, poultry and eggs together represent two-thirds of the value.
If you are attacking and you are held up in one part of the front and your troops are advancing well in other parts of the front, it is good strategy not to reinforce too much the troops that are held up, but to fling in your reinforcements where your troops are making headway and, as they advance, they will cut off the salient where your troops are held. Therefore, I hope that it is along these hopeful lines of progress that the mind of the Government is moving. Nevertheless, cereal farming is an historic and important branch of British agriculture and we must do something for it. We must make quite certain that it is not going to collapse completely. There are some lands where the Minister of Agriculture comes from which are suitable for very little else than cereal production, but I cannot help thinking that progress can and ought to be made on the lines suggested by the recent report of the Council of Agriculture. The Minister told me in answer to a question that something is being done on those lines, something to promote concentration upon the growth of certain varieties of cereals, to popularise the use of British cereals in bread and to organise marketing in that as well as in other branches of agriculture. On these lines, if persistently and vigorously pursued, we can so strengthen the position of British cereal farming that it can be maintained at its present level. Other proposals with the same object have been made, but as they involve legislation they cannot be discussed on this Vote.
1493 5.0 p.m.
My main contention is, that it is not on these lines that we must expect the greatest advance and I would therefore turn to other branches of farming—sheep farming, stock raising, dairying, poultry and eggs—where the outlook is more hopeful. What is holding us back there? For one thing, there is the difficulty of what the Minister called adjustments in agricultural as compared with other industries. That is an important and difficult factor—the question of what the late Minister of Agriculture called "adaptation" which he used to preach to farmers who were demanding protection. He pluckily preached to them the view that adaptation is the true line of salvation for agriculture. But many things hold the farmer back. There is lack of capital, lack of confidence, lack of organisation, lack of credits. In England, you have the Agricultural Credits Act in operation, and I believe that it is working well, but in Scotland we have not yet got Part I of that Act in operation. If a farmer is going to go in for cattle, the stocking of his farm will require much more capital, and, if he is going in for dairy farming, special adaptation of buildings is necessary. Then there is the lack of confidence and the lack of vigorous leadership in the industry and the lack of prompt and necessary intelligence. Sir William Haldane has stated publicly certain propositions with regard to the meat and sheep farming industries. What is the truth of his contentions? Other countries have got better sources of information than we have. In America they have a splendid system of agricultural intelligence, and important agricultural statistics. The farmers in America know what is coming, to some extent, but our farmers are reduced to the necessity of sending deputations to the Minister to complain of dumped oats after they have arrived. We ought to have some means of looking ahead, and I would press upon the Minister the importance of a better system of agricultural intelligence. I do not expect the Minister to express definite opinions on the views contained in the articles by Sir William Haldane and advise the farmers definitely to go in for a particular branch of farming. That must depend on conditions and on the district; and I have no doubt that any pronouncement the Ministry of 1494 Agriculture might make would be clothed in suitable language of oracular ambiguity. But they should make statistics and up-to-date facts about economic conditions and tendencies freely available to the farmers of this country. I was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about marketing. He did not mention compulsory marketing, but if you leave out of your marketing schemes substantial minorities of people who refuse to come in, but are willing to get all the benefit of the temporary sacrifices of the people who come into this new organisation, you will never be able to make a success of marketing in this country. We are somewhat more progressive on this subject in Scotland where the Scottish Farmers Union and the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture have definitely declared in favour of the principle of compulsory co-operation in marketing, with suitable reservations, which I endorse myself. I hope we shall be able to advance on those lines, because unless we do the organisation of marketing will be a very slow business.
Then there is the vitally important question of grading, marking and packing. I was glad to hear the Minister indicate an advance on those lines. The egg marking scheme is not in operation in Scotland. We have to send our eggs to England, but I have no doubt the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will see that some advance is made in this vital matter for Scotland. Poultry farming on a small scale is useless. You will never get the small man to take it up; he cannot afford the necessary equipment. It is always cheaper for him to sell his eggs to the local merchant. Unless it is undertaken on a sufficiently large scale it is not worth while for the individual farmer to risk his capital in this direction. The only way is to institute grading, marking and packing stations. I was in Smithfield Market the other day, and was shown stacks of cases of foreign chickens. I asked where they came from and was told that they came from Russia. I asked their price and found that they were 1s. 3d. each. I said, "That is a very good price; how does it compare with English fresh chickens?" They said, "It is much better. We buy in vast numbers, and they are all exactly graded. We can buy hundreds of cases and we know they 1495 will all be true to type. If we buy from the English producer, except in a few cases where there is packing and grading, we do not know what we shall get, and we may get complaints from our retailers that they are not all of the same quality."
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I do not mind from whom we get our lesson so long as it is sound and well learnt. Closely allied with the question of grading, marking and packing is the question of transport. I hope to see the day when farmers will be linked up by telephone with the marketing centres. They may be told to hold up their consignment for a bit as there is not a suitable market that week. Then they can be told when to send their consignment along. In that case they will be sent in bulk, and the railway rates will be cheaper. At the present time the cost of transport is a heavy burden, particularly when compared with sea transport. In certain districts in Scotland it costs more to transport 25 miles by rail than it does 3,000 miles by sea from the United States of America; and our transport rates are much higher than in the countries on the Continent which are our competitors.
I was also very pleased to hear what the Minister of Agriculture had to say about the question of research, and to hear that the Labour party were particularly keen on the subject. It is not inappropriate for me to remind the Committee that the first great advance in agricultural research was made when the Development Fund was instituted by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) was Minister of Agriculture. A great impetus was given to this invaluable work by the late Government when they set up the Empire Marketing Board, which has greatly stimulated agricultural research. It is quite true that the attitude of farmers all over the country towards research has changed. In Caithness 150 years ago the plough had only just come in, and in one parish the one plough remained unused for two years because nobody would use it; they 1496 preferred to stick to the spade. The attitude of farmers towards research has changed; they are all keenly interested in it. In Caithness we give the largest subvention of any county in Scotland, in proportion to rateable value, to the Northern College of Agriculture, and we have actually managed to double the yield per acre of oats during the last 20 or 30 years.
Some people say that the fruits of research take a long time to harvest and that when a particular line of research is successful the foreign competitor follows suit. In the matter of research we must always endeavour to be in front of our competitors. That is the secret of all successful industry. The only successful way is to keep ahead of our competitors. Take the case of milk. Research on this matter has already produced astonishing results which will be of immense benefit both to the nation and to agriculture. It has been calculated by Professor Patterson that if the consumption per head per day was increased by a quarter of a pint it would need 100,000 additional cows to produce the necessary quantity of milk, and that employment would be given to 10,000 additional men. The question of drainage is very important; and particularly so in Scotland. There are tens of thousands of acres of land, if not hundreds of thousands of acres, which are waterlogged. There is a very great need for re-draining land which was drained 60 or 70 years ago, and which has never been re-drained. Some of it was very badly done at that time and re-drainage is urgently required. Once that is done you need lime to apply to the soil; and in order to get the quantities required we must have lower transport rates because at the present moment they are prohibitive.
The importance of small holdings has been stressed by the Agricultural Tribunal of Enquiry and by many other tribunals which have dealt with the question. I will not stress, because time does not permit, their economic importance or their social importance in the prevention of the de-population of the countryside, but the Act which was passed dealing with this subject has proved to be a dead letter. The Minister of Agriculture has told us that a number of counties are not working it at all. Nowhere is progress being made, yet, as a matter of 1497 fact, these particular lines of agriculture, poultry farming and dairy farming, are precisely the lines which the smallholder could take up with every prospect of success because they are particularly suited to him. The right hon. Gentleman says that the counties are intimidated by the expense, but surely this is the time to start when prices are low. The unfortunate thing is that, owing to the promises made during the War, men were hurriedly put on to the land in 1919 and 1920 when prices were enormously high and when it was extraordinarily difficult to stock and equip their holdings. Now is the time, when prices are low, to put men on the land with a fair chance of success. I appeal to the Minister to take steps to meet the demand which exists. Not only are there thousands of unsatisfied applicants, but the reports of his own officials as given before a Committee of this House indicate that if it was known that small holdings were available in different districts demand which is now latent would find expression and there would be many more applications. I will not refer to the question of tenure, because it involves legislation, but I must make it clear that we regard that as fundamental to any enduring structure of social reform.
Agriculture is the most important and the most neglected of our industries. The office which the right hon. Gentleman now holds in its constitution is a recognition of the social and economic importance of agriculture in the national life of the country. Originally a Board of Agriculture was formed 100 years ago, but it came to an end, and never exerted any form of governmental functions. Agriculture was represented for the first time in the machinery of government in 1889, not when it was a strong and powerful industry, but when it became weak and feeble. It was then realised that in the national interest it was necessary to revive the industry and see that it did not completely collapse. To save agriculture needs a national effort and to get this national effort the one essential step, in my opinion, is to have a conference of men who speak for all political parties who will be able to contribute their ideas to the common stock. The Minister of Agriculture said the other day that he thought a conference of the parties in the industry would be more useful and that 1498 he had had useful conferences with the parties. I was disappointed that he did not tell us more of what passed at those conferences. He said that the only result was closer social relations between the members and representatives of the different branches of the industry. We all agree that that is a happy result, but we should have been equally interested to know what practical results had come from those conferences, or were likely to flow from those deliberations.
I should like to see such a conference held without any sort or kind of restriction on the topics to be discussed. Import board, certainly. Protection, certainly. Let us have no restrictions whatever, but a full, free and frank discussion of any proposal; any practical concrete proposal which might be brought before the conference. I can understand the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) saying, perhaps, "What chance is there of carrying the import board?" I should answer, "What chance is there of carrying it in any case in this House, which we are told is to last for three years?"
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
At any rate, the chance of getting something practical and concrete out of such a conference is a good deal better than getting anything done if we are to depend on Parliamentary Debates. I ask, is there so unbridgeable a difference between the aims of the three parties? Not if we judge by the published aims of the parties. I read this as the aim of the Labour party on agriculture:The object of the Labour movement is to secure the fullest possible use of the land for and by the community by the most economical and effective means.The Liberals, in defining their rural land policy, stated:Drastic reforms are needed. The basis of such reforms should be the principle that the right to own and hold land should be conditional on its proper use in the interests of the whole community.The Agriculture Minister in the last Conservative Government issued a White Paper in which the following occurred:A national agricultural policy should aim at securing the two following objects: That the land should yield its highest economic possibilities in the way of food for the nation, and should furnish a basis of life and a reasonable livelihood to the greatest number of people.1499 That all means that agricultural land should be put to its fullest economic use in the interests of the whole community. I believe that a conference would be able to make a contribution to the solution of the question. Moreover, I claim the Minister in support of this proposal, for he, in a speech on 30th October, said:I have observed with particular interest utterances from Conservative and Liberal Members of this House urging that the peculiar position of this Parliament offers an opportunity for a kind of interregnum, during which things might be done which might not be possible when any one party is in a great majority in the House. I cordially welcome those utterances, and I hope that events will prove that there are opportunities for action being taken."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1929; col. 178, Vol. 231.]It is the function of the Government to take the initiative, and I hope they may be willing to do so. This is the demand upon which the agricultural distress committees which have been formed in every county in Scotland have concentrated—the demand for a conference. I hope it will be taken into serious consideration by the Minister. The Minister was asked the other day by the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Croom - Johnson) whether he had received a copy of a resolution by the North Petherton Labour party, passed on 15th March, in which they stated that they viewed with concern the crisis in agriculture, the increased unemployment amongst agricultural workers, the amount of land going rapidly out of cultivation, and the lack of confidence created, and called upon the Government to save the situation by making an immediate declaration of assistance to tide the industry over a crisis. The Minister replied that the answer to the first part of the question was in the affirmative. At any rate, he had received the resolution, and he expressed no dissent from its terms. He did not say whether he thought the information was exaggerated, but he added that he was not then in a position to say when a declaration on the subject could be made.
Surely if the Minister receives resolutions of that kind from sources which he knows cannot be tainted, he must realise that we who are concerned with the really critical position in agriculture at the present time are not using exaggerated language but are genuinely and sincerely concerned about the 1500 prospects of the industry, and that it is vital that we adopt, either by means of a conference or in some other way, some means of thrashing out a practical and concrete policy, something which the right hon. Gentleman will be able to expound to this House, something which will be a message of comfort and hope for the farmers and smallholders and farm workers of the country? I implore the right hon. Gentleman to realise the need for action.
It is through no lack of appreciation of the very interesting account which the Minister gave of his administration that I do not at once turn to that side of the matter which we are considering to-day. I want first of all to say something of the wider aspects of the situation as it confronts the agricultural industry. The hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) has painted so graphic and eloquent a picture of the depression from which farmers are now suffering, that I need not take up the time of the Committee in developing it any further; but I am bound to follow it up by asking the right hon. Gentleman what the Government are going to do about it? I am very sorry for the Minister of Agriculture, for I know his difficulties. He is a good man struggling with adversity, not merely the adversity of the industry which he is trying to help, but the unnecessary adversity of unfulfillable expectations which have been created by the utterances of his leaders and of the party with which he works. It is of course, very convenient for hon. Members opposite to forget the appeal to the nation which was made on May Day a year ago:Labour is deeply concerned about agriculture, which has been the plaything of both the older parties, and is now facing critical times both for farmers and workmen. The agricultural policy must be cordinated with the town policy. Farming must be made to pay.The right hon. Gentleman started very bravely. After six months of exploration he announced in October that the Government's agricultural policy would be unfolded at the earliest possible moment; and in answer to a supplementary question he said that the sooner this was done the better—as soon as it could be arranged through the ordinary channel. His leader showed a certain cooling off in keenness to announce the 1501 policy. A week or two later the Prime Minister said that there was no time for a Debate during the early part of the Session, but that the natural time to make the statement of policy would be on the Estimates. On the invitation of the Prime Minister we have therefore been looking forward to this day for the unfolding of the policy which is so eagerly awaited. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister went steadily on in minimising expectations. At the end of last year he made it clear that the only ameliorative Measure that he had in view was to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Land Drainage, which was set up by the late Government. That is an admirable intention, but it surely cannot be considered an adequate policy for those who want to replace the old system under which agriculture was the plaything of the older parties? One of the older parties had set up this Royal Commission.
Ever since the Autumn Session the right hon. Gentleman has shown himself a master of ingenious prevarication. He has been very clever in stone-walling questions by reference to previous and equally unenlightening answers. It became evident that the Government really has no policy. The right hon. Gentleman, however, took one action which I think is fruitful of great promise. He called a conference of the partners in the industry. It is rather curious that the terms of reference to that conference—the first Press statement was the only one published—were restricted to matters of quite secondary importance, and that the conference was definitely warned off more important matters. It was stated that matters of high policy, such as Protection and subsidies, were to be excluded from their deliberations.
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman called that conference. He was more successful in that respect than his predecessors. He, no doubt, had methods of persuading the Labour representatives to come in which were not open to us. That conference immediately went far outside the minor problems which had been set, and it considered the condition of agriculture as a whole. The conference agreed at the first meeting that the key of the problem was 1502 the profitableness of cereal growing. The conference then went on to consider far-reaching methods of achieving this end. The last meeting was on 21st March. One cannot help being reminded of what happened in the French Revolution, how the Government of the day called the States General, and that States General produced results far more important than any its authors had anticipated, and turned into a National Assembly. Is it because this agricultural conference has taken the bit between its teeth and gone at a pace which is inconvenient to the Government, that the conference has been put into cold storage? Obviously the Government have been greatly embarrassed because the conference on 28th February came to the conclusion thatIn view of the present position of arable agriculture, increasing unemployment on the land, and land going out of cultivation …, steps should be taken to assure to farmers a remunerative price for cereals,and finished by declaring thatIn order to avert further deterioration there is urgent need for an immediate pronouncement calculated to restore confidence to the industry in the meantime.It was very important to get a pronouncement of that kind in view of the spring sowing. The time has now passed. But the other parties have no doubt taken this matter more seriously than those who called the conference into being. There are only two ways in which you can bring about a revival in arable agriculture. You can either remove the burdens which afflict the grower or you can increase his receipts. I think we have gone as far as possible in the removal of burdens and, certainly, in view of the opposition which derating received there is no indication that the other parties are likely to go further. Indeed the present Government promised to increase the burdens by a land tax which, no doubt, will be a terrible handicap on the owner-occupiers who now farm one-third of our land. If you cannot remove burdens you can only help the arable farmer by increasing his receipts. Marketing improvements are very valuable, but when they were in opposition hon. Members opposite never suggested that that would be a cure for the present condition of agriculture. The farmers' receipts can only be increased in two ways. Either the Exchequer must pay or the consumer must pay. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the 1503 Exchequer have definitely ruled out the usual methods which have been adopted in foreign countries of what are generally called by hon. Members opposite food taxes. They have also ruled out subsidies.
The Government are said to be considering another very interesting proposal of the Conference to the effect that millers should be compelled to purchase a fixed quota of home-grown wheat, the price of which would be fixed by law at a level remunerative to the grower. It is very puzzling how the Government can turn down food taxes and subsidies and reconcile that rigid attitude with putting up prices by means of this proposal. The farmer, presumably, would only be helped by such a method if higher prices resulted, and those higher prices would have to be paid by someone. If not paid by means of a subsidy, presumably they would be paid by the consumer. I am not concerned to argue the merits of the proposal but, frankly, I shall be very interested to see how hon. Members opposite reconcile support of such a proposal with the none too scrupulous agitation which they have pursued on the subject of food taxes.
We in the Conservative party have long recognised that under present conditions of world competition, if you leave out of account the very best land, then on the poorer soils you will only be able to keep up your arable agriculture and increase it if you make it worth the farmer's while, and enable him to do it without loss. In 1923, the Conservative party proposed a direct subsidy on arable cultivation but the reception which it got at the Election showed that there were very divided opinions on the subject even in the agricultural constituencies. We, therefore, devoted the large sum which we should have found for that purpose to other methods of assistance. When we came into power a year afterwards we helped directly by means of the sugar beet subsidy and the fact that the acreage has grown from 22,000 in 1924, to 320,000 contracted for in respect of next season, shows how valuable that assistance must have been to many of the hard-hit arable farmers. We helped in indirect but costly ways by the de-rating of land, the reduction of railway rates and the reduction of the burdens on local 1504 authorities for the upkeep or rural roads, besides giving credit facilities and improving marketing organisation.
In spite of our comprehensive policy, the benefits which were afforded by our assistance were undoubtedly outstripped by the worsening of world conditions. During my first season at the Ministry the average wheat price was 52s. 6d. It is now below 40s. If it was found not to pay in 1925, what must be the position to-day? The hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness said that we must not think too much about cereal cultivation—that it was only a small proportion of the total. That is quite true, but we have, on the other hand, the unanimous opinion of the Conference that the profitableness of cereal growing is the key to the agricultural problem. I wish to point out how unprecedented and significant it is that a Conference called to represent all sides of the industry should have agreed on a far-reaching opinion of that kind. We immediately set to work, after they had decided on that policy at the Conference, to see how we could meet it and the Leader of the Opposition announced six weeks afterwards that he was willing to accept the main objects for which the Conference had asked. He gave an undertaking that if he had the power the State would guarantee a remunerative price for wheat.
It seems to me that that is the most important development in Conservative agricultural policy since the abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846. It has been dictated by changes in world conditions and by the aggressive steps which have been taken in other countries. We have gone on with a system of agricultural Free Trade and agricultural Free Trade has been harder on the farmer than Free Trade has proved in the case of our manufacturing industries. It has been our policy to think only of the community, to let the community buy cheaply and to let the individual farmer produce what pays him best. The hon. Baronet referred to that policy of adaptation, and it is the counter-part in agriculture of that policy in industry which is described by the dreadful word "rationalisation." But that policy has developed, again in the opinion of this Conference, certain very serious evil results for the industry. At their first 1505 meeting, the Conference gave us their reason for stating that the key of the problem was the profitableness of cereal growing, the fact that the decline in cereal growing had caused a reduction of the arable area and a change in the system of farming, which had resulted in increased competition in other branches of the industry with consequent reduction of the financial returns in those branches.
We have begun to feel the result of our generalised agricultural efforts being put up against State aided specialisation on the part of other countries. We have also seen the developments in the United States, France and Germany and the costly action which those countries have recently taken to help their home producers. They have all high protective duties. The United States have made available a large credit to prevent the collapse of home prices. France and Germany have systems of rebates on exports and the control of millers which, in effect, cause very disastrous subsidised competition in flour and oats to the producers in this country. I quite agree that the effect in the matter of wheat has not been so serious in the case of this German system of export bounties but it has undoubtedly been very grave in the matter of oats. The price for wheat is set by the markets of the world and the amount which Germany has sent us is relatively unimportant but there is not the same free market in oats, and since I went to the Ministry of Agriculture the export of German oats to this country has increased eighteenfold.
§ Mr. DALLAS
And the export of wheat has decreased since the right hon. Gentleman left the Ministry.
Since I left the Ministry the figures have actually increased in the case of wheat. These are the German figures in metric tons. In 1925, 82,000 and in 1929, 99,000.
I am in agreement with the hon. Member that the case is far less serious as regards wheat than it is with regard to oats and the reason is simple, if one can use the word simple in connection with such a horribly complicated system. Owing to the varying rates of rebate earned by exporting 1506 various cereals a rebate can be earned by exporting oats and it can be applied very profitably to the importation of wheat. It is quite true that there are treaty difficulties in the way of dealing with this matter, but our complaint against the present Government is that they have deliberately tied their hands since the matter became so serious. It is true that this system was already in existence when we entered into arrangements, including most favoured nation treatment arrangements, which may prevent countervailing duties. We also agreed, conditionally, to raitfying a convention for the limitation of import and export prohibitions and restrictions. Last December or January it became evident that the conditions under which we were to ratify that agreement had not been fulfilled, and yet the Government, with their eyes open, and when they had the opportunity of regaining a free hand deliberately tied themselves; and, now for some time to come we are helpless in the matter. It is all very well to tell us about negotiations. Those were the methods which we were pursuing but why did the Government only depend on negotiations. Why did they not also keep a free hand and decline to raitfy this convention when it was open to them to stay out?
There is another matter raised by the Conference on which the attitude of the Government has been very unsatisfactory. The Agricultural Conference endorsed the Conservative proposals for feeding the armed forces on home-killed meat. The right hon. Gentleman's reason for not accepting that policy when he first turned it down last year was that it might put up the price of our supplies of meat. Does this really matter so much in the case of home-killed meat, seeing that the same volume of demand would be withdrawn from imported meat, and that, if there is anything in the right hon. Gentleman's argument, there would be a corresponding reduction in the cheaper qualities of imported meat, where the price is surely of greater importance to the poorer sections of the community than in the case of meat which is produced by British farmers? If anybody is going to make a profit by an increased demand for meat, it is right that it should be the British farmer, and surely we are justified in diverting the benefit to him and away from the 1507 imported supplies. I believe that that proposal would have been of real value, by balancing and regularising throughout the year the demand for British meat, which is now, unfortunately, very fluctuating in its seasonal operation.
I must confess, that I had some feeling of uneasiness in leaving the Ministry of Agriculture and feeling that the national mark scheme, standardisation, grading, and all the marketing improvements which were bound up in them were to be handed over to hon. and right hon. Members opposite. I remembered their hostility to the twin foundation of the National Mark. I remembered how they voted against the two Bills which had given this improvement in egg marketing, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred this afternoon. No fewer than 97 Socialists voted against the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Bill on its Second Reading. The right hon. Gentleman was absent, but he was paired against the Measure. Against the Third Reading of the Merchandise Marks Bill, 85 Socialists voted, and again the right hon. Gentleman was absent, but again he was paired in the same sense. Not one Socialist voted for either of those two Measures, which are now doing such useful work.
§ Mr. N. BUXTON
I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is true, in regard to the Grading Bill, that we moved a reasoned Amendment on the Second Reading, but on the Third Reading we voted for the Bill, and I remember speaking very strongly in favour of it.
The party opposite certainly exposed their opposition pretty definitely on the Second Reading, and it is very curious that in the Divisions not a single Member opposite voted for either of those Bills. I felt rather like committing our infant to a baby farmer, and I confess that I misjudged the right hon. Gentleman's attitude. From his speeches he has now developed such an enthusiasm for these schemes that he is almost claiming paternity for the infant that he tried to smother at birth. There is always joy on Conservative Benches over sinners who repent, and I am very glad to see that he is extending the provision for these marketing movements, and I know that the increased Vote will be very 1508 well spent and will prove to be true economy. I cannot resist saying how very much the scheme owes to the efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture, and to the crusading work of Mr. Street, who, under very difficult conditions in its early stages, fought for this scheme and convinced many of its opponents that it would bring them results which they themselves now acknowledge to be achieved.
I want to know whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks that we shall soon be able to follow, with meat, the course which we pursued in the matter of eggs. The Committee will remember that in the case of eggs we brought into being the national mark scheme first. We secured the orderly marking of our home supply, its grading, and uniformity of output before we attempted to mark the competing article. We knew quite well there existed misrepresentation on the part of certain dealers in eggs. We believe that the same thing happened with meat, but, obviously, it would be fatal to mark foreign supplies before home production is enjoying such orderly marking as would enable the home consumer, when he is for the first time secure in knowing when he is eating a home joint as compared with a bit of foreign meat, to secure that the home joint, if he pays for the best quality, will always he of that best quality. It seems now that the meat scheme, which has developed since the right hon. Gentleman has been at the Ministry of Agriculture, is thoroughly well established. Can he tell us whether he is contemplating any reinforcement of the position for the home producer by marking, on importation, competing sources of meat supplies, which we understand are now very often passed off on the consumer as British?
I should like to say a word about the fishing industry. Naturally, I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has persuaded the Chancellor of the Exchequer to pay for a survey ship. That will be a very great help to the deep sea fishermen, but I am rather anxious to hear something about the in-shore fishermen. The ocean-going trawler, of course, has a great advantage by fishing on a large scale, but in the matter of in-shore fishing, the traditional method, which has been followed from the remotest past, the small scale of operations naturally in- 1509 creases the cost; and over and above that handicap there is a very great difficulty in financing these small harbours of refuge.
Before we went out of office, we had arranged to wipe out the burden of certain loans on the local fishery harbour authorities, so as to enable them to keep down their harbour charges. I am very much concerned to find that this policy is apparently being reversed. I remember the case of Brixham, which is a community with a great fishing tradition, and which, owing to causes in no way within their control, such as the sinking of wrecks in the Great War, have fallen on very evil times. We undertook that, in connection with their new order, we would obviate any necessity, then or in the future, to raise their charges, but I understand that the present Minister of Agriculture has gone back on that policy, has limited the assistance to Brixham to one year only, and has suggested that the harbour authorities ought to take into immediate consideration the raising of their dues. I think that is a deplorable change of policy. We have had a great splash about what the present Government are doing about fisheries in Scotland. Is it another case of Scotland gaining advantage by the persistence of its demands, at the expense of the more modest requests of the south of the country?
What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do about pigs? We have all read with great interest the Reports of the Pig Industry Council. They have recommended that testing stations should be set up for the more important breeds, and that the large white boar should, for purposes of our home production, be encouraged of a uniform type. They recommend that not only for the pure-bred pig, but also for the crossing of the white boar with other breeds, and in this respect I understand that the Imperial Economic Committee has endorsed their recommendations. It seems to me that the pig industry is the one which offers the most promising chance for regaining a better share of our own markets. There seems no reason why we should import £51,000,000 worth of pig products from foreign countries. It is, in a sense, not merely an agricultural, but a manufacturing industry, and seeing that the British manufacturer can generally beat the foreign manufacturer When he gets a 1510 fair chance, when he gets an adequate supply of raw material and decently even conditions with his competitors, it seems a promising field for Government action. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take these Reports into his earnest consideration, and that he will be able to tell us of some effective action to carry them out and give a better chance to the breeding of a better type of pigs in this country and standardisation of our manufactured products.
But, after all, the efforts to which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded in the speech which he made this afternoon showed that the administration of the Ministry of Agriculture is in its broad outline unchanged. He has shown that complacency, which was always said to be my very reprehensible quality when I made the same kind of defence as fell to his lot to-day. He told us that the slump was bad, but that the industry was gradually adjusting itself. The impression one got from his speech was that the attitude of his party is very different to-day from what it was at the time of the Election. He is now making himself responsible for the continuation of the same administration and the same conditions which met with such serious strictures from the Prime Minister a year ago. When hon. Members opposite said that the agricultural industry was a plaything of the two older parties, they surely must have meant something. It would be uncharitable to suggest that they meant votes, but I am quite sure that many of those who were thus induced to support them share the anxiety of Members on this side of the Committee that they should clear up what they meant and what their new policy is going to be. What are they going to do in contrast with the proposals of the older parties to enable the British farmer to regain a position of prosperity? What are they going to do to carry out their promise to make farming pay?
§ Mr. QUIBELL
I should like to crave the indulgence of the Committee, as this is the first occasion on which I have spoken here. Agriculture is a subject on which I am, naturally, intensely interested, because I worked as a farm labourer until I was 17 years of age. I know something of the actual conditions of farm life, and I do not think 1511 that the picture has been over-stated by any of the speakers this afternoon. I have often heard remarks that farmers are not men of average intelligence, that they have not average business ability, and that they do not organise as other people do. I can only say, after a close acquaintance with them all my life, and after living with them in the division which I have the honour to represent, that farmers are not quite the unintelligent kind of men that one would be led to believe. If one does not agree with them politically, one must admire the business ability which they possess. That is also true, very largely, of the average man of the countryside. One has only to go to the villages and listen to what they say. I will give an illustration of it. In the centre of the division which I represent is a steel-works, which, comparatively speaking, is a fairly well-paid industry. I was walking one evening from a meeting, when an old agricultural labourer stopped me on the road, and said, "I want to ask you a question. Can you tell me why the man who produces the loaf ought not to have as much money as the man who produces the steel knife to cut the loaf? I reckon if I had to choose between the knife and the loaf, it is the loaf I should choose every time."
In that man's question was the real challenge to every party in the country, for the agricultural industry is the most important industry, and yet it has been sadly neglected by the parties. I recommend that question to hon. Members when they are considering wages and conditions in the agricultural industry. The Minister referred to unemployment. Unemployment in the countryside is a very serious question. It is a very serious question for the agricultural labourer, and it is high time that some provision was made for this class of man. Mention has been made of 30,000 to 40,000 labourers being out of work, but I think that that figure could be considerably increased. It is very largely a matter of conjecture, but I know a little village called Epworth, in which there is a co-operative society; and 40 families who are registered members of that society are at present out of work. Unemployment in the countryside is very severe. Reference is made in the Estimates to the question of cottages and out-buildings, which are really the im- 1512 plements which enable the farmer to carry on his business. I had the good sense to leave agriculture and to become a bricklayer when I was 17 years of age, and I am now a builder and contractor. I have had some experience in various parts of the country of the conditions under which farmers are compelled to farm and of the bad accommodation in which they have to work.
I cannot understand the Ministry of Agriculture not taking steps in this matter. I know dairy farms which actually have no water supply. Some of the buildings are without floors, and have the tiniest little windows through which to get daylight and fresh air; the most abominable and filthy conditions obtain, and they are really disgraceful. From some of the dairy farms which I know intimately milk is sent into Liverpool. Small wonder that the medical officer of health of Liverpool once said that there is more bacteria in a pint of the milk that was given to the children of Liverpool than in a pint of effluent that came from the sewerage. Some of the farms are absolutely disgraceful, and I commend the Minister's attention to this question.
I may be at variance with the Minister and the Committee, but I cannot understand what profit there is in draining more land when the land that is now drained and in use is going out of cultivation every year. I know of plenty of farms that have been drained, and I have had experience of one. I was a director of a co-operative society which bought it. We thought that it needed draining and we drained it. We have now had it for something like 10 years. It is not draining that is wanted however. On everything that we have sold, apart from milk, we have lost money in the past 10 years. Last year, while we made a profit of £1,200 on the dairy side out of 70 or 80 Freesian cows, every penny was lost on the agricultural side. It is no use my lecturing farmers as to what they ought to do. We were not short of capital; we had any amount of it. It was not that we had not a market for our produce, for our shops are our market, and we took our goods to the doors of our customers.
The fact was that for everything we produced we did not receive an economic price. Conferences have been mentioned. A huge conference was called in Lincoln- 1513 shire, but I would not take the trouble to go, because I knew before I went that the subjects that were to be discussed would not touch agriculture, and that whatever was discussed and decided upon would die a natural death. It does not matter how you are marketing your produce if you are not receiving an economic price for it. Marketing is a secondary thing. The first essential is that the producer should receive an economic price, and then marketing would become what I would call a useful proposition. Like several other hon. Members, I would like to see the problem of agriculture taken out of party politics. I believe that every party which has ever attempted to deal with it has failed, not because there has not been good will to do something for agriculture, but because of the opposition from other quarters of the House. I remember once reading some lines by Oliver Goldsmith:Here lies our good Edmund, whose genius was such,We scarcely can praise it, or blame it too much;Who, born for the universe, narrowed his mind,And to party gave up what was meant for mankind.I do not believe that the agricultural problem will ever be solved on what we call the old party lines. I believe that the solution of it lies within the corners of the proposal to stabilise prices which is laid down in "Labour and the Nation." We do not seem, however, to have the courage or the will to put that policy into operation. There is no need to be afraid even of the Liberal party in putting our policy into operation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is sitting there all smiles. He is very accommodating and full of good will, and I am certain that if only the Minister of Agriculture and the Government would take their courage in their hands and bring in Measures to carry out a policy that is calculated to put agriculture on its feet, no one would welcome it more than the right hon. Gentleman.
This is the most important problem, for agriculture is by far the most important industry. Farmers need men, but they cannot afford to employ them, and if agriculture were put on its feet it would do more to solve the unemployment problem of the countryside than any scheme of the Lord Privy Seal which we 1514 have discussed. I hope that the Minister will get a move on. We are anxious that something shall be done for the countryside. I am anxious because I lived in it. My grandfather was what is known as a premium ploughman, and my father was a premium ploughman. I am the first in my family in Lincolnshire for between 400 and 500 years who has not found his living in that sphere. I am happy to say that I got out of it, out of the poverty and the hopelessness of the countryside. As I said before on one occasion, marking and grading are not new to me. Meat was graded in my time. We can all remember the grading of the meat, the sheep's head and the "pluck" in one window and the chops and steaks in the other. The "pluck" was for the poor labourer, and it is still his to-day. Marking and grading of that kind went on in those days. All I hope and trust is that this House will help in every way when the Government bring in their policy to abolish poverty and bring prosperity to the countryside, in order that we may give a measure of hope to a very deserving class of people.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am glad that I heard, at any rate, the last part of the very admirable contribution made to the discussion by the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), and only regret that I did not hear the first part of the speech. I congratulate him upon his first intervention in our Debates, and if all his speeches show the sane sturdy independence, they will add not merely to the value but to the interest of our Debates. I am glad he made an appeal for the treatment of this subject on nonparty lines. The detailed examination of the problem made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) was, it will be admitted, wholly admirable, and we have had further contributions from the Minister and from the late Minister of Agriculture. But I think the time has come when the parties who, between themselves, constitute the nation, ought to take counsel together to rescue the most important of our national industries from a decay that no party individually has been able to arrest up to the present time.
I have taken a very serious view of the matter for a great many years. Like the hon. Member who has just sat down, I come of a race of farmers, and I am try? 1515 ing to earn a precarious living by getting back to the land. I need no one else to convince me of agricultural depression; my recent experiences will be quite adequate. [Interruption.] It is very easy for us to taunt each other and say, "During the time you were in power what happened?" And then for the reply to be made, "Well, what happened when you were in power?" The real fact is that no matter what party is in power, Liberal, Conservatives or Labour, down goes agriculture; that has been so from decade to decade and from generation to generation. We have only to compare the figures here with the Continent of Europe. I will come to the question of Protection and Free Trade, not by way of discussing it, but by way of showing that it is not an adequate answer. In Germany there are 13,000,000 of the population engaged in and around the land, that is, 20 per cent. of the population. In France there are 11,000,000 of the population so engaged, that means 22 per cent.; taking them and their familities they are practically half the population. In Belgium, where the conditions correspond very largely to our own as a small country, overwhelmingly industrial, there are three times as many people in proportion engaged in the cultivation of the soil as there are in this country. In Denmark they have 31 per cent. of the population engaged in agriculture. That is a very small country, with comparatively poor soil, soil which is not comparable to ours.
A Danish professor came round my farm. When I said, "This is very poor land," he replied, "In Denmark this would be regarded as first-class land. Our soil is not comparable with yours." We have in this country 1,400,000 people engaged in the cultivation of the soil, being 3.8 per cent. of the population. In Denmark they have over 1,000,000 people so engaged. You may say, "Ah, they protect wheat in Germany and in France." But they are not protecting it in Denmark. That is not the answer. The trouble is that each of us is seeking an answer in the direction of his own policy, and not seeking an answer in the terms of the best business proposition for reviving the industry. I should have thought a Parliament like this, in which no party has a majority, was pre-eminently the Parlia- 1516 ment to deal with this problem. I do not know how long the Government are going to last—[Interruption]—I can express no opinion upon that; but whether they last one year, two years or three years, at any rate the problem will remain, and it will get steadily worse.
I listened with great care and with great sympathy to the Minister when he was making that tremendous effort to say something on agriculture. He was striving very hard. He was putting together all the little things, putting everything into the shop window; but it was a pretty poor show. It really was—when we consider the magnitude of the problem. It is our greatest industry, not merely the greatest as regards the numbers engaged in it, but the most vital industry for the security and the life of this nation as of every nation and of every Empire. History teaches that when you let the agriculture of a nation go down the nation itself follows. The countryside is decaying. We old boys who were brought up in the countryside and go back to our villages can see it. The old cottages that used to be there when we were at school are now ruins. You can hardly see where they were; the ground is covered with brambles and with briars. The old mill is gone. Almost all the little rural industries have disappeared—from my old village. It was a prosperous little village in those days, more or less self-contained in its industries. I am sure that is the experience of every man brought up in an agricultural village.
Is it really impossible for us in this great Parliament to cease for once from taunting each other and to come together, as we did once at any rate to save the nation from a great peril? Here is another peril, in my judgment. I consider it a real peril that we have only three per cent. of our population engaged in our healthiest and most important industry. I am not going to utter a single party taunt, because I think the subject is too important, and I end by making one real appeal to the Government to take the initiative, and I appeal also to hon. and right hon. Members above the Gangway on this side who, in the main, represent agricultural constituencies. The hon. Members sitting behind me and representing a certain number of rural constituencies will be quite willing to come into a general consultation. Let us 1517 put our best minds in and let us put partisanship outside. Let each come in with his proposal; do not rule anything out; let us consider everything. This nation has demonstrated more than once that it is quite equal to an emergency, however great, and I appeal to it on this occasion to save agriculture and the countryside from ruin and decay.
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
I listened with great interest and great respect to the statement made by the Minister of Agriculture, with the greatest respect and interest, probably, because it was the first occasion since the Labour party came into office that we have been favoured with a statement on agricultural matters from the Treasury Bench. I was distressed to find that the Minister's speech was so short, and that he avoided or evaded reference to so many important agricultural questions. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will deal later with some of the many points which his chief omitted. In listening to the Minister's speech it seemed to me that he hardly seemed to recognise that agriculture is the fourth greatest industry in the country at the present time, and that agriculture employs no less than 1,280,000 persons.
§ Sir D. NEWTON
The right hon. Gentleman said that, but I always make a small deduction off his figures. Agriculture is an industry which deserves the closest attention from all parties in the House. I had hoped some reference might be made to the dairy interest. We import into this country between £50,000,000 and £60,000,000 worth of dairy produce annually, and I thought some reference would have been made to the difficulties confronting that branch of the industry. So many of the bigger issues have been referred to that I would prefer to draw attention to a few of the minor, but nevertheless important, questions on which I feel the Minister can take action on the administrative side to further the interests of agriculturists. I would like to ask the Minister whether he is prepared to submit to the interference of the Ministry of Health in regard to the Order which they have recently issued prohibiting the exhibition of cattle from tuberculin-tested herds at shows where non-tested animals are being exhibited. That Order lays down that in future all 1518 those cattle must be segregated. I do not know why it was, or how it was, that this Order, which apparently was framed some seven years ago, and has remained since then in the pigeon holes of the Department, was suddenly discovered and issued. It fell almost like a bombshell on the agricultural community. It is a most damaging Order. For the first time now when those numerous overseas and foreign visitors come to our Royal Agricultural Show where, previously, they have been able to see the finest cattle in the world, at what is perhaps the greatest agricultural show in the world, they will find that, owing to the Order which has recently been issued, those animals will not be there. Surely the Order implies that the ordinary cattle of this country are tainted, and unfit to be shown at our great shows.
The issue of the order raises several far-reaching questions. For instance, is the Minister of Agriculture prepared to accept the principle involved, and is he satisfied that arrangements for segregation can be made? Has the right hon. Gentleman carefully weighed up the effects of the order on overseas buyers, and what is likely to be the effect of the order on the production of clean milk, and how far will it tend to drive producers out of the business? I suggest to the Minister, with great respect, the advisability of either withdrawing this order, or of reverting to his former policy of doing nothing at all in this matter. I believe it was a Canadian farmer who, when called in to give advice on a somewhat similar occasion, said, "When you don't know what, to do just do nothing." I think in this matter that that should be the course adopted by the Minister of Agriculture.
Another question to which I wish to draw attention is that of blended butter. The imports of butter into this country amount to about 390,000 tons. A large proportion of those imports come from foreign countries and about one-third from Imperial and Colonial sources. Much of this butter is blended in this country with a small proportion of English produced butter. It is then sold as blended butter, and the suggestion is that it has been produced in our great English dairies. The result of that suggestion, and the fact that an attractive label is attached to the butter, is to enable it to command an extra 3d. per 1519 lb. in the market. I think steps ought to be taken to deal with this blended butter, which is largely of foreign origin, and there should be some mark on the wrapper showing that it is not British butter. After all, our housewives are prepared to pay extra money for it, and they ought to know what they are getting.
Another matter to which I wish to draw the attention of the Minister or Agriculture is the need of doing something to provide for the electrification of our rural areas. In our country districts we see poles, towers and pylons erected in the countryside every day, on which current is being conveyed to our large cities and towns. Yet like the shipwrecked mariner, it is a case of "Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink," for the countryman is usually unable to get a supply of electric current for his own use. A White Paper on "Considerations bearing upon the electrification of rural areas" has recently been issued. In it, it stated that:The Electricity Commissioners feel that the development of such areas has not been as rapid or on so large a scale as is economically possible.I suggest that, on this question, the Minister of Agriculture might very well co-operate with the Electricity Commissioners. I do not think that the Ministry of Agriculture have published a single leaflet, or given advice in any way in regard to the application of electricity to agriculture. I think they should do something to carry out educational publicity and propaganda, and if need be, I do not see why better facilities should not be afforded to the farmers in the same way as they are afforded to manufacturers, so that farmers can be helped to bring about a change over and use electricity on their homesteads in their farming and other operations.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not think what the hon. Member is suggesting comes within the province of the Minister of Agriculture.
§ Sir D. NEWTON
I was under the impression that the Minister of Agriculture would be able to do what I have suggested, but in any case I think that I have said enough to show that advantages would accrue from the introduction of electrical power, to the agricultural community. Reference has been made to 1520 small holdings, and I am not surprised to find that there has been stagnation in their development. Even with all his resources at his back the Minister of Agriculture has experienced difficulty in implementing his pledge that "Farming must be made to pay." Under such circumstances, it is small wonder that smallholders have found a certain amount of difficulty in making both ends meet. There are, however, certain causes which have tended to slow up the small holdings movement.
The Act of 1926 laid duties on the county councils, but when the Act was passed county councils were engaged in taking over small holdings from the Minister of Agriculture—a very exhaustive valuation was proceeding which was carried through satisfactorily, and I think very thoroughly, by Mr. French, of the Ministry of Agriculture, and the settlement has worked remarkably well. While county councils were engaged upon the valuation, they could not very well be expected to devote much time to the development of small holdings. In the county in which I live I am glad to think that we are making steady progress. We have 1,900 tenants; and nearly 19,000 acres have been provided for small holdings. We find that the tenants on the smaller holdings, who have devoted themselves to growing fruit and vegetables, have been able to make the most headway. I am sorry to say, however, that the various trading associations which these tenants have supported have all or nearly all failed.
I welcome therefore the statement which has been made by the Minister of Agriculture that he is going to proceed as fast as possible with marketing schemes. I believe that the question of grading, packing and marking is of great value both to the producer and to the consumer because it ensures that goods of first quality are made available and it is a guarantee that they are English. This method is perhaps unostentatious, but it is nevertheless a valuable method of helping the workers on small holdings to bridge over the difference between the price received by the producer and the price paid by the consumer. I think it is quite hopeless for the producer to try and take over distribution. It is just as hopeless in my judgment as for the retailer and the distributor to try to take over the duties of the pro- 1521 ducer. Both are highly skilled businesses which require different qualities. I think that the policy now being pursued by the Minister of Agriculture in regard to grading, packing, and marking will be of general benefit and bring about better co-operation between the wholesaler, the retailer and the producer.
I was also very glad to hear that canning is occupying the attention of the Ministry a Agriculture. There is no better way of preventing gluts and for developing our markets than that of paying attention to the question of canning. I hope the Minister of Agriculture will adhere to his decision to institute a national mark for canned fruit and vegetables, so that the housewife will know that the goods have been grown at home, and are of the highest possible quality. There is another matter which the Minister of Agriculture did not refer to, and that is the potato crop. The potato grower has been faced with a veritable potato debacle and fiasco, and something must be done to obviate a recurrence of such a disastrous situation. About 500,000 acres of land are usually devoted to the growing of potatoes every year, and this used to be one of agriculture's most profitable crops. Just recently, because perhaps our cultivators have cultivated potatoes upon a higher standard and nature has been too bountiful, the industry has been faced with over-production to a small extent. Nobody can say exactly how much that over-production has amounted to, but it is probably not more than 5 or 6 per cent. The result, however, has been that a large number of farmers have been almost ruined, and that very serious injury has been inflicted on the agricultural community. I suggest that steps should be taken to provide for more orderly marketing of crops, and that some means should be devised for dealing with the surpluses in future.
When one travels abroad one sees the steps which are taken in this direction. In one factory in Poland last autumn I saw 1,400 tons of potatoes being turned into alcohol every day. The surplus potato crop could be used for the production of alcohol, for farina or potato starch, for drying and flaking, and for the extraction of acetic acid for use in different trades. There are various other ways of dealing with surplus potato crops, and I think all ways ought to be fully explored. 1522 I hope the Minister of Agriculture will continue to give full attention to the question of research. If only one or two of the problems which now confront agriculture could be solved by our agricultural research workers, millions of pounds could be placed in the hands of the agricultural community. It would not then be a question of higher prices to help agriculture, but one of greater production.
In this connection I would like to mention the wheat bulb fly. The damage done by this pest is very serious indeed, and if research can show us how to tackle this question effectively it will be a great gain. It is not too much, I hope, to aim at. Until the discovery of the tar oil spray wash by the Dutch very great damage was done to fruit orchards by aphis and other insect pests. Now we are able to control them owing to discoveries which have been made, and is it too much to suggest that research along similar lines might help agriculture in similar ways? I believe I am right in saying that research is controlled by the Advisory Committee of Agricultural Research. I believe I am also right in saying that the Committee of Agricultural Research consists of a board of directors and workers drawn only from our research stations. I hope the Minister will look into the composition of that body, because I think it would be strengthened if a few practical men could be added to it—a few practical farmers who are actually face to face with these agricultural difficulties, who could advise as to the best and most practical methods of research, and who could also help in the dissemination and spread of information when it becomes available. I hope that these few observations and suggestions which I have made—some of them on matters which may, perhaps, appear minor questions, but which are all connected with practical difficulties which now confront the agriculturist—will receive the attention of the Minister. I feel that by administration, I hope on non-party lines, and conducted with the single purpose of doing good to the industry of agriculture, something may be achieved to improve the lot of the agricultural community as a whole.
§ Dr. HASTINGS
I desire to call the attention of the Minister to a relatively small, but I think important point, namely, the question of tuberculosis in 1523 cattle. My main interest in this question is on account of the disease which is conveyed to man through milk, but I cannot help feeling that it has an important bearing for the farmer as well, because a good many cattle, as I shall show, are affected by tuberculosis. The cattle that are most affected are cattle that give milk, and it is also the fact that the cattle which are affected do not as a rule contract the disease in their early years, but at the time when they are of great value to the farmer, that is to say, at the time when they are of middle age and are producing our milk supply. I would like to ask the Minister if he can give us any accurate estimate of the number of cows that are so affected. It is suggested that it must be nearly 1,000,000, and that 40 per cent. of the milch herds of this country are affected by tuberculosis. The examination of samples of milk, although they vary in different parts, shows something between 4 and 8 per cent. of those examined to contain the germs of this deadly disease—tubercle bacilli.
Dr. VERNON DAVIES
Is my hon. Friend speaking of generalised tuberculosis, or of tuberculosis of any particular part of the animal?
§ Dr. HASTINGS
I am talking about tuberculosis generally. Turning next to the question of how this tuberculosis affects human beings, I understand that there are every year somewhere about 2,000 deaths of human beings due to the bovine bacillus. That is a very large number, and, as far as we know, the germs reach the human subject in nearly every case by means of milk. It is said that in a few cases they may reach the human subject by means of meat, but they are relatively few. In addition to these 2,000 deaths every year, there are a great many individuals who are infected but, fortunately, recover. They number somewhere about 20,000 fresh cases every year. I ought perhaps to explain in passing that there are two forms of tuberculosis, the human type and the bovine type: I am speaking today exclusively of the latter. Certain organs are particularly affected by this bovine type of tuberculosis. It affects young children more than adults, and it is the cause of 46 per cent. of the cases 1524 of the glandular tuberculous disease. It is the cause of about 50 per cent. of the cases of lupus, and of about 66 per cent. of the cases of tuberculous meningitis; and any Member of the House who has ever seen a child suffering from tuberculous meningitis and has heard the cries of pain uttered by such a child will agree that it is an exceedingly terrible disease.
It is interesting to learn that this country stands first, not in tuberculosis, but in the number of cases of tuberculosis which are of bovine origin, with the one exception of Scotland. Scotland has the unenviable position of coming first in the list. I would like to ask what is being done to mitigate and cure this very terrible evil. It is suggested that by pasteurising the milk everything that is necessary can be done, but I want to say that by pasteurising an impure article you do not make it pure. The toxins of the bacteria are not destroyed by pasteurisation, while, in addition, there is very clear evidence that certain other changes take place in the milk as the result of pasteurisation. There is clear evidence that the calcium contained in milk is changed by any heating at all; it becomes less digestible and less easily absorbed. Moreover, certain direct experiments show that children do not do so well on milk that has been pasteurised. It seems to me, therefore, that, in the interests, not only of mankind, not only of all the citizens of this country who are liable to be infected, but also in the interests of the farmers, it is desirable that the Ministry should do all that is in its power to eradicate tuberculosis from the cattle of this country.
I would like to ask what the Ministry is doing at the present time with this object in view. As far as I know, its chief activity is centred in the Tuberculosis Order of 1925. According to this Order, it is the duty of the farmer or the veterinary surgeon who finds cows to be suffering from tuberculosis or any other similar disease of the udder, or who finds cows to be suffering from tuberculous emaciation, or from chronic cough and the clinical signs of tuberculosis, to report those cases. Then the local authority destroys these highly-infected cattle, and also destroys cattle which are known to be giving tuberculous milk, and their owners are suitably compensated. That Order has been in operation for the last 1525 three years. I have here the Annual Report of Proceedings under the Diseases of Animals Acts for 1928, and there are two previous Reports. From thin Report I learn that in each of these three years somewhere about 1,700 cattle have been slaughtered, and it is interesting to note that, in 1928, 162 of those cattle, that is to say, 1 per cent., were so bad when they were reported that they died before there was time to slaughter them.
It is also interesting to note from this Report that, of the 347 cattle reported for giving tuberculous milk, no fewer than 264 showed, on post-mortem examination, nothing wrong with the udder; so that it is very clear that a cow can give tuberculous milk and be a public danger although there is no sign of disease of the udder. Also, it is noteworthy that the disease was reported to exist on just over 20,000 premises, and, when the cows in these premises were inspected, it was found that there was clear evidence of the disease in no fewer than 16,000 cases; so that, and this is my point, in four-fifths, at any rate, of the cases where disease was reported it was found by the veterinary inspectors and confirmed by post-mortem examination of the cattle.
Does the Minister believe that the eradication of tuberculosis in cattle is going to be effected by merely destroying a very small percentage of the infected animals, by destroying animals which were so badly infected with tuberculosis that one per cent. of them died before there was time to slaughter them? Is there any evidence that this is doing anything to reduce the amount of tuberculosis in cattle? I Further, I should like to ask the Minister if he believes that the carrying through of this policy for any given number of years will be attended by success in eradicating the disease, because, in my opinion, nothing short of the complete eradication of the disease in cattle is going to give us what we need as a nation? It seems to me that what is being done under this Tuberculosis Order is merely to destroy cattle after a good deal of the mischief has already been done. I would like to ask the Minister if the other cattle which are living in the same places as the cattle that are slaughtered are also very carefully examined and tested with tuberculin, and also what disinfection of the 1526 byres in which these animals live is carried out after those that are condemned have been slaughtered.
A good deal has been said to-day about the importance of research, and I would like to ask the Minister if his Department is carrying out any researches as to the immunisation of calves against tuberculosis, and also whether anything is being done in regard to the rearing of a stock which is not susceptible to tuberculosis. I read in the Report I have just mentioned that two cows which the owners-were unwilling to slaughter because they were pedigree stock of good quality were allowed to go back, although giving tuberculous milk, to their owners to be used for breeding purposes. It seems to me that this is a very dangerous thing. Unfortunately, in this country as far as I can learn, only two per cent. of our herds are free from tuberculosis, and I would like to ask what the Minister is doing to assist the farmer—
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Dr. HASTINGS
My authority is the number of licences to produce Grade A T.T. and Certified Milk. I can give the right hon. Member the figure and the only sure indication, as far as I know, by which the Minister can be certain of the freedom from tuberculosis of the herds is the Grade A T.T. Certificate or the licence for the production of certified milk.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member will forgive us if we wish him to correct a misunderstanding that might otherwise arise from his remarks. The particular fact may be as he says, but the natural interpretation that would have been put upon the remarks he made previously was, that only 2 per cent. of the herds of this country were free from tuberculosis. I am quite sure that would be a most damaging and serious misunderstanding to get abroad. I do not think that is what he meant, and it would be a very good thing if he had at once the opportunity of correcting it.
§ Dr. HASTINGS
I am very glad to have the opportunity. What I mean is—I can show by the figures—that only 2 per cent. of the herds of this country are known to be free from tuberculosis. 1527 They are known by the fact that the owners possess these certificates. Of the rest we do not know.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member will not think I am interrupting him without reason, but the medical officers of health in a great many towns satisfy themselves as to the conditions under which the milk supply is produced so that there is a great deal more information as to the freedom from tuberculosis than is merely contained in the numbers certified under the Grade A T.T. Test.
§ Dr. HASTINGS
There may be more than 2 per cent., but as far as I know, only 2 per cent. have obtained these certificates. I very much hope that there are a great many more herds free from tuberculosis, but my point is this: I do not think the Ministry is doing all it should to assist the farmer to free his herds from tuberculosis. The farmer has to pay for the two certificates I have mentioned, and he has also to pay the veterinary surgeon to test his cows. In Denmark, which has been mentioned already in this discussion, I understand that the services of a veterinary surgeon and the tuberculin by which the cows are tested are both given free. It would be a very useful thing if the Ministry could see its way to do something of this sort in this country.
There is another method which I would submit to the Ministry of freeing the herds from tuberculosis, a method used in America. I should like to know whether it has been tried extensively in any part of this country. It is the method of "Accredited herds." The farmer is assisted and given special facilities to free his herd from tuberculous cattle. His herd is tested every year and, if he agrees, every assistance is given him to keep the herd free. As soon as accredited herds are produced in any number in any district, an attempt is made to produce an accredited area and, where 75 per cent. of the farmers wish their area to become an accredited area, then compulsion is used with the rest so that all the herds may be free from tuberculosis. Because of the danger of infection this method of freeing the herds from tuberculosis is worthy of the Minister's consideration. In conclusion I should like to ask him, does he realise 1528 the great harm that is being done both to cattle and to man by bovine tuberculosis? Is he satisfied that what is being done by the Ministry at the present time is ever likely to clear this country from this terrible scourge?
§ Mr. de ROTHSCHILD
The remarks of the hon. Member who has just sat down dealt only with a particular aspect of the question, and I propose to deal with the problem of agriculture in a more general way. I listened with great attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I was somewhat disappointed with his nebulous and rather woolly statement. I am contrasting the picture he drew of the state of agriculture to-day and the promises which he and his colleagues held out to the farming community at the time of the Election. In his own Election address he said to the working man:The Labour party will provide easier access to holdings for farm-workers.Then over the page, under a large heading "Aid to Farming," there is:The Labour party proposes to stabilise prices of farm produce, to ensure that farms are well equipped and drained, and to raise the standard of farming.The right hon. Gentleman who was assisting him in the direction of the Ministry of Agriculture made similar promises. We all remember that sentence which occurs in the Labour pronouncement "Farming must be made to pay." That wonderful dictum with all its ceremonial wisdom is, I am afraid, sunk to the level of a bromide. I could multiply quotations in almost every pamphlet put forward by the labour organisation in Eccleston Square, but, if we look at the state of agriculture to-day, we can see that none of these promises was carried out. Prices of cereals and cattle are not stabilised. We were promised that help would be given about potatoes but I have here a quotation:The potatoes are still lying unsold by the thousand, by the hundred thousand, at the side of the road, and, although we were promised that the urban population would be prepared to make sacrifices for the agricultural population, it is still doubtful whether those will be made.The right hon. Gentleman would, I am sure, not assert that farming has been made to pay.
Unfortunately, since the right hon. Gentleman has taken office, he has looked at farming through more rose-coloured 1529 spectacles. On 25th November of last year, only a few months after the Government had taken office, he said to the hon. Member for the Eye Division (Mr. Granville):I cannot accept the suggestion that the agricultural industry on the whole is in such distress as to demand special and immediate relief measures. While I view with great regret the depression in some sections of the industry, I would remind hon. Members that in other sections no depression exists."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1929; col. 974, Vol. 232.]To-day I heard him say more or less the same thing to us, but the only section of farming where he definitely said there was a certain amount of prosperity was sheep-farming, and that is a very small part of the great industry. To-day, wherever we look we find that the farmers are overdrawn at the bank, that their land is mortgaged, that a great deal of land is going out of cultivation and that unemployment is increasing in the countryside as in the towns. The present Government and the late Government have been coquetting too long with the farming community. It is quite simple to fob off a multiplicity of suitors, but when you have got only one suitor, as in this case, agriculture, the time must ultimately come when the coquette must either give in or give up. I am putting this in all humility before the right hon. coquette on the Government divan. Up to the present the only contribution of the Government has really been the Agricultural Conference, and its results are very doubtful. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he was going to back co-operation. Is he prepared to implement and carry out the two resolutions which were unanimously carried by that assembly?
Narrowing the question to closer issues, I should like to say a word on the very ill-considered action of the Government in closing the show-yards of the country to T.T. cattle. The hesitating retreat which the Government have beaten now has come too late for the "Royal," the most important show we have, the most important for foreign buyers, and for our bull breeders who wish to sell their cattle abroad. I am afraid that many of our breeders will give up their T.T. licences if the Government persist in these Regulations. It is a serious blow to stockbreeders, because, now that foot-and-mouth disease is disappearing to a certain extent, and there is a world shortage of 1530 cattle, these men were looking for better times.
I should like to say a word, too, about the Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs Act. The farming community has repeatedly pressed the Government to increase the farming representation on the advisory committee which is weighted in favour of the milling trade. We would also like the Government to amend the definition of barley meal, for at present barley meal most injurious to cattle and pigs, which is at least 50 per cent. impure, is sold in this country. The county authorities are constantly encouraged to increase their agricultural organisers and officials. It is unnecessary. If there is any spare money, it should be spent on research. There are many practical gains to be got there. Besides swine fever, besides John's disease, besides erysipelas in pigs, there is a vast field for research and there are ailments which are equally grave and serious whose methods of treatment are at present unknown.
Expenditure has been slightly increased, but still it is very limited, and I was sorry to hear that the right hon. Gentleman was going to treat the Royal Veterinary College as if it were a voluntary hospital and that the Government was only providing £100,000 if £100,000 besides was coming from the pockets of the friends of veterinary science. We consider that the Royal Veterinary College is an institution of great importance which renders great service. I should like to stress the point that now, when there are so many microbial diseases, the man would deserve great praise and credit who could make one worm grow to-day where two grew yesterday.
I will not stress the need for rural housing. I know it does not depend on the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he could use his influence with other Members of the Government that the county authorities, the postal, police, and other local authorities should provide houses for their employés in order to liberate cottages meant for the agricultural worker. I will not allude to the questions of bounty-fed imports—I feel sure that it has been discussed efficiently—but still I should like the right hon. Gentleman to realise how much this is felt in the farming community and how regrettable it is that we do nothing in this respect. I hope the figures he gave will 1531 be circulated. The farming community, if they were not really convinced that the harm that is done to them by this direct attack, by subsidised dumping, by the help of a friendly Government was really injurious to them, would not resent it as much as they do at present.
The question I should like to raise is that of agricultural exports. It is a question which is rarely touched upon but which has still a certain amount of interest to the farming community. South America has in the past been a good customer of ours as regards cattle, but I am sorry to say that, since 1927, the number of cattle that we have sent to South America has diminished by almost a half. The South Americans consider that our cattle may not be quite as good as they were. They think that, owing to the bad times, we have sold many of our young bulls and, although they will come here, they do not buy as much as they used to, and I should like to know what help the Government is giving to breeders in the way of circulars to let them know what is going on.
There is another agricultural ware which we send to the Argentine and that is potatoes. Potatoes are not grown in the Argentine, and they are not grown in South America in any quantity, and the export of potatoes has grown very considerably in the last few years. In 1927 there were no potatoes imported at all, and 7,600 tons were imported in 1929. The figures for Uruguay and Brazil are rather small, but the ascension is rather on the same lines. These figures offer a good deal of scope for expansion and possibly, remembering that the potato came from America, if the right hon. Gentleman is at all reminiscent of one whose appearance no doubt was like his own—I am thinking of Sir Walter Raleigh—he will see to it that the growers of potatoes are offered assistance in their commerce with South America. I am sorry to say that nothing has been done in the past. I have read the D'Abernon Report with great interest. The Minister of Agriculture cannot have briefed them to do anything in that respect, because, although there is a good deal said about the imports of South American agricultural produce into this country, not a word is said about our sales to them. It is a pity that the different 1532 Ministers in the Government are not on better terms with each other. I should have liked the Minister of Agriculture to be perhaps on more friendly terms with the Minister for Overseas Trade, but they seem to be like two gentlemen who meet accidentally on the same bench in the park and watch the mandarin ducks, divers and wildgeese.
The only point on which I am prepared to praise the conduct of the Government in the matter of agriculture is that of the national mark. I think it has been a great success. It has changed the character of our marketing system, and it will tend to improve products to the benefit of the consumer. Already it has had one remarkable result. We have been able to sell our graded national mark apples to South Africa and—I say it with bated breath—broccoli to the Continent. This question of marking, whose importance was realised long ago by the Danes, has never been appreciated in this country. The Danish products command a higher price than most other agricultural products, not because they are better, for instance, than the Finnish products, which are very good too, but because they have an old-established mark, because they are better graded and better standardised. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) deserves a meed of praise for having carried it out in such a masterly manner in face of great difficulties. I cannot conclude without saying a word about sugar beet.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Dunnico)
I am afraid the hon. Member cannot discuss sugar beet on this Vote. There is a Vote following this on which it can be discussed.
On that point of Order. Are we not discussing the Minister's salary and, if he is responsible in the matter of sugar beet, cannot we discuss his action in that connection?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The Question before the Committee has been read out. The Minister's salary is not the main issue before the Committee.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The Question before the Committee is the whole Vote for the Ministry of Agriculture, which includes the right hon. Gentleman's salary.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The Minister's salary is included here, but there is a special Vote down for beet sugar. It has always been understood that, when there is a special Vote set down, that subject can only be discussed on that Vote. It will come up later, but cannot be raised now.
§ Mr. de ROTHSCHILD
What we have urged all along on these benches is a three-party conference. We consider that it is not fair to bribe the country voters with false promises. This is a question that should be thrashed out by the best brains, by people in authority whose opinion is valued and respected by the whole nation. Is it of vital importance for us to produce home-grown food in order to be prepared for some period of emergency? Is it vital to have a stable and contented population which will draw from the urban agglomeration some of their numerous unemployed, and will, in turn, act as a vitalising reservoir for the towns? Or do we consider that the danger of an emergency is over? Do we consider that the three-Power agreement and the League of Nations have for a long time averted all danger? Would an agricultural revival mean a diminution in our industrial capacity and output? Would it entail a lowering of the standard of life?
Those are the questions we should like to see put because, if a prosperous agriculture is considered essential for the country, people will have to do what they did to ensure the prosperity of the railways, and what they have done lately to ensure the prosperity of the coal industry. They will have to pay. On the other hand, if the second thesis is accepted, if the value of a prosperous agriculture is outweighed by other considerations, then agriculture must be run on a strictly economic basis. It will still offer, no doubt, a decent livelihood to a restricted number of persons, but it will mean laying down to grass all land except the most fertile. It will mean ranch farming, with a minimum of labour and employment. That is the problem. These grave decisions will have to be come to, and they cannot be come to by a meeting of the three agricultural committees of the House, but only by a meeting of the three Front Benches. Then the farming community, composed of several millions of men and women, 1534 will know for the first time where it stands and then, for the first time, the agricultural people will have a square deal.
§ Mr. DALLAS
We have listened to a very interesting speech but I should like to ask the hon. Member and his colleagues on the Liberal benches whether that is the kind of speech that is likely to get the conference they say they are anxious for. The first part of it was in the most striking contrast to that of his leader. He ended by making charges against the Government of bribing the rural electorate with false promises. If he is really sincere in asking for a conference, that is not the way to get it. It makes us a little chary as to whether the Liberals on the other side are trying to damage the Government as much as they possibly can or whether they are really as sincere themselves, as they say they are, in the desire for an all-round conference.
§ Mr. de ROTHSCHILD
Does the hon. Gentleman consider that the Government have carried out their promises as regards agriculture? I am not here to taunt the Government in any way, but if I am taunted by the hon. Gentleman I must retaliate.
§ Mr. DALLAS
I drew attention to the fact that the hon. Gentleman had taunted the Government, and I said that either his taunts or the other parts of his speech asking for an all-round friendly conference, with good will all round, are sincere, but both statements cannot be sincere. I will deal with the Government's pledges and promises as far as agriculture is concerned, but the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are more experienced and are quite competent to reply to the specific questions which have been put. As one who has given the very best of his life in his own sphere to the development of agriculture, I heartily agree with the speech which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I hope that it will be taken by the Committee as a very hopeful suggestion to help us out of one of the gravest difficulties through which this industry has passed.
If we turn from that speech to the speech which was made by the late Minister of Agriculture, we find a typic- 1535 ally partisan speech, trying to score, I am afraid, very small points against the Government, and not being very successful in the scoring of them. The late Minister talked about our not having produced our policy. I would remind the Committee and the late Minister that in 1924 the Prime Minister of that time, the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin), went to the country and gave the people of the rural areas and agriculture a very definite pledge—the most precise and definite pledge made by any party or any leader of a party on the question of agriculture.
§ Mr. DALLAS
He stated that if they were returned to power—I have not the actual words before me—they would see that agriculture was not only preserved but was restored to a position of prosperity as an essential balancing element in the social and economic life of the country.
That is not an accurate statement. The hon. Gentleman has not the words. If he will take the trouble to get them, he will see that that was the aim, and is the aim, of all parties. My right hon. Friend did not say that it was within his power to achieve it.
It is most irregular for an hon. Member to get up and misquote a statement which he cannot produce.
§ Mr. DALLAS
I am not misquoting in the slightest degree. I challenge the late Minister for Agriculture to produce any correction of what I said and which I gave from memory.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member has made a definite statement. After having deprecated talking about breaches of promise in others, he then proceeds to make a similar charge himself. He has been asked to produce the words of the pledge to which he referred, and no Member, we venture to say, ought to make a charge of that kind without being willing to produce the words on which he bases it.
§ Mr. DALLAS
I will produce them later, but I have not them with me now. I say that the words are thatagriculture should not only be preserved but restored to a position of prosperity as an essential balancing element in the social and economic life of this country.
That was the object. Is it not also the object of all parties? The hon. Member actually stated that the Leader of the Conservative party made a promise that he would achieve that.
§ Mr. DALLAS
I was stating that that was the policy put in front of the country by the late Prime Minister in the Election of 1924, and now we have a definite admission that I am right, and that I have not been misquoting at all. I want to go on.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The hon. Member said that a pledge was given. His party gave a pledge, and they have been unable to produce any policy, and, if the hon. Member has a sense of honour, he ought to withdraw.
§ Mr. DALLAS
The late Minister of Agriculture has admitted the words. They were given, he says, not in the form of a pledge but in the form of a promise. That was the policy. The point was that that was the policy put in front of the country in 1924 by the Conservative party. I venture to say that if ever there was a pledge or a promise or a policy put forward by a party that was unfulfilled, that policy was not fulfilled and was not carried out, because the late Government—
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
On a point of Order. Are we not discussing the present Minister's salary, and is it in order to refer to the policy of the last Government?
§ Mr. DALLAS
I say that that policy was not carried out, because the late Government left the country, the countryside, and agriculture in a considerably worse position than the position in which they found them. Agriculture was very much worse off after four years of Conservative Administration than it was when the Conservative party 1537 started. The right hon. Gentleman made another point. He was twitting the Minister about not having put into operation a statement or a desire expressed by the Agricultural Conference. I am a member of the Agricultural Conference. The Agricultural Conference unanimously desired that the armed forces of the Crown should be fed on British beef and British bread. I am strongly in favour of that proposal, and I am going to continue to advocate it, but the late Minister of Agriculture is the last man in this House who should twit anyone. I heard him on those benches say that he had worked for four years even in his own Government, and had tried to get them to put it into operation, but that they had failed to do so.
That is an absolute untruth. It was part of our policy, and it was deliberately withdrawn by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. DALLAS
The Committee will see whether the late Minister of Agriculture is right or whether I am right.
On a point of Order. Is it conducive to the conduct of our Debates for an hon. Member to get up and make wild statements of this kind without any chapter and verse, and without giving notice to those who are going to be attacked that he is going to refer to past things, and is it not absolutely contrary to all precedent that people should invent statements and not be in a position to read out actual words?
§ The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN
The Chairman of the Committee cannot accept responsibility for the accuracy of utterances of hon. Members of this House. All that I can do is to try and keep them as well within the Rules of Order as possible.
§ Mr. DALLAS
I have not the slightest desire to misrepresent the late Minister of Agriculture. He can turn to the OFFICIAL REPORT when the matter was discussed here in the early part of this Parliament and see that the late Minister himself made a statement, if not exactly in the words I have used, very much on the lines that I have stated. I would not attempt in any degree whatever to misrepresent anything that he has said. [HON. MEMBERS: "You have done it!"] I withdraw if there is any 1538 thing in it, but, if we turn to the OFFICIAL REPORT, there is a statement in an interruption by the late Minister to the effect that for four years they had been trying to get this put into operation and that it had not been put into operation by the late Government. [Interruption.] I know; that was quite right. I know the Minister did his very best; I am sure he did. I am sure that no blame attaches to the late Minister of Agriculture, none whatever, because that policy was not put into operation. He did his very best. His Government and his Cabinet were not of the opinion that it was a wise thing to do, and it was only at the election time that it was announced. I want to say that even after the announcement was made and prior to the last General Election they could have taken steps before they went out of office—if they could not have done it completely—to have gone a long way towards putting it into operation. So it is no use twitting the present Government.
Take another point. Although they came in with this elaborate policy for the preservation and restoration of agriculture, the late Government had been in office for two years before they produced their White Paper on agricultural policy. Why twit the present Government that, after nine or 10 months, they have not produced their policy? No one will deny that this House has been as busy as it could be on all kinds of Measures, and that the Government have been doing their very best to get as many Measures passed—
May I say that the White Paper was published at the beginning of 1926. I think in the month of January. We certainly bad not been in office two years.
§ Mr. DALLAS
You went into office in 1924, and it was published in 1926. Suppose we take the right hon. Gentleman's statement—
§ Mr. DALLAS
So that there is very little to twit us in that respect. I think that it comes with very ill-grace from the 1539 Members on those benches to twit the present Government for not producing any policy in less than 12 months, especially when everybody knows that they have had to tackle some of the greatest industrial and social problems, apart from the War period, that any Government have had to tackle in the last generation. I should like to give the opinion of a very serious farmer who came as the leader of a deputation from Scotland a fortnight or three weeks ago. His name, I believe, was Major Keith. He is certainly not a member of our party. When he returned to Scotland, after having visited the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and having seen the Committees of the three parties, he said publicly at most of the meetings at which he spoke that it was impossible to expect the Government to produce policies from a shelf exactly as the chemist took down bottles from the shelves in his shop.
§ Mr. DALLAS
If hon. Members produce rabbits out of the hat sometimes, they may amuse us by so doing. It seems to me that many of the Members can talk through their hats much easier than they can produce rabbits out of their hats. I come to one or two aspects of this question which, I think, are not party matters. I want to say—
The hon. Member was very anxious for the actual words he misread about our policy. He stated that my leader promised that he would restore the great basic industry of agriculture. He did not do anything of the kind. These were his words:I regard it as vital that the great basic industry of agriculture should not merely be preserved but restored to a more prosperous condition as an essential balancing element in the economic and social life of the country. For a permanent solution of the agricultural problem an immediate agreement between all parties is desirable, and the Unionist party, if returned to power, will summon a representative conference.I will not delay the Committee by reading the rest of the statement, but I will say that it was the hon. Member who, I think, was very largely responsible for the impossibility of carrying out that part of the proposals with reference to the holding of a representative conference, 1540 into which the Labour Union refused to go, with the object of getting the agreed policy which the late Prime Minister regarded as vital.
§ Mr. DALLAS
What the right hon. Gentleman has read proves exactly what I have said. It proves that agriculture was not only to be preserved but that it was to be restored as an essential balancing element in the social and economic life of the country. That is what I said.
It was the object, which I suppose has been repeated in other words thousands of times in this House and in speeches made outside.
§ Mr. DALLAS
The right hon. Member can say that it was not a pledge, but, at any rate, it was a definite policy. He says that I was probably the man, or one of the men, who prevented the conference. That is not true. My opinion has always been the same and my association with the right hon. Gentleman ought to lead him to know that I have never refused to go into conference with any section of the industry at any time, so long as my hands and tongue were not tied. I would have had the conference then if it had been left to me, but that was not the conference that was in the pledge. The pledge says "all parties." What parties? Are you referring to the political parties? Everybody thought that it was the political parties that were referred to. The Farmers' Union thought that it was the political parties, and they have accused the late Government of not fulfilling their pledge, because they did not call a conference of the political parties. What the right hon. Gentleman said was a conference of the farmers, landowners and workers, which is accepted by the people in the industry as not carrying out the pledge. [Interruption.]
On a point of Order. The hon. Member has made a statement, and he has refused to give way. Is it in accordance with the Rules of the House that an hon. Member should make inventions and then not allow the other side to correct them.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
That is not a point of Order. Many statements are made in this House, and the Chair cannot know whether they are correct or incorrect. Members who make the 1541 statements are responsible for that. An hon. Member is not obliged to give way, and I have no power to ask the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Dallas) to give way.
§ Mr. ERNEST EVANS
Is it in order for one hon. Member of this House to state that another hon. Member has made a statement which is an invention?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
In this discussion, I think some expressions have been used which are not desirable in a Parliamentary debate. I think the hon. Member for Wellingborough might be allowed to proceed.
§ Mr. DALLAS
I do not think that I have made any statement which breaks any Parliamentary Rule or Standing Order. I have not made any statement which calls for the interruptions from the Opposition. These interruptions are characteristic of the feelings that exist at the present time. The late Minister for Agriculture, the right hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) has quoted a very important statement made by the Leader of his party. That statement of policy was quoted quite recently, on the eve of a very important demonstration that was held at Cambridge, but the farming community, the agricultural community, have not taken seriously in the slightest degree that announcement made on behalf of the Conservative party as to what they will do for agriculture if they are returned to office. The obvious thing that people say, is: "If you did not do it when you had the power, when you had an unparalleled majority in the House of Commons, a permanent majority in the House of Lords and four years of power in which to do it, and you renew this pledge within a few months of vacating office, it is impossible to expect the agricultural community to regard seriously any pledge or promise made by the Unionist party."
Having made my reply to some of the speeches and interruptions of hon. Members opposite, I should like to say that I regret the feeling that they have introduced into the matter. I have no feeling whatever, and I did not misquote; it has been proved that my statement was right. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and other hon. Members on these benches 1542 were right in saying that the situation in agriculture is serious and that no Government can be blamed for it. The economic conditions of industry are not caused by a Government and cannot altogether be remedied by political action or by the action of a Government. They may be alleviated, but knowing the circumstances of this Parliament I think that every Member of this House, no matter where he sits, no matter to what party he belongs, must really be in earnest in desiring that we should retrieve the present position, which is steadily becoming worse.
I am not one of those who think that we should take little notice of the imports of grain from Germany, or that it is a mistake to over-estimate the question of wheat growing in this country. You can talk as much nonsense in trying to depreciate wheat growing as in exaggerating the importance of wheat growing. Wheat growing is vital to the arable districts in England, no matter what may happen in Scotland, and when you have these imports of wheat from Germany, although they represent only a small percentage of the total of our imports, they stand in a different category from the overwhelming amount of imports, because the grain that comes from North America and Canada is hard grain and is in no sense competitive grain with the soft wheats that we grow in our own country, whereas the German wheats are competitive. The Minister of Agriculture explained that the wheat from the Argentine is also soft wheat. The damage with regard to the German wheat was done because the German wheat came into the market exactly at the time when the British wheat was being harvested and marketed. It requires a very small percentage to overload the market. A small percentage or a small surplus will go a very long way towards depressing out of all proportion the price of the commodity that happens to be marketed at that particular time.
It is vital that we should turn our attention to wheat. We are heading straight for a disaster in the milk industry. We are going to have a tremendous over-surplus of milk, because cereal growing has become uneconomic and people have been turning from the growing of cereals to the production of milk. We have had a bad time this year in the production of potatoes, because 1543 people have been turning from cereal production to the production of potatoes. We have had a surplus of potatoes which cannot be marked at any price. In any event, certainly in the Eastern counties of England, the central problem and the key problem is cereal production. If we can tackle and solve the problem of cereal production, we shall automatically relieve the milk market, and the market in the grassland areas as well, and we shall improve all-round the agricultural industries which, as the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) rightly said, is a series of industries more or less linked up with each other. The problem is very grave. I regret if I have hurt the feelings of anybody, and I withdraw any statement that has disturbed any hon. or right hon. Member of this House. I have given the best years of my life to protect the agricultural worker, because he is the lowest paid worker in our country. I am anxious that his position shall not become worse—it may become worse—but that it shall become better. I am anxious to see that finance and organisation is put into the industry, so that not only the agricultural worker but his employer will be prosperous.
The situation is undoubtedly very serious, because when we look around the world we find that there is an overproduction of food. No one to-day has referred to the Federal Farm Board of America, which has come into the market and is buying tens of thousands of tons of wheat in order to pack the market and keep the price up. That wheat will have to be unloaded. It is reckoned that they have something like 150,000,000 bushels of wheat beyond what they can dispose of. We are told that something between 150,000,000 and 200,000,000 bushels of wheat are loaded up in Canada, and cannot be disposed of. Sometime or other this wheat may come into our market. The present President of the United States, when he was the Minister of Commerce of that great country, told the farmers that if they could get two dollars per bushel in their own country it would not make any difference to them if they only got a dollar per bushel for wheat marketed overseas, because they have this great fund of £100,000,000 out of which they can recoup themselves and the producers for any loss that may 1544 happen on the selling of wheat at an uneconomic price in Europe, particularly in this country. This country is the greatest grain market in the world, and anybody who has a surplus of agricultural produce sends it to our market.
We must reorganise our agricultural industry. The Ministry must come to the aid of the industry in some form or another. We must transform the industry in such a way that we shall not be over flooded beyond recovery with the agricultural products of every country in the world. I hope that hon. Members on these benches and hon. Members on the Liberal benches will rise above partisanship. No man in this House has been more criticised and has taken more risks in my own party than I have in my desire to take common action and to have a common platform with people on the other side, in order that I might help the agricultural industry and call public attention to its condition. This problem affects not only the agricultural industry but it is a grave national matter. National prosperity is bound up with the prosperity of agriculture. With world conditions as they are if our farmers and our agricultural labourers are left to themselves and are not given a fair chance and a fair deal the situation will become more serious. It is the duty of the nation to come to their rescue. As an economic unit the nation cannot afford to go on bringing into this country hundreds of thousands of tons of foodstuffs every year.
I think the imports of foodstuffs in 1913 amounted to £297,000,000—I do not pledge myself to the accurate figures—and for the year 1927–1928 the figure amounted to £508,000,000 as the value of foodstuffs brought into the country. If we compare the value of 1913 and 1928, we find that there is an increase of 28 per cent. in the importation of agricultural products under very depressed conditions, in a country that can less afford to bring it in than in 1913. Therefore, it becomes a serious matter for the nation. We cannot afford to spend so much money in bringing in these agricultural products when we can produce them at home and give employment and prosperity to the industry. I hope during this discussion that we shall get a little nearer to some form of agreement or under- 1545 standing in which we shall all do the best we can without any desire to score party capital. I think I could score as much party capital as anybody out of the Conservative party and also out of the record of the Liberal party in this matter, but that is futile and leads us nowhere. All who are interested in agriculture say, a plague on all your rivalries, let us get on and do something to revive agriculture and the countryside, and bring happiness and prosperity to a section of the community which is second to none in its social and moral value to the nation.
§ Sir HARRY HOPE
To-day the House of Commons is engaged in discussing a subject which is of prime importance to the welfare of the country, and in the few words which I propose to address to the Committee I will not follow the somewhat acrimonious discussion to which we have just listened. The industry of agriculture is of such vital importance to the nation that we ought to approach it apart altogether from party political feelings. As a Scottish Member I recognise that the administration of this Department can be extremely helpful not only to agriculture in England, but also to the industry in Scotland. I was extremely disappointed with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. There was not one single ray of hope that the great and important industry of agriculture was to be helped in any way out of its difficulties. Farmers to-day throughout the country are confronted with overwhelming difficulties. In the arable parts potatoes and cereals have been selling at prices below the cost of production, and in those parts of the country where dairying is carried on farmers have to face the unfair competition of the large quantities of dried condensed skimmed milk which are permitted to enter the country.
It is often said that the agriculturists should first put their own house in order. Self-help is always the best help, and when the poor farmers come to Parliament and expect Parliament to do a great deal for them they need to show that they are doing everything possible in a practical way themselves to help their own industry. When we consider their point of view we are bound to recognise that farmers recently have been doing a great amount to improve their marketing conditions, to remodel and 1546 modernise their general conditions, and to bring their methods into line with what is now required. In this good work the Ministry can do a great deal to assist and initiate schemes which will be of great help. The Ministry have a great field in which to work in the way of encouraging research. Science has an enormous field in front of it in endeavouring to understand and cure diseases not only in the human being, but also in the agricultural world. As regards human life, medical and surgical science has made enormous strides of recent years, but on the veterinary side, as regards agriculture, the same advances have not been made, and at the present time diseases are afflicting all classes of herds, cattle, sheep and pigs, which are not understood, which are not accurately diagnosed, and for which no cure is known.
Enormous harm is done to many herds of pigs by swine fever, great loss is caused by a disease affecting cattle in the shape of tongue disease, and there is, of course, foot-and-mouth disease which has done such enormous injury to our cattle herds. As regards horses, we have a new disease in Scotland called grass sickness, a mysterious disease, which is afflicting our valuable horses. In all these directions the Ministry of Agriculture might well spend more money in encouraging research work and enabling the veterinary profession to make advances which would prevent these losses. I hope the right hon. Gentleman realises what I may call the bigness and gravity of this subject. If he would take the veterinary profession into his confidence and encourage it, put it upon a higher pedestal, we might bring a new science into the industry, and develop a knowledge of and a cure for the many diseases which now ruin so much of our stock. Besides spending money on that research work, I should like to compare our treatment of imports with the treatment of other countries. I have had a lifelong connection with agriculture, and I know something of the practical difficulties of farmers. For instance, the United States put an embargo upon potatoes going into their country because of the fear of a disease called mosaic, and other diseases, being introduced. What do we do? We take absolutely no precaution that this or similar diseases do not come into this country.
1547 The way in which we disregard the interests of the people engaged in agriculture by not taking the ordinary, practical and common-sense steps which other countries take is positively silly, steps which experience proves it is wise to take. During the last year potatoes have been selling at an absolutely ruinous level of prices. They have been selling below the cost of production. In Scotland the general cost of production is something like 70s. per ton, and farmers have not been getting more than 10s. to 15s. per ton; and they could not turn potatoes into money even at that price. Yet at the same time we have been taking in Algerian luxury potatoes, which in all probability have been the means of introducing the leaf-curl disease and other diseases, which are a permanent hurt to the potato crop in this country. Algeria, I am told, is in its infancy as an early potato producing country. In former years we never got new potatoes until the Jersey crop came in about the 15th May. Now Algerian potatoes come in on the 1st January, and the effect is that the season for our British main crop potatoes is reduced by one-half. These Algerian potatoes are grown largely by convict and Arab labour. We are taking in these supplies of potatoes at a high price, yet we are not safeguarding ourselves against the introduction of disease in the same way as America and other countries are doing.
Then as regards milk. We import into this country something like £3,500,000 of dried condensed skimmed milk annually. It has very little food value. When it is sold it has to be labelled "Unfit for Babies." When we have adopted careful and thorough means to ensure a sound and healthy supply of milk from our own herds for our own people, as we have in the onerous and comprehensive conditions to which every producer of milk must conform by way of hygienic conditions in the production of his milk, surely it is only right that this foreign product should also conform to the same hygienic conditions? We do not do that. We have been taking in this dried foreign condensed milk. A committee of investigation was sent out during the time of the late Government to examine the conditions under which that milk was pro- 1548 duced. There was no practical agriculturist on that committee, no man who could see at a glance the agricultural condition under which that milk was produced. The Dutch Government were informed through our Foreign Office that this committee of investigation was going out, with the result that they were only shown the very best farms and, therefore, they only saw the milk being produced under fairly good conditions. Of course, we got a report that milk was being produced under fairly good conditions, but that report is not entitled to have too much reliance placed upon it. I ask that the question should be taken up in a practical way. We should thoroughly test the conditions under which this milk is being produced. Surely, as we are able to produce all the milk that we need, it cannot be wise policy to send our British money out to buy the thing that we can produce ourselves? I hope that in the interests of the health of our people, this foreign milk production will be supervised before the milk is allowed to enter this country.
I know that it is quite out with this discussion to refer in any way to tariffs or any Protection of Free Trade policy, but when I listened to the remarks that were made about the importation of subsidised cereals being dumped in this country, I thought that, without the point of Protection or Free Trade being raised, we ought to hear from the Minister that he has expressed protests to Germany and other countries against the sending into this country of subsidised cereals. I think the Minister would be failing in his duty if be neglected to take all possible steps in the interests of a great industry by protesting with all the power at his command against any foreign country carrying on this unfair system of trading. I hope that as the result of this Debate something may be done to stir up the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to do something for agriculture. Our industry was never in a more parlous condition than it is in now. Land is going out of cultivation; men are being driven off the land into the towns, where the labour market is already overstocked, and there they are drifting into misery and sorrow. It is a sad situation. I hope that there might be a non-party consideration given to this great subject and 1549 that something may be done to help agriculture, which is the mother of all other industries and lies at the very root of our existence.
§ Mr. PRICE
I fully endorse the words of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken as to the necessity of preventing the import into this country of injurious products or products which are likely to add to the diseases with which we are troubled in this country. The hon. Gentleman complained that nothing had been done with regard to potatoes. On that subject he probably knows more than I do, but I would point out to him that the Government has been active, or rather Governments had been active. The late Government prohibited the import of all foreign pig products for a certain time in order to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. I endorse the hon. Member's view, that the Government should be particularly careful and ready to ginger up any control that may be possible to prevent the introduction of injurious diseases into this country. I also endorse what he said regarding the imports of milk preservatives. I know of cases, in the dairy districts of the South-West of England, where agricultural labourers' children are drinking preservatives in the heart of a district producing pure English milk. That is not altogether due to the fact that these preservatives are allowed to come in. I agree that there ought to be the strongest control over these types of dairy products. The trouble is also due to the fact that the wage of the agricultural labourer is so low to-day. That is all the more argument why no one should attempt to lay hands on that wage to reduce it.
It is rather difficult in this Debate to put one's finger on the crux of the problem, because we cannot discuss things which really are germane to the question of agricultural depression. I can sympathise with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, because he knows that certain measures which can be taken and should be taken to deal with agricultural depression involve legislative action, and we cannot discuss legislation here to-day. Therefore the Government are open to the taunts which have been levelled against them by certain speakers for not having fulfilled the promises that they are said to have made. But, if the Debate is 1550 somewhat restricted, I hope the Government will take an early opportunity of making some definite statement of policy in regard to legislation which it is hoped to carry in the near future. I will not do more than say that. After all, the problem is not entirely national. It certainly is not a party question, and it, is not even a national problem entirely; it is to a certain extent also an international problem. It is a pity that we have not heard a little more to-day upon that subject. There is hardly a country in the world that is not suffering in some way. Even highly protected countries, with far greater restrictions upon the imports of agricultural produce, are suffering from agricultural depression to-day.
The problem is international, and is due in some respects to the general deflation in prices that has been going on in greater or less degree ever since the War, and particularly to the relative scarcity in the world's gold supply, compared with the increase in the amount of the world's commodities. It is no mere accident that prices are falling all over the world in a greater or lesser degree. Personally, I do not look to the Ministry of Agriculture alone, nor indeed to the Ministry of Agriculture in any country to solve this problem. Without the assistance of the Board of Trade and other Government Departments there cannot be any approach to the complex and difficult economic problem referred to by Mr. Keynes in a speech which has already been quoted. The crux of the problem is how to stabilise prices in such a way that agriculture will not suffer as it is suffering now. Agriculture is in a more difficult position than any other industry because its turnover is much slower than that of other industries. A farmer sows his corn; he does not reap it for nine or 10 months and does not market it until two months later, and thus there is a 10 or 12 months' spread right away, while in the case of livestock it is very often two years before it matures and is ready for sending to market. In the meantime, owing to world conditions and the supply of gold in relation to commodities, there is a steady sagging of prices and all the profit which might have been made is eaten up, and perhaps there is a loss instead. I do not apologise for introducing this aspect of the matter, because this really 1551 is the most serious problem which agriculture has to face.
Turning to the Estimates, I am very glad to see an increase in the amount devoted to the development of marketing schemes. An improvement of the marketing system may not, of itself, affect the great staple commodities of agriculture, like corn and wheat and meat. These can only be dealt with by legislation which will aim at the stabilisation of prices, but there are other products not so susceptible to foreign competition and the fluctuation due to world conditions. It is no accident that the prices of fruit and of poultry products have not fallen in the same ratio as the prices of other products which are more subject to foreign competition; and it is regard to those products that the improvement of marketing arrangements and the elimination of waste in the organisation of marketing can bear very important fruit. I am quite prepared to admit that the Ministry, in this respect, is carrying on the policy of the previous Government. I think all parties can agree on the necessity for the general improvement of marketing. On page 89 of the Estimates I am glad to see an increase from £281,000 to £348,000 under the heading of "Agricultural Research." I think of all the expenditure of the Ministry this is, perhaps, the most useful, particularly if it aims at getting information as to the economic condition of the industry in this country—of which we know very little at the present time.
The agricultural research stations are undertaking to do farm costings for farmers in their respective districts. I have some little experience of that work. For the last five years I have been making detailed costings in connection with the farm which I am working in South-West England, and I am bound to say that I have found extraordinary value in the work which is being done by the research stations. I am afraid that the results so far are too scanty to give us an exact picture of conditions in this country, but individual farmers who are prepared to take up the matter can derive value and profit from finding out which departments of their farms are doing badly, and which are doing well—though I am afraid there are very few of these. At any rate, one can find out 1552 that certain things are not doing as badly as others and then concentrate on those branches of farming which are most likely to prove successful. There is still a large amount of work to be done in this respect. In the county in which I live not more than a dozen farmers are carrying out this work, whereas in the neighbouring county several hundreds are doing so. I should like to see the Ministry taking steps to popularise this form of research. We all know the great fear of the farmer that if he gives information about his farm it may be used against him for taxation purposes. I think a little publicity and propaganda would get over that difficulty, and that the farmers will soon recognise generally, as they are increasingly coming to recognise, the value of this work.
It will then be possible to have an agricultural survey of this country which will enable us to see where farming is doing badly and where it is not doing so badly. There are districts especially in the North of England near the industrial centres where certain branches of farming at least are not doing so badly at all. By obtaining that information and collating it and systematising it we should get to know more about the industry than we do because, frankly, we know very little at present. We want a scientific investigation largely based on these farm costings. Science can be used for the improvement of production, but there is no use increasing production unless you can sell the products. It is necessary to find out what, branches ought to be pushed and to bring productive capacity into relation with the general market of the country and the world. That, I think, shows the importance of costing and economic research. The problem of agriculture is not so much a problem of production as of organising markets and relating production with consumption capacities in the great urban and industrial centres.
On page 90, I see a reference to the fact that 251,000 is to be spent on improvement of livestock, but I see nothing there which shows that any money is being spent for eliminating that most serious menace to the improvement of our herds, and that is the scrub bull. I see that there is money spent on the licensing of stallions, and I would like to know what the Ministry is doing to push 1553 forward a scheme for squeezing out the scrub bull and improving our herds by getting the very best type of bulls in use for service in the country. I understand that the Ministry has been considering something of the kind, but I understand also that any scheme of licensing bulls that may be introduced would entail the county livestock officers having the sole say as to what bulls ought to be registered and what percentage of bulls ought to be allowed.
We shall not get over the prejudices of farmers in this matter unless we institute a wider kind of control than that of the livestock officers. Farmers are not going to submit willingly to this control of the licensing of bulls, because it would involve inability to keep bulls unless they passed certain standards, but I think they could be induced to do it if, besides the officials, men with practical experience in the farming industry and in the great livestock societies which are concerned with maintaining the quality of our herds were also represented on some body which would give licences for permitting the use of bulls for service. I cannot attach too much importance to this, because we all know what a serious state agriculture is in, but there is some hope that our livestock industry is not going quite down, in spite of all its difficulties. We have all read with great interest the articles in the "Times" by Professor Haldane, which seem to indicate, although I know there are two views on the matter, that there is some reason for believing that the livestock herds of the world are at least not on the increase; and the development and improvement of our livestock particularly are matters which will repay investment and study. Therefore, I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to give this question his close consideration and to try to bring in men of practical experience in the industry, as well as his own officials in the Ministry.
Lastly, I wish to say how glad I am to hear from the Minister that he has increased the number of inspectors to see that the wages are paid which are statutory under the Agricultural Wages Act. I do not see any increase noted in the report, but I see in one case that the inspectors are down as only temporary. I hope they will not be temporary, but permanent, because I am quite sure 1554 we have none too many inspectors now. I know as a fact that there has been great evasion of the payment of statutory wages, particularly in districts—I have heard of a good many in the county which I have the honour to represent in this House—where the system of living-in is very common on the farms. It is very difficult to get the information, but I know that evasions are taking place, and I think it is very good that the Minister has taken steps to see that such evasions should come to an end. While I hope the Minister will take an early opportunity to declare the full agricultural policy of the Government, involving legislation, at least in this Debate I am pleased to think that the efforts of his Department have been crowned with a certain measure of success, and I hope he will carry on as he has started.
§ Lord FERMOY
I am sure the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture will be received with disappointment in East Anglia. I arm glad to see that my Noble Friend the Member for East Norfolk (Viscount Elmley), the hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. W. B. Taylor), and the Minister himself are here, for they all, I am sure, realise the very tragic position in which farming in East Anglia finds itself. There is very little hope held out for the industry in our division in the comprehensive statement of the Minister, and indeed I think he is far too optimistic. He did not say, as I should like to have heard him say, about the thousands of acres in our county which have been turned down year by year to grass, but he said a word—and I congratulate him upon it—about having taken some part in regard to the canning of fruit which takes place in the division adjoining my own. I can assure him that it has been a very great help and that the fruit growers there and in my district are very grateful to the Ministry for having afforded that help at a time when it was very much needed.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman some questions in regard to research. On the coast of Norfolk, which nearly surrounds my district, we are very anxious to know what the Ministry will do in regard to the culture of oysters. Competent people tell us that that part of the coast would be very suitable for oyster beds, and I should like the right 1555 hon. Gentleman to say a word as to whether it is possible to develop this culture. I should also like to ask about horticulture, which has made very remarkable strides in the Wisbech section, in the growing of bulbs. Owing to the very severe frost of last winter, they were very largely responsible for saving many thousands of tons of bulbs which Holland lost. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that horticulture will be included in the marking system. From any area as many as 90 tons of bulbs are sent out to the Easter trade, and they would like it known that these bulbs are grown in this country. Will the Minister give us a few figures about afforestation in Norfolk? It is well known that the Ministry are interested in a scheme of that sort, and I shall be glad if he will say something about the acreage which is now growing and proposed in this part of the country.
There are many things which we should all like to bring up in a Debate like this, but we are restricted on account of the Vote. I feel sure that the Minister, after hearing this Debate, especially as Norfolk Members have taken part, will be impressed by the fact that we are all terribly anxious at the present situation. I came down this morning from my own part of the country with several men who are vitally involved in this big industry. The name of Mr. Ringer is well known in the county of Norfolk as a man who farms 4,000 acres. A man of that importance, who says that this year he is turning down a great deal of his land to grass, must be an object lesson to the Minister, in whose district some of Mr. Ringer's land is situated. I hope that the Minister, in replying to the various questions, will realise the importance that this Debate is to the whole farming community. The population in the villages is little by little dwindling, and any question of giving employment on the land should be a great point in the policy of the Government. I therefore urge the Minister to answer the three questions which I have put in regard to the oyster beds, afforestation, and the marking of horticultural produce.
§ Viscount ELMLEY
The hon. Gentleman who preceded me (Lord Fermoy) and the Minister who opened the Debate are Norfolk Members, and I hope that the 1556 hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Mr. W. B. Taylor) will follow me. One hundred and fifty years ago the system of four-crop rotation was invented in Norfolk, and, when the hon. Member for South West Norfolk has spoken, we shall have had a four-Norfolk rotation. I am very glad that the Liberal party raised this subject to-day, because we spend far too little time on agriculture in this House. I hope that the Debate will have useful and far-reaching results. I am led to believe from the speeches that we have had that we are really going to have a three-party conference, and that in the speeches hon. Members have been sketching out the kind of subjects that ought to be discussed. The difficulties and troubles of the agricultural industry have not been too much exaggerated to-day. We must remember that the farmer is in a position quite different from a man in any other industry. For instance, the farmer has practically no control over his products, and, when a customer buys a farmers' products, they have usually been through several hands first; they go through the hands of the dealer and the retailer. That does not apply in the purchase of other products such as motor cars.
I recently had two glaring instances brought to my notice showing that our marketing system could be improved. Recently a certain city council asked for tenders for the supply of oats for their cart-horses. Six firms quoted, but only three were British, and they did not offer British oats. They offered oats from Chile. That is a state of affairs which, with a little imagination and energy, could be put right. [An HON. MEMBER "Free Trade!"] I do not think that it has anything to do with Free Trade at all. I was told that in Scotland recently they had Spanish onions coming in and being sold at £12 per ton, and at the same time in Spain they were selling Scottish onions at a very much lower figure. Do let us look into that subject and see if we cannot arrange things more suitably and expeditiously for everybody concerned.
If we would think a bit as we could at a conference, we could find ways of bringing down the unemployment figures tremendously. To-day, there are actually more unemployed in England and Wales than there are people engaged in the agricultural industry. A good many of the 1557 unemployed people living in towns originally came from the country, and I hope that somehow or other the call of nature will reassert itself, and that they will return to the country. It is often said that people who have lived in towns all their lives would not be any good in the country, but that is not an argument that will bear examination. During the War, within three months people were doing things very different from what they had been doing, and I am convinced that there is very little that you cannot teach people if they are really keen. It is not in order to refer to the respective merits of Protection and Free Trade; that was why I could not reply to the hon. Gentleman who interrupted me just now, but I hope that I shall be in order in saying this. I have been to a great many countries in the world where I have seen the respective farming conditions and the people who do the farming, and I am convinced that the agriculturist in a protected country is not any better off than we are. That applies especially to America.
There are one or two things that might be dune to make things a bit easier for the farmer. Many people have suggested to me an alteration of the Agricultural Credits Act, 1923. May I draw the attention of the Minister to Section 12, because if he could see his way to repeal it things could be made easier for the farmer and the Act would work better. In conclusion, I would say that we must go forward in agriculture in this country. To allow things to stagnate or to go back will do a great deal of harm. Everybody knows that we cannot grow enough food for all in this country, but we must try to get as far as possible along that road. Great things have been done by British agriculturists in the past along the lines of research and in stock breeding, and I am convinced that if we can tide over this period of depression which is affecting all parts of the world—in Germany and everywhere else people are complaining—and if we can get to work here, then in a few years' time things in this industry will be looking very different from what they are to-day.
§ Mr. W. B. TAYLOR
As one of the courses in the four-course rotation to which the Noble Lord has referred, and having the honour to represent the largest rural constituency in East Anglia—in 1558 area, if not in quality—I would like to say how much I appreciate the spirit of the Debate to-day. I have not had experience in previous Parliaments, but, although the benches are somewhat thinly occupied at the moment, the atmosphere in the House to-day in relation to agriculture is far keener than it was at the beginning of this Parliament. The urgency of a solution being found for the agricultural problem is the reason why I am troubling the House at the moment. Whatever may be the pleasure derived by protagonists on either side in making party points about agriculture, there is no one who does not feel that since the War agriculture has suffered as the result of the manner in which it has been neglected and overlcoked. I would like to thank the Ministry of Agriculture for the enhanced grants by which provision is now made for agricultural education through the County Agricultural Committee. In my own county, where I have the honour to be the vice-chairman of the County Agricultural Education Committee, we have just succeeded, with the co-operation of the Ministry, in taking a big step forward in interesting practical farmers in the Norfolk Agricultural Station, which is a semi-privately owned concern, and linking up both with the County Agricultural Committee, in a united policy of development in our county.
I think that in the difficult days facing agriculture those who are most strenuous in urging the claims of private enterprise and those who are equally strenuous in urging the claims of public ownership may well find a common ground for a similar understanding half way between the two, in the spirit of the very able oration of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). If we can harness science to practice through the closer co-operation of agricultural educational bodies with individual farms and holdings we shall put the industry in a better position to fend for itself at a time when it is fighting for its life. I say that Parliament ought to regard it as a debt of honour to do something for the agricultural industry. I am blaming no party, but Parliament has upon its records one of the saddest tragedies that ever befell an industry; an Act of Parliament was scrapped and the industry was thrown into depths of depression and poverty 1559 such as it has never experienced before. In listening to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs when he was making that appeal I wondered what it really meant, because as countrymen we cannot forget that we have been "sold" once. In 1923 I saw 10,000 or 12,000 agricultural labourers in Norfolk out on strike or, rather, locked out, as a result of the terrible agricultural slump then. It was no fault of the employer and no fault of the worker but was the deliberate result of a tragedy here, of broken vows in this House and the scrapping, after a few months, of an Act of Parliament which gave a four years' guarantee. We do not want a repetition of that. Do not ask us to enter into a conference until we know that we shall not be sold again half way through it and left derelict on the shore, with nothing but one more broken promise to the credit of the politician. It is only a very thin veil that hangs between the confidence of the countryside in this House and no confidence. We have suffered as an industry through the broken promises of this Mother of Parliaments.
Now, there is a new spirit in the House; there is a new outlook, I believe; there is a determination to get down to the fundamentals of the industry rather than to score petty partisan points across the House, which rather disgust people outside in view of our economic difficulties. I do not wish to weary the House, except to say this: In facing the present position I shall not say one word of condemnation of the Government which I have the honour to serve, but I should be untrue to the pledges I gave to my constituents if I did not take every reasonable opportunity of urging upon those who now occupy the Treasury Bench the vital necessity of getting to practical business and devising a sound agricultural policy. I should equally be lacking in courage were I not to repeat that I stand by the pledges that I gave as a Member of this party at the last Election, and I look to those who are responsible for the Government of this country to endeavour to give effect to those pledges, because they were pledged to do it equally with myself. In the light of what has taken place to-day I urge upon the Minister to 1560 take his courage in his hands, and I appeal to the Cabinet to realise that there is a great opportunity to remove grave economic injustices and real poverty from the homes of the peasants of this old country. Equally, there are political possibilities in the situation, because any Government which dares to advance along that road will find it is the road to power.
§ Sir ERNEST SHEPPERSON
I would like to congratulate the last speaker upon making a very excellent speech from the opposite side of the House. It is very pleasant for those on this side of the House representing agriculture to know that there are hon. Members on the opposite side devoting themselves to the genuine interests of the agricultural community. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. W. B. Taylor) said that Parliament owes it to agriculture to come to its assistance. We on this side of the House accept that definition of the duty of Parliament to agriculture. I sympathise with the Minister of Agriculture who, although he has given us an excellent speech, has had to dress his window with rather meagre articles. Nevertheless, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the attempt which he has made to deal with this question, although I think his speech will be received with very considerable disappointment by those interested in agriculture. We were waiting for this Debate to hear what help this great industry was going to receive from the present Government.
I want to add my testimony to what has been said in regard to the deplorable condition of British agriculture, and especially arable agriculture. I do not believe that a great many hon. Members on either side of the House fully realise the position of British arable agriculture. The Minister of Agriculture, to-night has given us no hope as to what we are to look for from the present Government. We still have the knowledge that the right hon. Gentleman and his party promised that when they got into office they would make farming pay. I am prepared to say definitely that arable agriculture does not pay to-day, and it requires special treatment in order that it may be made an economic possibility. I will deal with the arable side of agriculture. There are three crops which will be recognised as the essential problems in the agricultural industry, and 1561 they are wheat, barley and potatoes. The trouble in regard to the production of those crops is that the amount of money which the farmer receives when he sells his produce does not cover the cost of production, and there is a loss in producing those three crops.
I would like to impress the exact position on the Committee. The cost of the production of these crops is now 60 per cent. above the pre-War figures. The labour costs of agriculture, and arable agriculture in particular, are some 110 per cent. above the pre-War figures. The average wage to-day is 31s.—we all know that is low enough, and no one wishes it to be lower—but that 31s. is to be compared with 15s. pre-War, and that is 105 per cent. above the pre-War figure. Machinery and tradesmen's bills are about 70 per cent. higher, and the total costs are 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. above pre-War.
The receipts for the three products which I have mentioned are 5 or 10 per cent. below pre-War figures. British wheat is selling to-day at from 37s. to 38s. per quarter. The figure in 1912 and 1913 was 38s., and wheat is lower to-day than the pre-War figure. English wheat is selling at from 37s. to 38s. per quarter to-day, and the price of a loaf is 8½d., while in 1912–1913 the price of the loaf was 5½d. The price of barley was 30s. before the War, and to-day it is 25s., or 5s. lower. The value of potatoes before the War was 60s. per ton, and to-day they are selling at between 10s. and £1 per ton. Consequently, these three crops are much below pre-War figures by something like 60 per cent. In the face of facts like these, I submit that there is no possibility of arable agriculture being made a paying concern to-day.
What is the cause of this state of things? It is surplus production. There is a large surplus of production, and that has caused the lowering of prices. It may be said that the British farmer is not alone in this respect, and that, unfortunately, other countries have these surpluses. May I point out that the foreign farmers, by means of subsidies, are able to dump their wheat into this country at artificial prices? It has been said in this House to-night that this subsidised, or bounty-fed, if you like, German wheat and so on is not making any material difference to the price in this 1562 country. I submit that it is. Three weeks ago, the price of British wheat was gradually going up by 6d. to 1s. a week. Only a fortnight ago it reached the figure of 40s. to 41s. per quarter. Within the last two weeks, however, it has fallen by 1s. 6d. per quarter. I have made inquiries into this sudden drop in the price of wheat, and find that it is due to bounty-fed French wheat being unloaded in this country, and I have been given to understand that the quantity of French wheat coming into this country is nearly equal to the quantity of Canadian wheat. I put it to the Department that these continental wheats come into direct competition with our own British wheat. Canadian wheat is a hard wheat, and it is essential, for making a loaf of bread, to have a mixture of hard and soft wheats. British wheats are soft wheats, and the wheats dumped into this country from the Continent are also soft wheats, which at once directly displace British wheat. That is one of the reasons for the present low price of British wheat.
With regard to barley, the reason for the surplus is probably that there is a decrease in the consumption of beer and spirits. With regard to potatoes, there is a surplus in this country, though I do not know the estimated figure. One cause of that surplus is the fact that we had an excellent year last year, with not only an increased tonnage per acre, but also an increase of some 13,000 in the acreage. That, however, is not the only reason for the present slump. Two months have been taken off our selling period for British potatoes. Two or three years ago, we could look forward to selling English potatoes up to the end of May, when the Jersey potatoes came in, but for the last two or three years imported new potatoes have been coming in, at first from the South of France, then from Spain, and this year from Algeria. New potatoes are not now waiting till the end of May to come in, but are coming in in April, so that the British farmer has two months taken from his period of the year when it is possible for him to sell his potatoes. These are the causes of the trouble. What are the remedies? I would suggest that a possible remedy consists in taking action to prevent this dumped, bounty-fed wheat coming into this country. I know it is said that that would be contrary to trade agreements, 1563 but I cannot understand this making of trade agreements. When we make a trade agreement—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have been listening very attentively to the hon. Member, and was waiting for him to come to the point that he desired to place before the Minister. If he can show that what he desires can be done administratively, without legislation, it will be in order, but if it cannot be done without legislation it will be out of order.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I bow to your Ruling. I realise how difficult it is to suggest remedies, because, possibly, there is no remedy that would not mean legislation. Therefore, I will not pursue the subject of remedies. The Minister, in the course of his speech, made reference to marketing, and I thoroughly agree with what he said. He has also made reference to land drainage, and I agree as to the necessity for that. Further, he has referred to the action taken in connection with agricultural education and research. I have realised, having considerable practical experience, the great extent to which agricultural research can help to increase the yield of British land. It is possible, by research into varieties of seeds and varieties of artificial manures, to increase the yield of practically every crop we grow. I appeal to the Minister, as to all Member of the House, to let us get rid of any party political bias. I hope that there will be a possibility of the three parties within the House coming to some agreement by which we can help this, the greatest and the oldest industry of the country, this great agricultural industry, out of its present state.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I should like to reinforce what has just been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson). I know that I am very near the borderline of being out of order, but I think I can say, as has been said many times in this Debate, that the Government might have done very much more than they did do during the months of December and January in order to prevent in some way or other—either by withholding their consent and not entering the convention, or in some other way administratively—the subsidised and irregular dumping, not only of wheat, 1564 to which my hon. Friend referred, but, considering the case of Scotland as well as England, of oats. My hon. Friend gave some very alarming figures, enough to cause disquietude in the mind of every person engaged in agriculture in this country. What he said about wheat in England was still more applicable to oats, and even to potatoes, in Scotland.
It is a remarkable fact, which alarmed me, and no doubt would alarm other Members of the House when they came to realise it, that, while in 1920 there were no German oats sent into this country at all, and in 1924 there were only 27,000 cwts., last year, because of the subsidy to which my hon. Friend referred, there were no less than 2,500,000 cwts. of German oats dumped in this country. That is a state of affairs which is quite intolerable. Commercial treaties have been referred to. I am not going to discuss commercial treaties now, but I have always maintained, and I am sure that every other Member of the House, in whatever industry he is interested, must maintain, that, when any Government enters into a treaty of that kind, they never have in their minds any thought of irregular dumping of this kind. When you enter into a commercial treaty, you go in all square to the four corners of Heaven. You do not go in with a mental reservation that the moment you enter into the treaty you are going to subsidise the industry with which you are dealing to such an extent as to make it impossible for the industrialists in the other country to produce at all. I am perfectly certain that, if His Majesty's Government had realised that, they would never have entered the convention, and would never have allowed the President of the Board of Trade to go to Geneva and discuss the whole question without giving him an order to make it perfectly plain to Germany and France that we should not carry on—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but are the present Government responsible for this commercial treaty?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Yes; if I may say so with the greatest possible respect, they did ratify it, and, consequently, while I know that I am verging on the bounds of being out of order, I felt bound to say as much as I have said. What I have said about oats is equally 1565 true with regard to potatoes. In my constituency, on the eastern side of Ross-shire—one of the most fertile parts of the country—there are, I believe, 100,000 tons of potatoes lying in the pits to-day, mile after mile of them, and the local farmers are asking the inhabitants of the villages to come and take them away for nothing. The industry of potato-growing is a very valuable one, and, in proportion to the amount raised, it employs more local labour than any other form of the industry. The farmers in my part of Scotland are in a great deal of disquietude. Are they going to keep on these farm servants to cultivate the same number of acres next year or are they not? If they dismiss these servants, what happens? You are driving the most able-bodied men in the country into the labour market of the neighbouring towns and adding to unemployment all over the country. What chance has the miserable fellow born in the town against the strong agricultural labourer who has lived in the country, in competition for labourers' work? The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) referred to the fact that the small industries in the local villages had been destroyed. The attitude of the present Government is going to destroy much more than the small industries. It will destroy the only great industry in the rural districts, namely, the basic industry of agriculture.
I was astonished and disappointed at the unsatisfactory way in which the Minister dealt with this problem. He produced a speech which, in ordinary circumstances, would have been a good speech. If we had been living in times of peace in the industry and the industry had been flourishing, it was just the type of speech we should have expected. The right hon. Gentleman pretended that the industry was flourishing. That is my grievance. He did not face the facts. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman when he replies will face the fact that this is not a peaceful or flourishing time in the industry. It is a grave and difficult time, and instead of appearing at the Box with every element of hope and satisfaction, I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would have taken entirely the other line, faced the facts and told the House that the industry was in a bad way, and that he 1566 was perfectly prepared to welcome any such proposal as that which my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs made.
The hon. Gentleman who preceded me made an attack on the good faith of the Government in regard to the Corn Production Act in the time when I was a Member of the Government. What were the facts? It was found that the proposals contained in the Act were so expensive to the country that they could not be carried on. That was an Act passed by one party, though it may have been a Coalition, but we are now anxious to see that this industry should no longer be the puppet of one party or the other, or the pet of one party, but should be for a time the object of the good will of all parties in the State, to whichever side of the House they belong. My right hon. Friend made a very eloquent and earnest appeal, and I want to know from the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply what is the answer of the Government to that appeal? It is very well known that men of different political persuasions go into conference with preconceived notions. I have very often been in conference with men with whom I never thought I could ever come to any agreement, but, after a time, when you have rubbed shoulders with each other, and there has been the clash of one idea upon another, and one thought upon another, you suddenly begin to see that there is some point in the view taken by the man who is opposing you.
I protest that the only thing to do now, particularly as the Government have failed during their period of office to do anything at all, is to attempt—and the attempt should come from the Government, and nobody else—to get the three parties in the House into conference. From my experience of public life, I am convinced that the moment you get men of good will of all parties, who are deeply and sincerely anxious about the interests of the industry to do something, after a time, however difficult it may appear to begin with, they will come to an agreement which, in the long run, will redound to their own good sense, and, best of all, to the interests of the country and of industry.
§ Mr. ROSBOTHAM
I am sure that every Member of the Committee rejoices 1567 that we have had an opportunity of discussing the very important and national question of agriculture. I am really sorry for our Minister of Agriculture, because it has been impossible for him to announce a policy when he is only in a minority Government. I welcome most heartily the historic declaration which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the Leader of the Liberal party, has made this afternoon, that we should enter into a three-party conference. From the time I have spent in this House, I can see nothing whatever will be done for agriculture unless we all get together. The declaration which the right hon. Gentleman made to-day will become historic. We all make mistakes. We may make them on this side and the Conservative Members will make them on the other side. We have the Leader of the Liberal party in favour of a three-party conference, and I say, let us accept that invitation and get to work, try to do something and sink this party spirit and party policy.
Another right hon. Gentleman for whom I was extremely sorry this afternoon was Minister of Agriculture in the Conservative Government. His defence of the policy of his administration was even weaker than that of our own Minister. They failed to carry out their own pledges, and we have not yet had a chance. Give us a trial. We have been in office only a few months, and they were in office five years. What did they do? Practically nothing! A million acres of arable land went out of cultivation while they were in office, and yet when we have been in office only a few months, they ask us why we do not present our policy and they say we have done nothing for agriculture.
I am not going to enter into questions of policy to-night. I want to draw the attention of the Minister to a few items in the Estimates. First of all, in regard to flax development, I can remember the time when I was a lad when the flax industry of this country was flourishing and we had a flax mill in our own neighbourhood. I want to ask the Minister what benefits we are to receive from the £22,400 that is being spent on the development of the industry? What steps are being taken to encourage the 1568 growing of flax and for the improvement of varieties so that we shall get a bigger output?
The shell fish industry is very important for some parts of the country. It affects many divisions, as it affects mine. There are great possibilities in its development in Lancashire if we can get some encouragement, but I am sorry to say there is only £715 set apart for development and research. That is a very small amount and I should like to hear what the Minister proposes to do with it and what possibilities there are for establishing cleansing tanks for the mussel industry and further encouragement in that respect. With regard to agricultural research and education, great benefit will be derived from any money spent upon it. We have a very important research station at Ormskirk connected with the introduction of new varieties of potatoes free from disease of every kind. What we want is more research in that direction and more encouragement. Much has been said about over-production in the potato crop. We have over-production of certain varieties of potatoes but under-production of varieties that are in demand, and what we want is research to find out the varieties of potatoes which will equal the main crop in quality and popular demand. We want more new early varieties as well.
I am very keenly interested in small holdings, as I know others are. I am sorry to say there is going to be less expenditure in small holdings. The Estimate this year is £915,100 less this year than last. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us what are the reasons. I will give one or two of my own. There are 500,000 fewer men on the land to-day than there were in 1871. That is a serious matter and, if the Lord Privy Seal had been here, we could have shown him that the development of the land and small holdings would have taker about 500,000 men off the unemployment list. That is worthy of consideration. We are paying millions to the foreigner for what we could produce at home. I know I shall be told small holdings are not a success, but in Lancashire, with regard to our land settlement scheme, our failures were only three per cent., and that is a small percentage even in ordinary estate management. We took ex-service men. One of our tenants has no legs and others are suffering from shell shock, and yet they have made a success.
1569 The Ministry has no power to acquire land for small holdings and has no power over any county council which does not carry out the movement. That is one reason why there is a decrease in the amount required. In my opinion, the holdings should be increased from 50 to 100 acres. 50 acres is rather small in some districts, especially for grazing, and that is another reason. Another is that, under the 1926 Act, cottage holdings are only created to be sold to those connected with agriculture. I think we should create and adapt small cottage holdings to be sold to any suitable tenant. The choice of tenants is very much restricted. I will give an instance that came under our Lancashire Committee. We had two good applicants, old teamsmen, who were prepared to purchase, but the Ministry would not accept them because they were now working with threshing machinery.
We ought to remove all restrictions and create cottage holdings to let to suitable tenants whatever industry they came from. A lot of miners and other workers have come from the land. If they want to go back to it, why should we not encourage them? That is a point worthy of the Minister's consideration. The Ministry ought to bear the full cost of any loss in any schemes approved by county agricultural committees. At present, they only bear 75 per cent. and the remainder falls on the county rate. There again is a drawback. Let the Ministry adopt a bold policy, pay the full grant and not restrict the amount in that way. I have a few figures. I have given them to several Members and I have a few extra copies. This is public property now and I am at liberty to use it. These are figures connected with an estate of 1,200 acres which the Lancashire County Council took over in 1919 for the purpose of land settlement. In 1919, there was a population of 60, and to-day there are 261. There were 32 horses in 1919 and now there are 45. There was only one cow. To-day there are 409 cattle—an increase of 408 on 1,200 acres in 11 years.
If any hon. Members will go to Lancashire and let our county land agent know, he will be pleased to show them some of the finest herds there are in the country—16, 17 or 18 being kept by a man and his wife, and probably a lad engaged to help them to milk. That is a step in the right direction. There were only seven pigs at that date. To-day 1570 there are 170. The most startling figures are with regard to poultry. This estate is chiefly grazing, market gardening and poultry. In 1919 the census was 350 poultry, and to-day it is 27,500. Some of them are doing very nicely with the poultry farms, but they adopt scientific methods. It is no use anyone going into the poultry industry unless he thoroughly understands it and proceeds on scientific lines. The men who are carrying it out are ex-service men who went in for training and took these little places. There is a corresponding increase in geese, ducks, goats and sheep. Those figures show that there is something in the small holding movement to get men and women back to the land. They make good citizens. Land is one of the most honest things. It pays back what you put into it. Nature is a good teacher and we learn much in the country districts. These people make good citizens. We want good men for the railways, men with clear eyesight for drivers and signalmen. We also get our best policemen from the country.
I have a suggestion to make with regard to land which may be taken over in part payment for Estate Duties or Death Duties. Such land should be handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture to be developed as small holdings, or in the best way possible. I am pleased to have had an opportunity of saying a few words in connection with the agricultural industry, and I trust that we shall take advantage of the great offer which has been made this afternoon by a highly respected and experienced statesman who has held the high office of Prime Minister in this country and to whom this country owes a debt of gratitude for what he did during the period of the War. His advice is worthy of consideration, and I hope that henceforth our Minister of Agriculture and our leaders will take advantage of the offer and call a three-party conference of those who are willing to give of their best in connection with agriculture and try and do something of real benefit for the ancient and honourable industry of which we are all proud.
§ Sir WILLIAM WAYLAND
I do not want to enter into any political matter or to add criticisms based upon the paralysis of the agricultural industry, but to impress upon the Ministry that the sum allocated for investigating 1571 diseases of cattle is totally insufficient for the purpose. The Minister stated that it amounted to £50,000, and that it included all live-stock. Unfortunately, in this country diseases amongst sheep have increased considerably, and there is no money whatever earmarked for investigation into sheep diseases, with the exception of about £200 or £300 which has been allocated to North Wales. I know that the Minister is very sympathetic, and that latterly he agreed to allow Wye College £500 a year for one year, and £350 a year for another three years. That is insufficient, and the college has had to find similar amounts from contributors.
I do not say that the Ministry of Agriculture should find every penny of the money required for research work, but they could find a great deal more than is the case at the present moment. What is a sum of £50,000 spread over the whole of the United Kingdom, when it is necessary to have three or four times, even 10 times, the number of scientific investigators we have at the present moment? What have they been doing, or what has anyone been doing with any success, in regard to investigations into foot-and-mouth disease which has spread throughout the country and for which no cure has been found? I believe that very little investigation has been conducted, and, certainly, whatever investigation has been conducted, so far no success has been achieved. It is the same with regard to parasitical forms of disease in sheep. One of the veterinary officers of the Board of Agriculture has reported in the "Agricultural Journal" of the Ministry that these diseases are increasing considerably in his district, and that they bring in their train severe losses to the flockmasters. It is impossible for a flock-master to investigate or to experiment, but the Ministry can certainly increase the amount which is at present allocated to scientific research. I know that the Minister is sympathetic, and I hope that he will be able to induce the Treasury to increase the amount because, as several speakers have said, no money can be better spent.
The remarks which were made by an hon. Member on the opposite side in regard to tuberculosis in cattle were totally unwarranted. I believe that the majority of the pedigree herds in this country are 1572 free from tuberculosis. Many more herds are being regularly examined, but the hon. Gentleman jumped to the conclusion that all those herds which were at present unexamined and had not been tested with the tuberculin test must be suffering from tuberculosis. It is a mistake. We are certainly, gradually and slowly, overcoming tuberculosis. I agree with him on one point. To pasteurise or sterilise milk is only to get rid of one evil by creating another. It is a mistake to imagine that by pasteurising milk and giving it to children you are going to do any good. I do not agree with his figures as to the number of children and others who every year are killed through drinking tuberculous milk. I think that his figures are very much overstated. Children and others are killed as a result of different causes, and I believe that milk does considerably more good than harm.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) spoke about butter-blending. Recently we went to the Ministry with a deputation with regard to the deception practised upon the public by butter blenders. The Minister stated that he could not see how he could possibly make an order under the Merchandise Marks Act compelling the proper labelling of packages at present issued by the butter blenders in the dairy producing counties, because his experts informed him that it would be impossible to carry it out. We answered that the law, in our opinion, had been carried out in regard to artificial colouring. He replied that his experts said that it had been a dead letter. We have proof to the contrary. If we know that a fraud is being perpetrated, and we consider the extent to which it is being perpetrated for the purpose of gain, not only upon farmers but upon the public, surely we ought to be able to pass an Act whereby we can not only protect the farmer, but the public as well. I hope that the Minister will go into the question once again, and that he will not pay too much attention to his experts, but will be prepared to make the Order for which we have asked for a long time.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
We have been labouring under a certain difficulty this afternoon. The Debates on the Estimates are generally Debates on 1573 the policy of the Government, but in this case the Government have no policy at all. I have been in this House for a number of years, and I do not think that I have ever heard a Minister, introducing his Estimates, who had such a poverty of fare to offer to the consideration of this Committee. Even the matters with which the right hon. Gentleman pretends to deal, he supports with miserable feebleness. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Wayland) has brought forward instances of the lack of support given by the Government in regard to agricultural research. If the Minister of Agriculture prided himself and took credit for his party on the importance which he and they attach to agricultural research, his own statement showed to what length the Government are prepared to go in the matter.
I would ask the Committee to consider the case of the Royal Veterinary College. My right hon. Friend the late Minister of Agriculture appointed a Departmental Committee to consider this matter. Since the present Minister of Agriculture came into office, the Departmental Committee have issued a very strong Report. This institution is the only one of its kind in England, and is of vital importance to the agricultural industry. The structure has been condemned by the local authority as being unsafe, and the Departmental Committee reports that £300,000 is needed to put it into a proper state of repair. The present position amounts to a national disgrace. The Government have offered £100,000, on the pound-per-pound basis. Where does the right hon. Gentleman think that the other £200,000 is to come from? His friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken good care that there are not many surplus £200,000 lying about in this country. It is humiliating that, in regard to a pivotal institution of this sort, a Government which is spending hundreds of millions, of pounds in other directions cannot find enough money to put the building into a proper state of repair. That shows how much interest the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues take in scientific matters for the benefit of agriculture.
Another action which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have taken is to close the show yards of this country to tuberculin-tested cattle. I should like to add my protest to that of hon. Mem- 1574 bers on this side of the House against an action which is going to inflict grave injury on the whole movement for tuberculin-tested herds, and also grave injury to our great agricultural shows, for which this country is famous, which play such an important part in our agricultural industry.
The position is little short of a scandal. On the eve of the election the Government gave a most specific and official pledge that farming must be made to pay. We now learn that at the time that statement was made they had no agricultural policy, and after having been in office for a year they still have no agricultural policy. I do not think there has ever been a more cynical instance of offering something to the electors to catch votes without meaning to go any distance in implementing the promise. It is quite clear that when that pledge was given to the country and that promise was held forth, the Government never meant to implement it; it was nothing but obtaining votes under false pretences.
The Government have been singularly fortunate in many respects. The right hon. Gentleman has been fortunate in getting an agricultural conference to advise him and his Government on what policy they should adopt. I would remind the Committee that one of the first things that the late Government did was to summon an identical conference. The late Government were returned in October, 1924, and within a month they issued invitations for an agricultural conference of precisely a similar nature to the conference now sitting, but the invitation was declined by the representatives of the farm labourers and, therefore, it was not possible for us to hold the conference. The right hon. Gentleman has been more fortunate. The conference began its sittings last January and we are entitled to hear something from the Minister as to the proceedings of the conference. What are the prospects of the conference continuing, and what answer have the Government to make to the demands put forward by the conference? On the 19th March last an official communique was issued setting forth certain conclusions at which the conference had unanimously arrived. What is the Government attitude towards those 1575 conclusions? The Minister of Agriculture mentioned the conference to-day but did not tell us a single thing about it.
There are several questions which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary, who is to reply. The conference has not met since the 21st March. It met in January, and I understand that it sat every week until the end of March, but for the last six or seven weeks it has not met at all, and, although we have pressed the right hon. Gentleman repeatedly at question time, we have received no explanation why the conference adjourned on that date and why it has not been summoned since. The Committee will desire to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary some reason why this impasse has taken place. Is the conference going to meet again? Has the conference broken down? It is time the Government told the country how the position stands. The leader of the Liberal party made an extremely interesting speech, as he usually does. He asked the Government to summon another conference, a conference representative of the three political parties. We have not heard the reply of the Government to that invitation. We all know that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) when he was Prime Minister had a passion for conferences, and it is clear that he has not lost that passion. I should like to suggest to him and his colleagues that they could help matters materially by putting their cards upon the table.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I will deal with that in a minute. At the beginning of this Parliament, the Prime Minister invited us to form something in the nature of a Council of State. We have in this House all three parties, and we are discussing, and can discuss on future occasions, agriculture. It would help matters considerably if all three parties would put forward the proposals in detail which they consider to be feasible so that we could see how far it is possible to arrive at a common policy. I do not see the necessity for closed diplomacy. What would be the first thing that an inter-party conference would do? The first thing they would do would be to ask what the expert agriculturists of 1576 this country consider to be the right measures. That answer is being supplied by the agricultural conference now sitting. What on earth is the sense of appointing another conference before the first conference has finished its work? Hon. Members below the Gangway and the Government can help matters by making some reply to the proposals which up to date have been put forward by the agricultural conference.
What are the facts? The Agricultural Conference passed a resolution demanding a policy which would help cereal growing. Directly that was known the leader of the Conservative party stated that he was prepared to agree to a guaranteed price for wheat and to measures to prevent the dumping of bounty-fed imported oats. He is the only leader of any party who has made any reply to that very important resolution passed by the conference, and it is up to the Government to tell us what contribution they have to make in the matter; and the Liberal party might do the same. What was the other resolution which the conference passed? It was a resolution asking that home-grown meat and bread should be supplied to the Forces. To that the leader of the Conservative party at once gave a reply. Therefore, we have made what contribution it is possible for an Opposition to make, and it is now up to the Government to produce their policy and say how far they are willing to go to meet the demand put forward unanimously by the representatives of the farmers, farm workers and landowners, in the Agricultural Conference. We have heard a certain amount of recrimination this afternoon, but I think the recrimination on our part has been justified. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Dallas) made a series of perfectly unjustified and untrue statements in the course of his speech.
§ Viscount WOLMER
He accused the leader of the Conservative party of having made a promise at the General Election of 1924 which he never did make, and, when confronted with the words of the promise, refused to withdraw. I have the words of the leader of the Conservative party with me and I can read them to the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read them!"] He said: 1577I regard it as vital that the great basic industry of agriculture should be not merely preserved but restored to a more prosperous condition as an essential balancing element in the economic and social life of the country. For a permanent solution of the agricultural problem a common agreement between all parties is desirable, and the Unionist party, if returned to power, will summon a representative conference in the hope of arriving at an agreed policy by which the arable acreage may be maintained and regular employment and adequate wages secured to the agricultural workers.That promise was carried out to the letter. The first action of my right hon. Friend was to summon that agricultural conference.
§ Mr. DALLAS
I suggest that the words which the hon. Member has just read were the words I quoted in my speech.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The hon. Member said the exact opposite. He said that a pledge had been given, and I am reading to him the terms of the pledge. The first pledge was that a conference should be called. The next was:The Act for the regulation of wages passed in the last Session of Parliament shall be maintained.That pledge was carried out. The next pledge was:We shall continue to agricultural ratepayers the relief already given during our previous tenure of office.That pledge was carried out. The next:We shall support the provision of agricultural credits.That pledge was carried out. The next:We shall promote the provision of small cottage holdings by affording facilities for occupation and ownership.That pledge was carried out. Every single one of the pledges given was carried out.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The hon. Member has just heard me read the terms of the pledge. There was no pledge to do that. These were given as contributions towards bringing prosperity to agriculture. Let me read what the hon. Member himself said at the last Election:The Labour party is deeply concerned about agriculture which, having been the plaything of both the older parties, is now passing through critical times both for farmers and for farm workers. On this question the Labour party stands 1578 for a systematic plan of economic development by the transference of land to public ownership, the establishment of security of tenure for farmers, the provision of credits on fair terms, the development of organised and collective marketing, the stabilising of the price of agricultural produce, the protection of the farm worker by an adequate minimum wage, a scheme of unemployment insurance, making easier the access to holdings, the provision of better and untied cottages.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The hon. Member asks me what is wrong with that? I say it is admirable, but not a single one of them has been carried out, and the hon. Member has the face to come here and compare our record with the record of his own party. When the Conservative party was in office we did more to help the agricultural industry than any previous Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is why it is so prosperous!"] We took the rates off farm land. We took measures to reduce freights, gave more help for rural roads, and for local government, than any previous administration, assisted the sugar beet industry, passed the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, which the Minister of Agriculture has told us this afternoon has produced the most extraordinary results. We passed the Merchandise Marks Act which, in conjunction with the National Marks scheme, has helped towards the great development of the egg trade. We did that entirely in the fact of opposition of hon. Members opposite. They fought practically every one of those Measures to the utmost of their ability, and then they went to the country and promised that they would "make farming pay." It is a disgrace to our Parliamentary institutions that a Government should give a pledge like that without having the slightest intention of ever attempting to carry it out. We are entitled again to press the Minister to produce his agricultural policy. In view of the extremely unsatisfactory statement he has made, showing that he has no policy at all and never has had any policy, I beg to move to reduce the Vote by the sum of £100.
§ Dr. ADDISON
It is not easy, in view of the temper which prevailed in the earlier parts of this Debate, to fall into the spirit of the Noble Lord who has just spoken, and I think it would not be fair, certainly not to the vast and important 1579 subject before us, to take too much account of the way in which the Noble Lord allowed himself to indulge in those recriminations which earlier he had deplored. It is rather a way that the Noble Lord has. I can understand that, in view of the record which he had at the back of his mind all the time, he naturally made the most of what had not been achieved during the 10 months of office of the present Government. I shall try to get back to the bigger issues which are behind this Debate, and to address myself to some of the chief that have been brought before the Committee to-day.
Party politics and recriminations apart, the general tenor of this Debate has been quite unlike that of most of its predecessors. We maintain our party labels, but when we come to address ourselves to definite proposals designed to promote the revival of agriculture, the labels seem to fade into one another rather. The reason, I suggest, is that the nature of the problem is changing; the position of agriculture in the world is altered. It is not capable of being dealt with according to the old methods. When there is an American farm board buying its own wheat in the market, when there is a Canadian pool and when these two great organisations between them are holding 60 weeks' supply or thereabouts it cannot be said that there is a free market in wheat. It cannot be said that the old conditions of free supply in response to demand are prevailing. They are not. The conditions are not the same. They have developed, in this respect, since the War, and that is why I suggest that behind the speeches which have been made there is, shall I say, a groping towards a common measure of agreement, which is most refreshing and encouraging to the House of Commons and which seems, to a very great extent, to obliterate old time party labels.
I shall come later on to the very remarkable and significant speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and before doing so I wish to take two or three of the major issues which have emerged in this Debate. I take, first, that mentioned by the Noble Lord first because it happens to be freshest in the recollection of the Committee. He complained, with small reason, that the Minister's statement betrayed a declen- 1580 sion of interest in research and education. All I have to say is that if the provision of an additional capital sum of £500,000 to forward the interests of research and education is a mark of declining interest, it is a very unusual one. In fact, not only have we provided that additional sum but we have followed it up by indications to the county councils to submit helpful suggestions. I agree very largely with what the Noble Lord and another hon. Member said as to the position of agricultural research. I think myself that the position of this country with regard to agricultural research is a discredit to an intelligent community. For the last few years we have been spending millions in compensation for animals which have been burned in connection with outbreaks of disease. In connection with foot-and-mouth disease we have spent £10,000,000 in compensation for animals which were destroyed because they were thought to be infectious. I am not blaming anybody. I am only stating the facts.
It was only the other day that we began to spend any substantial amount on research in the cause of the prevention of that disease, after we had poured out at least £10,000,000 in the way I have described; and that remark applies also to our attitude with regard to many other animal diseases. I think it was the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) who said that if we could prevent the ravages of swine fever and other diseases, the agricultural industry would be saved not thousands of pounds but millions of pounds and that statement is no exaggeration. The Committee will remember that some years ago, in regard to medical research and scientific industrial research, the Government of the day, of which I was a Member, got together a committee to exercise a general oversight and to give comprehensive advice as to the lines which that research might take, the types of cases where research might be undertaken, and so on. We are now engaged in considering a provisional report with the idea of seeing whether we can adopt that kind of suggestion to agricultural research, and it seems to me, without being committed at this stage to the recommendations, which we have only seen for a few days, that the Committee offers the most helpful possible suggestions.
1581 It is quite evident, that if we are going to have organised, well-directed research, designed to remove the chief causes of waste and loss in agriculture, we must have some machinery of this kind. That is why this Committee has been investigating the matter during the last few weeks. The grants not only from the Ministry itself, but from the Empire Marketing Board, are very large, and with the co-operation of some of his colleagues behind him, as the Noble Lord knows, we are continuing to spend vast sums of money on research, mainly agricultural. I believe that, as a matter of fact, we have spent this year over £400,000.
There is another aspect of this matter, which has not been referred to and it is a very vital one in regard to the future of agriculture, and that is the bridging of what may be described as the gap between education and the discovery of new methods and the mind of the agriculturist. I do not think we have yet succeeded in bridging that gap, and that is why we have sent asking the county councils all over the country to make suggestions. We are getting a number of very useful suggestions, and our farm institutes, from one end of the country to the other, are, of course, getting increasingly in touch with a larger number of agriculturists. Nevertheless, I do not think, if we look at what has been done in Denmark and some other countries, we have yet by any means reached where we ought to reach. We have not brought home to the mind of the agriculturist, especially the young agriculturist, all the possibilities of improvement and better methods which latter-day discovery places at his disposal. We are actively following up every useful suggestion that is being made, and in many counties very excellent expedients are being adopted and tried out.
May I come to the major point that was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), in his very interesting and helpful speech? I agree with him that we cannot exaggerate the importance of agriculture in the economic life of the nation, and being a villager myself, I perhaps have a feeling of response to what the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said when he recalled the decline of some of the cottages in his village in Wales, which are 1582 exactly paralleled by my own knowledge of the cottages in the village in Lincolnshire from which I myself come. It is the same East and West, North and South. It is not a problem of to-day or of 10 months. The hon. Baronet, I think, a, little under-estimated the importance of the cereal position in agriculture. It is quite true that many branches of agriculture still pay. It is true also, as he said, that it is not one industry, but a congeries of industries. There is little in common between the growing of fruit and the rearing of pedigree stock. There is very little in common either as to method or experience or anything else. It is a series of industries, and some of them do pay.
The importance of the cereal part, however, is not represented at all by the fact that the cereal production is only 10 per cent. of the total production. That would give a wrong impression of the vast importance of the cereal part in the economy of agriculture. As a matter of fact, a very large part of the land, at all events in England even under the most modern system requires to be turned up by the plough every few years; otherwise, it degenerates into rough grass. That is the explanation of the remarkable fact that, while there has been a decline in arable acreage of something about 1,000,000 acres during the last few years, there has not been during that time an increase in the number of livestock. That is why the amount of cattle food producible by cereal cultivation in many parts of England greatly exceeds the amount of food which can be produced by the same land laid down to grass.
When the hon. Baronet came to consider what we ought to do with regard to the cereal position, he recognised, as of course we all do, that we are here embarking on questions of policy and new legislation which are not an issue today; but, on that question, as it brings up an administrative matter, I must refer to the criticism made by the Noble Lord and one or two of his Friends as to the attitude of the Government in connection with the commercial treaties which have been concluded. It is very easy to say, "Oh, well, just denounce the treaties." That is the kind of thing which is very easy to say, and which is usually said by the people who have not to do it. 1583 What is the fact about these treaties? There is a whole series of them. The German treaty was concluded and worked out by the last Government. I am not blaming them. I am just stating the history. The final operation of this treaty was made conditional upon an international convention which was to be held later on, and the ratification of that convention was made by the present Government.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) asked my right hon. Friend why he did not suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that he should go to Geneva with a free hand. The fact is that this was an elaborate Treaty affecting many of our industries, some of them in a most advantageous way to ourselves, and that it was worked out in detail by the previous Government. It is all very well to say that the Minister should have had a free hand, but the Noble Lord knows that if he himself had gone to Geneva he would not have had a free hand. Very likely his was one of the hands that drafted the Treaty. It is a very complicated document, it affects our trades in all sorts of directions, and it must be considered in its wide and general ramifications. In any case a year's notice must be given on the 30th of June in any one year if it is desired to negotiate a new treaty. It really is not practical politics to suggest that we should deal with this question of cereal farming by the denunciation of a bunch of complicated foreign treaties, and nobody knows that better than the Noble Lord or the right hon. Gentleman who is sitting beside him.
There are one or two questions arising out of the Treaty on which I might say a word. The imports of oats from Germany have increased in the manner described, but we have to remember that the imports of oats from other parts of the world have shown nearly an equal decline. For example, the import of oats from other countries was 6,298,000 cwts. in 1928 and 4,575,000 cwts. in 1929. Whilst I am not in the least minimising the importance of the desolating effect upon prices of these bounty-fed German oats, we have to remember that their importation was coincident with an almost equivalent reduction in the importation of oats from other countries. [Interruption.] Those were not bounty-fed, and 1584 I am afraid I could not say what was the price. The German oats were bounty-fed to the extent of 3s. per cwt. But there is nothing new in that. This bounty-feeding of German cereal exports has been going on for some years. It is not something that has happened this year for the first time. It is true that they have increased the amount this year and are likely still further to increase it.
§ Viscount LYMINGTON
May I point out that the price of oats this year is something like 50 per cent. less than last year?
§ Dr. ADDISON
Yes, but that is not accounted for by the 3s. per cwt. bounty on German oats. The decline in price is vastly more than that.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Did we understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he anticipated that the importation of German oats in the near future would be more than last year?
§ Dr. ADDISON
I was saying that it had been reported that the bounty on German cereal exports might be increased—the rate of bounty. I do not know whether it will be or not, but there is a report to that effect. In view of the complex international obligations, none of which could be denounced until 30th June at the earliest, no Government could possibly have given notice to terminate the Treaty under existing conditions; and it must also be recognised that the soft wheat which has had so bad an effect, so far as prices are concerned, on the English markets is Argentine wheat, which is not bounty fed. Therefore, we must seek a solution of the troubles of cereal growing along other lines than the denunciation of foreign treaties.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the information which the Minister of Agriculture promised should be given in reply to a question of mine? It is quite essential that we should know the price of wheat which comes from the Argentine. What is the case as regards all those large importations of Argentine wheat? Is the price of Argentine wheat lower in this country than it is in the country of origin, after making allowance for the freights? That is very important. After 1585 all, that is the gist of the whole question about which we were promised information.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The price of Argentine wheat in this country is the price in the Argentine, plus an equivalent of 7d. per cwt., which is the cost of transport and marketing. There is no evidence so far as I have been able to collect the figures to show that the price here is lower than it is in the Argentine. I come back to the point which I was making, which is that I am quite sure that no Government would have proceeded to the relief of the cereal growers' troubles by denouncing foreign treaties. I suggest that we have to seek that relief which will recognise the fact that the marketing of this commodity is now being dealt with in circumstances entirely unprecedented in pre-War years. We have to adapt our machinery to those circumstances, and it is perfectly clear that they can only be dealt with by legislation introduced into the House of Commons, and I will not court being called to order by anticipating what can be done in that direction. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I make no apology whatever for making that statement.
There is one indication which I can give, and that is brought out by replies given to a number of questions on the subject of marketing, and I would like to devote 10 minutes to that important subject. The Opposition, I understand, suggested that we have not made sufficient use of the opportunities before us under the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act. I suggest that, if there is one thing upon which the Ministry has been active, it is the development of marketing organisation, and in some respects it, has been attended with unusual success. It shows what can be done if you only have the proper organisation.
Some time ago I was discussing with an important retailer the possibilities of dealing in a better way with potatoes, and he put to me the point, which is a reply to what was said by one of my hon. Friends, that grading and marking and standardisation and so on are not everything to the producer. I agree, but they are an important ingredient in obtaining a good price. The public have become accustomed, quite properly, to asking for 1586 their goods in the form in which they want them, and, if a shopkeeper can supply potatoes, or whatever the commodity may be, in the form that this customer wants, and of a standard quality, without any misgiving, it is a very important element in his business. This particular trader, in reply to my question as to his price for potatoes when they were making only 38s. a ton in Lincolnshire that day, said that he had opened a bag that morning, and at the bottom of the bag there were 27 lbs. of small potatoes and earth. "I was not," he said, "buying the man's freehold; I was buying his potatoes." That was a perfectly sound objection, and grading, marking, and standardisation of packages are very important ingredients in marketing.
I desire to correct a statement which my right hon. Friend made, at my prompting, early in the Debate. The £55,000 which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is giving to us to help in marketing is not in this Vote. A Supplementary Estimate will be submitted for it, which I understand will come through the Vote of the Empire Marketing Board. I inadvertently said that it was included in this Vote, but I find that it is not. However, that is only an earnest of the interest that we are taking in marketing. The main problem of marketing, after you have obtained your commodity in a proper form, is to sell it and get a good price for it. After all, everything depends upon the price that the producer gets for his commodity, and I suggest, therefore, that we have now to look to the extension of our marketing organisation into the sales organisation. We have to help the producer to sell his goods apart from merely packing them and getting them in proper form, and that, clearly, is the next great advance that must be made in marketing.
The main problem in marketing, when you get to the sale question, is the disposal of surpluses, and that hitherto has been the difficulty. The hon. Member for Cambridge said that, in regard to potatoes, there was an organisation somewhere which he had seen, which used up the surplus potatoes to produce methylated spirit and so on, but the power to deal with surpluses denotes an organisation with a command of the commodity. It means that you must have an organisation which has command of the supplies, as well as of distribution, collection, storage and so on. Otherwise, you 1587 cannot create machinery to deal adequately with a surplus. That is particularly true of milk. It is quite possible that in the next few months there may be—I cannot say—a decline in milk prices, but the whole question of the prosperity of the dairying industry depends upon its being able to dispose of its surplus by turning it into dried milk, or cheese, or whatever it may be. You must have an organisation that can deal comprehensively with surpluses on behalf of the farmer, and we have obtained this £55,000 from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in order to try to get our marketing organisation on to this stage.
Before I turn back to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs may I say a word on the fishery side, which has been referred to by two or three hon. Members? I was asked to say something about the inshore fisheries. I was not asked to say very much about the deep-sea fishermen, because, as a matter of fact, they are doing fairly well, and are well able to take care of themselves. By the provision of this ship for exploring the sea in distant waters, and particularly the Arctic region, we shall be rendering an immense service to the deep sea trawler industry. I quite agree that the inshore fishermen, the men who fish near the little ports round our shores, constitute a standing problem. So far as the smaller craft harbours are concerned, we are making grants to them practically all round the coast for improvements. My hon. Friends know the anxious hours we have had to spend over the demands of these different harbours. When we came into office, I reviewed all the grants which were made, or provisionally promised to small harbours. Their needs were great and their requests persistent, and I may say that a more pitiful picture I never discovered. You have these little harbours all round the country, with groups of fishermen dependent on them, with a very irregular catch and with no organised market or system of sales for their fish.
For the present year we have continued the grants to these harbours, and in the case of the one mentioned we have done even better than last year. We were asked what we had done in regard to Brixham. Not only have we allowed 1588 them to retain the possibility of not increasing the charges, but we have wiped off two debts amounting to £4,500 and £250 that they had never paid and will now never be called upon to pay. So far as the small harbours are concerned, we have agreed to carry on for the present year. The whole question is now before the committee, of which I am the chairman, and I can say that we shall certainly try to put forward some scheme of national policy for dealing with them. It is perfectly hopeless to leave them in the state of uncertainty in which they have been for many years past. We have got to make up our minds as to whether we are prepared to keep these little fishing communities and to help them, or whether we are to allow them to die out. My sympathies are entirely in favour of devoting ourselves to maintaining and promoting the prosperity of these small harbours. I look upon them as just as useful an element in the community as are the agricultural labourers. We shall never succeed in maintaining these harbours by pursuing the policy of drift which has been pursued for many years past.
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS
As the right hon. Gentleman was attacking me personally, may I ask him why it is, as regards Brixham, that I hold the letter in my hand, dated 2nd May, from him to the authorities, telling them that they have got once again to raise their harbour dues?
We made arrangements whereby, with the benefit of de-rating there would be no increase of harbour dues.
§ Dr. ADDISON
We have given a sufficient sum to enable Brixham to pay its debts and obligations this year without increasing its dues. The cheque has been paid. We have honoured the right hon. Gentleman's undertaking. When he was in office it was arranged that they should raise an amount of £1,250 per 1589 annum towards the payment of those debts and obligations. We have asked them to raise the amount they were required to raise in 1928, which appears to be a fair assessment and which represents 4d. in the £ on fish landed, which is rather a lower charge than in many ports along that coast.
I want to come back to the very important proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. I regard it as one of the most welcome interventions in the Debate. We have had meetings of farmers, labourers, landowners and all sorts of political opponents speaking on the same platform generally in the interests of agriculture. It is true, as always is the case on these occasions, that they are not there to discuss concrete elaborate proposals. That is not the way concrete proposals ever
§ are discussed. But it expresses the spirit which is now animating the industry, and I think that spirit is fostered by the right hon. Gentleman's proposal. I can only say that we welcome it at the Ministry and I am sure that, with the great issues at stake, it, will have the goodwill of all parties and that this discussion has served a useful purpose.
§ Viscount WOLMER rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question he now put."
§ Question put accordingly, "That a sum, not exceeding £1,332,210, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 147; Noes, 239.1591
|Division No. 288.]||AYES.||[11.2 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Everard, W. Lindsay||Penny, Sir George|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Col. Charles||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l., W.)||Fermoy, Lord||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Ford, Sir P. J.||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Remer, John R.|
|Atkinson, C.||Ganzoni, Sir John||Rentoul, Sir Gervals S.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell|
|Balniel, Lord||Gower, Sir Robert||Ross, Major Ronald D.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Grace, John||Rothschild, J. de|
|Beaumont, M. W.||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.|
|Betterton, Sir Henry B.||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft.||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)|
|Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Boyce, H. L.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Bracken, B.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Savery, S. S.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Hammersley, S. S.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome|
|Butler, R. A.||Hanbury, C.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U., Bellst)|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Skelton, A. N.|
|Castle Stewart, Earl of||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Chadwick, Capt. Sir Robert Burton||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Stanley, Maj. Hon. O. (W'morland)|
|Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Hurd, Percy A.||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Iveagh, Countess of||Stewart, W. J. (Belfast, South)|
|Colville, Major D. J.||Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Knox, Sir Alfred||Tinne, J. A.|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Lewis, Oswald (Colchester)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Llewellin, Major J. J.||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th)||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Lymington, Viscount||Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert|
|Dairymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)||Marjoribanks, E. C.||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Mason, Colonel Glyn K.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Davies, E. C. (Montgomery)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Withers, Sir John James|
|Duckworth, G. A. V.||Muirhead, A. J.||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Dugdale, Capt. T. L.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Womersley, W. J.|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||O'Neill, Sir H.|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s-M.)||Owen, H. F. (Hereford)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Peake, Capt. Osbert||Sir Frederick Thomson and Captain|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Potts, John S.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Herriotts, J.||Price, M. P.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)||Pybus, Percy John|
|Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigle M.||Hoffman, P. C.||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Hopkin, Daniel||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson|
|Ammon, Charles George||Horrabin, J. F.||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Arnott, John||Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Raynes, W. R.|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Hunter, Dr. Joseph||Richards, R.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Ayles, Walter||Isaacs, George||Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Johnston, Thomas||Ritson, J.|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Jones, F. Llewellyn- (Flint)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)|
|Barr, James||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merloneth)||Romeril, H. G.|
|Batey, Joseph||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne)||Rosbotham, D. S. T.|
|Bellamy, Albert||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Rowson, Guy|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Bennett, Capt. E. N. (Cardiff, Central)||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Benson, G.||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.||Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West)|
|Bentham, Dr. Ethel||Kennedy, Thomas||Sanders, W. S.|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Kinley, J.||Sawyer, G. F.|
|Birkett, W. Norman||Knight, Holford||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Bowen, J. W.||Lathan, G.||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Law, Albert (Bolton)||Sherwood, G. H.|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Law, A. (Rosendale)||Shield, George William|
|Brothers, M.||Lawrence, Susan||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield)||Lawson, John James||Shillaker, J. F.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)||Shinwell, E.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire)||Leach, W.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Burgess, F. G.||Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Burgin, Dr. E. L.||Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern)||Sinclair, Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel (Norfolk, N.)||Lees, J.||Sinkinson, George|
|Calne, Derwent Hall.||Lloyd, C. Ellis||Smith, Alfred (Sunderland)|
|Cameron, A. G.||Logan, David Gilbert||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Cape, Thomas||Longbottom, A. W.||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Longden, F.||Smith, H. B. Lees- (Keighley)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Chater, Daniel||Lowth, Thomas||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Church, Major A. G.||Lunn, William||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Cluse, W. S.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Snell, Harry|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Sorensen, R.|
|Cove, William G.||McElwee, A.||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Daggar, George||McEntee, V. L.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Dallas, George||MacLaran, Andrew||Strachey, E. J. St. Loe|
|Dalton, Hugh||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Strauss, G. R.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Sullivan, J.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||McShane, John James||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Dickson, T.||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.)|
|Duncan, Charles||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Ede, James Chuter||Markham, S. F.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Marley, J.||Tillett, Ben|
|Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||Marshall, Fred||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Egan, W. H.||Mathers, George||Tout, W. J.|
|Elmley, Viscount||Matters, L. W.||Townend, A. E.|
|England, Colonel A.||Messer, Fred||Treveiyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Foot, Isaac||Middleton, G.||Turner, B.|
|Freeman, Peter||Mills, J. E.||Vaughan, D. J.|
|Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, N.)||Milner, Major J.||Viant, S. P.|
|Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Gill, T. H.||Money, Ralph||Walker, J.|
|Glassey, A. E.||Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Gossling, A. G.||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Gould, F.||Mort, D. L.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Moses, J. J. H.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Gray, Milner||Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)||Welsh, James (Paisley)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne)||Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)||West, F. R.|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Muggeridge, H. T.||Westwood, Joseph|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.)||Naylor, T. E.||White, H. G.|
|Groves, Thomas E.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Owen, Major G. (Carnarvon)||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Hall, Capt. W. P. (Portsmouth, C.)||Palin, John Henry||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)||Paling, Wilfrid||Winterton, G. E. (Leicester, Loughb'gh)|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Zetland)||Palmer, E. T.||Wise, E. F.|
|Hardle, George D.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Young, R. S. (Islington, North)|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Perry, S. F.|
|Haycock, A. W.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.)||Phillips, Dr. Marion||Mr. William Whiteley and Mr.|
|Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow).||Picton-Turbervill, Edith||Hayes.|
Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.1594
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.