§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Dr. Addison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
There is a preliminary observation I will make, and I think it will meet with the approval of Members in all parts el the House. It is this: It is high time that we, as a nation, made a considered and sustained endeavour to restore prosperity to and increase employment in the countryside. The figures that I gave yesterday to the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) showed that during the past 10 years we have sustained a loss of 100,000 land workers. Those figures are significant enough in themselves of the distress, and of the loss which is steadily taking place.
During the past century this country has presented a very remarkable paradox. We have had the towns growing at a great rate, with an ever-increasing demand on the food supply. With the habits of the people becoming more and more cultivated their demands for food have increased yearly. Side by side with that development, and even within walking distance of it, we have had our countryside producing less and providing less employment. At bottom the explanation of this phenomenon is, I think, that during the past century our men of enterprise were concentrating their thoughts on big industrial undertakings in our cities and towns. Organisation, science, capital, brains were diverted to that purpose. I well remember when I was a boy being friendly with an old agricultural labourer who was one of the most highly skilled men on the farm. His wages were then about 15s. a week. If any man in that position had an enterprising and alert son, as this man had, that son looked out for a place in a town where he would have a better chance of life. No nation can go on, generation after generation, draining the blood and enterprise from the countryside and not have to pay for it. This country is paying to-day.
1892 I introduce the reference in no controversial spirit, but I think it is true to say that the controversy springing up from time to time during the past 50 years, on the question of the taxation of food as a national policy, has exercised a paralysing influence upon the constructive development of our countryside. It has left us without a rural policy. If we wanted any reinforcement of the need for the enterprise which I am commending to the House we have it to-day with 2,000,000 unemployed looking on. Whatever we do in this matter it is quite clear that it will take time, that it will be very difficult, and that its results will only accrue slowly. But if we look at the case closely I think we get some good indications as to the right lines of advance. We have in this country the finest industrial food market in the world, with the exception perhaps of the United States—a market where better prices are obtainable than elsewhere. We have a countryside with a soil of high fertility, and we are capable of producing, in much greater volume than we do now, the finished commodities required by our own town markets.
Discussion of this subject is apt to centre round the question of wheat production, and I give for comparison the wheat figures. The general crop is from £10,000,000 to £12,000,000 in value. But in this island we have the finest pastures and the best strains of stock in the world, and we produced £70,000,000 worth last year and imported 74,000,000 worth. [HON. MEMBERS: "Of wheat? "] No, of meat. We imported £74,000,000 worth of meat—beef and mutton—and produced about the same amount at home. It is quite certain that with the proper application of improved methods to our grasslands we have the capacity to produce much more at borne. In this case, the deficiency does not arise from any question of price, because prices on the whole have been fairly good. There is a more remarkable example of our deficiency in the case of bacon produce. We produced £25,000,000 worth, and imported £55,000,000 worth. With our great facilities for cheap foodstuffs, there is no reason why a great deal of that which we now import should not profitably be produced at home, and when we come to examine into the case we find that the question resolves itself very largely into one of organisation—of 1893 processing, marketing and so on. With regard to other commodities I take, for example, the instance of eggs. I remember when I was a boy the hen used to be despised. Last year we imported about £20,000,000 worth of eggs, or nearly twice the value of our wheat crop, and we produced about the same amount at home. There is no reason whatever why we could not increase the production of eggs, at least to the equivalent of the whole of the national wheat crop. We have not set about it but the methods are before us and we know how to do it. From whatever direction we look at this issue the opportunities are immense.
I turn to another aspect of the case. Coincident with that enormous development in the towns to which I have referred, there has been a very slow and almost imperceptible change in the method of agriculture from the old 200-acre and 300-acre mixed farm, and I think it is generally agreed now that the types of agriculturists who succeed are mainly the small cultivator, the specialised farmer, and the man with large capital who farms on a large scale. Further, coincident with this decline, especially over our Eastern counties in the cereal-growing areas, with the prosperity of the mixed farm there has been the increased impoverishment of the old landlords. I am not one of those who make attacks upon the old-fashioned country landlord. He, as a matter of fact, towards the latter part of the last century was the only man who provided the equipment. Since then, owing to various causes, and among them the Death Duties, he has not been able to provide and maintain the equipment. Then one-third of our land is in the occupation of owner-occupiers and the owner-occupier is in a still worse case than the old-fashioned landlord. The owner-occupier almost always bought his farm at a time when prices were high, and he has often had to mortgage it, leaving himself without any working capital. The result is that you find, over a large extent of the country, land with dilapidated or insufficient equipment. In a later stage of the Session I hope that I may be allowed to introduce to this House proposals affecting the very vital issues of marketing and related to the difficulties which arise in our cereal areas. This particular proposal, however, or group of proposals, is designed, 1894 I think, to place the first things first. We must take such steps as will increase employment in the country, especially now. We must direct our steps by the neatest way, adopt those expedients which show that they are most likely quickly to give good results, and then we must coincidentally with that endeavour to develop the industry, to wake good the dilapidations and impoverishments where the land is worth it, where the existing system pays to do so, and, finally, we ought to try to bring up a system which will give the labourer a chance.
The first proposal in this Bill is designed to set up a large scale farming Corporation, and I dare say that this is a proposal which will be attacked. It is a very remarkable fact apropos of that, that agriculture is the only industry in the land where you have not had the collective application of capital. It is the only case in the land where you have not had organisation on a large scale. It is the only case of any great industry where you have not had a collective assembly of science, skill and organisation designed to develop the industry, and, as a matter of fact, it is true to say that for a long time past leading opinion in agriculture has favoured the proposal which is in this Bill. Indeed, I can point to a book published a few weeks ago by Professor Orwin who points to a very considerable number of highly successful large-scale experiments where the man had the capital and the courage to undertake them. I see that Mr. Bligh, for example, has provided us with an excellent account of his recovery of more or less derelict grasslands in Wales, and he estimates that there are something like 1,000,000 acres of improvable grass land in that country. Then we have had Mr. Philip Chamberlain's very valuable experiment with cereal crops. Whatever the type of farming the scale of operations should be big enough to allow for skilled management, and to employ machinery so that the machinery would be reasonably fully employed, and not idle for a long time. It must be big enough to develop a marketing unit of a sufficient size, and those of us who have looked about have seen everywhere that the provision of what is commonly called processing associated with your marketing, and big pro- 1895 duction is an essential ingredient of a large scale undertaking.
More than that, a large scale undertaking does permit of an opportunity for a man with enterprise and pluck. Agriculture is the only industry where the young man with brains, but without capital, has not had a chance, and the agricultural labourer has been lopped off in a sort of watertight wages compartment all the time. We want to have the opportunity of giving him a chance. It is not going to be run by mandarins in Whitehall. I am not proposing that it should be run by anybody but the very best people, the men who are most experienced and capable in the matter. I suggest that it is not asking the nation too much to vote £1,000,000 for this. Why, we spend millions in developing rubber in Malay, and coffee in Brazil, and I do not know how many millions we have lost. We have spent millions in irrigating the desert to grow cotton. Were it not that it has been attended with such a mournful result, I would refer to a similar figure spent in large airships. But if we can spend money in watering the desert or growing rubber overseas, why in the world should we not spend a little in developing the land of this country? I dare say that this will be denounced as a prodigality by a feather-brained Minister of Agriculture. Well, it, has much better authority than some hon. Members opposite may think, because I have got here a copy of the report of the Selborne Committee set up by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). That report made this recommendation in 1918:One other form of agricultural development may be mentioned here because of its educational effect, and that is the establishment in various parts of Great Britain of large farms run on purely business lines, but open to inspection and giving publicity to their methods and accounts. These farms should consist of 3,000 acres or upwards, and they should be worked upon the same organised system as any other large productive business is conducted.They recommend that a limited number of these large demonstration farms on business lines should be established. I notice that a former colleague of ours in the House of Commons, Sir Archibald Weigall, wrote a book in 1919 on "A Large State Farm," and this is what 1896 he said about this recommendation of the Selborne Committee: He said that it wasthe result of the summary of the evidence on large farms taken by the members of the committee from possibly the most expert body of witnesses that have ever given evidence before any committee on agriculture.So that it is not my idea. I dare say some hon. Members opposite have been sharpening their pencils and making notes to the effect that I am imitating the Muscovite. This recommendation was signed by Lord Selborne, Mr. Ailwyn Fellowes (afterwards Lord Ailwyn), Sir A. D. Hall and the late Mr. Edward Strutt, perhaps one of the most distinguished agriculturists in this Committee.
It seems to me that what really has happened is that Stalin has been making a dip into the Selborne report. There is another proposal in this Bill of an allied character which authorises us to establish demonstration farms. They are a more modest enterprise, perhaps, but if anyone questions the need of them, I would advise him to go round our farm institutes, and see the men there and ascertain what they are longing for. It has been proved up to the hilt over and over again that with regard, say, to fruit cultivation, it pays to produce high-class stuff on up-to-date modern lines, and our colleges, which are devoted to this kind of thing, are only longing to do it on a commercial scale. There are plenty of men able to do it, and what applies to fruit applies to pig production, eggs and butter production and other things. It is in order to give an opportunity for that kind of thing that these proposals are introduced. The idea behind this proposal is that these demonstration farms must be commercially self-supporting. Unless they are that, they are not successful, and, for my part, I shall not sanction any project for establishing them unless we are reasonably well satisfied in advance that that condition will be met.
I come to another group of proposals which relate to the reclamation of land, and I want at this point to say that these proposals owe a good deal to the friends of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs who have negotiated with me during the Recess, and certain suggestions of theirs have been embodied in the Bill. There 1897 is no question at all as to the amount of land which has been allowed to become waterlogged in many cases to a vast extent, but it is no suggestion of ours that we should undertake work on land that is not likely to pay for the work. One has only to apply to any one of our land surveyors, and they can point to instances in their own districts where this kind of thing is required. As a matter of fact, you have only to travel about the country with your eyes open to see it yourself. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who has got to pay?"] The nation.
There is another proposal in the Bill which is on somewhat more drastic lines. It authorises the Minister, in the case of land shown to be seriously neglected, to take it, if need be, compulsorily. That is rather a courageous proposal. I will give the House an actual record of a case that is waiting now. This is a case where the county council has in vain done what it could to get the owner to put the place in order, and this is a description taken last week of this place. The owner seems to have plenty of money to spend in law expenses, and nothing happens. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a well-known case."] It is a well-known case, and it is high time that we took power to deal with it. [Interruption.] I do not know whether he is a lunatic or not, but it is a great scandal, and the case is well known.
On an estate of 3,000 acres in Hampshire, 2,000 acres lie void and derelict, and the equipment is an absolute ruin, with a beautiful old farmhouse, partly unroofed, buildings falling down, and the whole presenting an appalling appearance. The cottages, some of which are still occupied by labourers, who are technically trespassers, are becoming more ruinous every year, owing to want of repair. The land, though not of the best to be found in the county, is well above the average. One part of the estate was occupied for many years by a farmer noted for his sheep, corn, and a large dairy that he kept. On another part of the estate a farm of 1,000 acres ran a pedigree flock of Hampshire Downs sheep and produced some of the best corn grown in the county. That is a case where, whether a man is right in his head or not, it is clearly desirable, in the interests of society and of the provision of useful 1898 employment and a chance of cultivating the land, that we should have the power to deal with it.
I come to another section of these proposals, beginning, perhaps, at a more modest note, and that is the power to facilitate the provision of allotments where there is a specially large number of men unemployed. There has been a good deal of misunderstanding about these proposals. I am well aware that in the villages and in many places the number of allotments has declined. In a great number of cases, unfortunately, the men have lost heart, because they have been pushed out by the builder or somebody else who has come along, but during the past two years we have had in this country a most remarkable experiment, really conducted by voluntary means. The Mansion. House Fund placed a small sum at the disposal of the Society of Friends and others, and they concerned themselves with trying to find something to do for men who were out of work.
We have had it from Mr. Robson and his colleagues that universally, in the mining districts, in the large steel districts, in Staffordshire, Wales, Northumberland, the West Riding, and other places, the men are only too anxious to have something to do, and these modest allotments are providing them with something to do. As a matter of fact, by this entirely voluntary organisation, at quite a small expense, by grants from the Mansion House Fund and otherwise, 100,000 unemployed men were found these patches of ground to cultivate last year, and they produced, they tell me, about £500,000 worth of food for their families. That, any how, must be useful, and therefore we propose to develop this organisation and to help it to do much more on the same lines. We shall work, as is proposed in the Bill, I hope with the entire good will and assistance of the local authorities, using this excellent organisation to the full, and I may say that, as a part of the preliminary work for this Bill and owing to the good will that has arisen, the various allotment societies have coalesced. Sir Francis Acland and Mr. Robson, I think, are the leaders, and we propose to work through them as much as possible.
1899 One other thing I ought to mention. It will be seen in the Bill that we take power to assist in the provision of tools, seeds, and so on for the men. This committee of voluntary workers found that it was very desirable, both in order to secure the right sort of stuff and to ensure that they got it at the right time, that the purchase and distribution of these seeds and so on should be done by some central and well directed agency, and we propose to continue that machinery.
Turning to the next section of this group of proposals, with which that is closely allied, I come to the smallholdings proposals, and I confess that I have seldom come across any case that has been more seriously misrepresented. As a matter of fact, if we put our prejudices in our pockets and look at the actual facts, we shall find that there is no social experiment of our time which has enabled people to become more comfortably self-supporting, in a large number of eases in all, than these smallholdings. They fall into two groups. It is a modest enterprise at present, and I am hoping to see an immense enlargement, but before the War there were 13,000 men settled on smallholdings. Owing to some interjections that were made last Thursday, I have had inquiries made as to the number of these men who have failed, and we have obtained a record as to 10,272. That is all, but out of those 10,272 men, 493 only appear to have failed to make good.
§ Dr. ADDISON
Yes, I said so. In the post-War group, I fully recognise that we ran a great risk. Owing to the emergency on demobilisation and so forth, a great many men were put on to smallholdings who perhaps were not altogether suitable, and the costs were shocking. Let me say this, that nobody could justify or contemplate any experiment which would incur those utterly impossible overhead charges any more, but they were inevitable at that time. That was when everything was costly. The loan charges on these schemes generally were about 6½ per cent., and, among other things, the cost of buildings, houses, and equipment generally on these premises was very high.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The cost of land, as a matter of fact, was a small item. I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I have to be true. The cost of the houses and the buildings at that time was enormous, and far exceeded the proportional cost of the land, however costly the land might have been. We have to avoid that, of course, but notwithstanding those disabilities, notwithstanding the fact that you had this high cost of equipment and that the men were rushed on to the land in many cases—some 25,000 or 26,000 men were settled on smallholdings under those circumstances—the numbers of those, so far as we can ascertain, who have not made good is 3,402. I think that, considering the 25,000 to 26,000 men who were rushed on under those circumstances, it is not a bad record.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I think so. However, I will correct those figures if they are not right, but the percentage of failures, considering the enterprise and the rush and the high cost, is extremely small. Here is another very remarkable fact, that notwithstanding the high cost of those days, those smallholdings still pay 3 per cent. on the capital expenditure, and there are not many landlords up and down the country who get 3 per cent. on their land. At all events, so far as it goes, it is a very remarkable result.
This brings me to the next stage in this development, and that is the 1926 Act. The Smallholdings Act of 1926 was passed by the party opposite, and I must say that, if the party opposite wanted to bring this movement to a standstill, they have succeeded beyond their wildest anticipations, because I see that from 1926, in the four following years, the total number of holdings provided was 673. It 1901 means that the movement has been brought to a standstill. I know very well that there are other circumstances. County councils did not altogether know where they were under the Local Government Act of 1929, and I do not know whether they quite know yet, but at all events they were averse to incurring any risks, and I recognise that the obligation on the county council is only to provide holdings that are financially self-supporting. They have not been financially selfsupporting, because they have only paid 3 per cent., and we pay 75 per cent, of the loss; but if you come to examine into these cases, you find the kind of result, I think, at which we as a nation ought. to be aiming.
Here I have the actual figures of population on 7,057 acres of smallholdings owned by the Ministry. Before they were taken over, this area gave employment to 502 families; now it gives employment to 1,254 families. Here is a case in Essex, quite recently—in fact, last year— of a farm of 300 acres which had formerly one farm house and three cottages, but is now supporting 51 families on smallholdings, and I understand they are all doing quite well. Last Sunday I had a talk with a man who formerly was a small mixed farmer on a farm of 150 acres, and he found that he was paying for his other losses out, of the profits of his chickens. He decided, as a sensible man, to concentrate on that which benefited him, and so he instructed himself and his brother too. He now has a 30-acre holding, which I saw myself, with a large equipment, entirely paid for out of his own products. He has a large and profitable business in rearing stock chickens and so on—many thousands of them—and on that 30-acre plot of land he now employs 12 men beside himself, and their average wage is 15s. a week more than the county agricultural rate.
I know perfectly well that we have to avoid the mistakes of the past. We have to learn that it is no use trying to put a man into this kind of thing unless he is likely to make good, unless he is the right kind of man, and unless the land is the right kind of land. Also, I am quite sure that we must determine, as far as possible, to keep the overhead charges down and to have the equipment of the simplest possible kind necessary for the job, so that we do not saddle the 1902 men with heavy loss and ourselves with unnecessary capital expenditure.
There is another thing which we propose here. We do not propose to try and establish smallholdings and leave the men to themselves. We want to establish them on some considered lines, to bring to our aid such help as we can enlist of skilled direction; and one of the suggestions which we propose to try and develop in, for example, poultry holdings, is to have grouping, as far as possible, according to the commodity, and to associate the groups with the first-rate men and women there are up and down the country who are capable of showing them 'how to do the job. That is why we propose to associate with these groups of holdings a demonstration holding for the purpose of assisting them by example and method.
In groups of holdings suitable for poultry purposes, I am told that there are four essentials to success. We should, as far as possible, group holdings together; we should see that the right kind of people are selected; we should give them technical guidance, at least for the first year; and, finally, what is very important, we should do what we can to facilitate their opportunities for marketing. One of the things that we ought to have done before was to have given these men a chance of organised marketing, so that they were not left at the mercy of anybody who happened to come along and make a hid. What applies to poultry applies in many directions to fruit growing, vegetable growing and market gardening; and there are several branches of cultivation which I am told by our horticultural experts we may very profitably develop in this country. For example, take the canning industry. There is a great demand in this country for the supply of the right kind of vegetables for canning, and we can develop it relatively easily. I have been in touch with those who know the business, and I am assured that it presents no difficulties on the manufacturing side. The important thing is to get the right kind of vegetables supplied at the right time. That means introducing organisation into this business.
If anybody questions the demand for this kind of thing, I do not mean by irresponsible people who do not know 1903 what they want, but by men who really understand what is involved, they ought to open my letters one morning, when they would get to know the kind of people anxious and willing to do it. We had at the beginning of 1926, when the last Act was passed, 5,500 unsatisfied applicants. The other day the figure was still about 5,390. The reason that the men do not apply is that they know that it is no earthly use applying. One hon. Member said that in his county 12 holdings were available, and there was not an applicant at all. In another county recently, however, there were 35 applicants where there was not one on the list before. The potential demand is enormous, and it is really difficult to exaggerate it. In taking powers to ourselves to do this sort of thing, we do not in any way wish to, or suggest that we should, supplant the county councils. They have a duty, so far as holdings may he self supporting, but we know what the state of affairs is now. It is our business to come in and try and develop this movement, so far as it is sound, with a view to giving an increased number of men a chance and to supplement the work of the county councils.
There is one class of applicant to whom I should like to think that this scheme will give a chance. It is the agricultural labourer. He has been in a watertight compartment long enough, and I am afraid that a good many agricultural labourers are likely to be unemployed through this winter. There is not a Member anywhere in the House of any party who would not want to give these men a chance of making good, and it is right that it should be done now. Then we come to another class of man—those who were not previously agricultural workers, but who are now among the unemployed. We find almost everywhere men who would gladly take on these allotments in order to give themselves something to do, and in a large number of cases, in mining and other districts, there are men who were born in the country. Many of them will not go back to the mines, for they will not get the chance, and they will be only too anxious to have a chance like this of getting back to the country. It is no good offering men something unless we are prepared to do the thing properly. These allot- 1904 ment schemes will provide a kind of sifting ground. If a man has made good on an allotment, the chances are that he will make good if he has a bigger opportunity.
I recognise that we have to make sure that we select the men who are likely to make good, for it will be better to establish 20,000 who will make good than 25,000 who will not. At all events, it is our desire, as far as we can, to get the right man, and there is a vast multitude Waiting. There is an immense opportunity from a great recruiting ground. We are proposing to ally with this scheme a training scheme, for the men to have further training where it is necessary. We also take power in the Bill to arrange for the supply of the right kind of stock and equipment, and not simply to give a man a loan or to make an advance. All the evidence shows that the difference between profit and loss in this kind of enterprise depends on having the right kind of material with which to work, the right breed of stock and the right kind of vegetable seed. This has to be clone with the best advice that we can bring. Therefore, we are proposing to take powers so that the Ministry, through appropriate agencies, can arrange for these supplies on loan. We are also bound—and this is necessary for men who are unemployed—to take powers to give some cash advances to keep them going until they begin to get some produce from their holdings.
I know very well that there may be a good many failures. It is a difficult enterprise, and it will require an immense amount of organisation. As everybody who has worked on the land knows, you do not get results quickly. If we persevere in an enterprise like this, the numbers will mount and mount, and every man who can get a self-respecting chance and is withdrawn from the nightmare of unemployment is a net gain to the community. Besides that, in the work of reclamation, of buildings, and the rest of it, which this vast scheme must entail, a great volume of employment must be provided. I will not commit myself to any actual figures, but it is our intention to go ahead, and enlist all the authority and enterprise that we can, and I shall be glad to obtain the help and good will of men anywhere and of any party. If we can 1905 start this national endeavour without the pettiness of party controversy, and pursue without faltering the restoration of our countryside, it will be a great thing. Everyone in this House knows— we have seen it proved—that if we have the good will and the resolution, our national capacity is immense. In this case, the issue is the restoration of our native land—no less. We love it, every one of us. I therefore think that it is time that we threw down the challenge to adversity.
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words, "upon this day six months."
The House is indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture for a pleasant and good humoured introduction of a subject which, before the House parts with it, will probably develop a good deal of controversy. He made an appeal to us in his last sentences to get away from the pettinesses of party controversy, and to look at this from the agricultural point of view. I hope that we shall, but may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we did not have an altogether inspiring example in the way that hon. Members opposite, when in Opposition, voted against all the measures which we brought forward to, help agriculture—marking foreign produce, marketing eggs, sugar beet, and all the things which should help agriculture. They were not put outside the pettinesses of party controversy. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman has not done much to inform us how he proposes to administer these very wide powers for which he asks. There has been nothing to allay our fears as to how he will transform the existing system of land tenure. He asks us to entrust to him a most powerful weapon with which to shatter the existing system and to replace existing farmers by smallholders. He is only able to say that he is going to do his best., hut I 'hope before the Bill goes much further we shall be told how far and how fast he proposes to go.
He made it clear that this Bill is hybrid in its origin. He paid generous tribute to the advice which he has had from hon. Members of the Liberal party and the right hon. Gentleman the Mem- 1906 ber for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). It is quite true that the three main objects of the Bill have all been praised in the new publication of the Liberal party, "How to tackle unemployment." That book supports the experiment of factory farms, it urges the reclamation and reconditioning of land, and attaches great importance to largescale settlement. The right hon. Gentleman has not told us the scale on which he proposes to apply this settlement. In "How to tackle unemployment" we are told that we ought to settle 100,000 families and that that would need about:3,000,000 acres. I do not know whether people realise what a colossal convulsion that would mean. In our great efforts after the War, when we had all the county councils working with us, we succeeded in settling something over 16,000. Let us compare the 3,000,000 acres with our total arable area. There is a misprint in this book. The total arable area is not 30,000,000 acres but about 13,000,000 acres, and the right hon. Gentleman proposes to take nearly one-quarter of that arable land. [Interruption.] I agree that it would not be entirely limited to arable land, but, taking that as a comparison, we see that it transfers the control of nearly a quarter of our arable land— [Interruption.] The book makes the comparison with arable land, and surely I am justified in doing the same thing. If the comparison does not appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs I am sorry that he used it. He will find the figure on page 51 of his book. There it is coinpared with the area of arable land, and I only adapt his own comparison to show what a tremendous dislocation it means.
The only financial limit in the Bill is in the first part of it. There we find that £6,700,000 is to be provided for the large-scale experiments and for land improvement. We believe that this expenditure on such purposes cannot possibly give us any adequate return, and cannot be justified in our present financial position; but the Bill and the right hon. Gentleman's speech both fail to give us any total estimate for the far greater expenditure which may be necessary in extending 1907 small holdings. We are told that holdings will cost from £640 for a bare land holding up to about £1,100 for a holding of the kind which is now supplied by the county councils. The right hon. Gentleman estimates that there will be a loss of from 2 to 3 per cent. on account of the cost of borrowing money. Over and above that loss we have to put about £70 per head for the training of the unemployed and the maintenance allowance of a varying amount up to £50 per bead. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is at all too pessimistic in his estimates, seeing that under the 1919 scheme we had to write off approximately half the expenditure as irrecoverable and that it worked out at a dead loss of about £500 per holding; but I do think we ought to be told at what rate the right hon. Gentleman thinks it advisable and practicable to burden the community with his new expenditure.
I think there is an overwhelming opinion among agriculturists against this Bill. I do not know to whom it was that the right hon. Gentleman referred when he said that he did not take much account in this connection of irresponsible people who do not know what they want. Perhaps he was thinking of the National Farmers' Union. Anyhow, they do not agree with him that this Measure will promote a better utilisation of the land or restore its prosperity. On the contrary, in their news sheets they have published the opinion that a better short title for the Bill would be "A Bill to Promote the Wholesale Wasting of the Taxpayers' Money and to Increase without Limit the number of Salaried Officials." We must look with extra alarm at this proposal in view of the agent which the Prime Minister has chosen to put it into force. The engaging smile and the disarming manner of the right hon. Gentleman must not make us forget his very remarkable record, namely, that he was the champion spender in the days of profligate expenditure just after the War.
That is an invaluable statement. It completely proves my conviction that the right hon. Gentleman has got no sense of figures or of values, 1908 whatever. Perhaps since he has left the Ministry of Health he does not study their Estimates, but if lie did he would see that every year we are paying nearly £7,000,000 for his profligate scheme of housing.
One battleship; but this expenditure occurs every year and will go on for scores and scores of years, and will cause the name of the right hon. Gentleman to be ruefully remembered by the taxpayers long after he and I have passed away. It is not very long ago since the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was very much dissatisfied with the Minister of Agriculture in the late Government. It must be a great gratification to the right hon. Gentleman that he can now see the scheme which he has done so much to think out carried out by one of his most trusted and most efficient lieutenants. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get to the Bill!"] I must, in fairness, concede one very exceptional virtue to this proposal. It actually carries out a definite election pledge of the Socialist party. In Labour's policy for the land the object of public ownership was put first. The Prime Minister has told us that people can be led to Socialism by practical stages without mentioning nationalisation. However carefully this Bill shirks the name, it is very obvious that that is the real purpose of this scheme. The Agricultural Land Corporation and the Ministry of Agriculture will form a very strongly-laid framework for further steps in that direction. Already we see the germ from which may develop such a policy as exists in Russia. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite have forgotten their election pledges. They said in their election policy that smallholdings can be left over in their temporary ownership for later treatment. What does that mean except that the smallholders are to be the kulaks, and if the process goes on these darlings of the Socialist party, these kulaks, will be swept away eventually for the full communal organisation which will be set up as the result of this experiment in large-scale farming?
Large scale management, except for such a political purpose, can surely only be justified if farmers are inefficient at 1909 their job. [An HON. MEMBER: "So they are."] That is very interesting. That is the view of the Socialist party, that farmers are inefficient for their jobs. The Prime Minister represents the hon. Member very fairly. The other day he was too busy to see the National Farmers' Union, but he found time to give an interview to the "Daily Herald," in which he made a very violent and bitter attack upon the National Farmers' Union and the farmers whom they represent. He said they showed no sign of capacity and that there could be no prosperity so long—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) cannot restrain himself, he will have to leave the House.
§ 5.0 p.m.
The Prime Minister, no doubt justifying the view of hon. Members in favour of this Bill that farmers are inefficient and do not know their jobs, said that they showed no sign of capacity and that there could be no prosperity so long as organised farmers wanted subsidies for inefficient agriculture. There is nothing more remarkable than the intellectual arrogance of hon. Members opposite. I do not know whether Professor Freud has ever examined the symptoms of a superiority complex, but they seem to be suffering from it in a very acute form. The symptom of that distressing complaint is that patients imagine that they know everybody's business very much better than the people engaged in it. Apparently, this wonderful capacity only exists on the Treasury Bench. The experience of the Co-operative Wholesale Society has shown that the profession of Socialist views and the certainty of an assured market do not enable farming to be carried on except at a heavy loss. I do not believe that there is a tittle of evidence in favour of the view that farmers are not efficient. If hon. Members would go to the demonstrations given by the Farms Institutes connected with the various research organisations, they 1910 would be amazed at the interest which farmers take in scientific advice, and they would be surprised, if they went into farmers' houses, to see the amount they read relating to modern research. If you consult the workers in agriculture, I do not believe you will find any support for the view that their industry is going to be saved by experimentation on a large scale.
The Minister of Agriculture told us a good deal about the Bill which seems to me to have various objects. The right hon. Gentleman quoted Professor Orwin who has advised the removal of hedges and ditches and the application of more extensive methods. When I was Minister of Agriculture, I often discussed this matter with representatives of organised farming, and I induced some of the leaders, with practical experience, to study oversea methods on the spot in the American Continent, and they came back confirming their view that our climate, the necessity of draining the land, heavier crops, the value of straw in our farming conditions, and many other variations made oversea methods quite inapplicable in this country. I am aware that there are certain eminent scientific people besides Professor Orwin who believe that the technique can be improved, but surely the existing research organisation of the Ministry is sufficient to allow that to be carried out without such an enormous expense as that which is proposed in this Bill. Err. Owen, of the Agricultural Engineering Research Institute, has made valuable experiments for the improvement of implements, but he does not need great tracts of land to operate upon. We know that various oversea methods are being tested in Worcestershire and Wiltshire to-day, and it is much better that they should be tried on present lines than that this tremendous sum of public money should be spent.
I am certain that once you have poured out this money in a huge experiment of this kind, when there is a change of Government you will find that the Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee will fix on to this expenditure, and just like all other wasteful expenditure on agriculture, it will be cut short before you get any benefit from it. Professor Orwin gave a certain explanation of expected results of those methods 1911 which should be brought to the knowledge of the House. The Minister of Agriculture talked about his proposals for the relief of unemployment. Does the House realise that Professor Orwin's argument is to cut down employment on the land? Professor Orwin, on page 136 of his book "The future of farming" shows that he is not primarily concerned with increasing production so much as reducing costs. He says:Whilst there is no reason to suppose that arable farming on the grand scale cannot maintain the level of production from the land at the same high figure to which the English farmer has attained, and it is certain that it will not increase employment.That is a very disquieting fact in view of the position taken up by the right hon. Gentleman opposite that this Bill would provide more employment. This large-scale experiment will no doubt be promoted through management and marketing. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned various specialised forms of production, but it is really not necessary for the State to make this experiment, even if it can be done under the control of one man. I am aware that this can be done on a large scale, but in agriculture, as in other things, even under adverse circumstances, you will find exceptions, and you will find very able men who are able to make profits while their neighbours are on the verge of failure. Large-scale production on land has been tried. It has been tried on something like 18,000 acres by Messrs. Dennis. It has been tried on a large scale by the Ministry of Agriculture. I remember the figures relating to the farm at Patrington comprising 2,300 acres, which had the advantage of the Government's best scientific advisers and skilled management, and, with all those advantages and facilities for farming provided from Whitehall, there was an annual loss of £8,200 a year on that farm. In addition to this, farm settlements were reduced from 347 to 23, and there was a loss of £24,000 on that farm, equivalent to £14 an acre. If you want intensive production you can bring it 'about and achieve the specialisation of output by co-operative methods without destroying the individual organisation upon which the agricultural industry is founded. As for land reclamation and improvement, it 1912 does seem to me to be a fearful waste of money, at a time when there is so much good land being farmed 'at a loss, to pour out money which will certainly not bring in any return. The chief argument of the Minister of Agriculture was that there was a lunatic down in Hampshire who could not— [Interruption].
§ Dr. ADDISON
May I point out that it was a colleague of the right hon. Gentleman who said the man was a lunatic. I do not know whether the statement was correct, but I accepted the statement. as it was made.
I do not want to use my privileged position as a Member of Parliament to make any imputations against individuals, but I mentioned this case because it was well known at the Ministry. It is the classic case of the Minister of Agriculture, and his acceptance of the explanation which the Noble Lord gave shows that he was fully aware of the case. I do not know the details of the mental health of the owner of this land, but I know that his methods were very eccentric, and certainly not in his own interest. When I was concerned, it was to me a problem of preventing the neglect shown by this man being 'a nuisance to his neighbours. He was something of a sea lawyer, and he was able by his fertile resources to checkmate the Ministry in connection with an Order to destroy his weeds. Surely that is a very slender argument upon which to found a case for compulsory powers to take over land which is alleged to have been neglected. The right hon. Gentleman has given us only one classic case, one individual case, and I shall be interested to see whether he is able to add to his examples.
This Bill does not propose to stem rural depopulation. That is an object with which we all sympathise, but the Bill adopts the method of trying to bring townspeople, with no agricultural training, back to the country. We have had an object lesson of the danger of adopting that course. I do not like to contest the right hon. Gentleman's figures, but I have looked up figures which were given to me when I was at the Ministry of Agriculture, and I do not think the figures of the 1919 scheme can have changed very much. After the final settlement with local authorities 1913 the figures showed that 20,800 people had been settled on the land and 4,500 had either failed or given up their holdings, leaving 16,200. This is only of importance because it is a big difference. If it is 4,000 out of 20,000, it is a much more remarkable proportion of failures than 4,000 out of 30,000.
The figure which I was given by the Department, and which I have taken from the OFFICIAL REPORT, was 4,000, but they may not all have been failures. It is not only we who hold this view; it is held by Professor Orwin, who has been quoted with approval by the right hon. Gentleman. Professor Orwin asks what is the use of an indiscriminate provision of smallholdings all over the country—[Interruption.] He is condemning the existing scheme. The scheme of the right hon. Gentleman goes much further. If the old scheme, which Professor Orwin condemns, is indiscriminate, far more indiscriminate is what the right hon. Gentleman is proposing. Professor Orwin writes:This scheme is based upon a fundamental error in that the will to farm does not make a farmer. There may be born fools or poets, but farmers never, Only by s long process of education combined with long experience can the knowledge be accumulated which goes to make up the successful small farmer. He must acquire manual dexterity in every farm operation, a knowledge of livestock and an instinct for their well-being, a habit of frugality of life running almost to parsimony, and, above all, a capacity for continuous hard work. Habits and experience of this character are not to he acquired by the townsmen reading books on winter evenings or working on an allotment in summer.With this experience and advice, I think it is a cruel deception on the unemployed, especially under present conditions and with no security of their receiving an economic price for what they turn out, to plant them on the land. There is no solution, whether for land settlement or for any other problem of agricultural prosperity, except to secure a market at a remunerative price. Again, Professor Orwin—I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has been reading his views— says:There is no policy which will put more men on the land except a reduction in the standard of living or an artificial improvement in prices, either of which would increase the margin between costs and re- 1914 turns, and so make it possible once more to cultivate marginal and sub-marginal land.We on this side approve to the full of every facility for qualified men being given smallholdings which they demand, but I do not believe that there is a very strong demand at the present time. I know that in my own county, which in some respects is very well suited to smallholdings, the county council have only about 50 applications.
That is a very exceptional case. In those counties of which I have knowledge, steps are being taken by the county councils to supply the land required, and in opposing what we believe to be the cruel mockery of putting these unskilled men on the land, it must not be understood that we on this side have anything but enthusiastic support for the wise application and extension of the smallholdings movement, considering what has already been achieved in that direction by men who are properly qualified.
Under our Act we gave renewed facilities. I have said that it may be that further facilities are necessary, but it is untrue to suggest that our Act brought anything to an end.
The hon. Member talks of what took place before. He can satisfy himself, if he will look up the Act, that the provisions of the Bill of 1919 were only for three years, and that after 1926, except under our Bill, no land could have been acquired by a local authority except on a self-supporting basis. It is true that our bearing 75 per cent. of the loss has not caused the provision of all the smallholdings required, and, if it were merely a matter of reconsidering the financial terms, I, for one, would not oppose the proposal in that direction; but, as I have said, it is a very different matter to attempt to plant these inexperienced unemployed men upon the land. If you are going to dispossess existing farmers of their holdings, and throw out of work the men whom 1915 they now employ, I say that the people who ought to be provided for are the agricultural population, and not people from the towns.
There is another point in this proposal to plant on the land people from the towns. It is proposed that they should be given working capital. That is contrary to the experience which we have gained under the Act of 1919. Working capital was provided in certain cases, and 40 per cent. of the loans that were advanced had to be written off as irrecoverable. There is only one exception to this objection which I make, and that is in the case of allotments. I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said in that regard. The work which, through the Lord Mayor's Fund, was done by the agency, I think, of the Society of Friends, was quite admirable, and I hope it will continue, but let it be remembered that this is not a cure for unemployment; it is merely an alleviation of hardship. With that sole exception, it seems to me that the method of land settlement is an extravagant and ineffectual method of dealing with unemployment. It does not seem to me to be sound to take away resources which are now being put to more profitable use by the taxpayer, and to turn them to uneconomic purposes. Nor is there any case, as far as I can see, for public ownership. Our agricultural system has been evolved to suit national conditions. While other civilised countries in the last year or two have taken steps to protect their producers from the disastrous effects of the continual plunge in prices, our Government alone has been entirely indifferent to the necessity of providing a profitable market.
No industry, whether agriculture or any other, can continue indefinitely to run at a loss. That, however, is not to say that there is any need for the drastic reconstruction that is proposed. The present system has developed in accordance with our national needs, the peculiarities of our climate, and the variety of our land. It has been and will be adjusted to suit modern conditions, and it will be found to be quite efficient if the cultivators can be assured of a reasonable ratio between their expenditure and their receipts. The production of this Bill at the present time shows that the Government are absolutely indifferent to the very grave 1916 straits of the agricultural industry, and that they are also blind to the necessity for cutting down expenditure and not wasting any more money. I, therefore, move that the Bill be read a Second time this day six months, believing that its provisions are contrary to the true interests of agriculture, and are a cruel deception and mockery of the unemployed whom they profess to benefit.
§ Mr. GRAY
I welcome the introduction of this Bill, and should like to congratulate the Minister upon what may be described as almost the first real Socialistic proposals which have come from the other side. The proposal with regard to the Agricultural Land Corporation may, perhaps, be regarded as paving the way to acquiring the whole of the land of this country. I do not imagine, from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, that that is quite his intention, but I think it is well worth while experimenting on large-scale mechanised farming, which I take to be the idea behind his suggestion. one may have a certain measure of doubt, as I confess I have, as to the probable success of that experiment, because, curiously enough, the agricultural industry, in the main, particularly in this country, shows the largest and best returns in small intensive cultivation by smallholders, rather than in large-scale farming. The experience of the cooperative societies is very suggestive in that regard. Those societies have in the main succeeded extraordinarily well in distribution, and, perhaps, not quite so extensively in factory production, but I think that almost universally they have found it impossible to make a profit on their agricultural ventures. At the same time, I do not think that this House or the country ought to object to any reasonable experiment on commercial lines that will test out the possibilities of new methods in agricultural production.
I gather from the Bill that the Agricultural Land Corporation is merely going to be used for this large-scale farming experiment. I would rather have suggested to the Minister whether he might not have incorporated in its functions the general management purposes of his Bill which are not taken over by the county councils and other agricultural bodies that he may use. The point that I would like to stress is that it is, 1917 surely, only in the development of our agricultural estate that there is any possibility at the present time, if we do not succeed in recovering our full export markets and adjusting the badly adjusted balance between those employed on the land in agriculture and those employed in our highly industrialised occupations. It is obvious from even a casual glance at the trading figures of this country that there is no room for development of the home market in the industrialised section unless entirely new industries are going to be introduced to meet needs which have not yet been discovered.
An examination of the figures shows that, in all the industrial occupations of this country, in all classes with the exception of about six, which for special reasons are unsuited for production in this country—such as oils, paper, leather, silk, copper, lead and zinc—we have not only retained our home markets in production, but we have a share of the foreign market. There is, however, one great group of production, the agricultural group, in which there is a vast influx of foreign goods into this country, and by foreign I mean for the moment from outside these islands. While there may be sentimental reasons—and I suggest this for the examination of some hon. Members on the Conservative benches—why we welcome goods from our Colonies, there can be no economic reason why, as far as the inhabitants of these islands are concerned, the outside source from which an article, comes can affect its economic value in this country. If we are going to find ourselves for any reason unable to recover those great export markets which have enabled us to maintain our credits and buy our foodstuffs, then we shall have to increase the production of foodstuffs in this country. I welcome the Bill because it is an evident attempt—and I hope it will be very determined, and strongly pushed and developed—to increase the amount of foodstuff that we produce.
When one examines this smallholdings question, the astounding thing is the success of the movement. T represent a county which has always been rather progressive in its smallholdings movement. During the whole of my public life in Bedfordshire I have been a member of the smallholdings committee. Our experience is, perhaps, worth giving. Be- 1918 fore the post-War development, our smallholdings estate was a profitable one, hardly any of the smallholders giving up their holdings. They brought in revenue to the county. They were paying the capital cost of the holding. Then came the great land settlement movement of 1919. I viewed that movement with a good deal of distrust. I was frankly frightened about it. I mentioned to the Minister's representative more than once how nervous I was of the whole position. We were buying land at a time when food prices were at a war level and I said, "Surely you do not expect that they will remain at that level." I greatly feared that we should induce a large number of ex-service men to invest their small capital in what I thought was a dangerous risk. I cannot imagine any more unfavourable conditions for the smallholders than those in which we put this large number of men on the land. It was the top of the market. The whole of the costs were extravagant. The rents we were charging them—it created a very great grievance—were nearly double the rents we were charging our pre-War holders. We had to do what we felt we ought not to do, because the whole principle of holdings under county councils was that you had security of tenure, without having your rent put up, and we had to raise the rents on our pre-War holdings to bring them nearer to a level with the post-War holders.
These people were not in a position of the ordinary farmer who, although controlled, was still able to make good profits. That was one of the reasons why the price of agricultural land rose so high. These men had no past profits upon which to fall back. They had a falling market. Notwithstanding that, even in Bedfordshire, where we have a specific trouble at present, the percentage of failures is only something like 5 per cent. We have an extraordinarily difficult situation at present owing to the drought of last year and the fly, which swept the winter crops away, and we have considerable arrears of rent. But our agricultural officer told me to-day he has no doubt that the great bulk of these smallholders will get over the extraordinary difficulties with which they are faced. The whole of the industries of the country have during the last 10 years passed through a most terribly trying 1919 time. It is not only agriculture that shows losses. In nearly every branch of trade we are in difficulties. The astounding thing is that, in all these terrible times, perhaps the group of people who have held their own most are the smallholders, who have been able to fulfil their commitments, in the main, and to make good. My own attitude, therefore, is that we should encourage to the utmost the smallholdings principle and the intensive cultivation of our land, producing the largest amount of foodstuffs, and we should endeavour to give these men very much better facilities than they have had in the past.
I was a little surprised at the speech of the late Minister, because it seemed to me that a good deal of it was based on what is not in the Bill at all. cannot find that there is any suggestion in it that you should place on the land men who are not suitable. Even with the unemployed, they must be men who are suitable to be put on the land. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that if an agricultural labourer was out of work, he was not unemployed and would not be eligible for one of these smallholdings, but. I do not read the Bill that way. We ought not to regard the present position of agriculture necessarily as permanent. It is due very largely to world causes which have affected all our industries. Your wheat problem is largely due to the fact of great pools of wheat artificially holding up prices. You have had an artificial stabilisation for some years of wheat prices by means of pools in Canada, Australia and America, with the result that, behind that stabilised price, producers have gone on flooding the market with wheat, and your pools Ionic like breaking, and your price may even break further before you get your proper adjustment between supply and demand. Therefore, I do not think you have to regard the present agricultural depression, even in arable, as permanent.
The most promising sign of agricultural development., as far as I can see it, is the smallholder, the small intensive cultivator, and we should do our utmost to assist him to develop that portion of our agricultural production, and the only point behind it is the question of the amount of drive we can get behind 1920 the Bill. Unless we can get a considerable amount of drive behind it, we shall not do a great deal of good with it. I suppose there is probably no more difficult problem that one can discuss in connection with any of the Measures brought before the House than the question of expense. The condition of the country is such that we ought not to spend a penny that we can avoid spending. At the same time, I can imagine no more wasteful expenditure than leaving the unemployed man drawing his unemployed pay, standing idle, depreciating in moral fibre, with a hopeless outlook, the very lifeblood of the nation, producing nothing and seeing no chance of any production. It is obvious that, along whatever line you try to find employment for him, the first essential is the expenditure of capital in some form or another. That man will only be employed by private enterprise as private enterprise sees an opportunity of making a profit and expends its capital.
In regard to the land, on all sides of the House we are prepared to admit that the old feudal system has broken down. We may admit that to a large extent it may be due to the Death Duties, which were initiated, as every new thing has been initiated, by the party that sits on these benches. Succeeding Chancellors of the Exchequer have never wiped them out. They have, perhaps, adjusted them, and have mostly added to them. Successive Death Duties on agricultural estates, where there are no other large financial resources, have involved the breaking up of estates or, in some form, made it difficult for them to carry on. Under the old feudal system, land was held by a few large landlords, many of them excellent men administering it to the best of their ability. There is one in my county who has endeavoured to the utmost of his ability to use his land to the best purpose. What you are up against is that that system has gone. You cannot restore it. No one on this side dreams for a moment that you can. You cannot go back on your history. If you could, a good many hon. Members opposite would like to go a long way back and get a readjustment from the very beginning.
You have to take the conditions as you find them to-day and in the problem with 1921 which we are faced, this large and growing volume of unemployment, the real point is not the fluctuating figures but the permanent figures. It is not that you have another 800,000 unemployed. That, we know, is due to a number of causes that are transitory. They will probably pass away. Thank God, depression has not gone to such a length that hope is more or less lost in industry, and that we have begun to go down hill because we are not really producing what is required to meet our current expenditure. There is a song I have sometimes heard sung called, "Give yourself a pat on the back." I am not sure that even in this House we might not sometimes give ourselves a pat on the back. The spirit of believing that England is down and out is a hopeless spirit. We are unquestionably paying our way. The only real scope that we have for a great, national, forward development at present is in the agricultural industry. We have £500,000,000 worth of foodstuffs coming into the country every year. What is required is that the greatest amount of assistance shall be given to our agricultural industry. I am not prepared to ask for Protection or subsidies. The people who, in the main, are providing us with these goods are not protected. The Danish agricultural community was not built up under Protection and is not protected. If they can produce these things, why cannot we? What is it that they have got that we have not? What is it that they can find that we cannot find?
I congratulate the Minister on introducing this Bill. I hope he will put any amount of driving force behind it. The great test of finance is not actually the amount of money you spend. It is whether that expenditure is well-founded and will show a return. For nearly all the expenditure we vote in this House, we get no visible return. There is a return—one has to recognise it—but it is not the same kind of return that you may hope to get out of placing a large number of men who know something of agricultural work. It is not a question of bringing townsmen back on to the land. It is a simple fact that for years past. there has been, and still today there is a steady flow from the countryside into the towns. In every queue outside an Employment Exchange to-day you will find men who a few years 1922 back were earning their livelihood upon the land. Your trouble will not be to find men who are suitable for the land; your trouble, in the end, may be to find suitable land on which to put them. I would give this warning to the Ministry and to the House. The most unfair thing which we can possibly do under a Bill of this sort is to take land which nobody wants and with which nobody can do any thing, and then to ask a man who has, perhaps, less experience than the mixed farmer to use the land with which no one else can do anything and expect him to make a living out of it. I want to see some of the best land of this country made available for the purposes of this Bill, and behind the whole agricultural industry, a feeling of hope and confidence, that somehow or other by reasonable and effective economic methods we are going to lift the industry out of the slough of despond in which it is not alone but with other industries. I hope we are going to lift up the industry, put it upon its feet and give it all the help and encouragement that this House can give, and try to make our land more productive and capable of feeding a very much larger number of our people than it does to-day.
§ Mr. ALPASS
I welcome the introduction of this Bill, because I strongly believe that it will be a very valuable contribution towards the reconstruction of the largest, if not perhaps the most important, basic industry in the country. I am particularly intrigued by the title of the Bill. It is described as the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill. We on this side of the House at least approach the study of this question and the development of agriculture from this angle. We lay it down as a basic principle that the land, being the country's most valuable material asset, ought to be so used as to ensure that the utmost possible amount of food is produced from it. We say that both ownership and occupation of agricultural land carry with them an implied condition that those who are owning it are equipping it as it should be equipped, efficiently, and that those who are cultivating it are doing so to its utmost productivity. The right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Agriculture rather made play with the case which was mentioned by the Minister of Agriculture in introducing this Bill, and tried to give 1923 an impression that it was au isolated case of neglect of land. I should very much like to see, and it would be extremely useful, an up-to-date and thorough survey made of the agricultural land of this country. I think that the result would be both illuminating and startling.
I happened to be engaged during the War on the Gloucestershire county agricultural executive committee. We there instituted and carried through what I do not think was undertaken by any other committee in the country—at least I did not hear about it—a complete and thorough survey of every agricultural holding in our county. This survey was not carried out by anyone sent down from Whitehall. We selected 60 of the most experienced and practical agriculturists of the county. We made them our inspectors and we sent them through the county. We gave them an ordnance map showing every piece of land on the holdings, and they were asked to describe the condition of the cultivation, the crops, the stock and everything appertaining to the cultivation of the holding. It would be fair to say that these farmer inspectors did not adopt an arbitrarily high standard of cultivation for their brother farmers. The net result of this survey was that. they reported that at least one out of every six of the agricultural holdings in our county were so neglected or so inefficiently farmed as to demand censure. If you multiply that result by all the counties in Great. Britain, you will get the astonishing result that a very large proportion of the agricultural land of the country is not farmed to anything like its proper capacity.
§ Mr. SKELTON
The hon. Member must not. make that calculation with respect to such counties as the Lothians and Perthshire.
§ Mr. ALPASS
I should be very loth to admit that the farmers in my county were poorer farmers than those in some other parts of the country. I think that they would be average farmers. Still, there is plenty of margin. I am trying to rebut the statement which was made by the late Minister of Agriculture that my right hon. Friend in introducing the Bill had selected an isolated case of 1924 inefficient farming and neglect of land. When you go through the country, either by train or by oar, you see all around you patent and obvious evidence of the neglect of this important and very valuable material asset of our agricultural land. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, as I have said, I should be delighted to see this up-to-date agricultural survey made. I think that we should prove our case up to the hilt. I am not saying that all persons who are tenants of agricultural holdings are bad farmers. What I do say is, that if all the land of the country were farmed up to the level of the best farmers, we should have very largely increased production of food within our awn shores.
§ Mr. ALPASS
I have lived in the countryside long enough, I think, to know that fact; it is most obvious. I am speaking of cultivating land according to its productivity and its capacity. I am not suggesting that you can grow the same kind of crops on all classes of land. I have had a little too much experience to fall into such a very easy error. I will confirm, or at least fortify, this statement by something which was said to me by the chairman of my own agricultural education committee. He is a man who has won prizes for the best cultivated farms in the three surround. ing counties on more than one occasion. We were discussing this question of the cultivation of the land, and he made this very blunt admission to me. He said "Alpass, if I had my way with one half of them, I would not let them have one acre of land to cultivate." I do not want to emphasise this too strongly, but I do not think it can be rebutted for a single moment by anyone who knows anything at all about the practical side of the question, that there is room for enormous improvement in the cultivation of the land of the country. I believe that the powers sought to be obtained in this Bill, when they are properly and thoroughly operated, will result in increased productivity, and, what is very important to us on this side of the House, will lead inevitably to a largely increased employment of labour on the land.
I should like to say a few words upon a matter of which the right. hon. Gentle- 1925 man also tried to make light, with regard to Part I of the Bill, namely, the proposal that a really serious attempt should be made to try out large scale farming. I am very glad that the Minister has avoided what has sometimes been a weakness of agricultural legislation, and prevented the objection being raised by agriculturists that this is an attempt to farm from Whitehall. I submit, with all respect, that one of the causes of present agricultural depression has been the failure on the part of agriculturists to use new methods and to adapt themselves to altered conditions. They adhere too slavishly to the old methods and systems of rotation. I have been at some trouble to get some information as to the results of large scale farming operations both in this country and abroad. An article appeared in a paper which is known to most hon. Members of the House, the "Observer." It was printed on 14th September, and I will read a paragraph from it because it has a direct bearing upon this point. It is headed "New Way in Arable Farming. A Lincolnshire Experiment,' and it is a material point bearing upon Part I of the Bill.On a farm in the centre of Lincolnshire I visited a few days ago, the problem ''—it is the problem of growing wheat in Lincolnshire—in East Anglia—had been tackled on entirely novel lines, and although the work, carried out to a successful issue in spite of the comparatively wet harvest, is experimental, it will appear to have had not only the germs of success in it but a new method of corn production that can accommodate itself to the present ridiculous prices.Then it goes on to illustrate the method by which that result had been accomplished. It had been accomplished by adopting the principles which are sought to be used under the operation of Part I of the Bill. There was an agricultural survey made by two eminent agricultural economists, namely, Professor Currie and Professor Long, of over 200 farms in South Devonshire. They investigated actual conditions. There was no theoretical conjecture at all about their results. They examined actual conditions, and from the farmers themselves they obtained the result of their farming operations. I will read the conclusions with regard to the important aspect of income. 1926The larger the investment in live stock, machinery and implements, the greater was the likelihood of a profitable return. The farmers having the greatest amount of investment in live stock, implements and machinery had the greatest returns.The evidence which they were able to obtain, not of something that might be put into operation, but of results which have actually been accomplished, goes to prove that there is a tremendous lot to learn from large scale farming operations. Professor Currie recently visited America, and this morning I received a letter from him in answer to a query of mine as to whether he could give me any information as to the results of large scale farming operations in the United States of America. This is what he says in his reply:From experience gained during my visits to America, by studying at first-hand the effects of mechanised farming there, I am convinced that there is a future for some such large-scale farming in certain areas in this country, especially—and this is the point I want to emphasise—in the grain-growing districts.He goes on to say:Another very interesting piece of evidence bearing on large-scale farming is that the Collins Farm Co., of Iowa, has been taking over typical farms of 160–320 acres which have been foreclosed or run down, and has reorganised them into units of 1,500–2,000 acres. In all they have 25,000 acres.… I interviewed the head of the. company, who assured me that they were returning interest on capital, including the value of the land, after paying management and all other expenses.6.0 p.m.
I discussed this question with a gentleman who is himself farming 6,000 acres of land in the south-west of England, and he mentioned! one point which is most significant. He said that when he took over the land the average yield of wheat -was 2½ quarters per acre. He has treated the land scientifically and, of course, he has found the necessary capital to go in for large scale methods of production. The consequence has been that last year he increased the yield from 2½ quarters per acre to 5 quarters per acre. In other words, he increased the yield by 100 per cent. I should be the last person to attempt to dogmatise on this very complex question, but I think there is sufficient data and evidence available to warrant the Government carrying out these large scale farm experiments. This 1927 particular gentleman who is carrying out large scale farming suggested that perhaps the wisest method would be to have large scale farms in four or five different parts of the country, where the latest machinery could be used economically, the discoveries of science could be applied to the cultivation of the soil and, what I think is very important, electrical power could be applied to agricultural cultivation.
In my opinion, of course I am only a layman in this matter, there are tremendous potentialities in the application of electrical power to agricultural cultivation in this country. I had the opportunity of visiting, some time ago, a dairy farm where electricity had been applied. Instead of the old custom of going into the yard up to your ankles in mud—I am putting it very modestly, because I have done a good many valuations of farms where I could hardly get through the farmyard mud; but I do not want to paint the picture too luridly—the farmer touched a switch, and the whole place was brilliantly illuminated. The same thing happened when one went into the cow houses. There, the men were able to do their milking in the early morning or the evening by electricity, instead of the old system of candle lanterns and the usual experience of the lantern falling and upsetting the milk. By means of another switch all the farm machinery was set into operation, the machine for cutting chaff, and so on. All the machinery was operated by electrical power. It is time we began to see whether it is not possible, in the interests of the agricultural labourers, to get rid of the dirty drudgery of farm work, a most undesirable occupation from that standpoint. I believe that if these experiments are carried out on the lines suggested by the Minister and in the Bill such valuable lessons will be learned as will enable a start to be made in ensuring that the agricultural labourer's occupation is made into something approaching a pleasurable occupation and one worth carrying on.
I should like to deal with that part of the Bill which relates to smallholdings. Like many other hon. Members, I have spent some years in helping to administer smallholding schemes in my own county. The right hon. Member for Bury St. 1928 Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) spoke about the very large percentage of failures under the post-War settlement scheme. My own experience teaches me that the main cause of those failures was the very high prices that we were forced to pay for the land.
Surely, that did not affect the individual settler. It affected the cost to the State, but the whole of that capital loss was wiped out and was not thrown on the smallholders.
§ Mr. ALPASS
I attended practically every meeting of the Smallholders' Committee from the time that it was started to the end, and when the question of loss was raised we were always reminded by the Commissioner, who always attended our meetings, that the Government desired that we should obtain an economic rent. That economic rent meant that we had to have regard to the price paid for the land. [Horn. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am speaking of my own experience; it may not have been the experience of other hon. Members. We went into the market to compete with everybody else and in some cases to compete with the tenant for the land. We were forced to do that. In some instances we obtained most undesirable land. I remember the Commissioner commenting on one piece of land that we were forced to obtain. He said that it was a horrible place and that he would not dream of sending anyone under his influence to farm such an undesirable place. I am very glad that the Minister is going to profit by the mistakes that were made under that scheme. There are four requisites for success. (1) The land must be suitable: (2) it must be in a good situation; (3) the rent must be a fair rent. Many smallholders have had to pay not merely twice as much as the farmer pays, but in many cases three times as much. (4) There must be some serious attempt to assist the smallholders in organising and marketing their produce. With these safeguards, I think it may be possible for many men to obtain a satisfactory living if they are assisted in the way that I have suggested.
I should like to refer to the comments made by the right hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds with regard to the cost. You cannot carry out the work of reconstructing any industry unless you are pre- 1929 pared to face up to the cost of it. I have not been in this House very long but I have witnessed money being voted for the development of territories thousands of miles away and I heard very little criticism about that cost. Labour Members are sometimes accused of loving every country but their own. In this Bill the position is reversed. Our Government have shown that they intend to pursue the policy of developing our own home and internal resources, but directly we produce a Bill to implement that policy up go the hands of right hon. Members opposite and they talk about the cost. We suggest that by seeing that the land inside our own shores is developed to its utmost capacity we are the truest patriots. I hope that this Bill will be pressed with determination and that it will be the forerunner of other Measures to be introduced as soon as opportunity arises which will ultimately lead to the placing of the important basic industry of agriculture on a sound economic footing and ensure to all who are engaged in it a satisfactory standard of living.
§ Captain DUGDALE
It may seem curious that I should intervene in a debate of this nature and oppose the Second Reading of an Agricultural Bill, seeing that I have the honour to represent one of the largest agricultural constituencies in England. I do so for two very definite reasons. in the first place because from an agricultural standpoint this Bill does not touch the roots of the depression in the agricultural industry. To-day up and down the country when one speaks to farmers both old and young—whether they are those farmers whom hon. Members opposite are inclined to think are foolish or whether they are modern farmers—one gets the same retort that it is impossible for a farmer to get for his produce a price that has any relation to what it costs him to produce it. This Bill does not touch the question of price in one single instance. It deals entirely with the method of the tenure of agricultural land. If we could put the question of price on an economic basis, whether by legislation or by any other method, we could automatically encourage the expansion of agriculture, get townspeople to come back to the land and, what is mote important, we could stop the drift of the 1930 agricultural labourer from the country into the ranks of the unemployed in our big towns and cities. In the second place, when one looks further into the Bill one wonders if it is really a Measure to help the agricultural industry or whether it is not an unemployment relief scheme. As such, one wonders whether the results which we are going to obtain from the provisions of the Bill justify the enormous expense which will be involved.
I would refer to the provisions of Part I of the Bill. The hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Alpass) interested me very much when he referred to large-scale farms in various parts of the world. He gave an interesting example of a large-scale farm in the south-west of England. He referred to large-scale farms as an experiment. Are we justified in this House in voting £6,000,000 as an experiment to see if it is worth while, especially when we have the experience of the past. The £6,000,000 is capital expenditure. It is to be spent on the purchase of land on which it is proposed that the State should carry out farming operations. What assurance have we from the Minister of Agriculture that when we have purchased the land there will not be great losses experienced year after year from its working? What has been the experience during the last 10 years? My right hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) mentioned the Patrington farm settlement of 2,300 acres which was taken over for 99 years by the Ministry of Agriculture. After 10 years, it had to be given up in 1927, in view of the enormous losses, which up to that time amounted to over £80,000. Is that a hopeful sign?
Let me give one other example—there are many. Take the Wantage farm settlement, bought in 1919 for £24,000 and sold in 1926 for £11,000. That, I agree, is owing to the difference in the price of land as years go on, but the total accumulated losses on that farm were about £36,000. Is that a hopeful sign for us to spend this enormous amount of money on large-scale farms run by the State? Does the Minister of Agriculture imagine that men who are to be put in to manage these farms are going to do it better than the present farmers? If an industry in an industrial centre comes down through economic 1931 reasons and is forced to close it can be done. We do not see it at work, alas; but you cannot close a farm, and when hon. Members opposite as they go about the country see land which they think is not being farmed properly, land which is going to waste, men leaving the land, it is because the agricultural industry is in just as depressed a state as any other industry. But you cannot close an agricultural area like you can a factory. Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that a man who is put on these large-scale farms by the Government will carry on farming better than those who have had a life-long experience of it?
What is going to be the result of these big scale farms? One of two things will happen. If you put large areas into grass it might be possible, by an alteration in the methods of dairy farming, for these farms to be run on an economic basis. But if you do that you will only drive still more men from the agricultural industry into the ranks of the unemployed in our big towns. Do you want that to happen? If, on the other hand, you concentrate on arable farming entirely, I suggest that the results we have experienced at Patrington and at Wantage, losses of £80,000 and £36,000, will be a mere fleabite, and that our losses every year will run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, which the general ratepayer and taxpayer will have to pay.
I come now to Part II of the Bill, and I do so in a different spirit. I do not suppose that there is any member who does not hope to see a return of the townspeople to the country in future years. Part II of the Measure deals with the extension of smallholdings—putting the farm labourer and the unemployed man on the land. In principle this has the whole-hearted support of hon. Members on this side of the House, and, indeed, on all sides of the House; but is this the time and is this the method? The Minister of Agriculture seemed to me to assume that agriculture is in a prosperous condition to-day. On the contrary, it is in a very depressed condition. The scales may be just balancing, and if you put one more weight in one direction you may disturb the equilibrium. If you do that, you will have not hundreds but thousands of agricultural workers going into the towns from the country.
1932 The only way to help the agricultural industry is by a reorganisation of prices. Agriculture is unlike any other industry in this country, because we have at home unlimited markets for our agricultural produce. Look at this question from the point of view of the unemployed man. Agriculture is in a state of great depression, and the unemployed man is to be put upon a smallholding. He has had no experience. At the very best he will have to compete with people who have been engaged in agriculture all their lives, and at the worst he may have bad hick in the first year and lose the whole of his working capital. Is it fair, when agriculture is so depressed, to ask that man to go on to a smallholding The conditions to-day are different from what they were five years ago. At the moment they amount almost to a crisis in the industry —that is from the point of view of the unemployed man. But take the point of view of those who have been engaged in the industry for the last 10 years. Is it fair to these people, who have been fighting against overwhelming odds, to subsidise novices to the extent of £20 per acre, because it is going to cost £1,000 to put one man on 50 acres of land. It may be right and proper to do this when the industry is prosperous, and when there is hope of the men making it a success. But the thousands of smallholders who have made good—and long may they continue to make good—are they going to thank you in the. present conditions of the industry if you swamp the agricultural market with subsidised individuals, who have had no experience, to the extent of £20 per acre, and put them on to the land to compete against those who have had such very hard work during the last 10 or 15 years? This is not the time to do it. If the Government can produce measures to carry out what they said they would do a year ago, that is, to make farming pay, deal with the question of prices, they will have the wholehearted support of all hon. Members on this side of the House in putting more people on the land.
Let me say one word with regard to the financial provisions of the Bill. The Minister of Agriculture has unlimited powers to spend what money he likes. I have worked it out, and I find that to put 2,000 men on smallholdings and 1933 100,000 men into allotments would cost £3,750,000. But how do we know that the Government are not going to spend £10,000,000, or £15,000,000, or £50,000,000 upon this scheme? There is no check whatever. Are we justified at a time of financial crisis in giving the Minister of Agriculture unlimited powers to spend money in this way? Would hon. Members opposite be prepared to give a Conservative Minister of Agriculture unlimited power to spend what money he likes?
§ Captain DUGDALE
He can spend it as he likes.? He can spend as much as he likes, provided, of course, that he has the sanction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Surely this is not a time when it is right for this House of Commons to vote these enormous sums of money, unless we are certain of getting a profitable and good return for the money expended. In my view, the agricultural industry will in no way benefit by this Bill, the effect on the unemployed will be infinitesimal, and the cost to the general public enormous. For these reasons, I shall oppose this Bill at every stage.
§ Miss PICTON - TURBERVILL
The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorkshire (Captain Dugdale) has told
us that he represents a large agricultural constituency. My constituency is largely agricultural and as this House is mainly composed of honourable gentlemen perhaps my standing in the House will be slightly enhanced when I tell them that my constituency is one of the very few constituencies where there are more men voters than women. Seldom has there been applause so prolonged in this House as when the Minister of Agriculture sat down after concluding his speech this afternoon. The applause did not come from the benches opposite, but from these benches and from the benches below the Gangway. I should like to inform the late Minister of Agriculture that the applause was not due, as he suggested, to the smile on the face of the present Minister of Agriculture, and his urbane manner, but was the result of the lucidity of his exposition of the Bill and the fact that the Labour party has grappled with the great problem of agriculture. 1934 Let me say a few words about the answer given to the Minister of Agriculture by the right hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness). I am ready to pay a tribute to the late Minister of Agriculture. It was perfectly obvious to the House that his reply was without heart and without conviction, and when for one moment I allowed my thoughts to wander from the words he was saying and returned again to the speech I found that he had wandered into the depths of the philosophy of Freudian psychology. He had certainly wandered from the Bill.
I want to repudiate the statement the right hon. Gentleman made, that all members of the Socialist party think that all farmers are inefficient. I repudiate that statement at once. In my own constituency there are farmers who are skilful, able and efficient. What are the two main points on which hon. Members opposite oppose this Bill? The first is that the expense is not justified. Surely when a Labour Government are going to spend money on agriculture in order to set it on a sound footing, it is a strange thing for the Conservative party—I will not say Tory party, because I think it is courteous to call a party by the name they give themselves —should be opposing the Bill on the score of expense, especially as the Minister of Agriculture has reminded them of the enormous amount of money which is spent on rubber in the Malay States and on coffee in Brazil. Why cannot we spend money on our own agricultural industry?
Another statement was that the overwhelming majority of agriculturists are opposed to the Bill. That is a strange statement. Does the late Minister of Agriculture not include agricultural labourers as agriculturists? There are more men employed in agriculture than in any other industry, with the exception of mining. Yet the right hon. Gentleman had the audacity to say that the majority of agricultural labourers are opposed to the Bill. This Bill will give the labourers a chance. It will give a chance also to the men in the mining industry who at the age of forty-five find themselves on the scrap heap. This is a tragic state of affairs. I have in mind men in my own constituency, close to an agricultural district—miners who 1935 at forty-five know that they are on the scrap heap. They have had no work for five years and at forty-five have small chance of being taken on again as miners. The Bill will give fresh hope to these men, who are still full of energy and of a desire for work.
My chief point is this: It is absolutely important to get the good will of the women of the country towards the Bill. I assume, of course, that small holdings and allotments will be available for women as well as for men.
§ Dr. ADDISON indicated assent.
§ Miss PICTON-TURBERVILL
Numbers of women already successfully run smallholdings. I notice that in the Bill the word "person" is used repeatedly. In the olden days that word nearly always meant men only, but I feel sure that the Minister means to include women under this Bill. Yet I am slightly daunted when I come to Clause 6, Sub-sections (b) and (d) with its repeated reference to "him" and "himself." However, I assume that that term is generic and that the Minister means to include women. Therefore, the smallholdings and allotments must be available for women as well as men. It is a sad fact that proportionally more women than men have lost employment in the last few months. I state my case not only for the women who want to work the allotments and the smallholdings themselves, but also for the womenfolk of the new occupiers. They can make or mar this settlement.
I ask hon. Members to realise that I am not dwelling on this point of women from a feminist point of view. I abominate the word "feminist." I am looking at the matter from a common sense point of view because I know that unless we have the good will of the womenfolk of the men who are to occupy the new settlements, the women will drag their men back again to the towns. It is essential that the women be happy in the work. I want the Minister to state whether there is any scheme for training the women of the new occupiers in rural domestic economy. There is all the difference in the world between urban and rural domestic economy. Think for one moment of the miner's wife or of any woman in a town who goes to the shops and buys one pennyworth here and two 1936 pennyworth there. In the new settlement she must be trained to take some part in the work of the holding and must be trained in rural domestic economy. She must know the difference between mint and parsley, she must understand poultry and milking. Is there to be any training for the women so as to help them to adjust themselves to the new life? Secondly, are the administrative centres to be open as well as to men?
§ Miss PICTON - TURBERVILL
I understand that they are. So that women shall settle happily in these settlements, it is also very important for the Minister to realise that the settlements must be near schools for the children. I have no doubt that that fact has been taken into consideration. cannot emphasise too strongly that the stability of the men on the land depends on the women being happy there.
In conclusion, I wish to draw attention to five points. First, proper provision should be made for training women to settle on the land. The training must include domestic science and agricultural knowledge—that is training in rural domestic economy. Secondly, for this purpose arrangements should be made for training teachers in rural domestic economy. Thirdly, the assistance to smallholders contemplated in the Bill should be available to women. I understand it will be. Fourthly, educational and social needs of the new settlements must be given careful consideration so that they are near schools and the village halls. Fifthly, women must be on the organising committees which are to be set up. I understand that the Board of Agriculture in order to carry out the Bill will have to increase its staff. My right hon. Friend must have some women on the increased staff. As I have already said, the women should have an equal chance with the men of making good. Lastly, I ask the Minister not to forget that the stability of the men on the land is dependent on the happiness of the women there.
§ Captain BRISCOE
It may seem almost ungrateful for the Conservative party to oppose this Bill, now that the Minister of Agriculture has at last produced one, and more especially because he introduced it in a very charming and 1937 delightful way. But the Bill is going to involve the country in enormous expenditure. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Surely that is part of the Bill, and I imagine that is what the Minister wishes. If the Bill did not cost anything it would not be worth having. The country will have to spend a lot of money on the agricultural industry. All those who are interested in agriculture must at once ask whether this large expenditure is going to be made in a way that is most useful to the industry. The first question one asks is, Is this money going to give immediate employment to one single agricultural worker or help one single farmer to make a profit on the land? The Minister repeatedly told us that the results of the Bill would only acme in the future. I doubt very much whether it is much good asking the people of this country to spend large sums of money on a project which is going to have no immediate results, although the industry is in such a tremendous crisis. If the Government are going to spend money, I say do let the results of that expenditure be immediate and effective. If the result is not immediate the money is really thrown away.
There is not an unlimited supply of money in the country. It is most urgent, from the industrial and agricultural point of view, that every penny spent should produce money's worth. I am convinced that agriculture could not get a worse money's worth than under this Bill. Take the case of the agricultural labourer. He to-day is faced in many parts of the country with the fact that land is going out of cultivation altogether. To him the question is whether he has to accept decreased wages or loss of employment. Will this Bill help him to get employment I do not believe that it will do so in any way. On the contrary the Bill will make it more difficult for him to get employment. Under the first Clause immense grants are to be made to carry out schemes of large-farm cultivation. The first result of those schemes will be a decrease in the number of people employed. We had a speech just now from the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Alpass). He said that what was particularly wanted was the use of more machinery and the introduction of electricity on the farms. 1938 What does that mean? Again less employment.
It does seem odd that at this moment the Government should ask us to vote large sums of money the spending of which will have the effect, not of increasing employment, but of increasing unemployment in the country districts. In the second part of the Bill, in the provisions for smallholdings, we find again that unless great care is taken agricultural workers will be put out of employment. First of all, the land to be taken must be good land. Therefore the proposal is to take land which is to-day cultivated by agricultural workers. The land will be taken away from existing farms and the men working there will cease to find employment on the land. That is essential. One looks to see whether anything is to be done in order to give special help to the agricultural labourer who loses his occupation. If I read the Bill aright these smallholdings and allotments are to be started purely to solve the unemployment problem. At the best, therefore, an unemployed man will take the place of the agricultural worker. For those two reasons, the tremendous expenditure in an unproductive way, and because the Bill will very seriously damage the chances of employment of agricultural labourers, I shall vote against the Bill at all its stages.
§ Mr. PRICE
The hon. Member who has just spoken referred to the expenditure of public money as undesirable at the present time. I would point out that there is such a. thing as uneconomic economy. At a time like this, money spent wisely in a capital investment for national development may in the long run be better than parsimony and attempts to save. I wish it were possible to see a greater measure of agreement between the three parties in the House and to approach more nearly to the Council of State that was spoken of in the early stages of this Parliament. But at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that on the Labour benches and on the Liberal benches there is a substantial measure of agreement, and I hope it will make possible the passing of the Bill to the Statute Book. It seems to me that one can approach the agricultural problem from two points of 1939 view. One can look upon it mainly as a question of organisation, of methods of land tenure, of credits, of the removal of certain restrictions and so forth; or, on the other hand, one may regard it as a problem concerned with prices and world conditions. I think we on these benches and hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite, approach it from the first point of view and that the Conservative party regard it from the second point of view. They seem to fear that the objects of this Bill will be brought to nought on account of the competition of foreign products—what is called "dumping"—which they say is the cause of our agricultural depression.
I think there is a certain amount of truth in both points of view and therefore I do not regard this Bill as by any means the last stage. I should be very dissatisfied indeed if this were the only kind of Measure which the Minister was going to introduce. The Bill is in a certain sense a hybrid Bill. It is a cross-bred, by unemployment out of agricultural depression and the calf will probably require a great deal of careful rearing by the head cowman on the Front Bench. The Bill seeks to combine two objectives—one that of dealing with unemployment by settling men on the land, and the other that of developing large-scale farming with the object of providing experimental farms to assist those holdings which are already in existence. Both are very good objects and although it is somewhat difficult to combine them in a Bill, I wish the Minister every success in his effort to achieve them and I only hope that this Bill will be followed by further Measures.
In regard to the proposals for dealing with unemployment, a great deal could be done in the neighbourhood of our great industrial centres with a view to developing certain branches of agricultural production which are not subject, in the same degree as other branches, to competition from abroad. That is the great value of this part of the Bill. In regard to poultry-keeping, for instance, there are enormous possibilities of development in this country because it is not subject to the same degree of foreign competition as other branches of the industry. If I mention 1940 fruit production I may be treading on dangerous ground because, in regard to certain classes of fruit there is foreign competition, but I would also refer to vegetable production, and I think that, in certain areas, it is possible to put the finest fruit on the market in a position to compete easily with foreign products. Therefore I welcome any attempt on these lines to secure work on the land for people in the neighbourhood of the great industrial centres. I need only mention the remarkable and invaluable work done by the Society of Friends in the neighbourhood of the South Wales coalfields where it has been made possible for partly-employed miners to supplement their meagre incomes, and for those wholly unemployed to keep the wolf from the door by organising cooperative allotments and smallholdings.
There is no use, however, in waxing lyrical about smallholdings in general. Smallholdings vary according to the soil and the climate. There are part of Worcestershire, such as the Vale of Evesham, where the soil is admirably adapted to smallholdings, and yet, within quite a short distance, there is another type of soil on which large-scale ranch farming is the only economic proposition. It is therefore necessary to exercise very careful supervision in regard to these smallholdings both as to type and locality. There is also reason for looking into the conditions under which smallholdings at present are carried on. In the West of England, particularly in the Welsh border counties and also in Wales itself, the smallholdings are generally most successful in those areas where the men on the smallholdings can work at the same time in Crown forests or private forests and where the smallholding supplements the income which they earn as foresters. In my own constituency in Cumberland there have been developments recently by the Forestry Commission in setting up smallholdings on the Commission's estates, and I know of a large number of such holdings along the Welsh border. All this tends to show that in many districts smallholdings will have to be combined with other occupations. In areas like the Vale of Evesham a smallholder can be quite independent, but when the smallholding is on rather inferior soil, 1941 subsidiary occupations will probably be desirable and necessary to make them an economic success.
The second part of the Bill aims at starting large-scale farming for experimental purposes, and this, I think, taking the long view, is probably the most valuable part of the Bill. The first part deals with the immediate and present problems of unemployment, but the second part aims at ultimately making an impression on agriculture and benefiting the industry. What we want to know is what arc the best types of units for farming in different parts of the country. I hope it will not be thought that we on this side of the House want to teach the farmers their business, or that we look upon all farmers as incapable—as the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) seemed to suggest. We certainly do not think so, but we think that measures can be taken and that it is the business of the State to see that they are taken, with a view to assisting the farmers to help themselves. A certain amount of very good work has been done, in connection with finding out the best types of units for farms, in agricultural schools in various parts of the country and at the universities. Very important costing systems have been worked out by schools of agriculture at the universities, and it has been found that in certain parts of the country certain kinds of holdings are more economical than others.
It has been said by various people that the large-scale farm is to be the farm of the future. I do not wish to dogmatise, but I do not think that that view is accurate, just as I do not think that the smallholding is the only type. That can be successful. That may be the case in certain parts of the country, but not in others. I would refer to the interesting work of Dr. Ruston, of Leeds University, who not very long ago analysed the farming accounts of a large number of farms in Yorkshire over a term of years. His investigation went to show that in certain parts of Yorkshire two types of farm are most economical. One is the farm between 50 acres and 150 acres. The farm between 150 and 350 acres was not so economical. Then the farm, of from 350 acres to 400 acres was found to be a most economic type of farm, but beyond that size they were not 1942 so economic. I am strongly of opinion that only by the co-ordination of the work of the existing agricultural colleges, and schools of agriculture in the Universities, linked up with State large-scale farms, will we be able to make a really good economic survey of agricultural England.
What we are up against, in the long run, is the problem of making the industry so efficient that it can meet competition from abroad and beat it on our market. I believe that it can be done, but we must he equipped with the very latest methods. I agree that we cannot merely by a Bill of this kind deal with the dumping of goods from abroad or with foreign competition. Other measures will have to be taken. I do not agree with hon. Members opposite who think that they have a very easy method of dealing with that problem. I think there will have to be other measures which they probably do not envisage. I look upon this Bill as, shall we say, the first course of the banquet which the Minister of Agriculture is to give us, and I hope that when we come to the later. courses that we shall find them real and substantial contributions to the solution of the agricultural problem of this country.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir. J. LAMB
It cannot be a pleasure to one who has spent most of his life in agriculture to have to oppose a Bill which in name at any rate—though I think in name only—is an agricultural Bill. It is not a pleasure to have to oppose a Bill brought in 'by such a responsible Minister. Agriculturists have a right to look upon the Minister of Agriculture as one primarily interested in the industry, and in the interests of those who are engaged in the industry. After careful consideration, I cannot help thinking, and I say so without intending any offence, that this Bill is either a fraud or a delusion. If the Minister believes that this Bill can do what he has said it will do, then it is a delusion, because it will not do it; on the other hand, if he does not, it is a fraud.
My great objection to the Bill is that it does nothing whatever to relieve the present disastrous condition of the industry. Surely, if you are going to call in a doctor, you call him first to those people nearest death, and those are the 1943 people already in the industry. This Bill does nothing whatever for them. The right hon. Gentleman explained, in his speech introducing this Measure, that it was a continued and sustained effort to bring prosperity to the industry, but he did not tell us when that was to be. In fact, in his next sentence he qualified it by saying that it would take time and that the Measure was slow in operation. It is really doing nothing for the people already in the industry, who have a right to consider themselves entitled to first consideration. The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Price) said that he hoped this Bill was not the last stage. The Bill may not be the last stage, but, unless there is something done very quickly, it is undoubtedly the last stage for a great many of those already in the industry. The Minister, speaking about large imports, said that we knew how to produce those commodities as well as they did abroad. I agree with him that we do. The difficulty is not producing the article, but producing it at a price which will compete with the article imported into this country produced under very different circumstances and under climatic conditions which we have not in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of poultry. I believe there are great possibilities there, and that the greatest improvement has taken place, but, after all, poultry is only one section of this very large industry and the whole of the industry cannot be invigorated by the keeping of poultry. I have come to the conclusion that, if the hen lays the eggs, she has no need to bother about crowing, because plenty of other people are doing that to-day. This Bill has been referred to as a Measure to absorb some of the unemployed. I hope it will not be taken as an offence, but I believe the very best place for the unemployed industrialists is in industry, and that the duty of the Government is to put the industries into such a position that they can absorb those men who are now unemployed and who have been trained in those industries. I am tired to death of hearing this repetition of the cry, "Back to the land" irrespective of whether the individual is suitable or not for being placed upon the land. I am confident that industry is the place for the indus- 1944 trialist and that he himself would wish to remain there if you will only make industry such that it will give him a reasonable livelihood.
The Government up to now have proved themselves to be painfully weak or brutally obstinate. I say that deliberately, because all inquiries into the agricultural industry have come to the conclusion that, if you expect the agriculturists in this country to compete with those growing crops abroad under different conditions, there must be in some form or another a subsidy. All the inquiries held have said that that is essential—and it would take a very large room to hold the volumes of all the inquiries which have, been held and a very small one to hold the Bills which have been passed as a result of those inquiries. The reason I say the Government are either weak or brutally obstinate is that on all other occasions they have said definitely that there should be no subsidy for the farmer. Yet this Bill reeks of subsidy. It is subsidy all through, but it is not subsidy for the farmer; it is not subsidy for those inside the industry, but it is subsidy for those outside the industry to come in and to be victims of the industry in its present condition. No matter how many men you bring into the industry, unless you make it one in which they can live, it is a cruel thing and a shame to bring them into it.
With regard to large-scale farming, I cannot believe that these proposals have been put forward by experts who have any practical knowledge. I believe that the real incentive to bring in this Bill has been Socialism. I believe it is the Socialist element on the other side of the House which has forced the Government to do something and that this is a little of "Socialism in our time." [Interruption.] I am glad to see hon. Members opposite approve what I am saying and prove that what I have said was true. I am against the Bill as a Socialist Measure, but I am much more against it as a Measure which is impracticable and which will not bring the results suggested. With regard to largescale farming, we have already all the examples we require of the large farms. Large farming is only suitable in so far as it is arable farming. I agree that the nearer you are to a purely arable farm, the nearer the possibilities are to the 1945 advantages of large-scale farming. What has been said previously by another hon. Member on this side was quite true, namely, that the more you increase your large-scale farming the more you make possible the utilisation of machinery, which means the displacement of labour, so that, if you are not very careful, you may, by large-scale farming, reduce the number of men far more than you will bring men on to the land by your smallscale farming.
Reference has been made to one particular large-scale farm by the hon. Member opposite who told us that the yield had been increased by 100 per cent. It is quite possible that an increase has been made, but the hon. Member did not tell us what is, I believe, common knowledge to those who know this particular case, that, although they have increased the yield, they have made a very large deficit on the year's working. What is the good of increasing the yield if you are going to increase also the losses? The nearer, I repeat, that you get to arable farming, the more possible it is to take advantage of large-scale operation, but in other cases it is dangerous to do this. The more you are on the stock-raising system, the more necessary it is to have that personal observation of animals on the farm by the owner of the animals himself. This country has the proud reputation of having produced the best stock breeders in the world. All countries come to us for their pedigree stock. The great breeders of the past knew every animal on their farm; they knew its peculiarities. If you go into large-scale farming, you cannot do that. As to dairying, milk is a surplus product which the cow produces after she has retained for herself all she requires from the food she has taken. Consequently, unless that animal is in robust good health, you are not getting the best results, and it is only by close observation of the animals under your charge that you can possibly do this. I agree that you can have small herds on the large farms, but that is not the same thing as a man knowing the herds himself and making the most out of them. As to specialists, it is not possible for specialists to specialise to the same degree in large undertakings as they can -on the small farm.
1946 Further, I am opposed to this Bill on account of the large number of officials required. I have on many occasions stood up for the officials, because I deprecate very much the practice which has grown up of speaking disrespectfully of officials as officials. They do their work as well as anybody else. The work of the world would not be carried on if it were not for officials and officialism, but I object to the unnecessary multiplication of officials. I am afraid that this Bill will mean a large increase in the number of officials on these farms to replace those now in occupation of the land. We have not been told who are to be on this directorate or what they are to be. Are they to he scientists? Are they to be retired farmers? Probably the retired farmer would be the best, because he was a man wise enough to get out of farming before it became so had and he thereby showed that he had some wisdom. Or are we going to have business men who have made a great success as business men and have gone into farming? Those men have gone into farming in the past with great hopes and have either kept it on as a hobby or got out of it as soon as they could. There is another example of large-scale farming which we ought to remember, and that is the co-operative societies. I have nothing to say against to-operative societies, and I believe in co-operation in its place. We know that the co-operative societies at one time were buying up large tracts of land. What is the result? They made huge losses and are getting rid of it as quickly as they can. That has been done under very favourable conditions. It is no use talking about marketing being the salvation of agriculture. Those societies did not require marketing, they had their own marketing system with a customer at their door upon whom they could force their own articles. Yet they had very large losses. Reference has been made to Russia, and the Minister said that Stalin had dipped into the Selborne Report. We ought to inquire what are the conditions of agriculture in Russia and what are the conditions of labour out there before we take any notice of what they do there.
There is another class of farm recommended, demonstration farms. Most of us know that we have these demonstration farms, but they are in two categories. 1947 I have here particulars of all the names and situations of these farms, and I can give them if challenged, but as it is difficult to give many figures in this House without becoming burdensome and wearying, I will not give them to the full extent. There are, as I say, two classes of demonstration farms. There are those which are attached to our universities and colleges, and there are those attached to county farm schools. I am not going to say that we should expect those farms, particularly those in the first class, to be absolutely economic and to pay for themselves. That is not my argument, because they are under certain difficulties, but those farms which are attached to the farm schools are in a different category from those attached to the universities. It is not so necessary at farm schools as it is at the universities to carry on expensive experimental work.
The figures which I am giving are all official, and some of them are figures which I have been given in reply to a question that I put in this House on the 11th of this month. There are 12 of those demonstration farms which are attached to universities, and they are very well distributed in various parts of England and Wales. Without giving all the figures, I will briefly summarise them by saying that in five years they lost £44,818, but there was a profit of £4,593, leaving a net loss of £40,225, which means an average loss per year of £8,045. With regard to the farms attached to farm schools, we have 21 attached to various farm institutes all over England and Wales, and the loss in this case in the five years was £147,950, but there was a profit of £2,079, and the net loss was £145,871, or an average loss per year of £28,174. I have used the word "loss," but perhaps that was unfair, and I might have used the word "expenses," because I do not want to be unfair or to compromise my own industry by suggesting that we do not appreciate the good work that has been done.
§ Sir J. LAMB
I said that at the commencement, and I am not making that as a point. My point is this: Can we afford, under our present conditions of 1948 financial stringency in this country, to duplicate these examples, which have cost so much up to the present? When we have 21 attached to farm schools and 12 attached to universities, I think we might take advantage of the very valuable information which they have given us without duplicating it.
With regard to the reclamation of land, where is all this land requiring reclamation which it will be profitable to reclaim? [An HON. MEMBER: "In Scotland!"] I have no doubt there are very large areas in Scotland, because the Duke of Sutherland offered to the country large tracts of land in Scotland, which were not acceptable. I believe that the area of land which requires reclamation and which will, after that, be economic, is certainly not as large as people think. At any rate, when or why will it pay to spend further money upon land to put it into such a condition that it will only equal good land which is not paying a profit at the present time? Reference has been made to the 3,000 acres in Hampshire, and I would only say about that that it would be very undesirable policy to legislate for one man, and if you are going to legislate for one man, it will be an expensive experiment.
With regard to smallholdings, I have a very great love for them, and I think I can say that I have been associated with them as closely as most hon. Members of this House, because for a certain period during the War I was acting for the Food Production Department as a sub-commissioner, and I had a great deal to do with them then. Further, I have had the honour of being on my own county council for 22 years, and have in that connection had the opportunity of being connected with smallholdings. Also I have had the very great advantage of working with one of the best estate agents there is in the country, and I am prepared to say that the smallholdings which we have in my own county will compare with those of any other county in the country. We have had our successes, and we are proud of them, but we have also had our failures, and it is from our failures that we have to learn and that we shall get wisdom for dealing with this question in the future, because those failures have undoubtedly been very costly to the nation in the past.
1949 The crux of the whole matter with regard to smallholdings is the individual Whom you are going to put on the holding. It is the personality and the ability of the man and the woman that counts. 1 once got nearly into trouble—not the only time—when I had to interview a very large number of applicants for loans for working smallholdings. Invariably, when I did so, and had asked them all the impertinent questions which it was necessary to ask, I said, "And what about the wife? "or" Whom are you going to marry?" On one or two occasions I was answered in very forcible language, as to what that had to do with me, but when I explained what it bad to do with him—we were always good friends about it—he very much appreciated the point, and I know of one or two cases where men who were applying for loans to take up land, when they had considered this particular point, withdrew their application. There is nothing more cruel to a woman than to take her from the town and put her into the country into an uncongenial life, and make her remain there when the work may not he successful. It is not fair to ask her to do that.
In the Bill the Minister has given us various classes of persons who might be put on to these holdings, and he puts first the unemployed. I believe it is very cruel, for the sake of getting rid of a man, to put him into an occupation in which he will not make a success, but I will say no more on that point. Then there is the class described as "able to cultivate the holding properly," but who will decide that before you give him the holding? It is impossible to decide whether he will cultivate a holding properly until you have given him an opportunity of proving whether he can or not, and then it is too late, if he is not a success.
I remember one case where a man came before a committee composed of farmers and other agriculturists and he knew far more than any of the Committee did with regard to the theory of making a holding pay. He knew the value of his pigs, the amount of food they would eat, and what the returns should be, and the same with regard to poultry, and he could answer all the other questions which were asked him to the letter of the book, but when he 1950 got on his holding—because they could not refuse him one—he made an absolute failure. When the estate agent asked him, in a very kindly way, when he came and asked the agent to be relieved of the holding—he was not turned off—"Why is it you have not made a success of this when you satisfied the committee so completely that you knew all the theory of it?" he replied, "I never realised what theory meant until I began to put it into practice." That is an actual case, and it is very difficult to see who is to decide whether a man is able to cultivate a holding until he has been on the holding.
Another class mentioned in the Bill is that the applicant must not be in possession of sufficient means. I can assure the Minister that he will not be short of applicants. There will be any number of applicants for these holdings in that category, because it is only human nature, when money is being offered or finance is being made available, without any risk, for people to apply for it. If an unemployed man knows it is possible for him to get free training, and naturally and quite honestly he wants to do something, he may think that farming will be the lesser of two evils, though he does not necessarily want to go on the land. He may think there is no chance of getting back into his own industry as long as the present Government are in office, but there is the training available for him, with maintenance. That is all right so long as it lasts. Then there is the possibility of loans for implements, for stock, for fruit trees, for feeding stuffs, and for manures; and all this is very enticing, because he has no risk. A man who has not got anything cannot lose anything, and consequently, when there is something to be had, he thinks it worth while to apply, so there will be any number of applicants. In addition, he is going to be given—and it will be necessary—up to £50 a year maintenance allowance or 305. a week.
Past experience must guide us here again. With regard to the loans that have already been given, it is not only common knowledge but a fact that 40 per cent. of those loans have had to be written off. Those were loans which were given after a very careful consideration by the various committees. I was a 1951 member of one of the committees myself, and it is all very well, but when these men have this money given to them, it goes. It is consumed, either by themselves or their stock, and you cannot keep touch with them. Consequently, in practice, which is the best teacher of all, 40 per cent. of the past loans have had to be written off completely.
What has been the cost with regard to smallholdings, or, rather, what has been the cost with regard to the land which the Ministry itself has held for this purpose? Figures have been given by the right hon. Gentleman who was the previous Minister of Agriculture, and by one other Member on these benches, but I have figures which are rather more up-to-date. The Ministry has held land, and the land has been under the control of the Ministry, on 10 different estates, five of which are still in hand and five of which have been disposed of. They still have in hand 13,603 acres, and they have disposed of 8,073 acres. The capital loss on the 10 estates has been £80,097, and there has been a profit of £18,983, leaving a net loss on those 10 estates of £61,114. The only profit that they made on these estates was a profit which they made out of the resale of land. I do not think that the present Government will consider that is the best form of agriculture to buy land and to resell it at a profit. The revenue account of these 10 estates showed that the losses on the farms were £257,643 and on the estates £292,038, being a net loss of £549,681. That is the sort of experience we have with land which has been held and managed by the Department. To reduce it to a much smaller figure, the loss per acre worked out at £28 3s. 6d.
§ Sir J. LAMB
They are all estates in the right hon. Gentleman's own Department, and I can give the names of all of them. As a matter of fact, the figures were given to me by the Minister.
§ Mr. W. B. TAYLOR
The hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the present Minister was responsible for it? Give your own friends some credit.
§ Sir J. LAMB
I have not suggested that any Minister was responsible, but I suggest that the system under which it 'is proposed to manage land is not the best system. It is a system of control by the Department instead of control by the farmer. I oppose this Bill on the grounds which I have given, which I will summarise in this way. It does nothing whatever for the man who is in the industry to-day; it guarantees no success whatever for the future; and it cannot but prove a tremendous financial catastrophe.
§ Mr. GRANVILLE
This Bill, according to an explanatory memorandum, has for its purpose—The experiment of large-scale farming, the reconditioning of laud suitable for agriculture, and the settlement of unemployed persons upon the land.As far as I can see, this is not a Bill to assist agriculture. It certainly is not an attempt by the Government to carry out their pledges to make farming pay. I assume- that we have had to wait until the Imperial Conference is about to conclude its labours before the Minister of Agriculture can tell the House what are the plans of the Government in that direction. By the introduction of this Bill the Minister seems to be saying, "You have got to cultivate your land, or we will." It is obviously a Bill to try to put the unemployed on the land, or at any rate to try and bring back some of the 100,000 agricultural workers who have gone off the land since 1921. It is an attempt by the Government to bring idle men on to idle land. We do not expect hon. Members above the Gangway to have a policy to deal with idle land; they have too many uses for idle land. The late Minister of Agriculture must not come here and complain of the Bill because it does not do what he failed to do when he had five years in which to do it.
The best in this Bill is along the lines of the "Yellow Book." If the Government put the amount of energy behind this Bill that produced the "Yellow Book," it can be an attempt at the colonisation of our own country first; 1953 but it can also be merely a demonstration model of the right hon. Gentleman's ability to produce legislation in this House. Running through the Bill are the words "the Minister has powers," but we want to know if the Minister intends to use those powers, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer back him up, and can the administration of the Department carry out the many technical details which are contained in the Bill? [An HON. MEMBER: "Certainly!"] I certainly hope that that will be true. This Bill will never be a 'complete success on the Statute Book until we have an adequate Marketing Bill, until we have dealt with the problem of transport in some of the scattered areas, and until we have dealt with the prices which those in arable districts get for their commodities.
§ Mr. GRANVILLE
I am not going over there. Hon. Members had five years to do it and did not do it. There is a school of thought in this country which believes that you can cut down the agricultural workers' standard of life and wages or that you can impose food taxes. If hon. Members did not believe In either of these schools of thought, they would have responded to the Prime Minister's appeal to set up a three-party conference in order to get art agreed agricultural policy. At this stage, the Whole problem is a problem of the drive which the Government put behind this Bill; it is a question whether the Government mean business, and I hope that the Prime Minister will avail himself of the energies and abilities of those people, in every part of the. House, who want to see this Bill carried out, and that we shall be not only a council of State, but a council of action.
Much of the success of this Bill will depend on the demand for smallholdings in some of the districts. When a smallholder gets his credit and his smallholding, and when he puts his knowledge and ability into the job, one of the vital factors to be considered is the kind of return we shall give him for his labour. I represent an agricultural district where there are very few markets at hand, and that is the kind of thing smallholders look at when they consider a scheme of this kind. If the Govern- 1954 ment mean business with this problem of agriculture, therefore, they must at the same time seriously and energetically tackle the whole problem of marketing. This Bill is obviously not a Bill to assist agriculture. I had letters from my constituency telling me to vote against it because it does not do that. It is an attempt to create a new generation of farmers altogether. I hope, for all that, that the Government will not lose sight of those men who are in the business now. Some of them are ex-service men who belong to districts which are particularly suitable for arable cultivation; they have spent probably nine or 10 years of their lives in the work, and their farms have been based, ever since the Corn Production Act, upon arable cultivation. Although this Bill will tackle the problem from one point of view, we have to face the problem of these men.
I hope that the Government will not look upon this Bill as an isolated measure, but that it is the beginning of a long series of Bills to deal with agriculture. The Prime Minister made it clear, in the speech which he made before the last Recess, that he believed that the problem of unemployment was closely allied to the development of agriculture. I wish that this House could go into an emergency session to deal with the whole group of Bills which must be put on the Statute Book if the position is to be affected at all. The Minister said that we could not expect results quickly; with the out-of-date and cumbersome machinery of this House, we want not only drive from the Government, but some new kind of method for dealing with the problem, such as emergency legislation. If we are to restore confidence in the agricultural districts, it will not do to come to the House and introduce one Bill, and in six months to introduce another. We have to tackle the whole problem very energetically, and if this is the beginning of a series of Bills from the Government, hon. Members on these benches will give every possible support to the Government. If, however, this is merely a case of printing a Bill for the prestige of the Government in order to keep them in Office, it will send not only dismay throughout the agricultural districts, but disgust throughout the whole country. Not only is this Parliament and democratic and 1955 constitutional Government upon trial, but there is not the least doubt that party Government itself is on trial in this Parliament. I hope that the Government, when this Bill has been given a Second Reading, will do all they can to press on with national emergency measures; and that they will recognise that there is in this country a national state of emergency, and will make this House not only a council of State—certainly not a council of war—hut a council of action.
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
Hon. Members who have spoken from the opposite benches have welcomed the Bill as a first attempt to grapple with the agricultural situation, and as an indication of a desire on the part of the Government to give some meaning to their election pledge that farming must be made to pay. Agriculturists, however, will not be very effusive in their thanks, because while the Bill makes provision for settling a large number of men upon the land, it does not make any provision to ensure that these men will be able to obtain a living once they are settled upon the soil. The late Minister of Agriculture was constantly urged from these benches to bring out an agricultural programme. Many of us think he did not do as much as he ought to have done, although he was always very courteous in his replies when we pressed him to proceed with it. He was rather somnolent, perhaps, somewhat a rival of the dormouse. Now his place has been filled by a very active lieutenant, and the present Minister may be likened—I hope I may say it without offence to him—to a busy bee. He has not wasted his time. He has already stung the president of the National Fanners' Union, who appears to be intensely irritated; and he will, I think, arouse before long an equal measure of irritation among agriculturists generally and taxpayers as a whole if he brings before the House Bills of this character, which impose such a large charge upon the taxpayers of the country and bring so little real benefit to agriculture.
The Government appear to take the view that the best way to cure the progressive decline in the farming industry —which is a very serious one, 1,000.000 acres having been lost to arable cultiva 1956 tion in the last decade and thousands and thousands of men having lost their employment upon the land—is to reform our present methods of marketing, on the one hand, and, on the other, to settle on the soil large numbers of people many of whom have had no previous agricultural knowledge. It is a very strange way of dealing with the problem. I feel convinced that marketing reform in itself is not sufficient to meet the present difficulty and cannot be effective as a stimulus to the industry unless and until it is accompanied by a guarantee which will give a reasonable assurance of a reasonable price for a properly marketed commodity.
This Bill, which has been heralded with such a flourish of trumpets by so many Members opposite, appears to tackle the agricultural problem at the wrong end. The first question I would venture to address to the Minister is, What is the use of settling all these additional people upon the land when those who are already there and have had a long and close association with the soil find such great difficulty in gaining a living? Surely the first step to be taken by anyone holding the responsible position of Minister of Agriculture should be to provide for those who are already on the land. There is nothing so cruel as to tempt poor people to take up duties the difficulties of which they cannot foresee, and which they subsequently find they cannot discharge. It is clear that this Bill cannot be carried into effect without a great expenditure of public money, and that a large proportion of this will he wholly unproductive. The money has to come from the pockets of the taxpayers, and many people will agree with me that the burden on the taxpayer already is sufficiently large without increasing it in this way. The country will derive no corresponding advantage, nor, I think, will the agricultural community.
Many objections might be urged against the policy of large-scale farming, but most of the points have been made and I will not deal at any length with that aspect of the question except to remind the House that under Clause I we are to set up a great corporation. We ought to have been furnished with more information as to the duties of this corporation. All we are told is that it is to conduct large-scale farming opera- 1957 tions. Sub-section (2, b) makes immediate provision for the remuneration of the directors of this corporation. Subsection (2, c) empowers the corporation to purchase or lease land. That seems to give it precisely the same powers as are already possessed by every county council. At the end of the Clause provision is made for winding up the corporation in the event of its activities proving futile, and I venture to prophesy that that will be the really operative part of the Clause. We ought to have been offered some justification for the proposal to acquire those large blocks of land and for farming them at the public expense in view of the heavy losses made by many skilled agriculturists, who are well acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of our soil. I shall be very pleased and surprised if this corporation is able to teach the skilled farmers of this country anything useful. This is a time for caution rather than for rash experiment.
On the question of demonstration farms, I would emphasise all that has been said by the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) to show that the need for demonstration farms is already met. There are 21 demonstration farms in the country at present. In an answer to a question by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) on 28th July last we were told that not only were there 21 county demonstration farms in England and Wales, but that 51 countries had submitted schemes for the extension of agricultural education, and that all those schemes, either in their original form or as modified, had received the approval of the Minister of Agriculture. That shows that a great deal has been done and is being done, and that more will shortly be done. What is the need for these further demonstration farms when so much is being done successfully by the local authorities? I have always held the view that the only effective demonstration we can give to the average agriculturist is to organise parties of farmers and take them to the best-farmed land in their district and get the tenant or the owner of the land to explain his methods and his system. It is only by a practical occular demonstration of that kind that we can get agriculturists to follow up-to-date methods in the most effective way.
1958 Under Part II of this Bill a great many smallholdings are to be created. It is really an unemployment scheme, and it would have been very interesting to have the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this large expenditure of money, and the effect it must have on the deficit with which I understand, he is sure to be faced. What are the items which go to make up that expenditure? The outlay may amount to as much as £1,035 per man settled on the land under this part of the Bill. The capital cost of a holding is estimated to amount to £640. The cost of maintenance of the man is put at £50, his training at £70, and the working capital with which he will be equipped at £275. Those items make a total of £1,035. I would urge again that the county councils should be trusted in matters of this kind. They are very experienced in land settlement, and if the Government cared to tell them that instead of meeting merely a proportion of the loss they would be prepared to bear the whole loss, and that no risk would attach to the local ratepayers, I have not the slightest doubt the county councils would be prepared to go ahead and do everything suggested under this Bill. I am sure they could do it very much more efficiently.
A large undisclosed demand for holdings was referred to by the Minister in his able speech. The House has rarely had so attractive a speech, or one in which a Bill has been presented in a more favourable light, although many of us think it has very few real attractions. Of course there will be a demand for holdings when a man is told that he is to get free capital, free land, free training and free maintenance. It would be the same with shops. If the Government were to take forcible possession of one of the large multiple shops and were to say that anybody who wanted a section of that shop would he given free capital, free training and free maintenance for a year or so. I have no doubt there would be a very considerable desire to be started in business in that way. I hope the Government will not fail to make use of the county councils. There is a very real fear that if the Government take upon themselves the whole burden of land settlement the county councils may feel inclined to leave the future acquisition of land and the future 1959 management of land to the Government rather than undertake it themselves. For my own part, I feel this Bill will not bring much sunshine to agriculturists, there is a great deal more moonshine than sunshine about it, and for that reason I shall oppose the Second Reading.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The remark of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) about moonshine brings a real agricultural feature into his remarks, but those who have had the advantage of moonshine in agriculture never make any slighting references to it. I wish to deal chiefly with the remarks of the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb), and the reference he made to Sutherland. I know that I should be out of order in following that up, but I would like to say that if he knew the history of the matter to which he is referring he would never have brought it into his argument. He dealt next with theory and practice. His argument, as far as language conveyed it to me, was that it was no use having agricultural science or agricultural engineers, but far better to have just those men or women who had been born into the sphere of agriculture and had grown up in it. The remarkable thing about some hon. Members of this House is that they make large claims for the efficiency of the farmer. That is what has been done by the hon. Member for Stone. I have been a Member of this House for over nine years, and during that time I have seen various Measures brought forward dealing with the drainage of land. I would like to ask hon. Members opposite, including the hon. Member for Stone, why it is that, if there has been so much efficiency in agriculture, it has been found necessary to bring in so much legislation to compel those engaged in the industry to drain their land, an essential to their industry. The first essential to the successful cultivation of land is the ability of the farmer to drain his land, and I am not now trying to define whether it is landlord or farmer to blame, but simply to state that drainage is in general far behind the needs of the land. I have studied this question very closely in my own district, and I find in many parts of Scotland that where one farmer is willing to spend 1960 money on drainage the owner of the adjoining land is not willing to do so, and of course he has no control over the matter. The drainage of land can only be dealt with by experienced men. I have seen men endeavouring to carry out drainage where the water was meeting at two levels, and they did not actually know what was meant by two water levels. If drainers had more scientific knowledge such a thing as that could not take place.
§ Sir J. LAMB
I never mentioned drainage. The Labour Government passed a Drainage Bill to deal with all matters of that kind.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Yes, that emphasises it. I think if these people had three months at a technical training school all these defects could be easily remedied. When the price of carrying out drainage is fixed, it is calculated at so much a chain. I know the case of a farmer who was asked to pay 4s. 6d. per chain for drainage work, and he said, "I will take the rough off with the plough and I am willing to pay 3s. per chain." The plough takes 6 inches deep and 1s. 6d., and the drainer is left with say 4 feet for 3s. The result was that the work could not be carried out. The Bill which we are considering will direct public attention to difficulties of that kind. The hon. Member for Stone spoke about the difficulties of transferring men to agriculture, but he must know that it is quite easy for one man to be transferred from one industry to another.
§ Sir J. LAMB
. I never said that a man should not he transferred from one to-dustry to another. What I said was that the man should make his industry pay in such a way that it will support him.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I repeat that the hon. Member has time and again spoken against such transfer. I notice that this Measure is called the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill. That induces me to think of the deer forests, and to suggest that we might just as well rear pigs an that land as rear deer. If we desire to deal properly with the question of the utilisation of land we should use the land for the production of the things which at the present time we are importing from other countries. The question of bringing women into the agricultural in- 1961 dustry was raised by the hon. Lady the Member for The Wrekin (Miss Picton-Turbervill) and that is a question which must be dealt with by the Government. In my school days I remember Dormiston Farm, Ayrshire, where there were ten daughters all 6 feet, and one son over 6 feet. All of the daughters were efficient as farmers. It is interesting to note that at the present time one of the Government stations has been given over into the charge of a lady. This lady belongs to the Highlands of Scotland, but she came to the West of Scotland although she was told that she would do no good there because the land was 750 feet above sea level. She was told that she could not rear hens there because they would get the croop, and that she could not grow fruit. In the end, by working from six o'clock in the morning until 10.30 at night, she made a great success of her work, and now she has been rewarded by being placed in charge of a Government station. She has raised 500 pounds of strawberries and large quantities of raspberries in addition to a huge production of domestic vegetables, all in face of contrary advice of those supposed to know better by practical living in the district.
If hon. Members consider the work done on many of our farms, they will find that the women assume a very great amount of responsibility. I hope the Government will make quite certain, when we come to deal with the question of transferring people, that this will be carried out without distinction of sex. The hon. Member for Cambridge said that this Bill would make a larger number of unemployed, but it is no use arguing the matter in that way. Farming on a large scale has to be dealt with by the application of modern machinery, the farmer not having to make up his profits by such side lines as poultry. There is a great need for co-operation among farmers, and this Bill provides what is necessary to get more concentration and more co-operation among farmers than they have at the present time. Under present conditions, the most individualistic thing which is left to us in this country is the farmer, but at the same time we ought to realise the difficulties with which the farmer is confronted.
The question of electricity has some relation to the situation of the agricul- 1962 tural industry. The difficulty we arc experiencing is that the voltage is so high that the cost of stepping it down to the proper degree for the requirements of the farm is so expensive that it is beyond the means of the farmer to pay. The result is that those who should get the greatest possible benefit from an electric supply are cut out of it. What is the use of all this hypocrisy in talking about the application of electricity to agriculture when, under the scheme of the present Act, it has been made impossible, by the potential put into the wires, to get down to a price that the agriculturist is able to pay. For that reason, I have advised friends of mine to put up windmills, and they have been lighting their farms by that means. Just imagine the position; with all these wires passing near to their farms, they have got to go back to the windmill, because of the incapacity of the last. Government in dealing with this question. There is no end to the possibilities of the application of electricity in agriculture. Films are now being shown indicating what has been done in Denmark and Sweden in this respect, and especially in Sweden. Although the farmer is very good in his own business, he will have to admit the chemist and the agricultural engineer if we are going to have the same elements as in other countries. If it is a question of competition, you must get on to an equal basis with other countries.
The great point with regard to this Measure, especially in connection with the settlement of unemployed people, is that the increased concentration of productive power by means of machinery involves a great displacement of workers. The Minister has given the number of eggs imported into this country, and everyone thinks it is quite easy to keep a hen, but it is not just so easy to make a success of it. Some people think that all that is necessary is to let the hens run up in the loft and go and collect what eggs there are, but that is not how the business with which we are competing is run. The lady to whom I have referred never has a day pass without the hens on her farm giving results, even though it is only "one a day," and all her neighbours come and ask how it is that she can always produce eggs and get the highest prices when eggs are scarce. She is not stingy at all, and she tells them how it is done. She shows the kind 1963 of houses that she uses, the methods of attending to the hens, and so on. What is done by this Bill is very small compared with what remains to be done, and there is so much back work to be done that there is no reason why in the very near future a huge number of unemployed people should not be employed on the land.
One of the things that I regret in this country is that when our cities were growing, we did not make an agricultural belt between towns. Had that been done, we should always have been able to combine the seasonal trade of land with, perhaps, a seasonal trade in the industrial area, and thus interlace all the varying demands as between industry and the land. We have, however, become congested, until we are now regretting having built upon land that was more valuable for the growth of food. We ought to have been more strict in seeing whether the land was going to be more valuable for the growth of foodstuffs than for houses, because there is so much land in this country that is only suitable for building houses on. I have not yet heard any real opposition to this Bill. I have heard private interests put forward, but not the national outlook, and that is really the basis of the Bill.
§ Mr. CHRISTIE
I am sure we have all very much enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie), and I think he may be said to have covered the field fully. When I heard the Minister introducing this Bill, I felt that there was very little chance at any rate for the large farming section, but it seems to me now that, if he would only enlist the services of the lady who was so successful in the north, there might yet be a chance for it. The hon. Member for Springburn seemed to think that she had not done very well when her hens had not been laying more than one egg a day. If she could only show us how to grow two eggs where one grow before, her assistance would go very far to make this scheme a success.
One is always hearing about the unreality of the proceedings in this House, but it has never been more brought home to me than it has this afternoon and evening. I have to go back to-morrow, to meet my constituents, who are in the 1964 direst straits. They do not know what to grow; they do not know how on earth to keep out of the bankruptcy court. What will they say when I tell them what the Government propose to do? I think it is an absolute insult to an unfortunate industry to be told that it is going to be saved by legislation like this. What earthly good can this sort of thing do to a farmer who has a big overdraft, and is every day getting into more and more difficulty?
The Minister, in introducing the Measure, said that in his youth he had a good deal to do with the country. If he still lived in the country, and if, during this last summer, a neighbour of his, a smallholder, had come to him and said that he could not sell his black currants, and thought that the right hon. Gentleman ought to buy his black currants instead of getting some from London, I will undertake to say that the right hon. Gentleman in the kindness of his heart, would have said, "Of course I will buy yours, and I will not have any from London so long as you can supply me." That would be a very reasonable thing to say. But if that same smallholder had come up to his room in this House, when the right hon. Gentleman had been overcome by the extraordinary miasma which seems to hang about here, he would have received quite a different answer. He would probably have been told that the black currant industry was going to be saved by establishing a State fruit farm which would grow vast quantities, and by setting up, in the village where this wretched man lived, a large number of competitors who would he State-aided by some such scheme as that of this Bill. I do ask whether, when people are in the greatest difficulty, this is the way in which their industry can be assisted? I honestly think that. it is simply insulting these unfortunate people.
I think this large-scale farming cannot possibly he successful. if by any conceivable chance it was to be successful, what is going to happen next? Is the whole of England going to be covered with large-scale farms and, if so, what is going to happen to the unfortunate farmers who are displaced, and what is going to happen to the agricultural labourer? We have heard that already the numbers are down by 100,000. There seems to be no part of the Bill that is 1965 going to assist them. I take this very seriously, because I suppose I am to some extent what the last speaker would call an empirical. I have a farm of my own, and I have been brought up among a farming community. I am really in the greatest sympathy with these people. This sort of thing shows that the House does not in the least realise what the situation is. Directly Members talk about agriculture they seem to put on a special pair of spectacles through which to look at it, which they would never adopt for any other industry. I have never heard it suggested that people engaged in the rubber industry are stupid because they do not go in for manufacturing their rubber into something that they can sell direct to the consumer. No one has ever suggested that the people engaged in the rubber industry ought only to send to this country hot-water bottles or motor tyres. No one ever says that to any other raw producer.
The farmer is told he is a fool if he does not sell his stuff in a more or less manufactured form. Why is that? He. is always told, when he does attempt anything of the sort, that he cannot market things, that he is quite useless at it. Why should he be the person who is always told that? There are other people who do marketing beside fanners. There are other people who provide foodstuffs for consumption. Surely, it might be said with considerable justice that people who import foodstuffs into this country might also be subjected to rules of orderly and organised marketing. Does anyone think it fair to an industry that large quantities of imports should be sent in whether there is a demand for them or not? Surely, the way we regulate marketing abroad for the consumers of this country ought to he orderly if what the farmer does in the way of marketing should be orderly, and surely imports of foodstuffs from abroad should only be introduced to supplement what we grow at home. That is a reasonable standpoint. If only the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to do something of that sort, we should be able to face the future with very much greater confidence. But these suggestions, as far as they go, seem to me to be a very poor consolation to a, set of very unfortunate people.
1966 May I say a word on the question of neglected farms As I am on the committee that deals with this question in my own county, I should like to say that as a general rule, the only trouble we have had is with those pieces of land which are designed for building and which have not yet been built up to. We had a case not very long ago where it was reported that a very fine bit of pasture was in a very bad state, that it was so grown up with thistles, that the cattle had the greatest difficulty in making their way through and only succeeded by making little lanes through the thistles. When we asked who was the owner we found that it was the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman ought to see that his own house is put in order before he says too much about other people. As a general rule, the weeds arc kept down to a very great extent. There is also the question of drainage. The question of drainage and the neglect of it simply depends on whether the land is or is not profitable. So long as it can be profitably cultivated, the owner will see that his drains are kept properly cleared, but as the prosperity of the occupier diminishes, so does his ability to employ the necessary labour to keep the drainage in good order. All these schemes of attempting, by the use of public money, to do what the occupier ought to do for himself would be completely unnecessary if the Government would only tackle the problem from the right end. The moment the agricultural industry begins to realise that it has a chance of making both ends meet, the farmer will put his house in order. He knows perfectly well how to do it. lie deplores the neglect as much as anyone in the House. The reason is simply that he cannot make both ends meet. The right hon. Gentleman said he was going to begin at the beginning. I think he began exactly at the other end.
Considerable stress was made on the slowing up of the provision of smallholdings. is it not likely that, when the prosperity of the industry is so very low, people are not very keen, especially those members of county councils who deal with the smallholdings question, to settle men on the land to any very great extent. They know that there is such a very small chance of them being able to make living at it. I was told not very long 1967 ago in my own county that the best educated boys, I think from the secondary schools, were not now going into the industry at all. The number who were going into farming was very seriously reduced, and they were turning to the towns. There is no question of any difficulty about being taken on, because an intelligent boy can always find a job on a farm. There is no question of being influenced by any difficulty in getting smallholdings. It is the definite opinion of their parents that agriculture is in such a state that it is very unwise to put their sons into it. That is a very serious thing. You find at one end the number of men employed down by 100,000, and at the other end the more intelligent boys being kept out of it by the wish of their parents. If the Minister would pay more attention to that sort of thing than to these extraordinary schemes, we should find we could do something to help the industry.
This Bill entails a vast expenditure of money. There is no question at all about that fact. I believe that it will be money very badly spent indeed. only something could be done at the productive end, we should find that the county councils would begin to start their smallholding activities again, we should find that the drainage question, the question of neglected land, would very soon be a thing of the past, and, I honestly believe, we should find that the number of men on the land would increase. All that could be done at a tithe of the cost which this Measure will entail. I hope, therefore, that after the consideration which this Measure will get by the time the vote is taken next Tuesday the House will agree that, however good the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman in moving it, it is a Measure Which ought not to be allowed to pass in any circumstances.
§ Mr. W. B. TAYLOR
I should like to take the first opportunity that I have had to congratulate the Minister upon the Bill he has so ably presented this afternoon and to express my surprise that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, now that this Government have commenced to deal with the agricultural industry, can scarcely wait before tumbling on to us from all directions and calling out about the inadequacy 1968 and the inapplicability of the proposals of this Bill. I should have thought that the public-spirited character of an historic party, especially in relation to agriculture, would have enabled them to rise to the conception that, with 2,000,000 acres of land in this country uncultivated and 2,000,000 unemployed people, this Bill, aiming as it does at bringing suitable men to suitable land, should at least be given an opportunity on national grounds, even if partisan advantages might have to be sunk in order to enable them to be big enough to face the task. Unfortunately, such is the position, and therefore I say to the Minister, respectfully and firmly, "Stick to your job; go through with this Measure and bring forward other Measures to complete a real agricultural policy, which, I believe, to be the intention of His Majesty's Government."
There is one very weak portion of criticism from the Opposition benches to which I feel justified in drawing attention. They have constantly dragged in what is, I frankly admit, a very urgent and important aspect of the agricultural industry, namely, an adequate price for the produce which is grown on British soil. I should be unfair to eastern England and especially to the county to which I belong, if I minimised for one moment the urgency and necessity for tackling the problem of prices in relation to our own produce in this country. My understanding of the political policy of our party is that we are going to tackle the problem of agriculture. The Imperial Conference have not yet completed their labours, but we have the pledge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that measures will be implemented by the Government, and in the meantime the Government are tackling the land, and, later on, they will tackle the question of the prices of the produce of the land. If I am asked to compare the urgency and importance of a question from a national point of view, surely this problem of unemployment, being linked with the problem of uncultivated land in agriculture, is at least as urgent to the industrial centres with their vast number of unemployed people as it is to us in the rural districts that we get the question of prices definitely allocated upon a sound, economic and just basis. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will not be de- 1969 terred by the partisan objections which are now being raised.
We hear that it is terrible to spend any money upon agriculture. A little time ago we were criticised because we did nothing, and now that a modest £1,000,000 is being asked for in order to give the unemployed who are suitable an opportunity to get on to suitable land, again we are wrong, wrong every time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I was sure that that would win the approval of hon. Members opposite, for no good thing can come except from a Tory bench. Perhaps I ought to withdraw that remark and suggest that after five years of sitting on their Tory eggs they brought forth nothing, and therefore, to keep the analogy of the hen, I think that they can go on crying out, and we will produce the eggs. I say definitely that no legislation associated with agriculture at this time can be regarded as complete unless it really deals with the question of prices and wages. As a Member of this House, I do not feel that it is to the honour of this ancient Assembly that this splendid historic industry should still be under the necessity of paying the lowest wage to the best class of man there is in the country.
As for those on the other side who chide us that our leaders are finding fault with the farmers, I should like them to examine the statements which have been made by our leaders from an unbiassed point of view. I, as a small tenant farmer, if I had interpreted the statement made by the Prime Minister as conveying the meaning which hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest, should have taken the earliest opportunity of withdrawing that interpretation, because I am sure the Prime Minister never meant such an interpretation as that given by the other side. I ask hon. Members opposite to look at the words squarely. He stated frankly that his Government would be unable to subsidise inefficient farming or inefficient farms. Is that to suggest that all farmers are inefficient? Not in the least. They are merely using words in order to create an impression in the minds of a certain section of farmers that Labour is against the farmer. This great industry, both sides of it, wants to learn that the farmer and the labourer are the Siamese twins of the industry and that they must pull together along lines of national policy, 1970 such as we are commencing to-day, which will be developed in all its branches when we get sufficient power to carry proposals which we believe to be for the betterment of the countryside. I thank the House for its courtesy in listening to me. I regard this Bill as one step in the right direction. It is one-fourth of the policy of the Government, three-fourths of which has yet to come. I have faith in this Government and I have faith in this House, and I believe that with a little more vision on the other side of the House we shall be able to work together along lines that will, in the near future, give a square deal to our ancient and historic industry.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I rise, because I find it impossible to follow the advice given by my right hon. Friend on the Front Opposition Bench to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill even although some of its objects are antagonistic to each other and some are self-contradictory. But it is a Bill, the main object of which is to discover by practice whether or not it is possible to find in the land of Britain any outlet for the unemployment of the town, and it is a Bill which so far as the Second Reading is concerned I would not oppose with my vote. I wish to say a few words about those parts of the Bill which I think are great mistakes to appear in this Measure. Take the first Clause. It is a misfortune that the sum of £1,000,000 is proposed to be spent in depopulating the land of Britain. There can be no question that to substitute mechanised farms of from 2,000, 3,000 to 5,000 acres for the present moderate-sized farms will mean that upon that acreage in its new form there will be a smaller population. You will have farm houses in which there are no farmers. Mechanisation results in a far smaller number of labourers being required.
The first Clause is an attempt to bring into this country the ranch system of farming. I think that is most undesirable in Britain. It is entirely against the whole lessons of agriculture and of agricultural efforts in western Europe. In every country west of Russia—I do not say west of Russia in any controversial or political sense, but in the economic sense—the moment you get anywhere that can be described as central or western Europe you find the Government 1971 trying its best to settle a larger number of people upon the land by various means, with many of which, as a Conservative, I cannot agree. Speaking generally, with the exception of Spain, there is hardly a single Government in western Europe or middle Europe that is not engaged in the problem, upon which I think we ought to be engaged, of trying to settle more people upon the land, to cultivate the land more intensively, and therefore, in smaller farms. That being so, what can be the object in spending £1,000,000 in making large farms in this country? To join up farms into larger unfits requires practically no expenditure. It is in dividing farms into smaller units, it is the division of the land and not the aggregation of farms, that is expensive.
As Professor Orwin and other experts have said, the use of the land in 2,000 or 3,000 acre patches is an economic use of land in this country. If it is going to be done, as it can only be done, purely for economic purposes—it can have no social advantage—why can we not trust to the ordinary law of private capital using the land in a more economic way, if the result of larger farming is to be in the largest degree economic? As the argument of the supporters of Clause I is that this is the most economic way of using considerable portions of our soil, why waste Government money upon it? It will come about of itself. Everybody knows that in this country there are poor soils and goods soils, and there are enormous farms. One farm in the west of England covering 10,000 acres has been mentioned. In Lincolnshire, there are farms hardly less in acreage. [HON. MEMBERS: "18,000 acres."] If anything is known about agriculture in this country, it is on the large farms. You find the same thing north of the border, and I fancy also south of the border. You do not find your large farms in one continuous area. It is well known in Scotland and I fancy also in the north of England that one of the features of the modern development of farming is what we call in Scotland the led farm. In such cases, we have one farmer who is the occupier of several farms, one farmer occupying perhaps six different farms, and you have four or five farm houses empty. That also prevails in the huge farms of 1972 Lincolnshire, and for the first time we have heard of the custom in large farms in other parts of the country. That being so and there being no social advantage, the only possible advantage being economic, surely it is the kind of thing which the ordinary flow of capital towards profitable enterprise can be trusted to do. What then in the name of common sense is the use of wasting £1,000,000 in doing either what ought not to be done or what will do itself? I regret—the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland knows as well as anyone in this House how much I regret—that in this Bill, with the main provisions of which I have sincere sympathy, although there are certain details of administration with which I do not agree, and the main object of which is to try to increase the rural population, there is a Clause, Clause 1, which will inevitably diminish it. I am horrified to find such a Clause. That is why I said at the outset that certain Clauses seemed to be self-contradictory.
Let me pass to the demonstration farms, the reclamation farms. Generally speaking, the use of money in reclamation of partly or improperly drained land is a good use of money. I do not agree with the argument that you should only drain land, the subsequent value of which becomes such that it fully pays for the drainage. That is not the principle of drainage that any country would ever go on. The whole object, as I understand it, of the State undertaking drainage is not to produce a piece of land so fertile that it pays for the cost of the drainage. but that you produce a piece of land upon which crops can be grown and upon which human beings can live. Throughout our own history and throughout the history of every country in Europe, with the exception of Spain, when the State again and again has applied itself to the problem of raising money for drainage, it does not confine itself to draining land the value of which will fully pay for the drainage. Look at Denmark to-day. Denmark is stripping peat off its lowlying moors. Do not let me be supposed to suggest that the top of a Highland mountain can be stripped of its peat and made into a profitable agricultural proposition. In Denmark their low-lying moors are being stripped of their peat. No one supposes that the Govern- 1973 ment of Denmark reckons that every penny of reclamation cost will De restored to them in the subsequent value of the soil. They do the work because it gives them a larger acreage upon which their people may live.
If you look at drainage from a national point of view that must be the ruling consideration, not that you are going to regain every penny you have spent, but that you do a very useful piece of work upon which you do not keep a strict balance as between profit and loss. So far as reclamation is concerned I have no fault to find with the Bill. I do not like some of the provisions, but I will not weary the House with that matter now. I agree with an hon. Member who spoke earlier in the debate, in pointing out that at this moment expenditure upon further experimental farms seems unnecessary. It is a small point; but there are some 21 experimental farms already owned by agricultural colleges and farming schools, and it does not seem necessary to add to the number. That is a point in the Bill of which I do not greatly approve. I hope the Minister of Agriculture, before the Bill reaches Third Reading, will reconsider his views about the expenditure of £1,000,000 upon depopulating England. It is not worth doing; we ought not to do it, and I hope we shall not do it.
My views are very different when we come to the question of land settlement. Here you touch a topic with which every Government of Western and Middle Europe is grappling, and if they have grappled with it how much more should we. What other country is there in Europe where 75 per cent. of its people live in urban or semi-urban conditions and only 25 per cent. in conditions which can be described as rural. How can we tolerate a condition so dangerous to the whole social structure? Let me say this here and now. Several of my hon. Friends have said that it is a mistake to attempt to settle more people upon the land until you have solved the question of prices. That is as familiar as anything can be in our political history, but you cannot expect one party to do everything. I do riot expect, nobody expects, the present Government to grapple with the problem of prices. So far as agriculture is concerned it can only be grappled with by Protection in one form or another. 1974 Let the present Government do their bit —this is how I approach the main proposition in this Bill—let the present Government do the kind of work which it can do within the ambit of its principles. Then we will come in, and it will not be long, and complete the structure, and the men that are put on the land we will protect and give them a price for the work which they do. Land settlement is a long story. Not many people will be settled on the land by this Bill by the time a Unionist Government comes into office. My view is this: let us take this instalment of agricultural policy and afterwards put it right ourselves by dealing with the question of prices. Thus the two parties in combination, each doing what they can and neither trying to do what they cannot do, each in their own time and by their own Bills, will do something for the agricultural industry of this country.
Let me say a word or two about the reasons why I support the effort made by this Bill to deal with unemployment through land settlement. When we talk about unemployment and land settlement too many of us figure in our minds the centres of great cities and miles of houses, Employment Exchanges with queues of men who obviously have never been outside the range of the omnibus or the street lamp. But there arc other unemployed than these. There are 2,000 miners, perhaps more to-day, of wham it is known as a result of the most scientific investigation that there is no chance and no opportunity of their ever returning to their employment as miners. What chance have they of employment in other urban industries with over 2,000,000 unemployed altogether. I believe, and I have said so constantly— and I am delighted to see that at last the experiment is to be made—that if you are going to do anything for these 200,000 unemployed miners you must see whether you can put same of them on the land. Everybody knows that there are some mining districts where the miners already are semi-rural in their lives. Such districts exist in South Wales and the South-Western coalfields. It is not a very long step to make a miner Who is semi-rural when he is in work totally rural when he is out of work. There are many men in smaller 1975 towns, and even in the bigger towns, who are of course totally unfit to grapple with the problem of conducting a large arable farm with its rotation of crops and control of labour. Nobody is such a fool as to think that, but there are in almost every town a certain proportion of men who in the early part of their lives have been brought up in the country, who are accustomed to the management of beasts, and even in their town life arc accustomed to keeping a certain number of poultry in their backyard. That is the type of man who in my judgment it is possible to transport from the town to the country. Anyone who has taken the trouble to go among the smallholders who have been settled since 1919—and no men were picked out intentionally then, if there are any townees in post-War smallholdings they got there by chance or because they were ex-Service men—anyone who has gone about the smallholdings settlements in England or Scotland will have found at least one man part of whose life was spent in the towns and who none the less was making good.
That is the type of man that we want to see brought out of his urban surroundings and restored to the country about which he is not totally ignorant. Along that line, dealing with some unemployed miners, men who have been brought up in the country, I think that legislation such as the later Clauses of this Bill is absolutely necessary. Without any attempt. at patronage of the Minister, may I make one criticism with the serious hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give it consideration and possibly introduce changes into the Bill. I beg him not to confine his effort, in getting town people back to the country to those who at the moment are unemployed. Remember that if you take a man out of the town, even if he is in a job in the town, you are clearing him out of the labour market, and are really, though indirectly, assisting the problem of unemployment, just as much as if you put an unemployed man directly on to the land. If you restrict your special efforts to unemployed men only, if you neglect to look round the towns and see whether there are any suitable settlers, whether employed or not-, you are not making the most of your opportunities. 1976 From my reading of the Bill it is too narrow along those lines. The real problem is to get out of urban conditions the men who want to get back to the country, men whose nature and character make it possible for them to succeed in the country.
I do not pretend to know as much about English as about Scottish conditions. I know well that, particularly in the smaller towns of Scotland, there are a lot of men who would willingly go back to the country. I have mentioned the smaller towns, but the effort need not be confined to them. The other day, in the ordinary course of smallholding development—the Under-Secretary of State knows this case—a Scottish estate was in process of division inside or very close to the boundaries of the City of Edinburgh. I forget how many holdings here were to be made, but there were men ready to go into them. Just from the people walking about the district, people who passed the estate on a Sunday afternoon perhaps, the Department of Agriculture in Scotland receive 34 or 35 new applications, and all from people living in the City of Edinburgh. There was no advertisement, no touting, no propaganda. I believe that that kind of thing will repeat itself indefinitely. I was very glad when the right hon. Gentleman said that the greatest care would he taken in making a choice from the people who apply. I do not suppose that of those 35 applicants. all will be suitable. Probably only five or six will be suitable. But if von get five or six taken out, of the labour market, that means five or six opportunities for unemployed men to go into the vacant places.
That is why I ask in the most friendly spirit and as one who is devoted to the topic, and believing that this is one of the few avenues which we can usefully explore for some permanent cure of unemployment—that is why I ask the Minister to look at his own Clauses again and see whether they cannot be widened so as to give an opportunity to the town man who wants to get back to the country, whether or not he is unemployed I cannot but think that many of us politicians, who live the day to day life of politicians, are not fully aware that in this matter we are living in the twentieth century and not in the nineteenth. The nineteenth century was 1977 a century when every influence dragged men towards the towns. Until we make a test how can we tell whether a contrary tide has not set in. It may be the very beginning of the tide; it may be just a little more than slack water. I do not wish to waste three hours of the six hours time in doing nothing. I want to test and test and test again whether there is not a tide setting in from the town to the country instead of from the country to the town. We cannot make that test without the assistance of the State. It is possible to depopulate the land of England or to knock down farm houses and to make 200 acre farms into 2,000 acre farms without the assistance of the State, but you cannot divide the land into smaller farms without that assistance.
Many of my Friends have argued, and argued powerfully, that land settlement is a dangerous thing to encourage because it cannot be economic, and they point to the cost of the erection of houses and buildings. If you apply that test to any farm, no farm upon which human beings live is economic. If you take the history of any British farm in the heyday of British agriculture, and put on one side the total expenditure laid out on building it up, and on the other side the total profits that you get from it, you will be able to say of it that it is not an economic proposition. The truth is that when we talk of agriculture and of rural life purely in terms of a balance sheet, and insist on getting a full economic return for the money expended, we are applying to the country principles that can be applied only to urban trade. The balance that makes it economic, that, if you like, brings the 3 per cent. up to 5 per cent. and makes what seems an uneconomic use of money an economic use, is this: that agriculture, unlike other occupations, is not an industry merely; it is a life. The balance you do not get in pounds, shillings and pence but you get it in the health and strength and vigour of the race. That is a balance for which I, for one, however dark the outlook in national finance may he—and it is not so dark as all that—would be willing to pay 2 per cent.
I said that I could not follow the advice of my right hon. Friend and vote for the postponement of the Second 1978 Reading. I certainly cannot do so. I do not like political phrases and I do not like personalities in politics but there is a phrase which is going about the world of politicians just now—not a persona] phrase but a psychological phrase, and it is, "The old gang." I do not like to see on a great occasion, when we are facing a great problem, when this Parliament if it is ever to be so, should be a Council of State—I do not like to see this narrow, limited, out-of-date, paralysed, point of view being expressed. I do not like it and I do not propose to endure my dislike in complete silence. In my judgment we have here the great issue of seeing whether we cannot get back some of the people from our congested towns into our deserted country. There will he failures and there will he expense but there will be successes, and if there are successes, they will he of a value to this nation which cannot be estimated in terms of cash alone.
I cannot support by my active vote to-night, this Bill, nor can I support it as long as it is marred by Clause 1. [An HON. MEMBER: "Have you not the courage?"] I think it would require an older and more respected Member of the House to teach me anything about courage. [Interruption.] Well the second adjective I apologise for, but if is not want of courage in my case. Courage is easy enough in a politician. There is nothing difficult about that; but it Is because I profoundly believe that the first Clause of the Bill is directly antagonistic to the Clauses which I support, that I urge the Minister to get rid of it. I ask him not to spend millions upon depopulating England, but, to concentrate on what ought to he the real object of this Bill, that of trying to bring into our country districts same of those men and women whose life to-day in the towns is without hope, without future, without rest and without reward.
§ Mr. RICHARDS
I am sure that the House has listened with great interest and respect to the wonderful speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Skelton). I quite agree with him that this is an occasion when party points in the narrow sense count for very little. The criticism of this Bill which has been made from the other side is that it does not help agriculture in its present plight. 1979 But we have to consider that this is the first of a series of Bills by which it is intended to tackle this question in a proper scientific fashion and it is interesting to note that the Bill on the whole receives—as I understand—the support of the Liberal party. No one has kept this question more alive in this country than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and I am sure that he is one who feels that this is an occasion for deep thinking on a very difficult question.
I am sorry to disagree with the last speaker on the question of the experimental farms. There is a great deal of talk of rationalisation in industry which means, of course, bigger units in industry, but in the case of agriculture there is this difficulty. If we take the larger unit in that industry, it is true that the production per man is greater than it is in the case of the smaller unit, but, on the other hand, if we take the smaller unit, it is generally true to say that the production per acre is greater than in the case of the larger unit. Here is an interesting scientific question. On top of it there is another question as to which of these two methods is the more profitable. I think that the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross would agree that this is a matter which can only be tested by the State on a big scale, and I hope that, contrary to the advice of the hon. Member, the Minister will stick to his proposition. With regard to smallholdings I agree as to the importance of restoring men from the towns to the land even if they are not unemployed. There is the equally important point that we ought to do all we can at the present time to stop the flow from the country to the towns. I am convinced from observation that there is no real economic reason in many cases for the drift from country to town. It is, I am sorry to say, in cases of which I know, due largely to the indifference of a great many landlords and to the greed of the big farmers.
When the big farmer finds a smallholding available he has no hesitation in taking it over, and he does not farm it in the best possible way. There would be a great deal to be said for it, if it were done in a scientific manner, but he merely ranches the land and I know of farms to-day which 20 or 25 years ago represented perhaps 12 holdings. The 1980 rural area which I know best has been depopulated, deliberately I regret to say, by the big farmers acting in conjunction with indifferent landlords. When a house becomes a little dilapidated, a big tenant farmer comes along and takes it, with the result, as I say, that there is one farm now where formerly there were 10 or 12 holdings. I think it is for the Ministry of Agiculture to step in where cases of that kind occur, and to retain such land for people who would be only too glad to take it. Reference has already been made to the very important question of the training of women in connection with smallholdings. Anyone who knows of successful smallholdings knows the important part played by the women in making them successful. We have an old proverb in Wales to the effect that a woman with a spoon can throw out more than a man with a spade can bring in. That is a very important truism and I hope that the Minister will do all he can to fit these women for the new life that is before them. We are all gratified with the reception with which the Bill has met in the House and I am sure we are all agreed that the Minister, who has tackled a very difficult question from the scientific point of view, deserves the best thanks of the House for his effort.
§ Major GEORGE DAVIES
Some of the speakers from the benches opposite have expressed surprise and indignation that we on this side should criticise the first Bill brought in by a Labour administration professing to deal with agriculture. Under certain conditions there might he something in that criticism, but everyone must admit that when such an important matter is under consideration and when there is before the House what the party opposite regard as one of their major Measures, we are entitled to investigate it closely to see whether it really fulfils the objects which, we do not question. its promoters have in mind. It is difficult to look a gift-horse in the mouth and it is difficult to criticise the right hon. Gentleman who so gracefully and so skilfully—from his own point of view—presented this Bill. But when all is said and done this Bill professes to be a Measure to assist agriculture. On that basis alone we are entitled to dissect it and see whether it will achieve its object.
The hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) who interested everyone in the 1981 House by his speech, whether we all agree with him or not, to some extent dealt with the first part of the Bill. I am one of those who have had the opportunity for many years past of living in another clime and part of the globe, where I have seen precisely the same problem which the Government are trying to tackle. I have seen the efforts to develop the prairie farm from what was a moderate-sized, spotted, development of agriculture, and it is perfectly true, as the hon. Member said, that it does not need Government assistance to do that, because the tendency of the big-scale, mechanised, mass production farm, as in the case of industry, is an economic thing which provides a prospect of profits, and, consequently, people will go into it without Government assistance. My experience was that gradually the land became turned into big-scale prairie farming, and then there came up the question which this Bill is 'trying to tackle in its latter part, namely, whether this is or is not the best thing from the point of view of the State and whether it is better to have these big-scale prairie farms or to have innumerable smallholdings.
The matter is not all on one side. The hon. Member for Perth was quite right in criticising this Measure for not fitting in the two parts one with the other, because nothing is more certain than that if you are going in for prairie farming, you have the result not only of taking the population off the land and getting down the administrative staff to the lowest possible level but you are also reducing the number of people who are independent on the land. Those who are under an administrative staff of experts at the top are merely what we may call hewers of wood and drawers of water. That is inseparable from that policy, and it is an economic development in certain countries. My criticism against the Bill is fourfold. First, it is not necessary for the State to assist, because if there is anything in it, it will come about economically; secondly, it is not helping to bring people on to the land but to put them off; thirdly, you are not going to have independent self-supporting people on such farms, but employés moved from here to there to do operations as rapidly as possible and as cheaply as possible; and, thirdly, this country, climatically and geographically, is not adapted to it, 1982 except in certain special cases where it is already taking place under the ordinary economic laws. There are developed areas of Canada where farming operations are going on, partly through railway development and partly through mechanised development, but very largely through the discoveries of varieties of quickly maturing species of wheat, and so on. That is not a farming operation at all, but a mechanised industrial operation in which you put great machines on the land and they go through the fields reaping and threshing so that they have the corn going straight into the elevators. We cannot do that here because of climatic reasons. It is a waste of money and time to try to deal with that problem, and a waste of the taxpayers' money if the right hon. Gentleman is going to keep Part I in the Bill.
I should like to say a word about smallholdings. I am as keen on that particular side of the matter as my hon. Friend who preceded me from these benches. I live in a part of Somerset which is right amongst a smallholding community. This Bill does not limit the amount of the taxpayers' money which is to be spent, because we do not know what the amount will be, as there is only an estimate. I am afraid that under it we are losing sight of something to which attention has already been drawn and which is really vital, namely, when you get people there, are you going to make it worth while for them to stay there and get a living? That goes right down to the question put by the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. W. B. Taylor) regarding prices. It is no use saying that that is to come in another Bill. The hon. Member used some cryptic phrase's as to what was to come out of the Imperial Conference. If he thinks that, he must either have inside knowledge or have an optimistic nature which it is a pleasure to meet. If you want an assurance in this matter, surely it should be incorporated in this Bill. Half the amount of public money which it is proposed to spend under the Bill could be spent much more justifiably in giving some definite assurance that if a man takes up this life on the land— and it is not everybody's life—he is to be able to make a living.
I ask hon. Members opposite, who, naturally, for party reasons, must back 1983 up this perfect Bill brought in by their perfect Government, what it is that this is doing'? Its first effects are very largely to clear off the land the people who are at present on it, and to put back on to it a lot of untried people who are to be subsidised. That is what this Measure will do if it is not very carefully watched. You are here introducing people who have not been tried out. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to deny the charge that they consider all farmers inefficient. I should like to repeat what I have said for many years in this House, having listened to a goodish number of debates on agricultural questions and to questions put at Question Time to the Minister. The whole trend of mind of hon. Members opposite is to emphasise that people who are already carrying on agriculture are ignorant, inefficient and should not be assisted. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes, it is perfectly true. There may be some hon. Members opposite who know the true position, but there are others who know nothing about it, except what they are told by headquarters and in the literature which is handed out to them, so that they can appear as the real friends of the farmer. We see time and again that tendency, and an attempt to teach those who have lived their lives on the land and to suggest they do not know what they are talking about. It is not everybody's métier to live on the land, for it is a very hard life. If any hon. Member has a pet dog, he knows that at times it is a good deal of an annoyance and a tie. You have got to look after your livestock. There is no eight hours' day for the farmer. The hon. Lady the Member for the Wrekin Division (Miss E. PictonTurberville) pointed out the importance of the womenfolk and used some very wise words. It is a hard life. They have to be up in the early morning and go on till late at night, Sundays included and no holidays. Here is a remarkable thing which I mention as worth attention. There is a man in my constituency —not a supporter of mine, I am sorry to say—who was talking to me within the past week, and who asked whether there was not some way by which the farmers could get on better with their work on the land. He said they ought. to be up 1984 doing work on the land at 5 o'clock in the morning. I told him that he did not realise that if they got their men out there like that, there were regulations that Governments had laid down, and that they would be fined or put in gaol. You cannot do it.
This Bill forgets the agricultural worker entirely. He is going to be replaced by people who will not be "cabined, cribbed, confined" by the regulations with which you tie the hands of the farmer with regard to the way in which he shall employ his workers. A prominent farmer told me the other day why the smallholder does in some eases make good, in spite of his difficulties, and the reason is, that he does not have to take off his coat to start a job because he has never had it on, that he has no wages bill to pay at the end of the week, and that you do not see him. at four markets a week. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I admit the truth of that, but the corollary follows that the reason why such a man can sometimes make a living is that he has to work in a way which hon. Members opposite would not permit if he belonged to any organisation; yet under this Bill they are proposing to increase those people and to reduce the numbers of those whom, they say they have been looking after and with whom they have been pouring out crocodile tears of sympathy because of their low wages under present conditions.
The crux of this matter is being funked by the party opposite. They will get their smallholders, and they would be justified if they could, with a clear conscience, say to them, "You have a good prospect, with all this assistance, of really making a living on the land." Everyone here wants to see the. countryside populated, but the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Perth that you should go to men who are in employment to-day and have good jobs, with wages coming in at the end of the week, and suggest that they should go on the land now, when you have not begun to tackle the question of the price of their product, is holding out a false attraction to people, and if the party opposite go into a proposition of that sort and find that they have lured people on to the land under false pretences, it will be a very long time before that is forgotten.
1985 Our criticism of this Bill is, in the first place, that this large farm business is wasting money for a bad reason, and, in the second place, that you are shirking the real crux of the problem, which is to hold out a prospect that if a man goes into an agricultural life to-day, he may make a reasonable living at it if he works hard. It is because I see no prospect of that in this Bill that I shall, with a heavy heart, because the opportunity is being lost, go into the Lobby against it.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I have been asked by my Scottish colleagues on these benches to express our view with regard to this Bill, and to say that we heartily sympathise with it and shall gladly support it. All my life I have been keen on land settlement, and I am particularly delighted that there should be before the House now a Bill which, with regard to Scotland, means a real forward step in land setttlement. As the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland knows, I have frequently ventured to criticise both the Secretary of State and himself, but on this occasion I should like to congratulate them on what I regard as a further step in the progress which has been quite clear and definite. since the present Government took office.
The present Secretary of State for Scotland entered office and found that a large part of the money which had been set apart for land settlement was being held up and was not being spent, and he found that instructions had been given to the Department that land settlement was to take a secondary place in the work of the Department. it is to the credit of the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State that they have reversed that state of affairs, that they have spent all the money that they could within their powers, and that they have also been active—and this Bill is another instance of their activity—in regard to the question of land settlement. It was particularly gratifying to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Skelton). It was a manly, progressive speech, which ought to be followed by a vote in support of the Bill, and all that one can do at this juncture is to congratulate him on the enlightened point of view to which he gave expression.
This Bill intimately concerns Scotland, and I should like to press one or two of 1986 its Scottish aspects on the attention of the House. We in Scotland get our usual 11–80ths of the money that is to be spent. There is a sum of £700,000 which is to be expended on demonstration farms and on reconditioning land in Scotland. We think that that is far too small, and if the Under-Secretary of State had come from Aberdeen, part of which county I have the honour to represent, he would have pressed the Treasury for a larger grant in this case. In the 1919 Act, for example, £2,750,000 was set apart for land settlement in Scotland. It is true that that was in the emergency for dealing with ex-service men, but I question whether the emergency to-day for dealing with unemployment is not as urgent as was the problem of ex-Service men just after the War.
With regard to the amount which is to be spent on demonstration farms and reconditioning, I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us precisely how many demonstration farms there are in Scotland now—there is quite a number of them—and how many additional farms he thinks, from the investigations he has made, will be necessary. We, on these benches, support the idea of demonstration farms. If you have a demonstration farm worked according to the most scientific principles and really making a profit, the sight of that to the neighbouring smallholders is an inspiration to them to go and do likewise. The only doubt we have is with regard to the large-scale farms, and I suggest to the Under-Secretary of State that he might reconsider that matter. Will he say, with his hand on his heart, that the farmers of Scotland or the people of Scotland will welcome the establishment, in such a small amount of arable acreage as we have, of large-scale farms running to 1,000. 2,000, or 3,000 acres? Is that the kind of large-scale farming which will appeal to our. Scottish people? I gravely doubt it.
I see at once, of course, that a farm of that size, run on those lines, would give employment to a certain number of men and women, but those men and women would be employés and would be farm workers and servants, and so miss two of the greatest inspirations of people who go to live on the land. The first is the sense of independence, and the second is the sense that they have a home which they can call their own. 1987 These two strong arguments make me somewhat sceptical of the part of the Bill relating to large-scale farms. I am also sceptical with regard to whether the State could ever make large-scale farming pay. From our knowledge and experience of what State trading means we are bound to remain somewhat sceptical of that. The criticism from the benches above the Gangway that this Bill does nothing to deal with the present depression in agriculture is somewhat irrelevant, because the Bill does not pretend to do that; it is nothing more nor less than a land settlement Bill.
Those who are most eloquent at the present time with regard to the depression in agriculture are not the smallholders, and that is a most impressive point. The smallholders in Scotland— and I imagine it is the same in England —are making ends meet, largely because they are not affected by some of the causes which mean depression in large farming. The fact is that, they are getting on fairly well. I would like to hear from the Under-Secretary whether, in regard to this Bill, he has realised the full state of the facts with which he has to deal. I will give the House two figures from the report of the Department of Agriculture for the year ending 31st December, 1929, which show that there is a demand for smallholdings in Scotland at the present time from 6,956 applicants, of Whom 2,200 are exservice men, the remainder being civilians. These ex-service men 12 years ago came back from military service with definite promises given in the name of the nation that, if they wanted smallholdings in their native land, they were to he assured of them. Here we are 12 years after with 2,200 of them in Scotland alone with that promise unfulfilled. Then there are the civilians, almost 5,000 of them; and we do not know the number of applicants from the unemployed. The Under-Secretary does not know, and they will require to he picked out, examined, trained and so on.
To which of these three classes is the hon. Gentleman going to give the preference? The ex-service men undoubtedly have the preference, but the Bill speaks of giving the preference to the unemployed men. Will the Under-Secretary distribute his favours, or, while the un- 1988 employed men are training, will he devote some of the money which the Bill gives to the settlement of ex-service men? Everything depends on the right men being selected for these holdings, and surely among the right men to be selected, first of all, are the farm workers, particularly the grieves and cattlemen, who have first-hand expert knowledge. We should be careful not to repeat the mistake we made with regard to ex-service men, and, no matter how deserving the need of unemployed men, the mere fact that they are unemployed should not of itself be a sufficient reason to plant them in smallholdings where they have to make their livelihood, even with all the aids which this Bill will give them. Accordingly, in the selection of the men, the greatest care should be taken. I know quite a number of men who are at present in employment who want smallholdings. Two of them are car conductors in Edinburgh, and they have spoken to me more than once in the course of their duties about how they have longed to get back to the country on a smallholding for the sake of their children's health. They are country born and bred, and were forced to find their livelihood in the town. I will say for the benefit of the hon. Lady who addressed us from the opposite benches that these men married women who were also brought up in the country, so they are quite ready to take up smallholdings. Even in such walks of life the Department may quite well look for suitable men.
The same mistake should not be made that was made with the training of ex-service men. Large sum's of money were spent in training hundreds of men to take up smallholdings in Scotland, and at the end of their training it was found that there were no smallholdings for them. We must be sure that there are holdings for the men when their training is complete. As to the size of the holding, the Under-Secretary is committed by the terms of the Bill to a 50acre holding or a £50 rental. He would have been better advised if he had supported a Clause in a Bill which I introduced last year for the extension of the limits of smallholdings. Then he could have taken advantage of the advice which was given to him by the Nairne Committee who in their report, to which the hon. Gentleman so frequently refers, 1989 state that the Board of Agriculture should not be restricted by any such arbitrary limits, but should be free to form holdings of such area and value that they consider desirable in the best interests of the scheme.
The hon. Gentleman who spoke last from the benches above the Gangway seemed to have some idea that the Department were going to take off certain farms in the country all the farmers and their men, and every living thing that they found there, in order to make way for a large-scale farm or for a demonstration holding. Plenty of land is available in Scotland without doing anything of the sort. I should like to give the hon. Gentleman one or two helpful suggestions as to where he may look for land for smallholdings. He might, for example, ascertain how many landowners in Scotland are keeping in their own possession perhaps six, or 10, or even l2 farms, which they are working by grieves instead of letting them to ordinary tenants; or he might consider three estates on Tayside from which practically every tenant has within recent years been removed and where the land is rich alluvial soil. He might incorporate in the Bill a Clause providing that where a landowner is not letting his farms, he ought not to be entitled to hold land and work it only by a grieve when it is required by tenants in his area. The hon. Gentleman might see what land he could get in that way. He might also see how many farms are led farms, that is to say, where a large farmer has a number of farms in his possession. It is inequitable, to say the least of it, for owners and farmers to have so much untenanted land in their possession while there are so many applicants in Scotland, including 2,000 ex-service men, who have no chance of getting a holding at all. Then he will not forget the large area which used to be cultivated, but which now lies in the deer forest areas.
My last point is that he should take some care over the tenure of the holdings on which men are to be settled on the land. If he is going to take the land on lease for 250 years, or take it on rent charge, he will be able to give these holders nothing more than a yearly tenancy. The whole spirit and intention of the Smallholder Acts was to give security of tenure to the landholders. If 1990 the hon. Gentleman intends simply to make these settlers yearly tenants he will not be giving them a fair chance to do well, because unless a man knows that he is not there simply at the caprice of a Government official but has security of tenure through the law of the land, he will not put his best into the holding, and it is a matter of the greatest importance that he should do so. I hope the hon. Gentleman, in securing the land he will require, will not proceed by the method of purchase. In certain circumstances it may be better and cheaper to purchase land for the purposes of this Bill rather than to take it by the more economical process of "scheduling," as we call it in Scotland. Scheduling simply means that all the hon. Gentleman has to do is to serve a notice upon a landowner that he would like very much to negotiate for taking his farm, and all he has to do after that is to ascertain the compensation that is due.
From 1911 to 1919 the position might have justified the shake of the head the hon. Gentleman has just given, but since 1919 that dissent is in no way justified, as by the Act of that year the compensation was cut down to a minimum, and all that the landowner can ask for is compensation for any loss in the let ting value of the land, which, as the hon. Member knows, is not a very grave burden. Having settled the compensation the hon. Gentleman, as he knows, need not purchase the buildings. All he has to do is to divide the farm and arrange how the farm buildings are to be re-adapted and then the Department of Agriculture goes out. In the House the other night the hon. Gentleman suggested that there was in a report supplied to the Public Accounts Committee by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture in Edinburgh authority and warrant for the statement he made that in practically all eases it was better for the Department to purchase land rather than to take it by the far more economical method of scheduling. But be omitted, I am sure unintentionally, to give another very enlightening sentence from that report, which was to the effect that the average net cost to the State of land which they acquire by purchase, terminable annuities or feu amounted to 705 per holding, but that the average net cost-to the State of properties which 1991 remain in private ownership and are taken by the method of scheduling is only £203. The one method is three or four times more costly than the other.
My last remark has reference to allotments. Some 10 years ago I founded in Scotland the Scottish National Union of Allotment Holders, and the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, therefore, that I am a strong sympathiser with the proposals in the Bill relating to allotments. The report of the Nairne Committee with regard to allotments in Scotland was not encouraging, however. They said that the parish councils were doing nothing. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should realise that the local authorities in Scotland are overburdened with work, and that if increased attention has to be given to allotments he may have to find other methods of dealing with the situation, if, indeed, he does not have to take the matter into his own hands. I wish, finally, to assure the Government of the hearty support of hon. Members on these benches for the Bill.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Captain BOURNE
I am sure the hon. Member for Kincardine (Mr. Scott) will not feel that I am showing him any disrespect if I do not follow up his speech in reference to the position in Scotland. I will make only one passing comment on it, and that is that he approved of the Bill in general but damned it in particular. This is a rather interesting Bill. Before the end of last Session the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us an outline of the Government's agricultural programme, and this Bill is the first fruits of it. Having read the Measure carefully, and having listened with some interest to the debate to-day, I am still puzzled as to what was in the mind of the Government when introducing this Bill. It is very largely au unemployment Measure, and not an agricultural Measure. I listened with very great interest to the charming speech in which the Minister introduced it. He seemed to pass it off as merely a small Measure. The hon. Lady the Member for the Wrekin (Miss Picton-Turbervill) took it as something to deal with the needs of unemployed miners. The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Price), in a very interesting speech, with a large —part of which I was in complete agreement, 1992 pointed out that smallholdings in a suitable locality, with suitable tenants and with ready access to markets, are likely to be successful, but he did not hold out any hope that a large extension of smallholdings at this moment was either possible or desirable.
The first point about which we require elucidation is as to what is really in the' minds of the Government. I said earlier that. I do not regard this as an agricultural Measure but as one for settling people on the land. It may or may not be a desirable thing to do that, but nobody can possibly argue that at this moment, with agriculture in a depressed state, and existing smallholders finding very great difficulty in gaining a living, it is a very useful proceeding. I admit that smallholders have weathered the depression better than many of those in the other branches of the industry, but they are feeling the pinch very badly to-day; and if the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) were to make careful inquiry among those Welsh smallholders about whom we heard so much in his speech on the Address he would find that in many cases the wife of the smallholder has had to surender her perquisites—the poultry, the eggs and the butter—in order to enable the farm to make both ends meet; that the money she previously had for the house had had to go into the common stock to prevent the farm going into bankruptcy. As existing smallholders are suffering from the general depression it is no good settling more people on the land unless and until we can guarantee them a return for their labour.
The Bill has another curiosity. It deals from an agricultural point of view with smallholdings in Part II, and with large scale farms in Part I. I am somewhat fogged as to the view which has been expressed by the Minister of Agriculture. Does the Minister mean that his proposals will consist of large scale industrial farms on the one hand, and small family holdings on the other? I put this question because I am puzzled as to why he has joined together these two propositions. If the right hon. Gentleman merely wants to provide for a demonstration large scale farm, I would remind him that there are already in existence several farms which might be termed large scale farms. I know 1993 several people who are farming 2,000 and 3,000 acres. I do not know if that is what he means by a large-scale farm, but if it is, why take Government money for such a demonstration '? I also know of a few cases where individual farms run to 10,000 or 15,000 acres.
Possibly one day the vast bulk of the territory of this country may 'be cultivated on what is called an industrial farming system. I would not like to prophesy that, under pressure of economic circumstances, something of this kind may not arise, but I would remind hon. Members that this policy may lead to a depopulation of very large areas in our countryside. I could give as an illustration a case where by the substitution of machinery to-day 50 mechanics are doing work which used to employ between 300 and 450 men. If that kind of thing is to go on, it is bound to lead to a large depopulation of parts of our countryside, and in those areas the unemployment problem will be aggravated. That is why I have been puzzled as to why the Minister has joined with what is undoubtedly an Unemployment Bill the superfluous Clauses dealing with large-scale farms.
The really important question is dealt with in Part II of the Bill, and under that part the Minister proposes to take very considerable powers to establish smallholdings for the unemployed. I understand that a large proportion of those holdings will be situated close to the towns, and consequently it will be unnecessary to provide many houses for these people. Taking all that into account, and assuming that a large amount of land suitable for this purpose is available, the cost of one smallholding will be £1,025. We have no idea how many holdings it is contemplated will be established because the Minister of Agriculture did not tell us. Judging from the figures given by the Minister there have been roughly 35,000 smallholders since 1908, which is not a very large number averaging rather over 1,000 per annum. If this policy is to continue then this Measure, as one for dealing with employment is quite useless.
If on the contrary it is intended to put these proposals on small holdings on a large scale every 100,000 people put on the land will cost at least £100,000,000. Unless this Measure works out on something like that scale the whole contribu- 1994 tion that this Bill will make towards the solution of the unemployment problem is going to be merely negligible. It will involve an enormous expense. You will not only have the difficulty of finding the money, but there will also be the difficulty of finding suitable land. It 'is doubly difficult to settle men who are not suitable for the work on land which is not suitable either. I do not believe that the total number of people who will be employed under the proposals of this Bill is going to be one fraction of the number which has been mentioned.
The smallholder is not a producer of cereals, and in a normal way he is not a producer of meat. The things he is mainly dependent upon in many part of the country, and in regard to which he has made a livelihood, are fruit, poultry and milk. The milk trade is overcrowded. I know that the Minister of Agriculture is considering schemes to deal with surplus milk, but it would be mere hypocrisy to say that anyone can start dairying when the difficulty at present is to deal with the milk which is already produced in large quantities in this country. There might be a good market for English fruit, but one of the things which you have got to do if you wish to keep that market is to stop these products being knocked out of the market by foreign importations which are very largely used for jam, and which destroy the very market which the smallholders hope to get in order to obtain a livelihood.
That leaves us with pigs and poultry. I am not saying that there is riot room for improvement in regard to both, but I am very doubtful whether under present conditions there is room for settling on the land even 10,000 people who are going to undertake intensive poultry farming, and that will be a mere fleabite in dealing with the unemployment problem. The real problem that we have to face at present is to make the land pay. Given that, I agree that in suitable cases, on proper soil and under good conditions, there is room for an extension of smallholdings, and I, for one, would welcome it; but we must remember that the life is hard, the hours are long, there are no holidays for the smallholder—that he has no weekly half-holiday, and that it is a hard life for the man and his wife. 1995 I quite agree that, as has been said by the hon. Member for the Wrekin, if they are to be made successful even on a small scale, the education of the woman is of even more importance than that of the man. It is no use expecting people, and especially women, who have been brought up in urban surroundings and have been accustomed to be able to go out in the evening after their clay's work, to take kindly to a life where, in the winter, darkness settles on you at 4.30 in the afternoon, and you are shut up in your own house till dawn the next morning; where the water is got from a pump, or possibly a well, and where there are no conveniences and it is impossible to provide the conveniences with which many town houses are fitted. For those who like it, the life is splendid, but it is not an easy one or one that is likely to be attractive to those brought up in the towns.
As to the question of allotments, I should like to bear the highest tribute to the work which has been done by the Society of Friends and others in the depressed mining areas. There is probably no man in this House, in whatever quarter he sits, who would not regard the possession of an allotment by an unemployed man as highly desirable, and I am sure that that part of the Bill which will enable the Ministry to make grants for implements, seeds and fertilisers for that purpose will meet with no opposition in any quarter; but I would suggest to the Minister that. in trying to apply the experience of the excellent work done by these societies to ordinary urban conditions in this country, he is making a great error. I have had much to do with the allotment movement, and have fought hard for my own allotment holders, but the person against whom I am fighting is not the landlord who will not let land, but the right hon. Gentleman's colleague, the Minister of Health, who wants that land for putting up houses, or the Minister of Transport, who wants to put a new road through it. That, I believe, is the main problem in the ordinary urban areas of this country. If allotments are to be provided, whether for the unemployed or for people in employment, the main thing is to put them within reasonable distance of where the men live. They have in many cases a day's 1996 work to do, and in any case they will not go more than a certain distance.
Moreover, everyone who cultivates an allotment wants security of tenure, and that is exactly what this Bill does not give, and what the ordinary landlord around the verge of a city cannot give at present. The landlord may be, and often is, willing, but Government Departments have overriding powers, and it is no use his saying he will lease the land, because the Ministry of Health and the Housing Committee can walk in at any moment and, under compulsory powers, can and do acquire the land, and the allotment holders are turned off with little or no compensation. I believe sincerely that half the trouble in connection with the allotment movement in the country at this moment is that men who have been on the land have been turned off for housing schemes and are broken-hearted, and nothing short of a guarantee that, if they go back and take up labour again on the bare land, they are likely to have a reasonable tenure, will make them go back. The Bill does not tackle this problem I quite agree that in the mining districts, where most people at. the moment would hesitate to put up new buildings, reasonable security may be obtained, but I doubt whether that is so in the rest of the depressed industrial districts, and, unless that problem can be solved, I fear that the admirable intentions of the right hon. Gentleman will come to very little.
My Objection to this Bill is simple. I believe that all parties want to help agriculture, but that the right hon. Gentleman and his Department have entirely overlooked what, under the present conditions of our society, is the real basis of a prosperous agriculture. It may not be unnoticed that the crisis in agriculture has deepened somewhat rapidly with the increase of unemployment in the towns. and as we are constituted, and as civilisation in England has carried on ever since the repeal of the Corn Laws, the basis of a prosperous agriculture is a prosperous industry. Given the big towns full of work, given the operatives drawing full wages, they have a marked and very strong tendency to buy the best English goods and to pay for them handsomely. I lived for many years not far from the South Wales coalfield. When the miners were prosperous, the agriculturists in 1997 Herefordshire had no difficulty in selling anything. There was a vast, insatiable market and everything we could produce that was good vanished into it and was paid for at reasonable prices. On the contrary, just after the War with the trouble in that coalfield in 1921, the market vanished for some years, and it has never recovered. I have left it now, but I believe still, from what I hear from my friends, the same is true and the one thing that will revive agriculture and make it really prosperous there is a prosperous industry in South Wales. In taking the step the Government are taking in this Bill, they are putting the cart before the horse. They want the smallholder to have a market. The one way in which they can give him a market is to restore our industrial prosperity, and I believe, unless they do that, any scheme such as this, which puts more people on the land, will only lead to disappointment and may inflict a bitter hardship on the men, not to speak of the heavy loss of money to the country, which it can ill afford, and which we might better spend in trying to improve the market for those already settled on the land.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Johnston)
I am sure the Minister is gratified at the reception that has been accorded to the Measure. Many hon. Members opposite, in criticising it, have proceeded on the assumption that it ought to have carried within its pages the entire agricultural policy of the Government, whereas, as a matter of fact, it is only what it professes to be, a part of the Government's agricultural policy, and that part dealing entirely with the better utilisation of agricultural land. A later Measure will deal with the problem of marketing, and, as several hon. Members have explained from this side of the House, the great problem of cereal production cannot properly be discussed pending the results of the Imperial Conference.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The precise date cannot be given now. I am dealing with the fact that this Measure is not in itself any complete statement of the Government's agricultural policy, but merely deals with the better utilisation 1998 of the land. The late Minister of Agriculture, in what was for him an unusually tart and waspish speech, pro fessed to base his policy upon the advice of the National Farmers' Union. I sometimes wish he and his party had more often taken the advice of the National Farmers' Union. There are great blocks of advice given by the National Farmers' Union—I propose to quote some of them before I sit down— which he and his party have resolutely refused to take, and there are other blocks of advice which he himself may have been willing to take, but which his party and his followers would not have at any price.
Take the brewing of beer. The National Farmers' Union have demanded for years that British barley should be used. It is not hon. Members on this side of the House, but hon. Members on the opposite side and supporters of the right hon. Gentleman who have resolutely refused to use British barley in their beer, and have manufactured beer out of the products of foreign agriculture. The question we have to face to-night is, is there an opening, is there an economic possibility of greater employment on the soil of our country? We start with certain advantages. I do not suppose anyone will deny the fact that we have great markets close to us. We do not require overseas transport. We are facing, though hon. Gentlemen may affect to disregard them, great changes in agriculture which cannot possibly be met by changes in the fiscal system, but which are due entirely to economic developments in industry over which agriculturists have no control whatever. Take, for example, the problem of oats. The coming of the motor ear has driven the street horse away. Mechanical processes are driving out the pit pony, and there is a steadily lessening demand due to mechanical production for this once great product of oats. It is no use talking about the necessity for a tariff to meet a situation like that. You cannot deal with a great change of processes by means of a fiscal system at all.
I would call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one more block of figures which must have come within his knowledge showing the changes in agricultural produce. In. the county of 1999 Northumberland, for example, between 1920 and 1928, barley fell from 38,000 acres to 15,000 acres owing to decreased demand. Wheat fell from 8,000 to 3,000, oats from 46,000 to 34,000, and turnips and swedes from 32,000 to 18.000, but cattle jumped from 127,000 to 155,000, and sheep jumped from 978,000 to 1,157,000 in that county. These are processes upon which all parties have to reckon, and, indeed, have to base their agricultural policies. If we find, as a matter of fact, that there is a steadily lessening demand for a particular product, or if we find that a particular product can more easily and more cheaply be produced at a better quality in other ways, and by other processes, there is no economic reason whatever why we should continue producing in a backward, costly and uneconomic way if we can readapt our agriculture to more efficient processes.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
If the hon. Member will have patience, I propose to give them. If we find that there is a decreased demand for oats, is it possible to organise our agriculture in such a way as to capture a. greater share of, say, dairy produce in our markets? I have some remarkable figures which I have never seen properly published or properly explained. In the year 1929, the last year for which the Empire Marketing Board has complete figures, we imported into this country 195,000,000 eggs from China, in shells. I will deal with liquid eggs in a moment. I assert that not one of these eggs was sold under a fair or honest description. No one ever knowingly went into a shop and asked for a Chinese egg.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
This is not a joke. We imported 280,000,000 eggs from Poland, 355,000,000 eggs from Belgium, 379,000,000 eggs from the Netherlands and 669,000,000 eggs from Denmark. Is there any hon. Member in any quarter of the House who will venture to say that. British activity, British toil, British genius and the British hen cannot supply a large part of that market and, as 2000 my right hon. Friend says, at prices which amount in some parts of the country to fourpence a dozen. [HON. MEMBERS: "Fourpence a dozen?"] I know of parts of the country where the producer is getting sixpence a dozen for his eggs in the glut period and where those eggs have been sold retail at 2s. 3d. The report of the Imperial Agricultural Committee, page 11, shows that for the year 1925 one egg in every seven used in this country came from China. [Interruption.] I am saying that it is fundamentally necessary, if it is possible to do it, that we should not seek to bolster up certain agricultural processes if their market has disappeared but that we should seek by a new orientation, by new processes in agriculture to readapt our soil to more profitable purposes. In addition to eggs in shell, we imported in the year 1929 from China 788,000 cwt. of liquid eggs.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The Noble Lord cannot get rid of the bee in his bonnet about a fiscal remedy. What we are dealing with is something wider, deeper and bigger than a fiscal remedy. I put it to hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies that we must readapt our agricultural processes and seek to capture new markets if the demand for the old commodities is decreasing. Of bacon we imported 6,500,000; of butter, 6,500,000 cwt.; dried milk, 3,000,000 cwt.; dead poultry, 213,000 cwt. Is there any hon. Member who will allege that a smallholding community, a nation of producers, of smallholders, could not produce eggs and poultry in this country as the Danes and the Dutch do? It is a smallholding system on the Continent which has captured our markets, and the Minister of Agriculture by this Measure is seeking to make it easier for a peasantry on the soil of this country to produce a commodity which a peasantry can produce, and we believe produce better than under the farming system which has been so common in our land. The right hon. Gentleman opposite pinned his faith to the demand of the Farmers Union. In 1904 the Farmers Union of Scotland and the Chambers of Commerce sent a delegation to Denmark to find out the truth, and this deputation came back with 2001 a report. I am only going to quote one or two sentences. Discussing the Danish smallholder they said:He pays his way. His life is a self- respecting one. His home shows a sense of refinement as well as comfort. He is not sunk in mortgages although his land may carry a loan. As for the farmer of 40 acres and upwards, he houses himself in a style which never ceases to surprise. Mulhall's calculation of the wealth per head of population places Denmark second to Great Britain, but such a calculation hardly doe., justice to Denmark. In the nature of the case it takes no account of the diffusion of well-being, a minority of very rich, a majority with a bare living wage, and a heavy fringe of extremely poor, are lumped in one statistic for Great Britain, whereas Danish wealth is spread over a larger proportion of the people.That is the conclusion of the largest and most representative delegation that has ever reported on the question of smallholdings in Denmark, and I shall listen with interest to what the late Secretary of State for Scotland will have to say upon the subject of smallholdings and the opinion of the National Farmers' Union. I go further. I have heard hon. Members repeat again and again the statement that smallholdings do not pay, that they are non-economic. No one known better than the late Secretary of State for Scotland that proof absolute and irrefutable can be brought against that statement. When he was Secretary of State for Scotland he set up a committee to inquire into the subject, and he got Sir John Nairne, who at one time was Controller of the Bank of England, to preside. This Committee reported unanimously. There is given in the report not only the cost of smallholdings, based actuarily and apart from the wild and fantastic figures given here this afternoon, but we are told what are the productive results of smallholdings. On page 19 they say:The cost per new holder to the State for the whole of Scotland may be expected to be at the rate of £360 per holding." But from that figure you must deduct the cost of the new houses you are building upon the holdings. You never debit the cost of new houses under municipal schemes to the engineering or any other industry. This agricultural policy is not only an agricultural policy; it is a rehousing policy. Not only do you plant a man on the soil and give him an economic livelihood, but you do it at a net cost of £360, and from that £360 you 2002 must deduct the cost of State housing, which would otherwise be borne by the housing votes.Then this Nairne Committee proceeded to give statistical accounts of the increased productivity that takes place if you break up big pastoral farms and supplant them by smallholdings. I am sorry I have not got time to read out all the figures, and in any case I have even better ones here, from a report issued by the late Secretary of State himself—the fourteenth report of the Board of Agriculture for Scotland for the year 1925. What did the late Secretary of State's advisers say? We will take four pastoral farms. Prior to smallholdings, when they were big farms, the total population was 97, but under smallholdings the population jumped to 545. The acreage under crops other than hay and grass jumped from 107 to 499; the acreage under hay and grass from 63 to 86; the acreage under grazing from just about the same, 33,176 to 32,735; dairy cattle from 34 to 228; cattle other than dairy from 405 to 568; pigs from 8 to 38; poultry from 300 to 1,289.
Productivity goes up threefold and fourfold; when you break up these large pastoral farms and put on smallholders, even at the present cost and in the present difficulties, productivity goes up fourfold. What is the economic result? The average number of failures since 1919, including all the raw misfits—the blind men, the wounded soldiers, the men who should never have been put on smallholdings at all, the shell-shocked men— is only 5.3 per cent. Is there any other industry known to hon. Members in which, in the difficulties of the past 10 years, there is such a small percentage of failures as is exhibited in the figures of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland? I certainly know of none. Some hon. Members have said that additional employment ought to be provided for many of these smallholders. I agree. I think it is highly desirable that the Department of State should work in the closest possible co-operation with such bodies as the Forestry Commission, and that the Forestry Commission should offer, say six months' work in the year, at wages, to as many of these smallholders as possible so that in the early stages at least they will have certain economic guarantees. I am happy to say 2003 that that is the policy which is being pursued now by the Forestry Commission, and we hope that it will be further developed.
On the question of the demonstration farms the hon. Member for Kincardine (Mr. Scott) asked me how many demonstration farms we already had. We Have three demonstration farms proper, one in connection with each agricultural college, and, in addition, we have five other demonstration farms, if I may call them so, under various institutes. We have audited accounts of the results of those farms, and while I am not going to weary the House with figures, I may mention that the audited balance sheet of a small farm or smallholding, on a demonstration basis, at Gretna, shows a net profit for last year of £184 15s. 3d. It may not be a fortune, but if in these trying times we can get a system under which men can earn £3 10s. a week; if in addition we can have inspectors and advisors in the early stages of these colonies; if in addition we can keep going persistently and unrelentingly a propaganda of co-operation in marketing; if we can exclude the middleman, the gombeen man, the man who takes the difference between 6d. a dozen for eggs and the 1s. 6d. or 2s. 3d. a dozen which those eggs fetch in the market, and not only takes the difference in money—
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The hon. Gentleman will get his opportunity of expressing his own views on the subject during the Committee stage. I have only a few moments and there are other questions on which I should like to touch. I say that if we can encourage co-operation in connection with these holdings, if we do everything we can to secure for these smallholders the full value of the produce of their labour, we can, I am certain, in this land of ours, ensure to our peasantry as decent a livelihood and as great comfort as the Danish peasant enjoys. Hon. Members who have spent even a few weeks, as I have done, going round the rural districts of Denmark, will agree, without entering into questions such as whether or not the Danes export butter and eat margarine—they will agree with me and with this report of the Farmers' Union 2004 that in going about Denmark, one never sees a man, outside the docks at Copenhagen, who looks as it he was earning less than £4 a week. We have a market at home—a great market. We have got people who would prefer to have home produce if they could get it, and who better than our own folks should be getting fresh eggs, fresh poultry, and the rest of it? Why not? Why should our people be having Chinese eggs and imported poultry palmed off on them under false pretences?
This Bill, which is part of the Government's agricultural policy, provides opportunities for a greater number of people on the soil. We are offering to spend national money to do it, and there has been a howl of execration from the benches opposite, with the honourable exceptions of the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) and one or two others. There has been nothing but one howl of lamentation that we could not afford to spend money to put our own folk on the soil. Demonstration farms are provided for in the Bill. We need not put up buildings. The demonstration farms may be only demonstration holdings, but we ought to supply the latest scientific knowledge that our scientists can make available and to have demonstration holdings and farms in every county if possible. We ought to take our holders to see the latest appliances at work. We take power under this Bill to supply seeds. We will market direct as far as we can. The essential principle of this Bill is that as long as we have unemployed land, unemployed men and unemployed money, we will do our best to bring those three factors together.
Hon. Gentlemen who talk about balance sheets never for one moment give us any figures about the cost of unemployment—not only the economic costs, but the moral and the physical costs. Here is a Bill which costs somewhere about £360 per holder, less £100 on the housing costs. That is £260 per farmer. We cannot place too many; we cannot do it, for there are administrative limitations to the numbers of men we can put on the soil, but every effort should be made, and every ounce of our energy should be used in these dark and difficult times to ensure that no yard of our soil is neglected or unused as long as there are willing hands 2005 to cultivate it. Despite the prophecies of hon. Gentlemen opposite this afternoon, there are many farming experts who do think we ought to experiment on a large-scale fanning system—Sir Daniel Hall and Professor Orwin, for example. I offer no opinion myself. I make my friends a present of this, that we shall find it exceptionally difficult to adopt large-scale farming in Scotland owing to our leasehold system. We shall find it difficult to get a big area where all the farms can be formed owing to the fact that the leases run for different periods, and we should have to pay very heavy compensation in order to break leases.
Be that as it may, all that this Bill says is, Let us try it. If great agricultural advisers, men of great skill and experience, say this thing should be tried, why should we not try it? We say we must go in for reconditioning seriously neglected land. We have no right to allow the national heritage to go back to rushes and to waste. We have public-spirited citizens—[Interruption]—I do not know what their politics are. We have, for example, Mr. Macaulay, a great Scottish Canadian who came over here and who has offered us, at his expense, a huge demonstration farm. He will equip it for us if we can get the land, and in addition to that, he is spending great sums out of his own pocket in an endeavour to see what can be done in reconditioning heath land and hog land in Lewis.
Why should we not try? A great peasantry, a land capable of maintaining that peasantry, surplus capital, capital being wasted now, a House of Commons facing the great problem of unemployment, and we have heard little from the Opposition Benches to-day but pettifogging points, grousing about the expenditure of £5,000,000. To listen to them, one would almost think that they would prefer to have the unemployed standing idle at the Exchanges. Allotments? Why not? Demonstration farms? Why not? Smallholdings? Why not? The best possible use to which skill and ingenuity can put our national resources ought surely to be the honest desire of every hon. Member of this House.
When the right hon. Gentleman opposite began his speech by saying there was no desire on this side for co-opera- 2006 tion and pooling brains in meeting this great problem of agriculture, I would recall to his attention the fact that when hon. Members on this side, in an agricultural committee, sought the co-operation of agricultural Members on all sides of the House, and got the support of hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, it was he who stood in the Committee Room upstairs and refused the co-operation and assistance of the Opposition. I trust that that fact will be as widely known as possible.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a violent attack on me about something of Which I have no knowledge. Will he kindly substantiate it? [Interruption.] He has just alluded to eggs, and he has some grievance against me. If he has any accusation which he wishes to be generally known, I wish he would state it in less cryptic terms.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I was not aware that I had said anything about the right hon. Gentleman and eggs. But since he has raised the subject may I say that when the right hon. Gentleman interrupted me on a previous occasion, and said our party had not helped him, I said—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.