§ Sir HENRY CAUTLEY
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House, it is essential to the well-being of the nation that the economic position of farmers other than occupiers of family or special farms, which is so bad that a largo proportion are now insolvent and will be shortly compelled to give up their farms, should be improved; and, seeing that this condition is in the main caused by the wide gap between the cost of production and the sale price of the products of the farm, accentuated in great measure by legislation of this House, it is further in its opinion imperative that steps be at once taken by providing a guaranteed price for cereals and power to regulate, prohibit, or license the imports of minor agricultural products in case of glut, or otherwise to improve the condition of the industry and make it possible for farmers to make a living out of the cultivation of the soil.I make no apology for bringing before the House another aspect of agriculture. The position of the industry and the widespread distress prevailing in it are so serious, and its prospects are so gloomy, that I shall take every opportunity which presents itself to bring the subject before the House for discussion in order to try 1400 to compel the Government and the Ministry of Agriculture—moved as I think they are largely by townsmen—to see that something must be done to place the industry in a safer and better position. I speak as one who has been a farmer from the age of 21 years until the present, and I leave it to the House to consider the number of years of experience which that represents. I only make the statement to show that I am fully conversant, with the difficulties of agriculture, and to that extent I speak with some little authority. I propose to confine myself to the terms of the Motion which deal first with the position of farmers, and it will be observed that omit for the purposes of this discussion family farms and special farms.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
Special farms are those which are devoted to high-class pedigree stock, or to some, special brand of stock, or some special kind of produce. The family farm, as is well-known 1401 to the House., is a farm worked by the farmer and his family and its distinguishing feature is that it avoids any obligation as to the rates of wages prescribed under the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, 1924. As a member of the Royal Commission which considered the economic position of agriculture in 1919. I came to the conclusion that the wages bill on the ordinary farm represented 40 per cent of the total outgoings and that, in the case of a purely corn-growing farm, it might run up to 50 or even 60 per cent of the outgoings. It will therefore be seen that the wages bill is a most important element in the cost of production. The family farm is free from that obligation and the family farm to-day has a reasonable measure of success and makes a reasonable profit though I believe that the development of family farms is likely to receive a check because the sons and daughters of the farmer nowadays, when they arrive at the age of 18 or 19, are not satisfied to work without wages. In great measure the family farm to-day is run by the farmer and his wife with the aid, more or less, of child labour and the tendency is for that system to increase.
There are only one or two figures which I propose to put to the House. There are something like 30,000,000 acres under cultivation and there were in 1925 10,682,000 acres under arable cultivation. A steady reduction has been taking place in the amount of land under the plough. In 1929 it was reduced to 9,848,000 acres, showing a reduction of 734,000 acres, or getting on for 1,000,000 acres in the four years. The agricultural workers in 1925 numbered 803,338 and in 1929, 770,252. showing a reduction of 33,086, and that reduction is steadily going on.
I put before the House the position today as one affecting the tenant farmer or the occupying owner and the wage-earners who are working on the farms. In my opinion, the wage-earners on the farms have a better life than the small-holders. It is only the most skilful men, with a real knowledge of agriculture, who can succeed as smallholders, with an immense amount of work and application, and with the advantage, above all, of having been brought up to agriculture all their lives, and having almost imbued in them the knack of tilling the soil and, what is equally if not more important, 1402 the knack of being able to look after stock and bring it to its perfection. The amount of produce sold on the farms of this country amounted in 1929 to about £220,000,000, so that we are dealing with an industry of vital importance as to the amount of production, as to the number of men employ in it, and as to the nature of its production.
What is the condition of this industry to-day? I go among farmers of all kinds, I hear their complaints, I see their work, I hear the views of their valuers, their auditors, their accountants, and in every single class of farm, except the family farm, I hear the same report, namely, that for the last two or three years they have been working at a loss. I am convinced that many of them are to-day on the verge of insolvency and do not know which way to turn, that, there is not a bright spot nor any good prospect before them, that they will have to give up their farms, and that their land is likely to go out of cultivation. I challenge anyone here to say that that is an exageration of the position. It may be said that many industries at the present time have an equally black outlook, but so long as I am a Member of this House I mean to air and to discuss the agricultural position and to see whether, for the oldest industry in the world, we cannot do something to prevent the destruction that is looming in the future.
If you look at the bankruptcy returns in this country for the last three or four years, you will see that farmers occupy one year the first place, the second year the second place, and the third year the third place in the total number of men who are going bankrupt; and farmers as a rule do not go bankrupt. They struggle on to the last, and they approach their landlords before the final crash comes and get let off the arrears, it may be, of last year's rent, or something of that sort, and save what they can. Let us look at the prices of cereals. In 1925 the average price of wheat was 50s. 8d. a quarter; in 1929 it was 42s. 2d; in 1930 it was 30s. 3d.; and to-day it is about 25s. or 26s. Barley in 1925 was at 40s. 3d.; in 1929, 35s. 5d.; and in 1930, 22s. 7d. Oats in 1925 were 25s. 9d.; in 1929, 24s. 7d.; in 1930, 17s. 5d.; and to-day they are 17s.; and you can buy Argentine wheat at the port at 12s. and even, I have been told, at 10s.
1403 Look at it another way. If the average price of everything that the farmer had to sell before the War was 100, to-day it is about 140 to 152, but, the cost of labour, if you allow for the reduction in hours, is, instead of 100, about 205 to 210, or more than double what it was. The selling price of the goods is only 40 per cent., or two-fifths, more than it was, while the cost of living has gone up to about 150. The figures that I have given show that the sole cause of this depression and of this state of insolvency is that the selling value of the products of the farms is less than the actual cost of production; and the seriousness of the position is that it affects all classes of farming.
Perhaps I ought not to say all classes at the present moment, because I would say that milk farming to-day is on a profitable footing. The milk farmers are making a living, but the other classes of farmers, the wheat and tillage farmers, are doing so badly that they are having to turn to milk production, with the result that a lower class of milk is being produced and that the prices of milk are going down; and even this last year, last September, although the prices were fixed by arrangement, a number of milk sellers were not able to sell their output. Therefore, the whole profession of agriculture hangs together, and unless you can keep going the bulk of the farmers, who are not engaged in producing milk, they naturally tend to change their method of farming. The position to-day is that a farmer's expenses remain practically stationary, and are possibly going up. He is compelled to pay the statutory wage, and in this connection I would make this statement, so that I shall not be misunderstood.
I have here the report that I wrote for the Royal Commission on Agriculture. I stated then, and I state now, that in my opinion a statutory wage for the farm worker was and is necessary, and more so than in any other industry, in all probability. I maintain that position to-day, and the point that I am making is not that the statutory wage should be done away with—I should like to see not only the present minimum but an increased minimum—but my position is that Parliament has required the farmer to pay this wage and has made no provision to enable him to do so. 1404 I shall call attention to a number of other Acts of Parliament, all of which have increased the cost of production and hampered the farmer, and Parliament has not done a single thing to enable him to meet these fresh obligations or to face the disasters that are coming upon him.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture is not here. He has very courteously written me a letter to say that he is ill, but the Minister who takes his place this evening will, I hope, answer this question: While Parliament puts on to a single industry a number of duties and requirements that add to its cost of production, is there not an obligation on Parliament to see that that industry is put in such a position as will enable it to meet these fresh obligations and higher expenses? I can see no answer to that question. I have already pointed out that the wages bill is the chief outgoing on any farm, and on the cereal growing farms it runs up to 50 per cent. and I believe, if my recollection serves me, up to 60 per cent. It was not only in fixing the amount of wages that Parliament added to the expense of farming, but it was by fixing the statutory hours that it made the working of a farm much more difficult. It is extremely difficult to get the men to continue their team work overtime, at haying time and when the weather suits, and it was in the dislocation of the working of the farms that the wages board hit the farmer very badly, as well as in the fixing of the wages.
8.0 p. m.
This House a short time ago passed an Act under which the Milk and Dairies Orders are made, and that has caused a very great additional cost on many of the owner-occupiers; and one-third of the farms are now farmed by their owners. I know of one farm of about 100 acres with a rental value of about £120 a year, and the obligation put on that owner occupier was £380, which he had to pay so as to continue the business previously carried on, which was the only business that he could operate on that particular farm. We had the Tuberculosis Order, the Swine Fever Order and the Sheep Scab Order. The farmer is troubled by inspectors; I do not suggest every day, but frequently inspectors go to inspect his farm, and it all adds to the cost of pro- 1405 duction at a time when the farmer is at his wits' end to know how to make ends meet. I say nothing about the loss that has been caused by the landlord being shut out of the picture because of the enormously increased taxes that have been put upon him, so that the assistance that many of the tenant farmers received from their landlords has been withdrawn. We are told that farmers do not know how to carry on their business, and that there is a large amount of derelict land. I would refer the Ministry to their own Blue Book on agricultural output. It showed that out of 31,000,000 acres, only 75,000 that could be used for agriculture was not being used. Out of 400,000 farms in 1929, there were only 62 applications to agricultural committees for a certificate that the tenants were not farming in accordance with the most approved methods of the industry; and out of those only 27 certificates were granted; 27 refused and nine withdrawn.
A report made a few years ago by three experts that farming in Great Britain was better than in any other country in the world. I do not say that there are not bad farmers, but the knowledge and practice of farming is better in this country than in any other. The position of farmers is not due to bad farming or to lack of knowledge of the business; it is due, in the first instance, to these duties that have been put on to them by this House. Rents have not been increased, and in the Liberal "Yellow Book" it is said that they are the same as a hundred years ago. The security of tenure is almost as good as anywhere in the world. I have made clear that, in the words of this Motion, there is awide gap between the cost of production and the sale price of the products of the farm.I go on to say that that isaccentuated in great measure by legislation of this Housethrough the Measures which I have instanced. I say that it isimperative that steps be at once taken by providing a guaranteed price.Now we come to remedies. What is the main cause of this gap, in addition to the causes I have mentioned? It is the landing in this country of the surplus agricultural products of every other country in the world.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Sanders)
We sell our surplus goods too.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
We sell our surplus goods all over the world. I am pointing out that the surplus products of every other country come to this country and do not go to other countries. They are concentrated here. The essential difference is that countries, apart from this, are not allowed to send their products into other countries; they all come here. I agree that that secures cheap food, and it may be to the interest of this country that we should be a receptacle for all the surplus agricultural products of the whole world in order to secure it, but is the hon. Member content, if that be so, to leave our agriculture absolutely defenceless, and to see our land becoming derelict and laid waste? There are a number of farmers of my acquaintance who have found the position so bad that they have said, "I will sell my horses, I will put my land down to grass, and I will farm with a dog and a stick." And that is what they are doing. They are living in their farmhouses, they have dismissed their men and sold their horses, and they carry a certain amount of stock which they look after themselves. That is what they are reduced to. Is that what we want in this country?
My object is to see the agricultural worker and the tenant farmer on the land. That is essential to the welfare of this country. I am not going to talk of war and that kind of thing, but are we to leave ourselves absolutely unprotected, without growing any corn in this country and without having any of our land under cultivation? That is what we shall be driven to if we submit to the world's agricultural products being landed in this country without any attempt to regulate them. How did the present position come about? Up to 1916 there was no fixed wage or guaranteed price. From 1854 to 7879 English agriculture was very prosperous, and grass was ploughed up and men were employed. In 1879 we were for the first time laid open to American corn being sent here as ballast, and from 1879 to 1894 we saw land going down to grass. I myself sold corn at 19s. a quarter and I know of it being sold at 17s. A whole class of farmers cleared out. A few men arose, careful and 1407 thrifty fellows, many of them brought up as farm workers, and by hard work agriculture steadily improved. Then came the war. The country was in need of a large accession of corn-growing land, and the only way it could be obtained was by the land being ploughed up. In order to enable farmers to do that, a subsidy or guaranteed price was given to them. Everybody felt that if the farmers were given a guaranteed price or subsidy, the workmen must share it, and it was then that the statutory wage was fixed.
At the end of the War, the Royal Commission to which I have referred was appointed, and I was a member of it. We decided that that ought to be carried on. If I had time, I would like to read three paragraphs in my separate report which exactly foretold what has occurred in the last few years. A subsidy was granted by the Act of 1920, but it was on a wrong method of calculation, with which I could never agree; and in the following July the Ministry of the day repealed the whole Act. There had been a sudden drop in prices, and the subsidy was so heavy on the method of calculation adopted that the country could not stand it. Thereupon, the guaranteed price was removed, and the standard wage was removed too. Nobody at that time ever thought that you could have the one without the other. If a subsidy were given to the farmer, it was clear that the farm worker should share it; if a standard wage were given to the worker, some security must be given to the farmer to enable him to pay it. In 1924 we had the Agricultural Wages Board, which tied up the farmer and gave him the standard wage without any security, and left him to fight with one hand behind his back.
What is to be done? If you are content—and those who vote against my Motion must be content—to let agriculture die, the only alternative is to turn this country into ranches. If we are to do anything, anybody with an intimate knowledge of agriculture will agree that the growing of wheat is pivotal of the whole industry. Wheat is the foundation of the rotation. Any farm which grows cereals or keeps cattle must grow wheat. You must have wheat straw for the cattle in order to make manure to 1408 keep up the fertility of the soil. You must have wheat for thatching the stacks, and it comes into other things too. We must keep up the growing of wheat in this country. What are the Government doing? We laugh at the idea that the Government can teach agriculture anything by their large-scale farming experiments. Large-scale farming of the prairie kind if for new countries, and as soon as those new countries become developed they go in for closer settlement and mixed farms such as we have here. If I am rightly informed, the standard farm in America is about 300 acres, the size of farm that is common here. It is only on farms with reasonable-sized fields that one can get shelter for the cattle by the hedges and on which one can work all the year round. It is all too long to explain now, but in my view it is absolutely essential to keep to farms of that size.
As for the Government's proposal to put unemployed men on smallholdings, well, let them try it! I think it is a cruel thing to put on a smallholding a man who is not an agriculturist, who has not been brought up to the calling. That the Government will get plenty of applicants is evident. If they were to fit up a number of drapers' or grocers' shops with all the necessary appliances and propose to men that they should take over those shops, giving to each man £50 or more, and a little extra money to keep him, there would be thousands of applicants. But putting unemployed men on smallholdings will not improve the agricultural situation. Then there are the Government's marketing proposals. Instead of selling his produce to his neighbour, a man must sell it through some organisation. We have our markets close at hand and, except in purely industrial counties, we have the best markets, and can do all our marketing for ourselves.
What is it, then, that is necessary to close the gap? All we ask for is something which will make it possible for agriculture to be carried on in a way which will prove remunerative to those engaged in it. We ask for a subsidy, not the subsidy that was put on and found to be unworkable, but a subsidy for wheat growing, because that will keep a farm going. I will not to-night deal with the amount of the subsidy. If we could get 1409 a subsidy for wheat growing it would put arable farming on its feet, it would make it safe, and save farmers from becoming bankrupt; and it could be done at comparatively small cost to this nation. Then, we cannot leave out of account the smaller farmers, the fruit growers, the tomato growers, the potato growers, the market gardeners and people of that kind. I am not so conversant with that side of production as I am with ordinary, simple farming, but I put it to the Government that we have the best market for that produce in our own country, and we could provide a good living for numbers of men in running fruit farms and supplying the market with soft fruits and with bush fruits if we took care that they were not ruined by the surplus production of other countries which comes here. By a system of prohibition, licensing and methods of that kind we could make that class of farming reasonably profitable without creating excessive prices, and we should not see our people having to leave their crops in the fields because they were not worth gathering at the prices offered. We should not see thousands of acres of potatoes left to rot because they were not worth sending to market in face of the influx of foreign produce. I am sorry I have spoken so long to-night, but I feel very keenly about the position of agriculture, and I have great pleasure in moving this Motion.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I beg to second the Motion.
I do so with very great pleasure. I should like to deal mainly with the remedies for the horrible state of affairs which we have been discussing during practically the whole of the sitting to-day. Let us take the question of a guaranteed price for wheat. It has been urged that a guarantee would be too expensive. If we look at the figures for 1929 we see that, roughly speaking, 1,300,030 tons of wheat were produced in this country in that year, as compared with total imports of 7,500,000 tons. Let us assume that the guarantee will cost the Treasury about £1 per quarter. That would not come to so very much. If the whole of the wheat grown at home came under that guarantee, it would cost us, perhaps, £5,000,000 or £6,000,000, but a great deal of the wheat is used for seed, and there is a certain quantity which is not up to milling 1410 quality. A guarantee was tried before, but proved a failure because the scheme was bad. I will suggest reasons for that failure and show how it could be avoided in future.
It has been well said that wheat is the stabilising crop, the main crop of the country, and the most important one to help. The reason for that is that when wheat growers cease to grow wheat they immediately begin to compete with dairy farming and other agricultural trades. In the same way if wheat only or barley only is assisted we tend to get an increased production of that particular cereal, because naturally farmers are inclined to grow the crop which gets the most assistance. But supposing we link up the guaranteed price for wheat with a tax on malting barley; in that case we should be assisting two main cereal crops.
Let us consider also, as an alternative to a guarantee, the imposition of a tariff. Does anybody believe that it is possible in this country, which imports so much wheat, to put on a tariff instead of giving a guarantee of £1 a quarter? I do not think it is. I admit that it is possible to put a tariff on wheat which might not affect the price of bread, but probably that would be so small that it would not be sufficient to assure the farmer a good price for his home-grown wheat. We could, also, link up a small tariff with a guarantee; but that, I understand, is not at the moment before the country. In addition to that there is the question of licensing, and we also propose to subsidise oats. There is also the quota, and there we have a method of helping production in another way at practically no expense, and of course we should link up that question with our Empire trade. I hope we shall have a speech to-night on this question from the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Lieut. -Colonel Ruggles-Brise) who thoroughly understands this problem.
There are other means of assisting. There is the important question of assisting meat production. I am glad to see here to-night the representative of the War Office, because I wish to urge upon him the importance of purchasing English meat for the Army, which is advocated by most hon. Members sitting on this side of the House. It would be 1411 a very great help to British agriculturists if the £1,000,000 per annum spent on meat went to them instead of to the meat producers in the Dominions. There is the question of poultry. The more you increase poultry production the better it is for wheat and cereal production in this country. During the last two or three years we have been much interested in the Merchandise Marks Act, and the scheme for grading eggs. Both those Measures were passed by a Conservative Government, and we all know how much poultry production has increased since they were passed. We ought to assist the production of as many agricultural products as possible, because if you help one particular product, as has been the policy in the past, the effort becomes too expensive, but, if production is linked up in the way I have suggested by licensing and tariffs, you immediately get a workable scheme which is not so expensive to the taxpayers, and leads to increased production and consequently to increased employment upon the land.
I hope that we shall have the assistance of hon. Members opposite. I think they will find it very difficult to vote against this Motion. Many important bodies connected with agriculture have declared themselves definitely in favour of the stabilisation of prices. The Central Chamber of Commerce has passed a resolution supporting this policy. I have been taking some interest in the election addresses of hon. Members opposite, and I find that the hon. Member for White-haven (Mr. Price) has declared himself in favour of the policy of stabilising prices. Other hon. Members have made similar declarations, and we are still waiting for legislation to be introduced by the Government in fulfilment of those pledges.
The late Minister of Agriculture has declared himself in favour of stabilising the prices of farm produce, and the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. W. B. Taylor) has also stated that he is in favour of stabilising prices. It is rather ominous that the present Minister of Agriculture did not insert in his election address any mention of the stabilisation of prices. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not present, as I should have very much liked to have questioned him as to whether the Govern- 1412 ment proposed to throw over all the promises which were so lavishly given at the last election. I would like to know the particular legislation announced in the King's Speech which is going to carry out those pledges in regard to the stabilisation of prices. I have studied with great care the Bills which have been brought forward this Session, and I have not been able to discover any signs that the Government are going to deal with this important question. I think a very good solution is to be found in the remedy suggested in the Motion which we are now discussing, and that is why I have seconded it.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
The House is very much indebted to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) for bringing this Motion before the House. The hon. and learned Baronet is not only a farmer of long experience, but he has studied agricultural questions from many aspects, and he has always something important to say on the subject. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman made his observations in such a gloomy frame of mind, for it sounded as though we were attending a funeral. His speech, as well as the wording of the Motion, very much overstates the gloominess of the agricultural position. I do not for a moment agree that agriculture is in so desperate a position that absolutely new remedies must be applied at once by the Government if agriculture is to be saved from extinction. I recognise, as everyone must who knows anything about agriculture, how very greatly depressed certain districts are in this country—the wheat-growing districts; but they are not the main part of the country—
§ Mr. JONES
They are not the greatest part, and I am afraid that, unless agriculture can flourish in this country without a great deal of wheat growing, the future of agriculture is indeed hopeless. This decline in wheat growing in this country is inevitable. I wonder whether my hon. and learned Friend thinks that we in this country can grow wheat against the great spaces of the world? How can we, in this little country, with our small acreage, possibly compete in the growing of wheat with the 1413 great spaces of Canada, the United States of America, and the Argentine? Have we not to acquiesce in the fact that a change has come over the world, and that it is quite impossible for us in this country to compete in the matter of wheat growing with those countries. We have to face that fact, as Denmark has faced it. [Interruption.] Fifty years ago, Denmark was very much in the condition in which we are in this country to-day. It faced the situation, and faced it successfully, by methods by which the farmers of this country will have in their turn to face the problem. There are other people in the farming world to-day besides wheat growers who are suffering severely from present conditions, following the War conditions.
These people, unfortunately for themselves, bought their land from landowners who were wise enough to sell it, who saw that they were not likely to get such prices again, and who, therefore, were ready to sell. I do not criticise or blame them; I think they acted wisely. The farmers who cleared out of farming in 1920 and 1921 with their war profits—and farmers made war profits like other people—and the landowners who sold their land at high values, to which it was pitched up immediately after the War, were wise men in their generation. The men who bought were less wise, and very soon they began to suffer, as a man who has bought at the top of the market always suffers when prices begin to fall; and many of our farmers in this country who are depressed to-day have lost their capital because they put it into the land. They borrowed to buy their land; and ever since then they have been short of capital for carrying on their farming, and, naturally, they are suffering. They have a real grievance against the Government of that day, and some of them, I think, against this House itself, because very many of them bought on faith in the Corn Production Act. They were not only promised a subsidy, but legislation was passed to give it, and in the end, to put it plainly, they were deceived, they were taken in. They bought on the faith of legislation, on the faith of promises which were broken very soon afterwards, and they have been left without a remedy. They are short of capital, and the result is, of course, that their industry is necessarily depressed.
1414 When, however, I make these admissions, I do not admit that the farmers of this country are mostly insolvent, as the Resolution says. A good many of them are short, and one hears stories about what the banks could reveal if only they would tell you, about how much the farmers are overdrawn, and about the difficulties in which they are. There is a great deal of truth in that. Of course, the great difficulty is—and here I entirely agree with hon. Members above the Gangway—that British agriculture for a very long time has been sadly under-capitalised. It is under-capitalised for two reasons. The landowners are being impoverished, and there is a transfer of wealth. A landowner receiving merely rents is no longer a very rich man. Landowning in this country is really becoming the luxury of the rich man. If any hon. Member having any savings is rash enough to buy land, he will find that the return he will get will be a great deal less than if he had left his money in the bank on deposit. It does not pay a man to buy land as an investment to bring him in income. Men who are merely in receipt of rent from agricultural land are, as compared with what they were in past years, an impoverished class. I do not think that that can be disputed by anyone who knows the facts.
§ Mr. JONES
Liberals and Conservatives are alike to blame, as will be seen by anyone who examines the records of our legislation. It may be that Sir William Harcourt began it, but Conservative Chancellors of the Exchequer followed, and I do not think that all the blame can be put upon our party. I am not blaming anyone, but am merely trying to face the facts of the situation. The landowners are poorer than they were, and cannot afford to put into the farms the capital which they used to put in. Again, the farmers, partly for the reason I have given, have not enough capital. That is partly their own fault—
§ Mr. JONES
I have already said that I do not think that wheat can be grown at a profit in this country, except in cases where there are peculiar advantages and which are an exception to the general rule. But farmers are a very sanguine class. In all my experience—and I have had a great deal of experience of letting land to farmers—I do not think I have ever met a farmer who did not want to take more land. The farmer always believes in land, and thinks he can do with it, and my difficulty in letting land to farmers has always been to get them to take farms which are really within their capacity. They are always applying for farms for which they have not sufficient capital. They have a certain nest-egg of their own, they have an uncle from whom they have expectations, they have a little overdraft at the bank, and their eagerness to take more land than they can really properly farm is one of the reasons for the difficulties in which farmers find themselves.
There is no greater obstacle to farming than the man who does not know where to turn for a £5 note. He has to sell stock and stuff when he does not want to sell it; he cannot buy when he sees an advantageous bargain; he is in perpetual difficulties if he is farming with insufficient capital. Our farms in this country, both on the landlord's side and on the tenant's side, are under capitalised, and that is the difficulty but, when all is said and done, farmers are very ready to take more land, except perhaps in the wheat-growing districts, where the depression is so exceedingly great. In the counties which I know best, in Cumberland, in North Yorkshire, and in Cornwall, if any farm becomes vacant, there is more than one applicant anxious to take it, and I would like to ask my hon. and learned Friend who moved this Motion whether things are not looking up a bit? He has had 21 years' experience. Has he looked at his balance sheet for this last year? [Interruption.] I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend keeps careful accounts.
My own experience is that things are improving a bit. I know even of one or two home farms—and these are not usually paying concerns—which are 1416 actually showing a profit. The fact is that things are not as black as they were, and, in any case, there is no difficulty, in the parts of the country of which I have spoken, in letting farms, and letting them at rents not lower than they were let at last year. I quite admit that the De-rating Act, which was passed by hon. Members above the Gangway, enters into the letting of farms to-day. There is no escaping the fact that the rating relief given to farmers has passed, when farms have changed hands, into the pockets of the landlords. That cannot be helped. The farmer knows well what rent was paid by the last tenant and, the conditions being the same, he can pay more rent if he has not got to pay rates. It always seems to me the inevitable result of all the rating relief that has been given. [Interruption.] I am speaking really of what I know, and the passing of the De-rating Act has tremendously relieved the difficulty of letting farms.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
During the past year agents have had far more farms on their hands than there were two years ago.
§ Mr. JONES
I quite agree, if the landlord cannot let his farm. In certain districts large arable farms are very difficult to let now, but, with the ordinary mixed farm in the counties of which I have been speaking, that difficulty does not arise at present. The problem ceases to be so black when you look at these other forms of farming. The stockbreeders are doing well. This cheap corn is of very great advantage to those who have to feed stock. No doubt my hon. Friend has seen the circular issued to farmers in certain counties asking how many of them were advantaged by the low price of corn and how many disadvantaged—how many of them bought more than they sold or sold more than they bought? In one district that I know of 95 per cent, said they bought more than they sold, and, therefore, the cheapness of corn was an advantage to their farming, and that is why the hon. and learned Gentleman's balance-sheet has improved in the last 12 months—I am sure it has. Again, it is a great advantage to poultry farmers to get cheap agri- 1417 cultural produce. Vegetable growers have not been doing so badly, and dairy farmers are advantaged.
The truth is that the picture drawn is far too gloomy unless you fix your eyes exclusively on certain areas in the country or on the corn-grower. I remember 1879 very well. I remember the slump in rents. They were reduced 15, 20, 25 and 30 per cent., and finally came down to more reasonable levels. Farming was very bad in those counties in 1902. I can remember when the price of wool came down 2½d. a lb. It is four times that now and it has been much higher.
§ Mr. JONES
It has come dawn, but it is very far from the old level of 1902. The attitude of the party above the Gangway surprises me. They still have the audacity, at public meetings and in this House and in their programmes of legislation, to promise guaranteed prices and subsidies to the farmer after the experience of 1920. You not only promised; you legislated. The House passed a law promising it to the farmers and broke the promise within nine months. After that, do you really think even the Farmers' Union will believe you when you promise subsidies or guaranteed prices?
§ Mr. JONES
It was the Coalition Government that did it. I do not really wonder that you deceived the farmer, having made such a promise. You were bound to deceive him. But I wonder that hon. Members above the Gangway have not learnt the lesson. This is a country where most of the people live in towns. I suppose nine out of 10 of our population are now urban people. They will never pass legislation for any length of time, they will never endure for long that nine-tenths of the population should have its food artificially made dear—[interruption]—I will put it this way. They will not submit to be taxed to pay a subsidy to the one-tenth. When difficulties come, your guarantee, even if it is in the form of legislation, is bound to break down. It broke down in 1920, 1418 when there was perfect good faith in the promise. You meant to do it and you passed the Bill, but you had to undo the work you had done, simply because it was going contrary to the facts of the case. The town population will never submit to this taxation, which will express itself in increased prices for food, for the benefit of the farmers or of the country districts. I beseech hon. Members above the Gangway to seek some more plausible remedy for the evils of those districts which are, I admit, suffering, than that which they have put in this Motion for guaranteed prices. I agree as to the wide gap between the cost of production and the sale price of produce. There you are really touching the spot. There is a tremendous gap between the price that the farmer receives and that which the unfortunate consumer has to pay. You have only to look at the low price of wheat to-day, yet we have a 7d. loaf given us as a great boon. It ought to be much lower than that if the price were properly passed on to the consumer.
I am surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke slightingly of the marketing efforts of the Government, because there the real solution lies. We are sadly behind other countries in the matter of marketing. Think of what Denmark has done for itself in the way of disposing of milk products. Denmark is studded all over with creameries and factories for dealing with surplus milk. Then consider the bareness of our countryside. I am surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman is contented with the farmer's methods of marketing. He says that he can do his own marketing. I have no doubt he can, but I can assure him that my poor farmers in Cumberland do not know how to market their stuff. They do it extravagantly. They will not combine. They will not help each other. They distrust each other.
There is a tremendous gap between what the farmer receives and what the consumer pays, and I congratulate the Government on trying to deal with that problem and reaching a solution of our difficulties. That carries with it standardising. Again, I speak as a practical farmer. If you ask for Danish or New Zealand butter you get it, and you know what you are getting, and the secret of the success of Denmark in sending its 1419 agricultural produce into this country is that they really treat it with far more skill in the matter of marketing and standardising than our British farmers have learnt to do. There are first-rate farmers in this country, probably the best in the world, but there are also some very inferior farmers, but, in spite of the great gap between the two prices, there is no intermediate body that really does the standardising and the marketing and the securing to the consumer that he shall get the article he asks for when he goes into a shop to buy it. There, I think, lies some hope for the industry. Compared with other trades, I suggest that, after all, the farmer is by no means the worst off in this country. I know something of the coal trade, which is in a far worse condition than agriculture.
§ Mr. JONES
I remember a great deal of what has been done, and I am afraid that the coal trade is not going to derive very much benefit from it. But whatever value that argument has in the eyes of the hon. Member, he is welcome to it. The cotton trade is worse off, and the shipping trade is in greater difficulties than agriculture. I console myself with the fact that the situation is not really getting worse but that, on the contrary, there is a somewhat upward trend which, I hope, is going to continue. On the question of dumping, of which hon. Members complain, that is competition of the type we have all over the world. The situation is a world situation, not a national one. The agricultural interests of the world are making practically the same complaints as are being made in this country. There may be slight variations. Hon. Members will remember that at the Economic Conference at Geneva, in 1927, the representatives of all the nations considered carefully the situation of agriculture. They had no difficulty in reaching a common opinion that everywhere they were suffering, partly because other trades were profiting at their expense, and partly because of other reasons.
My conviction is that it is not by any such remedies as are here proposed that we shall find the solution of these diffi- 1420 culties. I do not think that any single nation is going to find a solution. It can be done only in a peaceful way by conferring with other nations, possibly through the League of Nations, or, at any rate, by international action with the object of preventing these unfriendly onslaughts upon the productive trades such as agriculture and other trades. The action of any one country to-day has such tremendous reactions in every other country, that I am confident we shall have to seek an international solution before we can reach a satisfactory position. Nations cannot live alone any more than individuals. We shall not find a national solution of the agricultural difficulties which still beset us, but I believe that it is possible through conference with other nations, through the League of Nations, to find an international solution.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY of LANCASTER (Mr. Attlee)
I should like to explain to the House that I am deputising for the Minister of Agriculture, who would have liked very much to have been present at this debate but is indisposed this evening. I will state briefly the attitude which the Government take towards this Motion. I do not think that anybody who contemplates the condition of agriculture to-day can do other than sympathise with a great deal of this Motion and of the speeches of the Mover and Seconder. Perhaps there was a little too much inspissated gloom in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved it, but, generally speaking, we all know that there is this serious position. The Motion, to my mind, is rather a friendly Motion from the point of view of the Government, because in at least two points the hon. and learned Gentleman, perhaps unconsciously, lends his support on Government Measures which have been introduced. He specially points out, for instance, that family farms and small-holdings are, apparently, in a better position than other farms, and we shall, no doubt, have an opportunity of observing his enthusiasm for that part of the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill upstairs in the course of the next few weeks. He also emphasised the wide gap between the cost of production and selling prices. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Leif 1421 Jones) saw at once, that leads to a consideration of marketing, and I shall have a word to say upon that point directly.
Perhaps the most important point which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne made was that this, after all, is an international problem. It is no good looking at the question of the price of agricultural products produced in this country without looking at the broad, general question of the utter confusion there is in prices of different products in the world to-day. We are in a condition in which the prices of primary products are depressed all the world over. We know that that is due to world causes. We know that that is, perhaps, the most outstanding instance of the utter failure of the present capitalist system, in which hon. Gentlemen opposite believe, properly to regulate the economic affairs of the world. The broad fact is that we have increased enormously our powers of production of food, and we cannot get it consumed. That is a question of bad economic organisation, and the remedy is not economic nationalism but economic co-operation. To do him justice, the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite recognised that the reason that we cannot accept this Motion as it stands is precisely because we are precluded from following the chief remedy put forward by him through the action of his own Government.
To deal with the general points that have been made, there is, first of all, the question of cereal cultivation. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that a certain amount of cereal cultivation is necessary to the agricultural economy in this country. I also agree that we cannot look with indifference upon the entire upsetting of the economics of the countryside dependent upon cereal cultivation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated at the end of last Session that he intended to deal with this matter, and that we recognise the need for dealing with cereal cultivation. The right hon. Gentleman knows that we had to wait until this matter had been discussed by the Imperial Conference, which has only just ended, and that it takes considerable time to work out a calculation upon what occurred there. I am not in a position to-night to make any other statement in regard to that sub- 1422 ject than that which has already been made in this House by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. I can only say that it is receiving the attention of the Government and that we expect a decision very shortly.
Cereal cultivation is important in agricultural economics, but in actual fact it does not represent so large a proportion of the agricultural activities of this country as one would sometimes imagine from the speeches that are made. A further point made by the right hon. Member below the Gangway was that these matters are not quite so simple as they appear. The experience of right hon. and hon. Members who have been in office will bear me out in what I am about to say. You may get a charming proposal, for instance, in regard to malting barley, and to hon. Members on the back benches it may seem a simple proposition for right hon. Members on the Front Bench to bring in a Bill. I think the party opposite promised a tax on malting barley in 1924, but somehow or other there was some difficulty in bringing it in. The same thing applies when you come to consider the general question of the inter-relations of different agricultural activities. The matter is not quite so simple. Very often the imports that are so much deplored by one section of the agricultural world are the basis of the success of another section. Therefore, you have to hold some kind of balance. You have to form some idea of what is going to be the future balance in the agricultural activities of the country, or you may step rashly in and harass the very kind of agriculture that you ought to develop.
The real trouble about the Motion is, however admirable its sentiments may be, that the proposals are inadequate to deal with the evils from which agriculture is suffering. I am not going to attack the British farmer as being an extraordinarily incompetent person. There are extraordinarily able farmers and there are some very incompetent ones. Some farmers will tell you about other farmers being incompetent, but I do not suggest that they are more incompetent than people in many other industries. The fact is that agriculture, like so many other industries, needs organization. The 1423 outstanding point is the gap between wholesale and retail prices. I do not say this by way of condemnation of the farmer, but it is the fact that he has failed to get the full value that he ought to get in relation to what the consumer has to pay. A very notable feature about our economic activities in the past six years has been the ever-widening gap between what the consumer has to pay and what the producer gets. I gave the figures the other day to the House showing the enormous increase in persons occupied in the middle stages of industry, and also the great lag between the fall in wholesale prices and the fall in retail prices.
It is impossible to ignore all the mass of evidence that the producer of agricultural produce in this country does not, get the price that he might get, having regard to what the consumer pays. I suppose we have all read the Linlithgow Report. Everybody knows from experience the widely different range of prices. One day I bought apples at 8d. a lb., which seemed an enormous price, and another day I found apples just like them, in a village 12 miles away, ticketed at 1d. per lb. Everybody knows that these very low prices for certain agricultural products are not primarily due to foreign importation. The hon. Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) mentioned potatoes. Potato prices have gone far below anything caused by foreign importation. The fall has been caused by the failure amongst the producers themselves to deal with surplus production. We may have the same position in regard to milk. What is wanted is organisation amongst the producers.
One of the strongest reasons against any of these suggested forms of Protection is that they will mean handing over whatever subsidies or protection we give into the pockets of the middlemen. That is one answer, but there is a further answer. We cannot carry out the suggestion in the latter part of the Motion with regard to prohibition and licensing, without tearing up a good many international agreements. There are two main agreements to which I would refer. The first is the Prohibition Convention. That was an agreement made by our predecessors and ratified by ourselves when we came into office. It was de- 1424 signed to get rid by Convention of an endless series of prohibitions of one sort or another. We cannot get rid of that. That Convention has been made and it lasts until 1931. If you do want, to get rid of it you must remember that prohibitions are a game that two people can play at. You have to weigh the disadvantages of not being able to prohibit the entry of some particular agricultural product against the disadvantage of another country prohibiting the import of certain goods from this country.
We also heard a great deal of noise about the importation of agricultural products from Germany. There, again, we are tied by a commercial treaty with Germany, negotiated by one of the faithful, the late Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and, I believe, advantageously to us. You may object to the importation of German oats, but you have to consider whether the price you are going to pay for prohibiting the importation of German oats is not going to hit you when you come to the question of the whole volume of our German trade, and the best advice that we have is that it is not worth while. That is why the suggested remedies do not carry us any part of the way. In the first place, they are extraordinarily difficult, because they mean tearing up various Conventions. Secondly, without reorganisation of the system of marketing, there is very little likelihood that they are going to do any permanent good. I think that a great deal more might have been done perhaps in the last five years with regard to marketing proposals. A good deal of reorganisation might have been done. We know that right hon. and hon. Members opposite were precluded by their pledges from introducing any of their pet nostrums, but that did not prevent them from dealing with those things that were waiting to be dealt with, and one of those things was the organisation of the marketing side of the agricultural industry.
I say at once that what has hindered the proper development of agriculture, or rather legislation in regard to agriculture, has been the pressure of vested interests. Hon. Members opposite have not been strong enough to overcome the vested interests of the middlemen or even 1425 of the market authorities. They have failed because of obsolete conditions, and as to where and how far their policy of laissez faire should be applied. Everyone tends to apply the principle of laissez faire up to the particular economic point at which it best suits them, but they are often misled. The hon. and learned Member who has moved the Motion was I thought misled in his view of the great advantage of having a market close at hand to which he could go and sell his produce. All of the evidence shows that it is because we have this market right at our doors that we have not developed the standardisation and marketing system of Denmark and other countries. They have to send their exports to this country and are forced to organise. It is just because we have this market at our very doors that there is this difficulty of organisation. The difficulty is that one man may break away from the organisation in order to make a bargain which he feels will be very advantageous—
§ Mr. ATTLEE
There is that need. Everyone who has studied the question of hops will know that there was a breakaway by a few people—
§ Mr. ATTLEE
That is not my recollection. Again and again I have heard it from hon. Members of this House who are not members of the Labour party that the difficulty is that you have these breakaways by people who are individualistic, who seek their own temporary interests rather than the general interests of the industry. That is where you will have to take this matter in hand and with a clear conception as to your view of the future economic life of this community. I am not a devotee of the policy of laissez faire but I am a devotee of the regulation of the economic life of this community. I believe that you have to have a certain balance as between industry and agriculture. You have to take steps to see that a proper reward is obtained by the people who work in agriculture as in other indus- 1426 tries. That means regulation. We believe in regulation by the industry itself, that is the point of view we are putting forward. We believe in getting people on to the land, and so does the hon. and learned Member. The Government accept much that has been said generally with regard to agriculture in the course of this debate. They are not quite so mournful as the hon. and learned Member, but when you look at the effective parts of this Motion and the steps that are recommended those steps are utterly impracticable, first owing to the legislation which has already been passed and the agreements which have been made, by which we are bound, and, in the second place, without an internal organisation of the marketing side of the industry they will be totally ineffective. The Government cannot accept this Motion.
We all very much regret the absence of the Minister of Agriculture and we hope his indisposition will be very temporary. The speech of the Chancellor of the Duchy has been very interesting but, naturally, we would have preferred to speak face to face with the responsible Minister for agriculture. The hon. Member has delivered on behalf of the Government a very chilling message. Nothing is to be done, no hope is held out of any effective action to help the cereal grower.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was not in when I commenced my speech but I pointed out that I was not prepared at the moment to say what Measures would be introduced but that our pledge at the end of last Session still remains good. The matter is receiving the attention of the Government and we expect a decision shortly.
We know what a day or two means. When the Government came in we were told that they were waiting eagerly for an opportunity to disclose their policy on agriculture, but month after month went by and a year passed before their policy was unfolded; and when it was unfolded there was nothing in it for the cereal grower. The Chancellor of the Duchy has told us that much of our trouble is due to the utter confusion of prices due to the disorderly markets in the countries of the world, and he attributes much of that 1427 blame to the system of capitalism which in theory at least is so hateful to hon. Members opposite. Are we to wait for the abolition of capitalism not only in this country but throughout the world, in all these disorderly markets, before the struggling arable grower of this country is to have any measure of relief. There is no sign that other producing countries are giving up the system of capitalism which is responsible for our trouble. In fact, they appear to be making things rapidly worse. We had details given us this afternoon as to the action recently taken by other great producing countries to protect their own markets, to regulate the consumption of agricultural products by their own people while pouring their surplus into the one rich unprotected market of the world at a shattering cost to our own producers. Nothing is to be done, apparently, to meet this increasing pressure.
Socialist experiments of all kinds, including alterations in the system of land tenure, are absolutely of no value whatever in order to deal with the urgent problem of the arable farmer. The right hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Leif Jones) minimised the gravity of the position. He is fortunate. His lot has been cast in pleasant places, where the farmers are happy and contended, paying good rents and do not depend on arable crops. But in the opinion of farmers themselves that position is rather unstable. The conference which met at the beginning of this year representing all the elements in the agricultural industry had no doubts as to the importance of re-establishing the position of the cereal grower. Not only for its direct value but because of its indirect importance to other lines of agricultural production. Much as we were interested in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, we are bound to attach great weight to the advice of that Conference, and its unanimous opinion that the key to the position was the re-establishment of cereal growing. Those of us who are in touch with districts where there are other sides of agriculture, perhaps of prior importance to cereal growing, know how very precarious is the present state of the market. A small increase of production in those few sides of the agricultural industry which have inspired the right hon. Gentleman to de- 1428 liver his cheering message, and their marketing position would be shattered.
Really, it is surprising to hear from hon. Members below the Gangway opposite the view that the position is not desperate, and that it can be helped by methods of marketing, such as have been proposed. The cereal grower is in a very critical state, and it has been admitted by the Government, and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the end of the summer sittings. We have been told that the Government will undertake whatever practical steps can be devised to put cereal growing on an economic foundation. There has been enough time for the Government to make up their minds. There has been one inquiry after another into this subject since the War and a unanimous concensus of opinion that the only hope is by the State giving artificial assistance, and taking steps to enable the cereal farmer to balance his accounts.
The Conservative party in their term of office did what was in their power, and within their pledges, to implement that object. They lightened the burdens, and the right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway has told us what a great assistance that has been. He told us that in the case of new lettings the landlord can get a better rent, but, as he knows well, that only applies to new lettings. The landlord cannot put up the rent to a sitting tenant, and it is laid down in the Act that in the case of any arbitration to which any tenant is entitled on his rent, even of a new letting, the arbitrator must not take into account any increased power to pay rent due to de-rating. I think, whatever may be the value of the right hon. Gentleman's experience, it is rather difficult to explain away that very effective method of ensuring that the benefit of de-rating went to the tenant. We also help by increasing the farmers' receipts in the form of the very valuable crop of sugar-beet which has been of very great assistance in some areas in which the industry is very depressed. That is not enough. The sugar-beet condition is not too hopeful. I should not be in order in dealing with that to-night, because it is not within the terms of the Motion, but unless the Government come to the rescue, it looks as if, owing to the tremendous drop in the prices received by the factories for their manufactured products, it will not 1429 be possible for the farmer to receive those contract prices upon which he has hitherto relied for the very profitable crop which he has been glad to grow.
There is an overwhelming need for a stabilisation of cereal prices. We believe that the only satisfactory method is by means of a guarantee of what is really the most important crop—again in the opinion of this unanimous conference—namely, the wheat crop. The right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway reminded us of how the previous system of guarantees broke down. There is no proposal to guarantee anything but the price of wheat.
I quite agree. I am distinguishing between the proposal today and the system to which he refers which broke down under the slump of prices in 1921. That proposal included oats, and it was the inclusion of oats which made the loss more than the country could bear. The Government will not be drawing so much from their resources owing to the fall in the sugar-beet subsidy and what more proper use could they put it to than by helping the arable farmer? The Government seem very well off, for they are prepared to subsidise the production of foreign opera. Surely there is a greater need for subsidising the home production of wheat? The right hon. Gentleman says they have to consider how they are going to meet this problem. It has been thrashed out over and over again and the only alternative to our proposal which has, apparently, been accepted conditionally by hon. Members opposite, is that of the import board. An import board is not going to help the arable farmer unless right hon. Gentlemen opposite swallow all their words about food taxes and dear food. An import hoard can only help the arable farmer if it raises prices by putting the burden on to the consumer. Therefore, there is really no possible way out of the difficulty in that direction unless hon. Gentlemen opposite are prepared to show up the absolute insincerity of all that they have said about dear food.
The Liberals have spoken within the past week with two voices, but I believe that the opinion, as far as I can judge 1430 it, is that where dumping is really shown, regulation would be justified. I cannot see what difficulty hon. Members opposite would have about such regulations. There is nothing in the objection that there are commercial treaties. After all, other countries are bound by commercial treaties, and, as we were told this afternoon, in the case of eight or ten countries, there is regulation of the consumption of imported supplies by means of quotas and other expedients of the like kind.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I did not suggest the quota as a reason, but was referring to prohibition and licensing of imports.
I do not wish to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman. Then, that means he quite agrees that there is nothing in the treaty difficulty to interfere with the guaranteed price for wheat? The treaties, I understand, are merely an obstacle in the way of dealing with subsidiary agricultural products.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
It is a question of method. There are certain methods outside the conventions. One of these is the import board, where you make a State monopoly. I was dealing with specific proposals with regard to prohibitions and licences, which are clearly forbidden.
There is nothing in the commercial treaties to prevent regulation by means of import duties in the case of these subsidiary industries, provided you do not discriminate between one nation and another. If those treaties do tie our hands in dealing with dumping, with disastrous result in causing gluts in our market, it is perfectly easy for this country to denounce those treaties. I think the speech of the hon. Gentleman has been very disappointing. He has admitted the urgent need for treatment of the arable problem, but we are left with the helpless futility in the Government's programme of expedients, which are of no possible assistance to the farmer in his present urgent need.
§ Mr. HOPKIN
No one can claim that agriculture, particularly during the past week, has not had the spotlight on it the whole of the time. Last week we debated two agricultural topics. The Government brought in its Agriculture 1431 (Utilisation) Bill and its Marketing Bill, this afternoon we have had a further debate on the dumping of cereals, and now we have the present debate. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not go further in this Resolution. With much of it personally I agree. I agree with the first part in which the hon. and learned Gentleman says that agriculture is in a bad way, though I would not paint the colours quite so deeply. I agree that there is need for regulation in certain commodities, but I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman when he says that a good deal of the difficulties in agriculture is due to the legislation of this House. I think it is common ground that agriculture is the most important industry in this country. The fact that we have £1,500,000,000 of capital in the industry, the fact that agricultural produce is sold for £220,000,000, and the fact that agriculture pays in rents £150,000,000 to £200,000,000, show that agriculture is the basic industry of the country. Therefore we cannot view the industry's decline with anything but the greatest alarm.
Much has been said about the percentage of the growth of wheat in this country. I represent Carmarthenshire, a county that produces, I believe, more milk per acre than any other county in the country. In Carmarthenshire we have 9 per cent. arable land and 61 per cent. permanent pasture. I would do almost anything to keep that 9 per cent. Why? Because in every other part of the country, in the vale of Glamorgan, in Somersetshire, in East Anglia, every farmer is putting down arable land to grass, with the result that in all parts of the country we are getting a glut of milk. Although this year the dairy farmer has done fairly well, next year he is to receive 6d. a gallon for his milk, and I think that Members in all parts of the House will agree that a farmer cannot produce milk profitably at 6d. a gallon. About three weeks ago I stood in the middle of a farm and the farmer pointed out to me four fields which he was putting down in clover. He said: "With wheat at the present price, about 26s., it does not pay to grow wheat. In two years' time I shall be able to farm this farm of 300 to 400 acres by myself with a boy and a dog."
1432 Those of us who know the countryside who were bred and born on the farm, whose fathers worked on the farm, remember perfectly well that where now there are two workers there used to be 10. I can only say that that is not the way to restore the greatness of this country. Farmers come to me in Carmarthen and say, "Your Marketing Bill is a good Bill, but even if we were to organise 100 per cent. it is not enough." I am not a farmer and I take my opinions on farming very largely from farmers themselves. If practical men tell me with a certain amount of reason, "You may organise if you will 100 per cent., but as long as you have no regulation of foreign imports the foreigner will beat you every time," that opinion is entitled to the greatest respect, particularly when these men get their living out of the industry. After all we are only theorists and they are men who make their money out of the industry.
These farmers point out to me that in the Marketing Bill there is a scheme for milk, but that the scheme must be a national one to be successful. Why? You cannot have the scheme for a county, for the county of Carmarthen for instance, because the milk from Pembroke and Cardigan would come in and spoil the price. You cannot take it for Wales or for England and Wales, because the Scotsmen would do again what they are doing now and break the price, by selling milk in Manchester at 3d. a gallon. You cannot take it for England, Wales and Scotland, but you must take it to the logical conclusion and say that somehow or other you must arrange that the foreign imports will not come in and break the price. In reply to a question I was told that the imports of powdered milk, unsweetened, last year were 250,000 cwts., and of sweetened milk 18,000 cwts. I would make this appeal to the Minister. In addition to these things there is machine skimmed milk being brought into this country, an absolute fraud on the poorest of the poor. I am told that the foreigner gets 1s. 3½d. a gallon for that stuff, which from the point of view of food content is worth less than 1d. I ask the Minister to see the Minister of Health with a view to prohibiting altogether the importation of this skimmed milk.
1433 Carmarthen is also interested in pigs, and I think that the same argument applies to pigs—that even if you were to set up a complete organisation the foreigner would beat you. We import hog products to the value of £64,000,000. One-third of that amount, or £20,000,000, goes in wages, one-third in foodstuffs and one-third in overhead costs. I am certain that the whole of that £64,000,000 worth could be produced in this country. We are told that the capital is available for this industry, but the men who have these schemes ready say that, if they were to start, the Danes would pour into this country bacon and hog products to such an extent, that the baby industry would be completely defeated. Is it possible or not to get up an import board to deal with imports from Denmark and the United States, and to see if it is not possible to regulate the amount coming into this country, with the price of the product in this country, so that, anyhow, the consumer would not pay more?
It is possible that, as regards pigs, 20 factories could be set up, and I am told that it would be quite easy, within a short time, to employ 100,000 men in this industry alone. Surely it is worth while, if necessary, to pay something for the sake of the countryside. For the sake of the advantages that we can get, we must spend a little money. It is at one with the policy of regulation to set up an import board, and we ask if it is not possible to do so. Our Marketing Bill is a good Bill and I believe in it, but the Marketing Bill, without some kind of regulation, is not going to have the wholehearted support of the farming industry, and, without the wholehearted support of the farmers, the Bill is not going to be a success. I believe that the countryman is the salt of the earth. I believe that he is the backbone of this country, and I hope that the Government will see to it by some means or other, that foreign imports will not kill him.
§ Mr. SAVERY
In listening to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Leif Jones) one could not help being surprised that be should have blinded himself so largely to the grave condition in which agriculture now finds itself. I think that his opinion is not generally held, and it would be a very 1434 sad thing for this country if the present Government shared his view. I am glad to know that at least the Minister of Agriculture holds a different opinion, because in introducing the Second Reading of his Land Utilisation Bill, the right hon. Gentleman made a remark with which I think everyone in the House was in full agreement, he said that it was high time that we as a nation made a considered and sustained endeavour to restore prosperity to the countryside. It is indeed high time. Reliable evidence from all parts of the country proves that the lot of the British farmer to-day is critical to the point of despair. Except in a few favoured districts, the prospect of midsummer has ended in dismal disappointment. Reference has been made to the deplorable season of 1879. I have heard many who are well able to judge say that never since that date has the condition of agriculture in this country been so acutely depressing as it is now, or the spirits of those engaged in the industry so despondent.
In such circumstances it can easily be imagined with what painful suspense agriculturists throughout the country awaited the announcement by the Government of their agricultural policy. Hope was stimulated by the sympathy, even the anxiety, displayed by the Minister of Agriculture in his conversations with representatives of the industry. In those interviews, the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman was so approachable and so responsive that it seemed as if he were prepared to stand in the same relation to agriculture as the cloak does to the traveller and the shield to the warrior, a comfort in the one case, a protection in the other. In spite of what has been said to-night, I feel certain that, never within living memory has agriculture stood in so much need as it does to-day of both comfort and protection. But I think that the first instalment of the Government's policy for agriculture is likely to quench any spark of hope that the Minister may have kindled. There will not be, even in that first instalment, anything to help or encourage the ordinary farmer. Instead of offering him any relief from his difficulties, it seems to offer only further coercion and control. The expression of the Government's intentions seems to me to be, in effect, a censure on present day farming. The 1435 implication all through one part of the Bill seems to be that the British farmer is not doing his work as well as it should be done and that the Government can do it better. What other meaning can be attached, for instance, to the setting up of a great agricultural corporation for the purpose of promoting and improving the development of agricultural land when at the present time there are thousands of men conscientiously and industriously engaged in that very purpose?
The development is to be achieved apparently by large-scale farming. I join in the doubts which have been expressed concerning the wisdom of any such undertaking by the State. The fact that these large farms are to be controlled and managed by such bodies as local authorities, universities and agricultural colleges, is, in my opinion, quite sufficient reason for condemning the enterprise. Gentlemen connected with those bodies may be very clever and very learned. I would not cast any reflection upon their talent. I have no doubt they may be found as clever as any farmer in knowing what to do, but I am certain that they will not be found as clever as any farmer in knowing how to do it. Experiments on this large scale have already been tried by the State in different parts of the country. The history of those attempts is a catalogue of failure.
Reference has been made two or three times to the Patrington Farm Settlement. I hope hon. Members will forgive the repetition if I also touch on that instance, and I am sure of the indulgence of the House when I mention that that experiment took place in the constituency which I represent. That settlement was developed with resources of men and material quite as powerful, I believe, as anything that the present Minister of Agriculture can call to his command. It was controlled by a very experienced and practical director, and it was manned by a very good class of vigorous and able-bodied workers. Those men were particularly keen on their job, because it was to be a profit-sharing scheme. Those men entered on that big co-operative concern without any financial outlay or responsibility. The state provided the land, the livestock, the implements, the farm buildings, and the dwellings. The general tone and the social spirit of that 1436 settlement were excellent. On the community side, the experiment was a great success; as a business proposition, it was a staggering failure. After working for 10 years on those 2,363 acres, the total loss incurred was no less than £117,321. That is an example of large-scale farming which in many of its features must, I think, be similar to the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. Its failure was complete beyond question. The loss of that money has been met by the British taxpayer, and I am quite confident that the British public will not welcome any repetition of experiments so costly.
Some time ago the Prime Minister declared that his Government would not yield an inch to the demand for a subsidy in aid of agriculture. I feel inclined to think that he and his colleagues have modified that determination, because in their plan for putting thousands of unemployed workers on the land they are asking for large sums of money which are to be devoted to such purposes as working capital, maintenance allowances, training, and the purchase of stock, fertilisers, and implements. It seems to me that that is as stark and undisguised a subsidy as any bounty that was ever granted. We, on this side, would not for a moment grudge the money if there were any certainty that it would be dispensed with equity and discretion.
Prosperity will not be restored to the countryside by the creation of a new class of crude and inexperienced agriculturists, but I believe that it might be restored, and more rapidly than people imagine, if adequate help and encouragement were given to those men who are now working hard upon the land, men who are struggling against adversity, men who know their craft and who are already wise in land instinct and the teachings of nature. Those are the surest and most reliable agents by whom the intentions of the Government for the better utilisation of the land could be carried out. So far those men have remained unrecognised in any part of the policy of the Government; No suggestion has yet been made that could help them in their difficulties or improve the conditions under which they are compelled to work. Those conditions become harder for them year by year. Has it been said that our farmers lack signs of capacity I think 1437 that any honest critics would admit at once that farmers have shown wonderful courage, and resource, and skill in adapting themselves to those altered and harsher conditions, and will it ever be forgotten that during the War the British farmer wrought almost a miracle of production, at short notice and with very inadequate means?
The ogre that faces the farmer to-day, his Giant Despair, is shaped by this fact, that in all his labour there is little or no profit. The price he can obtain does not meet the cost he must incur, and I believe that no revival in agriculture is possible until those two elements of costs and prices are delivered from their unsound position. One of the objects of this Motion is that the Government shall be urged to put those two elements as speedily as possible into a more correct relationship one to the other.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
I think we are indebted to the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) for putting down this Motion, and those of us who represent agricultural constituencies can have no complaint that our industry is not receiving some attention in this House. I was very pleased that the hon. Baronet admitted that, so far as the agricultural labourer was concerned, despite the fact that his wages are 100 per cent. more than they were pre-War, he thought those wages were sufficiently low, and indeed too low at the present time. I am sometimes surprised, though, at speeches that are delivered. I have been surprised at the speech delivered from the Front Bench below the Gangway apposite, in which it was stated that farmers had to look to something other than growing wheat and to grow something else if agriculture had to survive and, I suppose, if the farming community also had to survive.
I am one of those who cannot subscribe to that philosophy, from whatever quarter of this House it comes. I made some inquiries during the last weekend, and I found that a farm that ordinarily ought to employ from 10 to 12 men now has the farmer, his son, and one other working on it, and it is a farm of 400 acres. The farmer is told that if he cannot grow cereals and 1438 potatoes at a profit, he must grow something else. Thousands of acres are put down to grass, more milk is produced, and the consequence will be that the position of cereals in 12 months' time will be the same. In 1860, 4,000,000 more acres of land were under wheat in this country than now, while 1,300,000 agricultural labourers were employed. The position now is that considerably less than 1,000,000 are employed. If we do not face facts, facts will face us sooner or later. I would like to see agriculture employing more men rather than fewer, and I cannot understand how anyone can look on this problem with the same view that was expressed from the Liberal benches opposite without having some regard to the well-being of people who depend on agriculture for employment. The late Minister of Agriculture made a statement that rather amused me. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to look in a mirror and ask who is responsible for the position of agriculture, and there they would see who is responsible. They have had the power to alter the position of agriculture ever since I can remember. The right hon. Gentleman said that Members below the Gangway spoke with two voices. If the party which he represents spoke with only two, we should make some progress.
I am in favour of that part of the Motion that expresses support for stabilisation of prices, because unless and until we have some such method as import boards or guaranteed prices, and give to the farmer an economic price for wheat and barley, but more particularly wheat, we shall have these discussions year in and year out. Every encouragement should be given to the farmer. I know very well a farmer who is one of the best in England, and who has one of the best Friesian herds. His name is almost a household word in farming all over England. He took a poor farm and made the best of it. The land was poor, but he used every means that science can give and spent money on developing it. He made three blades of grass grow where only one had grown before. A man like that ought to be conferring some benefit on his fellow men. He grew 22 tons of carrots per acre on some of his land, and, when he had pitted them, taken them out of the pit, washed them, bagged 1439 them, taken them to the station, sent them to Manchester, and paid the commission, not a single penny was left for him. Stabilisation of prices and guaranteed prices would mean an organised market, and it would encourage the farmer to grow more and more instead of less and less. If there happen to be a dearth of potatoes in any year or the harvest is bad it is a good year for the farmer, for he makes huge prices on his products. He ought, however, to be encouraged to grow more and to make the best possible use of the land.
If we gave him stabilisation of prices and a guaranteed price at an economic level, it would encourage him to employ more effort and produce more foodstuffs, and so confer everlasting benefit on the country. We ought to encourage the best use of this native land of ours instead of allowing land to be badly farmed. The bad farmer who takes everything out of the land and gives nothing to it, and moves to another farm, is the only man who has made a penny in the last few years. In cases like that the landlord has to allow the incoming tenant to have the farm rent free for two years to enable him to get it into condition. There are several points with which we cannot agree in this Motion, but I agree that it is the duty of this House to pay more attention to the development of our native land, and to look after the interests, not only of those who are farming, but of the labourers of the countryside who depend for their livelihood on its prosperity.
§ Major MUIRHEAD
Whenever I listen to an agricultural debate in this House, or read an agricultural article, or study an agricultural Bill, I am tempted to ask what we really want to do; when I say "we," I use that term very widely. It is not a question of what we actually want to do immediately, but on what our ultimate and wider viewpoint is. In agricultural matters, in what we suggest and advocate, we seem to go only half way, and we only get half way because we are uncertain of what is our ultimate destination. The question of what we really want to do, and the ultimate object of our agricultural proposals, is very germane to this particular Motion. The Motion deals with the question of putting agriculture upon a more profitable and more economic basis. The question 1440 a good many people will ask is, What is the ultimate object of this Motion? Is it simply to put a little money into the pockets of those at present engaged in the industry, or has it some wider object of putting agriculture on a different basis from what it is now? There are three questions which ought to be asked in relation to British agriculture: 1, Do we want to produce more stuff; 2, Do we want to employ more people on the land; 3, Do we want to make a profit?
The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) was rather on the tack that we ought to produce more and to employ more, and to have a more profitable industry. It is all very well to say, 'and,' and "and" and "and," but supposing the answers to these three questions are contradictory, then we have to make up our mind as to their order of importance. If one of them has to be sacrificed which is it to be; or if we are to try to make an omnibus scheme, which includes a bit of each, we have to make up our minds as to what proportionate value we are going to attach to them. My own view is that, first of all, we must have the industry, generally speaking, on an economic basis, such a basis as holds out a reasonable chance of making a profit instead of a very probable chance of making a loss. That may seem a platitude, and it is a platitude, and the only reason why it is worth mentioning is that it is so often overlooked by people when they are discussing agriculture.
Let us take it that it is agreed that it is desirable that agriculture should be on some sort of a paying basis. What is to happen then? I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Brigg that we ought to aim at employing more people on our land. That is the second thing to which I definitely give my adherence. If we can devise a scheme by which we can employ more people on the land and produce at the same time the maximum profit possible, so much the better; but if the employment of more people on the land, either as labourers or as smallholders, gets in the way of making a maximum profit possible, then, I say, it is better to aim at giving more employment to people than to aim at a maximum profit. It must be plain to everybody that there comes a point at which you may be able to get a maximum profit more easily by employing fewer people 1441 than by employing many. I say the employment of many people is of more importance than a maximum profit, provided always that the industry, generally speaking, is on a paying and not a losing basis.
Agricultural economics provide one of the most difficult economic questions. The absolute depth or nature or intensity of an agricultural depression is one of the hardest things to probe. Even people connected with agriculture in this country would say that. That struck me, also, when I was travelling last year in Africa. It was very difficult to get to the bottom of how bad the agricultural depression was. The various processes of agriculture do not stand out clearly in separate compartments so to speak; they dovetail into each other. You can always tide off or push off a loss on one thing on to something else, and when you have pushed them round a sufficient number of times the actual intensity of each is lost. You may not see the way clearly, but sooner or later the bump comes. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Leif Jones) said he thought the farmers were a very sanguine lot of people. If they are sanguine, I think it is on account of being able to push off their losses on to some other agricultural process; and by keeping the thing moving they are not able to see the full extent of the gravity of the depression which they are going through.
I would like to take up another point put by the right hon. Gentleman—the question of rates. He said that it was not a question of theory but a question of fact. I will give the right hon. Gentleman my own experience. I happen to be the owner of between 2,000 and 3,000 acres of very typical mixed land in the Midlands. During the last seven years there have been two rating reliefs for farmers, and I can assure hon. Members that my rents in those years have been consistently reduced. That is not theory but practice—painful practice on my part. However much a farmer may be able to push his losses round from one thing to another he has, sooner or later, to come to the point where he wants cash. It is all very well to say that there is a bad price for grain, and he can feed it to his cattle. That is all very well, but that pre-supposes that he is going to get 1442 a profitable price for his cattle. We have to face up to that point that somewhere or other, however many stages there may be in the cycle, the farmer has to come to the point where he will want cash.
Take the question of milk, which was dealt with in a very powerful speech by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin). I also happen to represent a constituency devoted almost entirely to milk production. There the cash question comes up very quickly. The cow gives the milk, it is then sold, and the farmer gets the money. That is comparatively a very simple cash operation. I should like to take up another point of his which is certainly very keenly appreciated by the dairy farmers in my constituency, and that is the effect of the collapse in the cereal districts and the flooding of the country with a lot of additional milk. I will just take an example from my own farm about the necessity of there being some point in the cycle where you get to the question of cash profit. I was talking to my own bailiff about cattle. Some of the cattle had been out into the fields and some had been brought into the sheds to be fattened. I was talking to my bailiff about this, and he said that he really thought that the cattle which were left out paid better than the cattle which were brought in. Of course I knew the reason, but I did pursue the matter for the sake of interest. I said to my bailiff, "If that is the case, why do you bring the cattle in," and he replied, "We want some manure." I asked, "What do you want manure for?" and he replied, "For the roots" I then asked, "What do you want the roots for?" and he replied, "To feed the sheep." I told him that sheep did not fetch much money, and he replied, "We must have something to manure the ground for the corn crop," and then he replied, "We shall want some money for that." That was the point in his mind where you were brought up against the necessity of getting some cash. Someone else might say, "Feed the corn to your stock," and then you begin going round and round again, and each time you go round the cycle, unless you get a cash profit at some point, you get weaker and weaker, until the whole thing breaks down.
1443 With regard to stock production, it is quite true that on a large number of fields in England you could produce a great deal more than is produced. We have found out a great deal about the value of certain types of grass in the last few years, and one could produce more, but the average farmer is prevented from producing more by the fact that he may find himself with a large amount of good stock on his hands, and may simply have to give it away because there is no certainty in the market. I am definitely in favour of a guaranteed price for wheat, but I would not, perhaps, go quite as far as some of my fellow Members on this side in that respect. I think there is a great deal in what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne. He rather threw cold water on the wheat question, and I would not go as far as that. I think that for the moment it is much too big a jump to let wheat growing in this country simply slide. I am in favour of a guaranteed price. It is not that I think it is going to bring a great deal of land under wheat cultivation again. I think that that, perhaps, would be a retrograde step. But I am in favour of such a price as will ensure to the average good farmer to-day, who grows wheat on reasonable wheat land, some sort of certainty that he will not see the profits of good farming simply go down the sink.
The hon. Member who spoke last referred to the question of blades of grass, and spoke of three growing where one used to grow before. I think that the gentleman who coined the phrase about blades of grass only thought of two; he said that the man who made two blades of grass grow where one did before was a great benefactor of the human race. That is all very well, but I think that the hon. Member, in that case, was on the production tack, whereas we have passed from the era of increased production, when everyone put their mind to increased production, to the era in which marketing is the most important thing. When the celebrated Coke of Norfolk took over his farm in the east of England, a contemporary writer said that it was a miserable place, where two rabbits struggled for every blade of grass. Coke immediately took the matter in hand and concentrated on production, which, in the eighteenth century, was the 1444 thing to do. Everybody then concentrated on better production, and Coke made a very good thing out of it. To-day, however, the outlook is altered. The situation to-day is, if I may use the analogy in regard to the consuming public, that a largely increased number of blades of grass are competing violently for the economic privilege of being eaten by a rabbit. That shows, really, that, if we concentrate too strongly on the question of increased production, we shall meet with the difficulty that increased production will, unless something is done about it, hit up against the difficulty of getting a reasonable profit for that which we produce.
The Motion before the House lays stress upon the economic side of the question, and emphasises the necessity of an economic price for what farmers produce. That goes to the basis of the whole matter. The Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill, which is now before the House, tries to build the top storey before the foundation is built, but this Resolution goes to the foundation of the whole thing, which is the necessity of getting at all events some sort of economic price for our agricultural produce. The terms of the Motion and the speeches in which it was moved show that at all events we on this side of the House understand the relative position of the cart and the horse.
§ Mr. BLINDELL
When I first came here, some 20 months ago, one of the first things that fastened on my memory was a statement made by an hon. Member below the Gangway that for nearly two years we had never had a real discussion in the House on agriculture. Whatever else can be said to-night, I am certain that we can say for the Government of the day that they have given the House plenty of opportunity for discussing agriculture. I am well aware that this is the Motion of a private Member, but, in spite of that, during the last 18 months certainly, agriculture has been discussed almost inside out. To-night we have had an admirable discussion on various phases of the agricultural position, and the difficulties under which the industry is working.
I was very pleased to hear the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster make the statement that he did. I did not quite agree with some of the things he 1445 said, but he said he was in disagreement with those who said that the decline in the production of wheat was bound to continue, and that it was not in the national interest that we should worry too much about it. I was glad to hear him say that the Government take up the position that a certain amount of cereal cultivation is an absolute necessity. That is all to the good. He went on to say that, up to the moment, the Government had made certain proposals for dealing with various sections of the industry, but they have never made a statement as to how they are going to face up to the problems with which arable agriculture, as distinct from other sections, is faced.
I agree that the Minister of Agriculture has promised again and again that a statement should be made of the Government policy with regard to arable agriculture after the deliberations of the Imperial Conference had finished. They have finished, and we have to-night had another promise that the Government are considering the arable position and that in the very near future they will disclose their policy. I hope the Government will come to whatever decision they may determine upon and let the House know, so that we shall know exactly what they intend to do to restore arable agriculture.
He made another statement with which I entirely agree. He said the importation of cereals is a material advantage to certain sections of agriculture. We agree there, but we who represent arable districts find very little comfort in a statement of that sort. We want to find a solution of the difficulty. Seeing that the Government realise that wheat and cereal cultivation must continue in the interest of the industry itself and in the national interest, we want to know exactly how the Government intend to make it a paying proposition for the farmers in East Anglia to grow wheat.
I know that the Government would stress the position as between the price to the producer and that which the consumer has to pay. I agree that there is a tremendous lot to be said there, but I do not agree that there is such a tremendous gap as is sometimes made out between the wholesale and the retail prices of commodities. For instance, the Minister mentioned the Linlithgow 1446 Report and said it showed that there was this great difference between wholesale and retail prices. I believe that very same report stated that, so far as meat was concerned, the retailers were getting on the average less than a half-penny on all meat. Surely we are not going to call that an extravagant rate of profit. Such statements should only be made after mature consideration, so that no injustice is done to any section of the community in order to put agriculture on its feet again.
The Motion is good in parts and bad in parts. I should like very much to be in the position of supporting the Motion whole-heartedly, but why the hon. and learned Gentleman who introduced the Motion should make it so cumbersome I really do not know. I listened with a good deal of interest to the speech which he made, and the whole burden of it seemed to be that he wanted to make out a really strong case as to the desperate position of the arable farmer in this country. Why did he not say it in his Motion? Why did he not call upon the Government to bring forward their policy, press it upon them and leave it there? Why burden the Motion with all sorts of little bits of trimmings which suit hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, but make it impossible for us to support it? When hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway speak of arable agriculture, they always seem to mix it up with tariffs and subsidies. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) said that they spoke with two or more voices, and they do. On this particular matter they speak with two or more voices, and some of them with three or four voices. A week or two ago, when I was in Shipley, I did not hear anything about subsidies for agriculture, and the hon. Member who represents Shipley, if he is here, will back me up when I say it. [An HON. MEMBER: "For their own industries?"] You cannot legislate piecemeal for distinctive industries. If the nation is to start tariffs and subsidies, then the industrial section of the nation ought to be told quite openly what it is intended to do, and that they will have to shoulder part of the burden. The real reason why that by-election was won was because of the definite statement made that the candidate would not tax food.[Interruption.] Yes, he made it, and 1447 I hope that the hon. Member will back it up or deny it. The statement was made that there should not be any tax placed upon food, and that the price of the food of the people should not be increased. I do not think a doctrine of that sort would go down in an agricultural Division.
§ Sir VICTOR WARRENDER
Did not the hon. Gentleman once advocate the prohibition of the importation of potatoes?
§ Mr. BLINDELL
No, I do not remember ever doing that. When I read the Motion I was at a loss to understand why the Mover was so interested in the larger farms and did not appear to take the same amount of interest in the smallholders of this country. I represent a Division which has 3,000 or 4,000 smallholders in it. The Motion specifically calls attention to the difficulties and the economic position confronting farmers other than the occupiers of family or special farms. I maintain that the smallholder is feeling the draught as badly as the larger farmer. I know that it is true to say that the farmer who is employing labour has to pay a minimum rate of wages, but it is equally true to say that the smallholder's son ought to receive an equal payment for the work he puts into the soil. Therefore, the larger farmer and the smallholder are in the same position. I do not understand why we are so anxious about the larger farmer and do not really give to the smallholder what is really his due.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
I am anxious for the smallholder as well as for the larger farmer, but the position of the smallholder technically does not arise on this Motion.
§ Mr. BLINDELL
I am only sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not express his concern in his speech. He did not say that he was as concerned about the smallholder as I would have liked him to have said. As far as the smallholders are concerned, I believe that the Government agree that farming can be made to pay by means of smallholdings and by family farms. In my district, undoubtedly, they are a success. The right hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness), the late Minister of Agriculture, said some days ago that in Norfolk there was no demand for 1448 smallholdings. There has been an insistent demand in my Division for smallholdings for many years, a demand which cannot be satisfied. In spite of the fact that the Holland County Council have under their control over 13,000 acres of land let to smallholders at an annual rent of over £40,000, which rents are paid well, there is a waiting list in my Division of well over 500 men who are anxious to get land and to work it.
The Government need to be careful so far as the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill is concerned, in their provision of smallholdings, to see that the right type of man is put on the land. There is a danger that the Bill may be used as a partial means of solving the problem of unemployment. So far as it is going to be partially used to solve the problem of the unemployed agricultural workmen, I am heartily in sympathy with it, but I see a positive danger. If men are to be brought straight from the towns, even with six months training in a training college, put on to the land, given their equipment and left, I am afraid that there will be many failures. In my Division, a few weeks ago, I was told that under the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill the Government probably have in mind the proposal that certain unemployed men should be provided with small plots of land and should enter into the bulb industry. It was said that we are importing Dutch bulbs to the tune of 90 per cent. of the consumption of bulbs, and the suggestion was made that these men should be put into that industry. I hope that tremendous care will be used in that connection, because of all the sections of agriculture where scientific knowledge is required and where the utmost care ought to be exercised in the fostering of a new industry in this country, great care is necessary so far as the bulb industry is concerned.
The Motion deals with the difference between the cost of production and the price at which the produce is sold to the consumer. When the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill was being considered in this House the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland dealt with this matter and made one or two very strong statements in regard to the great lag between the wholesale and the retail prices. He said, dealing with eggs, of which he seems to know a great deal, that one out of every 12 eggs eaten by us was eaten under the 1449 false pretence of some swindling middleman, who made a fabulous profit under the capitalistic system. Last week when speaking again on the Bill he made a statement which astonished me and which I am sure astonished other hon. Members. Dealing again with eggs he said:Who will venture to say that British activity, British toil, British genius and the British hen cannot supply a large part of that market"—which is already supplied by the importation of foreign eggs—at prices which amount in some parts of the country to 4d. a dozen.Being challenged on that statement, he went on to say:I know of parts of the country where the producer is getting 6d. a dozen for his eggs in the glut period and where those eggs have been sold retail at 2s. 3d."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1930; col. 1999, Vol. 244.]Later in the same speech he referred to the question again, and this is what he said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1930; col. 2003, Vol. 244.]I was astounded by that statement. I thought it could not be true. I saw the Under-Secretary of State afterwards and he told me that he was referring to one specific transaction which had occurred right away in the wilds of Scotland. It is not quite fair to make a statement like that in this House. I have put questions to the Minister of Agriculture and the President of the Board of Trade in order to find out the exact position. I asked for the wholesale price of eggs produced in this country for the last three years and for the retail price which the consumer has had to pay. The Minister of Agriculture, in his reply, said that the average wholesale price of eggs produced in this country and imported was for first quality 2s. per dozen and for second quality 1s. 10d. per dozen. So far as retail prices were concerned the average price of eggs during last year was 2¼d. each, which is 2s. 3d. per dozen, and the average price obtained by the producer is about 2d. or 3d. per dozen less than the wholesale price. The same thing 1450 applies to imported eggs. I asked a similar question and got somewhat the same reply. I am not going to deny that there is a gap and a large gap between the price the producer gets and the price which the consumer pays, but we are not helping the producer or the consumer unless we state facts fairly and broadly in this House. I do not think, the Under-Secretary should have stated the case in that way.
Let me say a word with regard to marketing. So far as potatoes are concerned I have taken a very strong stand on this matter. I am glad the Government are looking to the marketing side of the industry. It is a side which can be improved tremendously, and I hope the Bill which is now before the House will be considerably altered so that we may have co-operation in marketing between all sections of the industry. I listened to what the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) has said. He is absolutely right. There must be one scheme for the whole of the country. But when you come to potatoes a national scheme would be useless. You will have to have many schemes. What are the Government proposing to do? Are the Government going to say to the potato industry that they realise that there are very many sections in the industry, and they will give them all some share? Are they going to say to the merchant that he is an essential part in the marketing of produce, or are they going to say, as one would infer from the speeches that have been made, that they can positively do without him? If they adopt that line, they will make the biggest blunder they have ever made. They positively cannot go along that line.
The House must realise that in the marketing of any commodity, every section connected with the marketing must have fair play, and if you want co-operation, you will have to give them their share. It is useless to talk of the producer going direct to the consumer, but it would be a useful thing if the Government introduced a marketing board upon which not only producers, but merchants, retailers, consumers and the workers were all sitting, so that they might discuss the marketing of particular products, and afterwards make recommendations to the Ministry of Agricul- 1451 ture which would be for the welfare of the industry. If we proceed along the line that has been suggested, I am afraid we shall get into a worse muddle than we are to-day. The real point about which I am anxious is that we should provide for the producer an economic price, and I believe that it can be provided if we tackle marketing along the right lines. I welcome this discussion on agriculture to-night, and I am sorry I had to tell the Mover that I could not go into the Lobby with him. If he had produced a straightforward Motion I should have been glad to accompany him, but seeing that there is so much window-dressing in it and what pleases his own particular party, and so much aimed at Members who sit below the Gangway here, I am afraid that I cannot possibly do so.
§ Sir G. COURTHOPE
In the few minutes which remain, I should like to make one point which has not been referred to in any of the speeches to-night. The speech of the Chancellor of the Duchy reveals that he, and, presumably, the Government, entirely fail to appreciate how serious the situation is to-day. I have not time at this late hour to go into detailed figures, but the depression has been getting more and more rapid. During the last year or so the gap between cost and price has been getting greater and greater. The fall in the acreage under arable crops, which has been constantly going on for the last nine years, has now reached a very alarming figure, but the most serious feature of this fall is that, while something like 1,400,000 acres formerly under cereals are now under grass, the live stock upon that grass has been rapidly decreasing during the last three years. That is the most convincing proof you can have that the depression is not limited to one section of the industry only. It spreads right through, and, in spite of the increase of grass, you have a serious decrease in every kind of livestock—horned cattle, sheep and pigs. That was accompanied during the same nine years by a drop of 15 per cent. in the number of men employed on our farms, a falling off of 127,000 men.
What is keeping the rest of the arable acre under crops? It is not the profit that is made on wheat, barley or oats, 1452 but the sugar beet industry. It is the fact that there are nearly 350,000 acres under sugar beet maintaining, in rotation, a substantial acreage under wheat straw crops in the big arable districts I should like to tell the House very solemnly and ask hon. Members fully to appreciate what I am saying, that there is the very gravest risk that that crop, upon which the balance of the arable agriculture is now resting to-day, will be taken away because the gap between the cost and price of beet-sugar is now so great that there is no prospect whatever of the industry continuing without active Government intervention when the fall of the subsidy takes place in a few months time. The fall in the world price during the present period of three years has far exceeded the contemplated fall of the subsidy itself. Add the two together and you get a situation in which there is a definite gap to be bridged between the highest price the factory can pay and the lowest price at which the farmer can sell.
I am thinking not merely of the sugar-beet grower or the sugar factory, but of the effect it will have upon the whole range of this agricultural industry. It will remove the last prop, the last stay upon which arable agriculture is standing and staggering, and there will be a crash. That must necessarily react, as it has already begun to react, upon other branches of the industry. I implore the Government to appreciate that however necessary it is—I admit the necessity—to improve organisation of marketing and so on, this is a much bigger thing than what can be dealt with by remedies of that kind. I beg the Government to realise also that it is a thing which cannot wait. If effective steps are to be taken to maintain the agricultural industry, and the cereal production which is the pivot of that industry, those steps must be taken at once. A few months delay and it will be too late.
That, in the opinion of this House, it is essential to the well-being of the nation that the economic position of farmers other than occupiers of family or special farms, which is so bad that a large proportion are now insolvent and will be shortly compelled to give up their farms, should be improved; and, seeing that this condition is in the main caused by the wide gap between the
cost of production and the sale price of the products of the farm, accentuated in great measure by legislation of this House, it is further in its opinion imperative that steps be at once taken by providing a guaranteed price for cereals and power to regulate, prohibit, or license the imports of minor
§ Agricultural products in case of glut, or otherwise to improve the condition of the industry and make it possible for farmers to make a living out of the cultivation of the soil."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 104; Noes, 174.1455
|Division No. 36.]||AYES.||[10.58 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel.||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.M.)||Muirhead, A. J.|
|Albery, Irving James||Everard, W. Lindsay||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld)|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Fielden, E. B.||O'Neill, Sir H.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Forestler-Walker, Sir L.||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Remer, John R.|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell|
|Balniel, Lord||Gower, Sir Robert||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Grace, John||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Salmon, Major I.|
|Betterton, Sir Henry B.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
|Bevan, S. J (Holborn)||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Savery, S. S.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Shepperson, Sir Enest Whittome|
|Bracken, B.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Simms, Major-General J.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U., Belist)|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Butler, R. A.||Hartington, Marquess of||Smithers, Waldron|
|Campbell, E. T.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Somerset, Thomas|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Honderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt, R. (Prtsmth, S.)||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Herbert, Sir Dennis (Hertford)||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Christie, J. A.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford)||Thomson, Sir F.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Kindersley, Major G. M.||Titchfield, Major the Marquesss of|
|Colville, Major D. J.||Lamb, Sir J. O.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Law, Sir Alfred (Derby, High Peak)||Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C.||Lockwood, Captain J. H.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||McConnell, Sir Joseph||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)||Macdonald, Sir M. (Inverness)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Marjoribanks, Edward||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Womersley, W. J.|
|Dalrymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey||Mitchell-Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W.|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Dugdale, Capt. T. L.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Sir Henry Cautley and Lieut.-|
|Edmonson, Major A. J.||Morrison, W. W. (Gios., Cirencester)||Colonel Heneage.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Edmunds, J. E.||Kelly, W. T.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Foot, Isaac||Kennedy, Thomas|
|Alpass, J. H.||Freeman, Peter||Lang, Gordon|
|Ammon, Charles George||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George|
|Arnott, John||Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley)||Lathan, G.|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Gill, T. H.||Law, Albert (Bolton)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Gillett, George M.||Law, A. (Rossendale)|
|Barr, James||Gossling, A. G.||Lawrence, Susan|
|Batey, Joseph||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Lawson, John James|
|Benson, G.||Groves, Thomas E.||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)|
|Bentham, Dr. Ethel||Grundy, Thomas W.||Leach, W.|
|Birkett, W. Norman||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.)|
|Bowen, J. W.||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.)||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Bromfield, William||Harbord, A.||Lloyd, C. Eills|
|Bromley, J.||Hardle, George D.||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Brothers, M.||Harris, Percy A.||Longbottom, A. W.|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield)||Hayday, Arthur||Longden, F.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire)||Henderson, Arthur, Junr, (Cardiff, S.)||Lowth, Thomas|
|Burgess, F. G.||Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)||Lunn, William|
|Buxton, C. R. (Yorks, W R. Elland)||Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)|
|Caine, Derwent Hall||Herriotts, J.||McElwee, A.|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)||McEntee, V. L.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, govan)|
|Clarke, J. S.||Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield||McShane, John James|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)|
|Daggar, George||John, William (Rhonda, West||Mander, Geoffrey le M.|
|Davies, Rhye John (Westhoughton)||Johnston, Thomas||Mansfield, W.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Marcus, M.|
|Dukes, C||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Markham, S. F.|
|Duncan, Charles||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Marley, J.|
|Ede, James Chuter||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Marshall, Fred|
|Mathers, George||Richards, R.||Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)|
|Messer, Fred||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Sorensen, R.|
|Middleton, G.||Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Mills, J. E.||Ritson, J.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Milner, Major J.||Romeril, H. G.||Sullivan, J.|
|Morgan Dr. H. B.||Rosbotham, D. S. T.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Morley, Ralph||Rowson, Guy||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Morris, Rhys Hopkins||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Sanders, W. S.||Tillett, Ben|
|Moses, J. J. H.||Sawyer, G. F.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Muff, G.||Scott, James||Viant, S. P.|
|Muggeridge, H. T.||Scrymgeour, E.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermlinw)|
|Nathan, Major H. L.||Sexton, James||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)||Sherwood, G. H.||Welsh, James (Paisley)|
|Owen, Major G. (Carnarvon)||Shield, George William||Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)|
|Palin, John Henry||Shillaker, J. F.||Westwood, Joseph|
|Paling, Wilfrid||Simmons, C. J.||White, H. G.|
|Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Sinkinson, George||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Perry, S. F.||Sitch, Charles H.||Whiteley, William (Blaydon)|
|Peters, Dr. Sidney John||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Atercliffe)|
|Phillips, Dr. Marion||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Pole, Major D. G.||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Potts, John S.||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Ramsay, T. B. Wilson||Snell, Harry||Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr. Hayes|
Question put, and agreed to.