§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This I believe and hope is a non-controversial and non-contentious Bill. It is an attempt to do something, however small, to improve the conditions of one of the most, if not the most, deserving section of the population—the rural labourer. It is not on the scale of some of the larger Measures which arouse so much controversy in this House and elsewhere, but, nevertheless, those who are supporting it believe that if it is carried it will be a real benefit to those who live in rural areas. The cry of "back to the land," the endeavour to settle people who have left the land back upon it, and to keep those who are at present in rural areas in their employment must also endeavour to make them as happy and contented as possible, and above all as prosperous as possible, and nothing is more conducive to good and happy conditions than for the people who settle upon the land to have some property of their own in which they can take some interest. The object of this Bill is to give them that interest. I am glad to see the Minister of Agriculture in his place and as the Parliamentary representative of the right hon. Gentleman, and also his neighbour, I feel sure that the Bill will further the interests he has so much at heart and will do much to help his neighbours and my constituents.
The object of the Bill is to empower local authorities to set up live stock clubs to enable the villagers, and what is defined in the Bill as the "labouring population," to buy live stock of their own by granting them loans for the purpose and by setting up the clubs which will facilitate this work. This has been done by private enterprise most successively in the past. During the War many of these clubs were started all over the country through private loans, and our information is that in every case almost without exception they were most successful and beneficial. Unfortunately, the money which used to be forthcoming in the 2450 countryside is no longer there, and I commend therefore this Bill particularly to hon. Members opposite, because it brings in the State to do something which private enterprise is no longer able to do. For that reason alone, it should commend itself to hon. Members opposite. The real difficulty now is that not only has the rural labourer no capital to buy his live stock but that unfortunately landlords, who used to have this capital and were able and willing to provide it, can no longer do so. Money is tight in every walk of life, as we all of us know too well, and nowhere is it more difficult to obtain than in the rural areas.
This Bill has only one serious defect so far as a private Member's Bill is concerned, and that is that it needs a Money Resolution, but it also differs in this respect from many other Bills that ultimately it will not cost the State anything. Every penny we give in the furtherance of the objects of this Bill will come back in due course to the State. It is very seldom that one gets an opportunity of presenting a Bill which has, first., the merit of conferring considerable benefits upon a deserving section of the population, secondly, which allows somebody to do something instead of preventing them doing something, and, in the third place, which confers there benefits without any ultimate cost to the State. Let me run through the various Clauses of the Bill, at the same time saying that, while there may be some small points which may need Amendment in Committee, we shall be ready to meet any reasonable objections. No doubt there are certain minor points to which hon. Members will take exception, but, if we can get the principle of the Bill agreed to, we shall be quite ready to meet hon. Members in every possible way.
Clause 1 contains provisions for the formation of clubs and lays down that such clubs shall be formed by the parish council on the demand of any six registered Parliamentary electors. That number has been taken from some older Acts, which deal with similar powers, but, if the number six is considered too many or too few, we have no objection to altering it. Clause 2 deals with the right of appeal in the event of a request to set up such a club not being acceded to by the parish council, and it gives the Parliamentary registered electors the right to appeal to the county council to 2451 enforce the provisions of the Act. Clause 3 deals with the constitution of the club, and ensures that it shall really be for the benefit of those whom it is intended to help. Clause 4 deals with the various points on which the club may make regulations. I particularly want to draw attention to Paragraph (f) which lays down that there may be honorary members of the club who, without receiving benefits, may give contributions.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
As the hon. Member suggests, vice-presidents. Although we are introducing State aid we still leave a loophole so that any on the countryside who may have any money left may contribute to the fullest amount of their ability. It is laid down in Clauses 3 and 4 that such regulations must be approved by the Minister of Agriculture and the Treasury. Clause 5, which is the vital Clause of the Bill, makes provision as to loans. It lays down the conditions under which loans may be given to members of the club, in order that they may buy their live stock. There are the most stringent provisions as to repayment. I had a long conversation the other day with a gentleman outside this House who organised some hundreds of these clubs during the War, and he told me that he did not have one single case of default. I hope that under this Bill the same happy state of affairs will result.
Clause 6 sets forth the financial provisions of the Bill, and that will need a Financial Resolution. I know how 10th the Government are to provide Financial Resolutions for Private Members' Bills, but I sincerely hope that they will see their way to do so in this case, in view of the fact that the country is not going to lose money and that the Bill will really do something which is approved by both sides of the House to bring about improvements in rural conditions. I hope the Government will let us have the Financial Resolution which will make that possible. Clauses 7, 8, 9 and 10 are entirely matters of administration. I would call attention to an error in Clause 7 which, I am afraid, is a personal error. When the Bill was originally drafted it provided that the expenses of the parish councils should be paid out of the smallholding account. 2452 It was, however, put to the promoters of the Bill that it would be very much more convenient to give the county councils full power in this matter to do as they wished. Therefore, Clause 7 has been put in, but the last two lines:or, if there is no such Smallholdings Account in any county, out of the Development Fund.were left in. As the Clause now stands, it does not make sense. In Committee we should delete those two lines if the original provision with regard to the county councils was considered the best way of proceeding.
§ Mr. ALPASS
The Clause says:The expenses of a parish council … in connection with the working of this Act shall be paid in such manner as the county council may decide.How does the hon. Member suggest that the county councils should meet those expenses? Out of what fund? Is there anything except the rates?
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
Yes, the provision in Clause 6 is that Parliament shall advance these loans, and Sub-section (2) of that Clause says:Out of the sum provided by Parliament under this section, an amount not exceeding two thousand pounds may be advanced by the Treasury in any one year to any one county council for the purposes of loans under this Act.
§ Mr. ALPASS
That refers to loans. Clause 7 deals with expenses. From what source is the county council to get the money to pay the expenses?
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I apologise to the hon. Member I was confusing two points. The original suggestion was that it should be taken out of the smallholdings account. It will either have to come out of Government grants or out of the rates. Under the provisions of this House we cannot make provision for a Treasury grant unless the Government see fit to allow a Financial Resolution to be passed. The expenses of running the clubs will be extremely small, almost negligible. We have put in the provision to allow the county councils to decide what is the best way of finding the money for expenses. Clause 10 makes provision as to membership. With respect to Clause 11—"Definitions"—it may be desirable in Committee to have certain small Amend- 2453 ments, which we shall be only too glad to accept. Clause 12 is the title of the Bill.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I omitted a very vital point:this Act shall not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland.I can assure the hon. Member that should it seem desirable to delete the word "Scotland" the promoters of the Bill will raise no objection. I do not see any representative from Northern Ireland present, but the same condition would apply with regard to Northern Ireland. Although this is not a great Measure it is one which, if the House places it on the Statute Book, will do real service in the rural areas. For these reasons I appeal to the House to give the Bill a Second Reading and I appeal to the Government to do everything they can to further its progress on to the Statute Book.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I beg to second the Motion.
In its main provisions the Bill is the same as the Measure which received a unanimous First Reading last Session. Unfortunately, time was not found to give it a Second Reading. My hon. Friend has dealt with one difficulty in regard to Clause 7. I would point out that the scope of the Bill has been extended to include poultry. As I have always been keen on that subject I particularly welcome that provision. There is one objection, and so far as I know it is the only objection, which has been raised by the local authorities, and that is in regard to the finance of the Bill. I would suggest, however, that the new Clause is better than the previous Clause. I had communications with one of the county councils, the Lindsay County Council, at the end of last year, and they were certainly far more favourable to the new Clause than to the old one.
If they make any criticism of the finance of the Bill it is that it will be a charge on the rates. It will not necessarily be a charge on the rates. That is a matter which will be in the hands of the county council. If there were a charge it would be a very small one, and 2454 if the county council wished to put it on to the rates they would be able to do so. I submit, however, that it would be within their power to make a small charge to the local clubs to cover headquarters expenses. I see nothing against that. In Lincolnshire we have pig clubs, calf clubs and foal clubs, and they are very successful. In fact, they are among the most successful clubs of the kind in Great Britain. I have in my possession the account of a cottager's calf insurance club which was established in January, 1857, and is still going on successfully. My hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading has shown how it is that these clubs are not so easy to start at the present time. It is because the landlord is disappearing and as a rule there is no one to take his place.
Let me give details of the club I have mentioned. It is in the district of Louth, a town of about 10,000 inhabitants, and there are members from 16 villages. The number of cows insured is 49. The deaths that had to be met during the year 1930 were three. The credit of the club at the end of last year, which was a bad year, was £364. The actual cost of running that club as a club—not as it would be from the county council point of view—was £8. The subscriptions were of two kinds. Those of members totalled about £15 and those of honorary members about £4 10s. In addition there was interest upon investments of £17. That is the kind of institution that we should encourage. If there is a wish to start such an institution under modern conditions, it is very advisable that the machinery should he there. We ask the Government to allow the machinery to be made available. Most of us have had experience of what happens when there is no club. I heard of the case the other day of a cottager who lost a pig. It was in a village that might well have had a pig club, but there was no such club. The owner, a labouring man with very little resources, felt his loss very deeply. All his neighbours made a collection and people were asked to subscribe. The scheme proposed in the Bill is far more satisfactory than that.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Dr. Addison)
This is a very interesting Bill, and I am interested to notice 2455 that it is proposed by hon. Gentlemen who are generally advocates of economy. Some of the Bill's proposals are unique so far as my experience of public business is concerned. In any observations that I may have to make I hope I shall not be taken to be out of sympathy with anything that will encourage people to keep livestock and to do so usefully. I suggest that in the Government's smallholdings and other proposals we are taking very practical steps to that end. Of course there are, up and down the country, an increasing number of young farmers' clubs, as they are called—clubs to which we give grants, clubs which are very carefully administered, and are thriving. But the proposal in this Bill is really worth examining from the psychological point of view. I see on the back of the Bill the names of a number of hon. and gallant Gentlemen, and I dare say that some of them during the time of their service have been adjutants or have served in the orderly room. They would, therefore, be familiar with Army forms, how much alike they all are with their parallel columns, though there are various brands of forms for different requisitions. I came to the conclusion that when they drafted this Bill it was a reaction against orderly room methods. They decided that they would have none of this stuff in the financing of these clubs. They would make it simple and direct from the beginning to the stockholder's pocket.
What is the proposal? Any six persons, who are to possess the common qualification of being Parliamentary electors, can decide to form themselves into a club. Then the parish council comes in. Under Clause 5 any member other than an honorary member—that leaves out the vice-presidents—may make an application to the club for a loan, and the decision of the club on the matter will be final. It is not the Minister of Agriculture or the county council or the parish council; it is the decision of the club, and that decision is final. There is to be provided by the Treasury £50,000 a year for 10 years, or £500,000 all told. The Bill says that the member to whom a loan is granted by the club, in response to his application, shall be 2456 taken to have agreed to "buy, procure, etc. within three months" the live stock that he wishes to obtain.
There is nothing in the way of security. Yet all kinds of drastic qualifications were suggested by hon. Members opposite for the loans that we were making to allotment holders, even for seeds worth a few shillings. I remember how many and interesting and ingenious were the precautions which hon. Members opposite proposed to take in that case. But here it is all gone; there is nothing of the sort. All that happens is that a man who wants money for a pig goes to the club and the people apply to the parish council. If the parish council has nothing to say about it, the club goes to the county council, and the county council has to pay the money out of the fund. It is assumed that within three months the member will buy whatever it is he wants—chickens, or a pig, or a bull or a heifer. In the case of a pig repayment is expected within 12 months, in other cases the time is as long as the members like. Talk about a pig in a poke! Further than that we find that the sum so provided, £50,000 a year, shall be placed at the disposal of the county councils and a county council—on information in writing from a parish council being received by it that a live stock club has been established … and that the club has agreed to the application for a loan by a member of the club shall forthwith pay.…Talk about safeguarding the public! Members will naturally ask themselves how we are to secure repayment of these loans. The chain of transfer is from the Treasury to the county council, and then to the club on the representation by the parish council to the county council that A, B, or C wants a loan which within three months they will repay. The county council has to pay up in the first place and if the loan is not repaid by the individual, it is the parish council on whom the responsibility will fall to make it good. I think that is very hard on the parish council. They have nothing to do with it. All they have done is to transmit the demand to the county council. Clause 8 provides that:All loans … shall be repaid to the Treasury by the parish councils concerned.That seems very hard on the poor parish councils who have not had the money at 2457 all. But the Clause also provides that the loans are to be repaid by themout of the funds of the live stock club or clubs.What authority has the parish council over the funds of the live stock club? It is not their club. Those funds probably belong to the members of the club. But the parish council, in some way or other, is expected to extract this money out of the funds of the club. I am interested to find that these words have now disappeared from Clause 7. In that case, the expenses of a parish council and a county council in connection with the working of the Act are to be paid "in such manner as the county council may decide." Previously it was suggested that they should be paid out of the smallholdings account but that has been dropped, and it is now provided that if there is no smallholdings' account, the expenses of working these clubs and of this series of transactions by which the money goes from the Treasury through the county council to the club and the parish council is responsible for the repayment—those expenses, by a quaint logic, are to fall upon the Development Fund.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
That is a drafting error which I have already most carefully explained. It was never intended that the Clause should read in that way. That is a mistake for which I accept full responsibility but it is not the intention of the promoters of the Bill.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I am only rejoicing at the omission. I was wondering what the Development Fund commissioners would do when they got the demand. Anyhow the money is to be paid by the county council in such manner as they may decide. I suppose it will be out of the county rates. I cannot think of any other way
§ Dr. ADDISON
I am not dealing with the hon. and gallant Member's speech but with what is in the Bill and there is not any provision for this payment otherwise than out of the rates. Then we come to another very interesting provision in Clause 10: 2458With the consent of the Ministry the operations … of a live stock club … may be extended so as to include not more than three parishes in a rural district.Why should this provision be limited to three parishes? A large amount of public money is being paid out with these very inadequate safeguards, and I do not see how it can be limited in the way proposed. As a matter of fact I have never in my Parliamentary experience known of any Measure which effects a readier transfer of money from the Exchequer to the pockets of the private individual. That is what it comes to, and I do not wonder at the hon. and gallant Member saying that private enterprise would not step in to meet this need. I can well believe it, for private enterprise would require more safeguards than are provided in this Bill. I remember many years ago, when a friend and I on a walking tour lost our way on a moor. It was rather misty but after some time we came across a cart track which we followed in the hope that it would lead us to a habitation of some kind. In the course of time we came to a little dell and there to our delight was a cottage and to our still further delight it was licensed. There was a sign outside the door which I have remembered ever since and it strikes me that that was the kind of place where half a dozen people might meet and decide to form a live stock club. The superscription over the door of that cottage was "The Who'd Have Thought It." That is the only comment I can make on this Bill.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I am sure that the promoters of the Bill are pleased to note the right hon. Gentleman's desire for safeguards, and, no doubt, we shall remember it on future occasions. We are equally anxious to have safeguards, and we are prepared to include in the Bill any safeguards of the nature indicated which the Minister may think fit. That can be done in Committee and we would accept those safeguards but with one proviso. The Minister objected to the administration being by the club instead of by the Ministry of Agriculture or the county councils. We think from what we have seen, that the club is more likely to be a trustworthy guardian of the public purse.
§ Major LLEWELLIN
We listened with great interest to the speech of the right 2459 hon. Gentleman and especially to the account of his experience When touring presumably in the northern part of this Kingdom. Everyone must realise that there is a great deal of substance in some of his comments on the Bill but in one or two there is very little substance, and there is no reason why the Bill should not be altered in Committee to meet any real criticisms. I do not understand the Minister's objection to the fact that people with the humble qualification of Parliamentary electors should first petition to have a club formed. The Minister said something to the effect that this was a very negligible qualification.
§ Dr. ADDISONindicated dissent.
§ Major LLEWELLIN
At any rate I think he said that it was a very ordinary qualification. But it seems to me to be democratic to give people who possess that ordinary qualification the right of initiative in regard to forming these clubs. With regard to paying money direct to members of such clubs, I do not believe that the promoters of the Bill would have any objection to an Amendment providing that when the member of the club had selected his particular pig or calf or whatever he wanted to buy, the money, instead of being paid directly to him, should be paid by the club to the seller of the animal. I do not think you would get many people trying to defraud these clubs but if a man did try to defraud the club then, in the absence of such a provision as I have suggested, the only right against him would be to bring him into the county court, and probably a judgment obtained against him would be nugatory. There seems to me no reason why the money should not be paid direct by the club to whomsoever was selling the beast. That would, I think, completely get over the disadvantage pointed out by the Minister.
Another objection made by the Minister was that the wretched parish council, which has no control of the payment of these moneys, so far as I can see, is made the body responsible for repayment to the Treasury when any of the loans ought to be repaid. That provision quite clearly is not tenable. Either the parish council must have complete control of these clubs, or you cannot make them liable for returning the money to the 2460 Minister. I think there is some Amendment necessary on that score, and I have no doubt that that is a point that can well be met on the Committee stage. The Minister's chief criticism, I think, was that this was a readier method for the transference of public money from the Treasury to the pockets of individual citizens than any that even he had ever been able to discover. That may well be met by the rules laid down for these clubs, and, after all, the rules and regulations under which the clubs are to operate are to be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Treasury.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The hon. and gallant Member speaks of rules and regulations, but I was dealing with what was in the Bill.
§ Major LLEWELLIN
If the right hon. Gentleman will refer to Clause 4, he will see it says:Such regulations or rules shall have regard to or provide for the following matters or things in addition to any others which the council, with the approval of the Ministry and the Treasury, deem expedient for the proper carrying-on of the affairs of the club.The headings down to "(o)" are included under this Clause, but it is obvious that if the Minister is not going to approve the regulations, there will be no club, and the Minister and the Treasury will not approve these regulations presumably unless there is some tight hold kept upon the financial provisions under which this sum, if provided by Parliament, is to be expended. I hope that, as this power is still left to the Treasury and so long as he holds his present office to the Minister, he will certainly rather amend his idea that this may be a very ready way of transferring public money to the hands of individual citizens.
One further point made by the right hon. Gentleman was with regard to Clause 10. If the Minister is discussing with the Secretary of State for Scotland whether this boon should be extended to Scotland, I do not wish to interrupt him, but if I may have his attention for a moment with regard to Clause 10, I did not see the force of his criticism of that Clause. It does not mean, as far as I read it, that only three parishes in the whole country shall have the benefit of the club.
§ Major LLEWELLIN
All that it means is that a club should not be limited to one particular parish, but may extend its activities over more than one parish. That again, of course, makes it more difficult to see, if a club extends over three parishes, which of the three is to be responsible for repaying the money to the Treasury. That is a point that will quite obviously have to be met, and I know my hon. and gallant Friend who introduced the Bill is quite prepared to meet any reasonable criticism on that point. I hope that, where this will give considerable assistance to poor persons throughout the countryside, who will make a little extra money by keeping an odd pig or two, by keeping perhaps a few goats on a bit of rough ground, this boon will be extended by this House to those people, who certainly need every help in order to enlarge their present low rate of wages.
It is satisfactory to find the Minister of Agriculture in the new rôle of a recruit to the cause of economy, but, like so many economists, he is all for economy in the case of other people's schemes, but not for his own. We have, I suppose, all considered this question of live stock clubs in the country districts, and I personally have for a long time been anxious to see the idea carried out, though it has always seemed extremely difficult. I think, however, the conditions to-day are rather different, because the right hon. Gentleman has given us a precedent. Under the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill, he is giving loans, without even the limitations which he thinks so insufficient in this Bill, to smallholders who may be recruited from the towns. In Clause 6, Sub-section 2 (b), the Ministry may make and guarantee grants by way of loans to these smallholders for all sorts of purposes, including the purchase of stock.
There are, but if this Bill goes through Committee the like suitable conditions can no doubt still be incorporated in it. But I want to draw attention to the new principle which has been adopted, that working capital can be given to these small people on the land by way of loan. I think there 2462 will be a very natural sense of hardship on the part of many cottagers who would like to Work their Way up and to do a little live stock keeping on their own, if they see people from the towns of no experience, just because they have been sufficiently fortunate to come under the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill, being given public credit while they themselves are entirely left out. Therefore, it seems to me that there is a case which ought to be very carefully considered.
The objections which the right hon. Gentleman quite properly took to certain details may not prove insuperable if they are examined in Committee. We know, of course, that there is great difficulty in administering these clubs; otherwise, no doubt, they would exist, not only in Lincolnshire and a few other counties to-day, but all over the country. We are all anxious to see them extended. I think it is necessary to have a limit to the area, because of the difficulty of communication. The problem is to get a secretary who will really put his back into the work, and collect the necessary money in the form of insurance premiums and so forth. But those are Committee points. We want to help the labouring man in his first step to work for himself, and I think that the experience of the young farmers' clubs has been very useful in this matter. We know that private enterprise has done a great deal, and I should like to see this extended, if possible, by private enterprise, but in many districts private enterprise, for various reasons, is no longer capable of taking the whole responsibility.
It would be a great pity if the right hon. Gentleman should kill the Bill, because we could not fail to get some useful results from it. It may be that it goes too far at the present time, and further safeguards may be necessary. Of course, we are entirely in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman. If we get a Second Reading to-day, the Bill will be dead unless he gives facilities for the finance. No private Member can put down a Financial Resolution, and unless the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to give these facilities before the Financial Clause is reached, the Bill can get no further in Committee. The Bill proposes to deal with a real need. It has 2463 an excellent object, and I wish the right hon. Gentleman would give the matter a little further consideration, and see whether he cannot do something to help this deserving class of cottager to take the first step to becoming independent, even if the right hon. Gentleman cannot adopt all these, perhaps, unduly wide proposals in the Bill.
§ 12 n.
§ Viscount LYMINGTON
Last week we discussed on Friday a Bill which introduced great principles and legal changes. Whatever the merits of that particular Bill might have been, it did seem that the testator was to be butchered to make a lawyer's holiday. This week, we hope that the humble pig will be butchered to make a holiday for the agricultural labourer. One could not help feeling a little that the Minister was sheltering, behind the financial difficulties of this Bill, the fact that he had no particular eagerness to push it in principle. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) has just said, it is indeed refreshing to see him in this light as an economist on a matter of £50,000 a year in loans to clubs which have definitely been proved not to be losses, but, on the whole, very paying investments. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) adduced a club which, like Johnny Walker, had been going strong since something like 1820—I forget whether that is the exact date. Anyone who is keen on young farmers' clubs, as I personally am, cannot fail to have seen the remarkable way in which year after year those clubs are run, and pay steadily all the time. On the other hand, in the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill, the Government propose to spend money on what has invariably so far failed, on great State experiments, not for £50,000, but £5,000,000, and not on loan. This Bill provides a double feature. It not only provides for the purchase of live stock, but for insurance, and when you can insure your live stock in a club of this sort, the real danger of failure, or whatever the present difficulty in the drafting of this Bill may be, must be very largely circumscribed. After all, my hon. Friend who introduced the Bill has announced himself more than willing in 2464 every possible way to meet any difficulties which may arise in the administration of it. I am not, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Major Llewellin), a pronounced democrat. I do not believe particularly that the principle has been wholly proved in the wider measures of public affairs of the nation, but I am wholeheartedly an apostle of initiative whereby people can see the results of their own action, and there can be nothing better or more hopeful than a stepping-stone to the agricultural labourer and the labouring classes in the countryside to something in which they can slowly build their way up, as well as shelter their own family by gradually making a little extra money. I, personally, am a little disappointed with the definition of labouring classes in this Bill. I wish it could be extended much further because the definition in Clause 11 says:'labouring population' means (a) workers for wages on or in connection with agricultural land or agricultural buildings as defined by section two of the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Act.It does seem to me that this principle, if it proves successful, and becomes law, as I hope it will, should greatly help to build up something which will give a chance to the workers in those industries which are now moving out to the country to have something of real interest, and provide a real extra livelihood outside the hours they spend in the office or factory. I remember going outside Milan, where I saw the only real antedote I have been able to discover for the terrible shadow of psychological boredom due to the doing of one particular job in a factory. There in the evening the workers cycle home to their own smallholdings to add to the fruits of their livelihood by cultivating their own land. For that reason, I hope that the Minister and his friends behind him will see fit to give us a Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I am very sorry that this Bill should have had so unsympathetic a handling from the Minister of Agriculture. The real working man, the labouring man, has an extraordinary integrity and honesty, which is his natural endowment. If that man has borrowed from a stock club or any other club, there is not the slightest risk that anything short of an act of God will ever prevent 2465 him from repaying his debt. I imagine my right hon. Friend must be thinking of his earlier days in his medical practice in a town and the difficulty of recovering his fees, but I am sure that the whole liability that is likely to be incurred here will be met. One of the reasons why this Bill is needed is the psychological effect that it will have. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about handing out public money to private people. There has been a great deal of that in connection with the National Health Insurance Act which will carry the right hon. Gentleman's name with execration down to posterity, and in the Unemployment Insurance Acts. There has been a great deal of handing out of public money which is legal, but morally unjustifiable. The reason for that, however, is perfectly clear. All the people under those Acts are put there under compulsion, and, when you take money from people under compulsion, they make up their minds to get it back in some way or other. There is no proposal here, however, that anybody is to be compulsorily incorporated into a club of any kind. It is a purely voluntary effort, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if he knew the workers on the land as well as I do—
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The right hon. Gentleman must be very unfortunate in his acquaintance. He must be acquainted with the village "drunk". If he knew them as well as I do in the Scottish districts, he would know that, if they decided to form a pig club and to keep pigs, they would be grateful, and every penny that they borrowed would be repaid. Probably the reason why this proposal is not popular in Government circles is that it does not add anything to the bureaucracy. It is a voluntary private effort. Nobody is to be appointed at £7,000 a year. They do not want the little agricultural workers to do their own jobs. There is to be no expense and no officials. A Bill of this kind is necessary in order to encourage agricultural workers; I agree with the hon. Member who spoke last that it should apply to all workers in rural areas, miners included. At the present moment, I do not think that any working man's wage is adequate to buy the unlimited supplies of food that 2466 ought to be available for his wife and children. When the working man's wife goes into a shop to buy food for the family, there is included in the price of every half pound of bacon or anything else that she buys the shopkeeper's profit, which is too large just now—he is still invested with the war mind—and also his wages, his rent, rates and taxes. All that goes on to the price of the bacon and other food. The working man has also to pay similar charges of the middleman from whom the shopkeeper buys, and the charges of the producer. The result is that he is keeping about half-a-dozen people before he gets anything to eat.
That is all bound to make the cost of living very high, but, if a man can keep a pig or two of his own, he at least gets his bacon at first cost without all these intermediate charges, and as his family expands, his supply of pigs can expand, and he has the best possible system of family allowances. There is no difficulty about it. I remember one of the most successful farmers in Scotland telling me that one of the reasons why he has never any difficulty with his workers—and he has the best—is because he insists that every one of his farm servants shall keep pigs —
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
But he asks them to do so. His neighbours will not allow their men to keep pigs, because they say they would steal the food with which to feed the pigs. This farmer's men do not need to steal the food, for he gives them not only two young pigs a year, but the food. He said that he had known many a ploughman to run away from his wife, but he had never known a man desert his pigs. These men have great prosperity because they are thoroughly well paid by their pigs. We are the only country in the world where our people are in a sense crucified on the profits of the middleman and the shopkeeper for their food. I have some connection with a concern in Spain, which had to build very large bins to hold the ore because the miners went away in spring and autumn to cultivate their little places, and we had to have the extra supply of ore in order to fill the ships. All the miners feed themselves, and their wages are more or less sidelines. The miners in this country used to keep pigs, but the medical profession, who are angels 2467 of death among the community, said, "You cannot have pigs so near your houses," so now the poor miner keeps whippets instead of pigs. When he kept pigs, he was very much better fed. In the West Indies you will find that you cannot employ a man on the sugar plantations until you give him a bit of land. The bachelor keeps a mule, and the married man keeps a cow and it helps to feed his family.
In Malaya, every native has his little paddy field, and he never depends upon his employer for his food. He cultivates his own paddy patch, and in the present crisis in rubber, I am proud to say that a great many of the coolies on the plantations have gone to the managers of the companies, and said, "Do not trouble about any wages for us just now; we know things are hard; let us have a little more land and grow some more rice, and we will feed ourselves and our wages will accumulate." That is what you call an enlightened race. We call ourselves civilised, but they are far more mentally civilised and have a better knowledge of economics than the people of this country, because they know that it is unwise to kill the business in which they are interested, and that when good times come they will get a lump sum in wages that are accruing for them. I have seen the same thing in Africa, where the native is always a gentleman if he is left to himself, but when he gets in contact with the white man he is soon corrupted. I was talking to a doctor who had a farm out there and who said that when he had a white man in charge he never got a penny out of it, but with a black man in charge it became very profitable. That shows that a man of colour is sometimes not as black as he is painted.
What I object to in the Minister's speech is his idea that we may get a whole lot of little village conspiracies, with people meeting together and asking themselves "Now, is there some way in which we can rob the Treasury by getting up a pig club"? and then, when they have got the money, going to "blue" it at the "Who'd'a Thought It." I would point out that conditions in these small villages are very different from what they are in London and big towns generally. The majority of the people in the country districts are honest, for the simple reason that if they depart from 2468 the straight path it is always known. In the main, they would never think of doing anything the least bit crooked. By another Bill which the Ministry of Agriculture has been piloting through this House money is to be advanced to smallholders brought on to the land from the cities. I will undertake to say that if a man who has been reared in the city is put on to the soil he will lose the first lot of stock he possesses through sheer ignorance and neglect. It is astonishing how stupid a city man is when transferred to the country. In 1820 a number of city dwellers went out to South Africa to settle. They took seed with them and they planted it, and to make sure that it was securely in the ground they planted it one and a half feet deep. "They learned by experience."
These smallholders who are to be brought to the countryside from the towns are not the people to whom to advance money to buy pigs or anything else. We should lend the money to the men who are already on the soil. They will be the ones to benefit by it. It is extraordinary what a little help can do for such people. Down to some 10 years ago the smallholders in the island of Orkney used to get 4d. a dozen for their eggs, which they sold to the local grocer—who paid them their 4d. in groceries. He used to allow the eggs to accumulate until a dealer came round. The dealer paid the grocer the wholesale price for eggs, and, in his turn, kept them for a spell until he had a sufficient number to make up a shipment to send to Glasgow. They were at least a month old when they reached Glasgow; they were almost the equivalent of the Chinese eggs. A Glasgow man who chanced to go to the island was so disgusted by this procedure that he got the smallholders to form a small club or co-operative society. Their eggs are now gathered daily by a Ford van, and sent to market.
The result of this enterprise is that from 1925 down to last year the smallholders were making 1s. 6d. a dozen for their eggs, instead of 4d. That scheme brought £40,000 of new money to the island, and the people have taken to the production of eggs as a real industry. It is schemes of that kind which are required in the country districts, and as long as they are voluntary and not compulsory they will be successful. The 2469 Minister can rely on the extraordinary integrity and honesty of the poor people of the agricultural classes; he can have perfect confidence that he will lose nothing by trusting them; and at the same time he will do a great deal to promote the welfare and comfort of the people of the countryside.
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS
When I heard the Minister start to express his views upon this Bill I was hopeful that those of us who, in the Committees upon various Bills, have been trying to impress economy upon him had at last been successful; but when his speech developed a little I discovered that what he was really concerned about was that the promoters of the Bill know only how to spend public money by the scores of thousands, while he can throw it away by millions. I would like to point out that there is one really good thing in this Bill in addition to its intentions. The ideals and the fundamental principles of the Bill are excellent, but, unfortunately, good intentions are not all that is necessary to make an Act of Parliament. The best thing in the whole Bill—as I am sure the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) will agree with me, if he thinks as an Englishman for a moment and not as a Scottish member—is that it is not to apply to Scotland. It will be one of the few instances I know of in which we shall have Scottish money helping us in England to pay some subsidy—for this is a subsidy of a kind—instead of the money of England going to Scotland, That is one of the sound things which should be left in the Bill. The hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) will agree with me, I am sure, that the English spend money quite well, whereas Scotsmen would certainly waste it. The Scottish people are not so very thrifty. I felt certain when he was talking that it was the people of the English country side whom he had in his mind, and not the Scottish people, because, although the latter are all right, they are not up to the English. One or two points in the Bill puzzle me, and perhaps its supporters will explain them. The first and second Clauses of the Bill start on the basis of six electors being sufficient to initiate one of these schemes.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
We are talking in a Parliamentary sense. It is six Parliamentary electors, to be absolutely accurate. It is nice to see a Socialist accurate on one occasion. And six Parliamentary electors can start a scheme, and if it is not forwarded by the parish council it goes to the county council. What happens in the county council? It is quite conceivable that many county councils might refuse to operate the scheme, and I want to know what happens in such circumstances. Another thing I would like to know is why the limit of area has been put at three parishes. There may be a very good reason for that. I can see that you cannot run these clubs and keep in personal touch with the Members if you have too wide an area, but I cannot see why three parishes should be the definite area to start with. I am willing to accept that as a basis, if necessary, but we ought to have a more clear expression of views upon that point. There is another point I wish to raise, and, in regard to this matter, I join in what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire, that, if this Bill is going to be passed, it should not be limited to agricultural labourers. There are large numbers of our rural agricultural population who might benefit by this Bill, such as road men and even men of the type of rural policemen who live in the villages might be brought in. I am afraid that under this Bill the men living in fishing villages would be excluded. At any rate, I think there is a case for a considerable extension in this direction. Another point I have not been able to understand arises in connection with Clause 8 which lays down the conditions for the repayment of loans. The concluding lines of clause 8 read:together with such interest thereon as shall be sufficient, in the opinion of the Treasury, to prevent any loss to the State.I think it would be interesting to know what particular rate of interest would, in the opinion of the Treasury, be sufficient to secure the repayment of the loans and to prevent any loss to the State. That seems to me to be a novel proposal in Treasury proceedings, and, if it is a good system, it ought to be developed and extended. If under this Bill a new scheme for loans is being established, I think it ought to be ventilated. It is conceivable that by some adjustment of 2471 interest which the Treasury has in mind the Government might be able to get the money back quickly. Another point upon which requires a little more enlightenment is contained in Clause 5 which deals with provisions as to loans. That Clause provides that:A member to whom a loan is granted by the club in response to his application shall be taken to have agreed to buy and shall buy.I am not certain what means there are of dealing with losses which may be incurred by these clubs. I do not think that that part of the Bill is at all adequate to deal with the position, and I am afraid it will not be workable in practice. Another minor criticism which I wish to make is in connection with Clause 11 which is the definition Clause and deals with the live stock which comes under the Bill. I think it is a pity that sheep are not included in the definition of "live stock." In certain districts it might be possible for a man living on the borders of the prescribed area to keep a few sheep. It is possible that this suggestion is capable of successful development, and that for that reason I think it would be better if sheep were included in the definition.
The most important Clause of the Bill is Clause 6, which deals with advances. There you have the financial provisions of the Bill, which start off with a sum not exceeding £50,000 in each year for ten years. There is a point arising under Sub-section (2) of Clause 6 which I cannot understand. In that Sub-section it is provided thatOut of the sum provided by Parliament under this section an amount not exceeding £2,000 may be advanced by the Treasury in any one year to any one county council for the purposes of loans under this Act.I do not know how this Clause would operate in the second year with county councils who did not take up the loans in the first year. Would they be eliminated? That is a point which ought to be dealt with. There is another point. County councils already have far too much work to carry out, and this Measure would add—swelling not very much it is true—something to their work. The provisions of Clause 7 are rather vague and indefinite, and it is not quite clear from what source the administrative fund provided by the Measure will come. 2472 One provision under this Bill which I welcome is that the administration will be conducted by the people on the spot. While I welcome that provision, I think it is bad that there is not more adequate Treasury control over the money. My hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading of this Bill is making a very real effort to wash out one of the worst classes of middleman—I mean the whole series of civil servants from top to bottom. At the same time I cannot agree that there is adequate Treasury control in this Measure.
The Bill is well-intentioned, and personally I would like to see many more people throughout the country keeping more live stock, if that were practicable. I would like to see some of the money which is now being wasted so lavishly in other directions used to promote objects of this sort. I do not think I can possibly vote for a Bill which advocates a very large increased amount of national expenditure at a time when we are so severely warned of the need of economy by every party except the Liberal party. If this Measure comes to a Vote, I shall be very reluctant to vote against my hon. Friend, but on the whole I do not think it would he advisable to pass a Bill which would add considerably to our national expenditure.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.