§ Again considered in Committee.
§ [Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]
§ Question again proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,195,918, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1933, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants and grants-in-aid in respect of agricultural education and research, eradication of diseases of animals, and fishery research; and grants, grants-in-aid, loans, and expenses in respect of improvement of breeding, etc., of livestock; land settlement, cultivation, improvement, drainage, etc.; regulation of agricultural wages; agricultural credits, co-operation and marketing; fishery development; and sundry other Services.
§ 4.30 p.m.
Prior to that interlude I was saying that, during that lucid review, one thing that struck me very forcibly was that, while claiming credit for a good many economies, here there and everywhere, there was no indication of 600 any coherent policy for this very disturbed and badly affected industry. It is true that the Horticultural and Agricultural Emergency Imports Duties Act was referred to and other bits and pieces. The Greengrocery and Rose Trees Orders may or may not produce results, but, at all events, £164,000 has been forthcoming, and to that extent it has helped the Revenue, whether it helps our horticulturists or not. I should have liked the right hon. Gentleman to go one step further and indicate in what part of Great Britain more fruit trees have been planted or are being planted and what sections of the agricultural community are making ready to take advantage of these Orders by expanding what is, after all, a most productive side of agriculture and horticulture. So much for the Greengrocery and Rose Trees Orders, which we do not think in themselves are going to be of any real value unless, and until, co-operation is either voluntarily undertaken or superimposed by the present or some future Minister of Agriculture.
It is true that, following that Act, we have the Wheat Bill. The right hon. Gentleman was for a long time floundering between the millers, farmers and bakers and ultimately a Wheat Bill emerged, but we shall have to wait quite a long time before we see the results of that Measure. I should like to ask what their Lordships in another place are likely to do with that Bill. I know there was a date fixed for its passing, and in all probability it will be passed by that date, but, in view of all the anticipations and expectations and prophecies and all the machinery that the right hon. Gentleman has to set up—I understand nothing can be done publicly until the Bill is actually passed—does he still think, notwithstanding the delay because of the complex machinery in another place, he is still working well within the Schedule prescribed in the Bill? Perhaps he will tell us whether or not they were really serious when they were negotiating the Bill through the House or whether by some curious mischance they merely allowed the farmers to believe that the Wheat Bill will become an Act and they are not really concerned about it in view of what their Lordships are doing now. However, one thing has emerged from his state- 601 ment, namely, that, while a casual reference was made to organised marketing, the right hon. Gentleman rather seems to discourage than to encourage all elements in the industry co-operating by hinting to them that, while this Government has applied Protection to a considerable proportion of agricultural produce, and is making certain arrangements to do other things with regard to agricultural products, unless and until the farmers settle down definitely and with seriousness to apply the Agricultural Marketing Bill, the Government ought to hint to farmers that neither will they extend nor expand Protection nor any of those things calculated to provide fair prices.
We regard the dropping of the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act instead of being, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, an economy which ought to be admired and for which we ought to be grateful, as most wasteful extravagance. After all, wise expenditure not infrequently proves to be the best and soundest economy. As the Lord President said in a speech very early this morning, we are living in a new world and conditions are totally different from what they were yesterday. It seems to me that it is quite a right thing for the State to assist by experimentation and to proceed to develop the idea of smallholdings on a co-operative basis. I should like to ask a question or two with regard to the Land Utilisation Act, which has not been applied in any particular since the Government took office. Do we understand that the idea of a big commercial industrialised farm for demonstration purposes on the question of wheat production is completely cut out of the Government's programme? Are we not to expect that in some form the nation can be guided as to what its future ought to be with regard to its introduction in this country?
Smallholdings have been near and dear to the hearts of the Lord President and to the Minister and to many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite for a long time. Now the right hon. Gentleman claims credit for having cut down the expenditure on smallholdings, instead of expanding them in order to increase our agricultural population. I rather think the Government lays itself open not only to very definite condemna- 602 tion but to severe protests from all decent thinking politicians for their attitude towards allotments and the unemployed. In a short space of time the late Government at least made it possible for 64,000 unemployed persons to cultivate allotments during the time when they were disengaged and had nothing to occupy their time and, to a large extent, it not only preserved their muscular development but prevented them from doing things which would have been much less useful than producing food. With regard to smallholdings, I remember the Chancellor of the Exchequer writing a foreword to a book dealing with agricultural questions, and he said:We should encourage the increase of smallholdings on sound and careful lines.The Lord President said on one occasion:We shall promote the provision of small and cottage holdings by affording facilities for occupation and ownership, and we will encourage the allotment movement.While those right hon. Gentlemen tell us that it is part and parcel of the Conservative policy, the Minister to-day claims credit for having reduced expenditure upon smallholdings. It may be true that economy has to be practised in various forms, but the placing of people on the land in all probability will be a sound investment and not a waste of money, and the alleged economy is really extravagance, since the person who would have been employed on the land will be receiving unemployment benefit. Wherever smallholdings have been set up, the population invariably doubles, and the number of people engaged in producing food in some form or other is doubled, too. The right hon. Gentleman said the number of people employed in agriculture was 7 per cent. of the total engaged population. That is a very small proportion. We employ 2 per cent. of our population upon the land, and it seems to me that, after 100 years of Liberal and Conservative administration, single and joint, it is a. very grave reflection upon their capacity to deal with agriculture that our rural population should have been reduced to such small proportions. [An HON. MEMBER: "Free Trade"] Whatever the hon. Member, who is so fond of interjecting but seldom makes a speech, 603 may say, the facts of the situation are as we find them at the moment.
Agriculture is more depressed to-day than at any period during the last 70 or 80 years. There is nothing for the hon. Member to boast about with regard to that position. Wherever smallholdings have been set up, where any semblance of co-operation has been adopted, it has been proved that they can be made to pay. I do not want to see a man and his wife, his son and his daughter, his horse, his dog, and his cat all working from morning to night to eke out a miserable existence. I think, however, that with well-planned, well-designed smallholdings, worked on co-operative lines, there is still a future for agriculture in this country, and I suggest that while we can produce £8 worth of wheat from an acre of soil and £93 worth of cauliflower, or £59 worth of cabbages, there is ample room for contraction on one side and development on the other, although I recognise that such development would have to be done with the utmost caution.
Now that the right hon. Gentleman says that nothing is being done under the Agriculture Land (Utilisation) Act, have the Ministry any co-ordinated plan for agriculture, after having looked over the whole field—the arable section, the stock-raising section, the vegetable section—and have they made up their minds as to how best to ultilise it? The objects and policy so far practised and promised are contrary to the ideas of the Lord President of the Council, who, I recall, referring to agriculture on one important occasion, said:The agricultural industry wanted fixity. They did not want interference, and they did not want legislative chopping and changing. They wanted to know where they were and to get about their business.I entirely agree, but this chopping and changing that we are seeing, with an Import Duties Bill for this commodity, a quota scheme for that commodity, a Commission for some other commodity, and the hope that somebody may do something for still some other commodity, is a lack of that fixity desired by the right hon. Gentleman, and we fear that this encouragement which the Government are giving to agriculturists, horti- 604 culturists, fruit-growers, and the rest, that the thing they are likely to get all along the line is Protection, is a faulty method to pursue, will be costly to the nation, and will probably be disastrous to the industry that, I know, the right hon. Gentleman is anxious to assist.
We have already an indication as to what fruit-growers and all the rest are likely to do. The right hon. Gentleman believes in his heart of hearts that the Agricultural Marketing Act holds out great hopes for the farmers, but after all this time during which the Act has been on the Statute Book, we have had two indications of the possibility of marketing schemes being produced. The hop-growers, after having tried to succeed by all manner of means, and having failed because of their own miserable colleagues letting them down, are now suggesting a marketing scheme for hops, and that is all to the good. The other scheme is that of the Scottish growers of raspberries, and the Noble Lady representing one of the Scottish Divisions gloated over the fact that Scotland was showing the way. I believe that that was the case at the time when that speech was made, but now the right hon. Gentleman tells us, in reply to a question, that the raspberry growers in Scotland, having got Protection in some form and feeling that Protection in some other form is a possibility, are now withdrawing or refusing to support the marketing scheme for raspberries.
I suggest that if we take an example from what other countries have shown with regard to Protection being the only solution to all their problems, we shall see that it is not only not a good solution, but that it works out disastrously to the producers of food. I took this cutting from the "Nation," an American newspaper, of the 20th April, 1932;Twenty-five per cent. of all privately-owned property in the State of Mississippi was under sale for taxes on 4th April; 39,699 farms, or 16.2 per cent. of the agricultural acreage of the State, went on the auction block that day, while 12 per cent. of the city property was forfeited for nonpayment of 1931 taxes.Here is a country where they have Protection par excellence, but notwithstanding that policy, agriculturists and the rest have been brought to their ruin; and we are apprehensive that if we persist in misleading the people of this country 605 into the belief that all that they require is Protection and that marketing may be ignored and neglected, then I think we are doing an ill turn to the producers of food.
I noticed in one paper this morning some reference to a secret possibility with regard to imported beef. May I recall what was said by the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) on that subject? Whatever one may think about his policy, one always appreciates that he knows something about the agricultural industry, and, referring to the question of beef in a Debate on the 15th February in this House, the Noble Lord said:The degree to which organisation can help the beef and mutton producer is more marked even than it is in other branches. One has only to go to any cattle market in the country to see that if there are 10 beasts more than the dealers require that day, the prices are bad all round, while, if there are three beasts fewer than the requirement, there are good prices all round. A system of organisation, feeding our markets with the numbers required and not putting farmers to the unnecessary expense of driving beasts to market in excess of the demand, would at once put thousands of pounds into the pockets of the farmers of the country.We entirely agree with the Noble Lord. It is the slipshod method of meeting the demands of the market that places the farmer at a disadvantage on every occasion. The Noble Lord also made this very significant observation, which is equally true:The first thing that the industrialist of the North does when he has the money is to buy British meat. He is the best customer that our livestock farmers have."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1932; cols. 1363–4, Vol. 261.]I can vouch for the accuracy of that statement. I know of few miners' wives who would go to the butcher's shop and ask for Argentine or any other frozen or chilled meat if they had sufficient money to purchase English beef or mutton. Therefore, if the agriculturists would see the wisdom of utilising the Agricultural Marketing Act, and the right hon. Gentleman would do all that he can to influence them and to threaten to superimpose it as an obligation upon the farmers instead of waiting for them to do what they have not done for 50 or 70 years, and what they will not do for another 20 years, then I think there 606 might be something in the policy pursued by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to other phases of this industry.
I may be told by the Government that after all they are setting up a Milk Commission and a Bacon Products Commission, but what is the right hon. Gentleman doing with regard to those two commissions? I do not want to suggest that he is packing the commissions, but having looked over their membership and at the language of the terms of reference, I think the commissions are vitiated at the very commencement and that production is primary, while organisation is secondary, with regard to both commissions. The Milk Commission is being set up for certain well-known purposes. The chairman of it may have been a good soldier and a good editor of a newspaper, and I understand that he was a National Liberal politician, though I should not imagine that he knows much about milk and milk products. Then they have a professional, who will know his job. The third member is a Conservative ex-Member of Parliament, whose mind, of course, is fully made up in advance; and then they have a chartered accountant, and another milk expert, who is a civil, mechanical, and electrical engineer and a director of five companies, ranging from cement to light castings in the electrical trade.
It seems to me that such a commission as that is so packed with people whose fiscal predilections are previously settled that dairy products will not be considered as they ought to be considered, while milk in its liquid form may be the only thing dealt with. We must not forget that while we produce £59,000,000 or £60,000,000 worth of milk in this country, we only import £6,000,000 of liquid milk in diverse forms, but while we produce about £6,000,000 of milk products, we import £60,000,000 of milk products. It seems to me that if you had a really impartial commission, who would pay much more attention to the use of milk, looking after surplus milk and avoiding the tremendous falls in prices which knock the dairy farmer off very rapidly, you would serve the farmer, you would not injure the consumer, and business generally would be better as a result.
607 Whom has the right hon. Gentleman chosen to deal with pig products? There is another impartial commission, of which the chairman is a Conservative politician who has been a well-known and industrious Member of this House for a number of years—Colonel Lane Fox—but he is a Conservative politician and a well-known Protectionist. Then there are a chartered accountant, a director of a steamship company, and a large land-owner who owns 8,000 acres of land and is a director of nine companies, ranging from paper-making to managing the Great Western Railway. The fifth member has been a Conservative candidate for Parliament twice and is also a director of a company. Does the right hon. Gentleman really expect us to 'believe that these commissions are impartial, that their mind is not made up before they commence, that the primary thing they will consider will be the regulation of imports and not the marketing of home-grown, home produced articles? I recall that the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot, when talking about the Import Duties Advisory Committee, said to the President of the Board of Trade or the Chancellor of the Exchequer in quite blunt, honest, frank language:I hope that the chairman will not be a judge who will look at the thing from a judicial point of view … but will be a statesman of wide experience who believes in the principles on which the Government's policy is based. I would like to see someone like the right hon. Member for "West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) … a believer in the policy, and one who means to carry it out thoroughly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1932; col. 1362, Vol. 261.]Whether Sir George May and his two colleagues are the disciples of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), I do not know, but I am convinced that the constitution of these two commissions is vitiated, first of all, by their terms of reference and, secondly, by their membership, because production will be primary in their consideration, while marketing and organisation will be secondary. I lament the fact that the right hon. Gentleman should allow himself to be pressed into adopting this method and this policy, which will react ultimately to the disadvantage of agriculture.
608 5.0 p.m.
A word or two with regard to tied cottages. I know that there is an Act enabling the Government to erect 40,000 houses and to rent them to poor people, but has the right hon. Gentleman during the past six or seven months, when thinking about gooseberries and tomatoes, had a moment to spare to consider the question of tied cottages as they affect the agricultural labourer in this country? We know from past experience that it is the easiest thing in the world to get rid of an agricultural labourer, without providing any alternative accommodation, by the simple process of applying to the county agricultural committee for a certificate. If these county agricultural committees are dominated by farmers, certificates are granted wholesale, and the poor agricultural labourer has to leave. No alternative accommodation is provided for him, and he becomes a victim of the unscrupulous farmer. I do not refer to the decent fanner, and, of course, there are as many decent farmers as there are decent politicians, even Members of the Labour party. It is the other fellow who has to be guarded against. We see no final or lasting solution to the horror of tied houses until more houses are erected in rural districts. I would like to know what the right hon. Gentleman is doing to see that a move is made by those responsible for building houses. Rural councils are invariably dominated by farmers who want to preserve their power over the labourer. They do not want to untie the tied cottage, and, if left to their own volition, little or nothing will be done in the provision of alternative accommodation for agricultural workers.
The Minister gave the Committee today figures of the cost of foot-and-mouth disease for last year. I think he said that £92,000 had been spent on combating that disease. I remember that in 1923 the cost for that same disease exceeded £3,000,000, and it is fair to assume that, as a result of research and of the efforts of his very efficient Departmental officials, the cost of the tragic disease has been considerably reduced over a period of seven or eight years. I regret that one single penny-piece should have been withdrawn from research which deals with the colossal waste of cattle and stock due to this disease, which affects not only 609 cattle but root crops and the rest. This economy on agricultural education is the most wasteful form of extravagance. What we are saving in education and research we shall spend ten times over, probably, by loss of stock and in other ways. The stand-still Order is tragic, and the right hon. Gentleman ought not to claim credit for having cut down these education services for the training of our people in agricultural ideas.
The right hon. Gentleman made some reference to the Agricultural Research Council. I recall that Dr. Addison worked out a scheme for an Agricultural Research Council. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what that council are doing at the moment? Our information is that, although the scheme was worked out before the National Government took office, it has come to a standstill and that practically nothing is being done. What about the reconstruction of the veterinary college which has been clamoured for for years, as the right hon. Gentleman knows? Dr. Addison had arranged for it before he left office. Are we to understand that that has fallen also with the economies of the right hon. Gentleman? If so, I lament the fact, and I think that agriculturists who have demanded this improvement for so many years will regret the action of the right hon. Gentleman. I want to know what has happened to the recommendations of the committee on grants provided for by the Noble Lord who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. The committee was an important one, and its recommendations were equally important.
Referring to drainage, the right hon. Gentleman patted himself on the back because he had reduced expenditure from £340,000 to £70,000. If he could have been at a place called Bentley, some two and a-half miles from Doncaster, four or five months ago, and seen a thousand men, women and children who were driven out of their homes and who had to live for week in elementary schools, because their houses were not habitable, he would not pat himself on the back for having reduced expenditure on drainage. Agriculturists in this House express pleasure and delight when any Minister of Agriculture cuts down money which has been set aside for drainage. There must be hundreds of thousands of 610 acres of good land in this country that are derelict for want of drainage. Although the cost is very large, it is cheaper to employ people to drain the land than it is to pay them unemployment benefit for doing nothing. If the right hon. Gentleman's policy of protection or quantitative imports is going to succeed, then the more valuable agricultural land is the better it is for production.
The right hon. Gentleman made a reference to the administration of the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, 1924. I do not know where he secured his information, but he told us that those who suggested that the Department were not looking after the labourers were not speaking in accordance with the facts. He replied to a question put by myself only yesterday. I asked him how many individual visits have been made to farms for the first three months of 1931 and for the first three months of 1932. The Patronage Secretary heard the statement, and will, I am sure, be interested in the figures, which were as follow: The number of individual visits in 1931 was 1,057, and 549 of the farms visited were evading the law; that is, over 50 per cent. of the farms visited were evading the law, and they do it with impunity. I will show that it is a jolly good business to evade the law. In 1932 the number of individual visits had fallen to 655, only 60 per cent. of the individual visits paid in 1931.
The right hon. Gentleman tells us that he is not neglecting the administration of the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, but clearly the dismissal of six inspectors, who probably cost the nation £1,600 per annum, is. now costing agricultural labourers, who are not being paid according to law, several thousands of pounds per annum in wages which they ought to be receiving. Whether agriculture is being made to pay or not as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's lack of administration and unsound economy, the agricultural labourer is being called upon to make farming pay by sacrificing wages which he is entitled to receive. In Suffolk and in one or two other counties, the wage fixed is 28s. per week. Even this miserable wage is not being paid by a large number of farmers. Of the number of persons visited over a period of time by inspectors from the 611 Ministry, no less than 23 per cent. were evading the law. There are about half-a-million agricultural labourers, so that about 100,000 agricultural workers are not being paid according to the law. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may smile, but the facts of the situation came from the Ministry of Agriculture. They are not figures that I have produced in a dream or imagined, or anticipated like the Minister has to anticipate so many things.
§ Viscount LYMINGTON
Surely the hon. Member realises that the inspectors only pay visits when there are complaints.
The Noble Viscount will recollect that that is our complaint. The number of visits made between 1925 and 1930 were 11,741, and 23 per cent. of the people visited were evading the law. We suggest that it ought not to be left for myself, or the Noble Lord, or the Agricultural Workers' Union, or some other union, to have to write to the Ministry of Agriculture in order to intimate that some farm is evading the law. The inspectors ought to be sufficient to make the drives that they were making in 1930 and 1931 so that farmers would appreciate that they must comply with the law like everybody else. We suggest that 100,000 agricultural labourers are not being paid that which they are entitled to receive.
I think I can show that it is a paying proposition not to pay. In almost every case when the inspector is notified of the evasion and he makes a visit, he takes the case to court. What is the invariable result? The farmer has to pay the arrears but the fine is infinitesimal. Let me give the Noble Lord an example, in which three persons were involved in three cases from Ashford, Derbyshire. The arrears of wages were £155. The case went to court, and the labourers were paid the £155, but the fines inflicted upon those employers totalled £3 10s. Who would not take a chance to save £155 for not more than a nominal fine of £3 10s.? The benches, dominated by farmers, keep the fines down to a point where it pays a farmer to evade the law. Apart altogether from appealing to farmers who evade the law to pay their arrears when proceedings are instituted, the right hon. Gentleman ought to insist that his inspectors press that fines com- 612 mensurate with the crime shall be inflicted upon such farmers. A poor miner in my Division a few days ago was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment for having stolen a bit of coal worth 6d. to warm his starving children. Compared with that, the fines inflicted upon the farmers will not bear looking at. The right, hon. Gentleman has a duty to those workpeople, and he ought to reinstate the dismissed inspectors and see that the law is carried out, particularly since the nation is called upon to pay higher prices for such things as milk, bacon, gooseberries and rose trees. We are inclined, broadly, to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman's general policy, and we feel that it is not going to have the desired result.
I wish to mention a matter which, though it may seem very small, in its way is highly important. I refer to the question of bee-keeping. The bee-keeping industry has been attacked for many years by a deadly disease known as the acarine disease. Fortunately, a station master has been successful in producing a remedy for it, and he has been complimented by bee-keepers in all parts of the world. Bee-keepers in Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and elsewhere have sent him most glowing testimonials, and have conferred upon him the highest honour in a European, and indeed, almost in an international sense for the marvellous discovery of a cure for acarine disease. He gave the cure to the world at large without receiving a single penny piece for all his trouble. When I quote from a letter of an expert, hon. Members will realise the value of the discovery. Captain Dixon Johnson says:He (Mr. Frow) has immensely benefited not only bee-keepers but the community as a whole. For by finding a remedy for the acarine scourge he has made it possible to produce more honey and import less. The home production of honey which the Frow remedy has given to the bee-keeping industry will progressively increase, with a proportionate decrease in the importation. Money which would otherwise have left the country will now remain at home. Mr. Frow has put new heart into one of the oldest industries, and indirectly has saved the country thousands of pounds which would otherwise have gone abroad to purchase honey for our home consumption.That is but one letter out of 50 letters from which I could quote. I know that money is scarce, because the right hon. Gentleman has economised on education 613 and research, but since Mr. Frow has spent many years of his life and a good deal of his hard-earned wages in experimenting, and ultimately producing a cure for this deadly disease, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that his Department, after all other European nations have conferred the highest award upon Mr. Frow, ought to do something even bigger? They ought to provide him with an opportunity of continuing his experiments, so that he may further serve the interests of bee-keepers in this country. If the Department would do that, I am convinced that he would earn his salary and prove a useful adjunct to the work of the agricultural colleges and materially assist one of the oldest industries in the country.
The stand-still policy of the Government in a broad sense in regard to educational research is in our opinion the worst form of economy. There has been neglect of the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act through political folly and spite, and their attitude towards co-operation and organised marketing will ultimately react disastrously upon the agricultural community. We recognise that agriculture is a many-sided industry and that it must be attacked from many angles. We are convinced that nothing short of a concerted plan will ultimately restore agriculture to prosperity in this country.
Mr. J. P. THOMAS
Since I became a Member of the House, I have been filled with admiration for the versatility of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). He deals with so many and such complex subjects, but I am sure, in spite of that, he is human enough not to have forgotten the agony which he must have suffered in making his own maiden speech. I hope he will forgive me if, in making my maiden speech, I do not attempt to reply in detail to all the arguments he has put before the Committee. He has, however, mentioned the Horticultural Products Act, which, when the Measure was before the House, was described by hon. Members of the Opposition as the puny child of a great National Government. And by referring to it as an Act of "bits and pieces," the hon. Member for Don Valley can hardly be said to have praised it this afternoon.
The Minister of Agriculture, when he brought the Measure before the House, 614 claimed that the Act was a small but a very practical step towards encouraging our people to produce for themselves the ordinary foods of everyday life. I can assure the Minister that in my constituency, which forms the western boundary of that great fruit-growing and market-gardening area, the Vale of Evesham, the Act is exerting already—and will continue to exert more as the months go by—a very steadying influence on our trade, and it is giving new encouragement to those men, about whom I am glad to hear the hon. Gentlemen of the Opposition are so much concerned—the hard-working but highly competent band of smallholders who see in this Act a chance at last of making their livelihood once more on the land. If the hon. Member for Don Valley can spare the time to come for a week-end in my constituency, I think I can show him sufficient proof that because of the benefits which they expect to materialise under the Act, fresh acres are to-day being put down as market gardens. He would find there the answer to the question which he asked last autumn, when he enquired how the Horticultural Products Act was going to benefit the agricultural worker. I should be able to show him that we are doing what his party never did; we are finding new work for the unemployed. In every 100 acres of market gardens there will be employed, not one man as on grassland, not four men as on arable land, but as many as 16 workers, and that fact, surely, goes to show that to encourage market gardening is the quickest and surest way of bringing back our unemployed to the land. All the steps which my right hon. Friend has taken towards helping this industry have been steps in the right direction and we very fully appreciate them.
But there is a natural desire to know, when the horticultural duties are due to lapse, how many of them the present Government will be prepared to continue. For with a certainty that the duties will continue, market gardeners will do much during the next few months to ensure that we grow less and less dependent on foreign produce and more capable of supplying the demands of our people for fruit and for vegetables. I hope that we may look to the Minister for an early statement, because the knowledge that those duties will be a permanent policy 615 is bound to bring immense relief to all who earn their living in this trade. The control of luxury imports which that Act provides has been part of the policy which we in the agricultural areas of the West Midlands have been preaching ever since the autumn of 1930. I have read very carefully the Debates upon the Measure, but I have failed to find in any of them a tribute to the originator of the scheme. I feel that it is not yet too late to pay our debt of gratitude to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the late Chief Whip of the Conservative party who in November, 1930, on one of those rare occasions when he broke covert and gave tongue in this House, laid this very admirable scheme before it. The greatest reward that the present First Lord of the Admiralty, the right hon. and gallant Member for Evesham (Sir B. Eyres Monsell), can receive is the assurance which, I think, the Lord President of the Council, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison) and myself can give him, that there is at least one corner of this country where Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire meet in the shadow of the Malvern Hills where there is new hope and confidence for the future of the market gardening industry, which is going very far towards wiping out the dark patches of the last few years.
I wish I could speak with the same optimism about another great branch of agriculture in which I am specially interested, for I think I can claim, with my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson), that we represent one of the biggest stock-raising counties of this island. We are prepared to admit that until three years ago stock-raising farmers were not in nearly so parlous a state as farmers engaged in other branches of the industry. But during the last three years, with the fall of wholesale prices, the position has been growing more and more desperate, and it is small wonder that we who have to watch that constant stream of agricultural workers, dismissed their jobs on livestock farms, migrating to the towns and to the Poor Law institutions, can only feel disheartened when the livestock industry still awaits the help which has been so 616 generously given by the present Government to the other branches of agriculture. We do not grudge the fact that protection has been given to the great basic manufacturing industries, for, like the hon. Member for Don Valley, we can look sufficiently far ahead to realise that, once those manufacturing industries are put upon their feet again and good wages go into the pockets of the workers, no man will benefit more quickly than will the livestock farmer. We do not grudge the help given to the growers of wheat, though some of us cannot help wondering at times why it is that there is so much talk in this House about wheat which, after all, is only 4.3 per cent. of the total agricultural produce of this country, while the fact that our land and climate are very nearly ideal for grassland is hardly ever mentioned. Those of us who know the live stock farmer have, I think, been feeling during the last few years that for too long the wrong leading lady has been holding the centre of the agricultural stage, and that the burst of eloquence with which she was hailed in the Quota Bill by the chorus—both male and female—in this House had the result of banishing her rightful successor to the wings. When that particular star has been removed elsewhere, perhaps I may produce her rival and bring her forward from the wings into the centre of the stage.
Already we have two reorganisation committees set up by the Minister, and after the most imposing array of their talents produced by the hon. Member for Don Valley, I, for one, can say that it has given me the utmost confidence that the livestock farmer will be helped in time to come. I know that under the rules of this Debate it is impossible for me to make suggestions which call for new legislation, but I feel that there is nothing contrary to the rules of this Committee if I ask right hon. Members and hon. Members to look back—I hope regretfully—to what I can only call a "might-have-been." How satisfactory it would have been if, while we waited for the recommendations of the committees, we had had some temporary control of foreign imports of pig products, limiting them perhaps to the average import figures, say, of the years 1927 to 1929, when nobody complained that the price of bacon was too high. 617 What an expansion there might have been in the home industry. It might have prevented the unfortunate and very shortsighted decision of slaughtering our breeding sows, because the livestock farmer has no confidence in the future. If only we had won the battle to bring meat under a 10 per cent. tariff! Although I admit that this would be too small to be of any real benefit to the livestock industry, we cannot lose sight of the fact that it would have brought a revenue of nearly £8,000,000 a year to the Exchequer, and there would have been no need for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say last week that there was no new source of revenue to which he could turn to enable him to remit the extra penny on beer.
But we must abandon the "might-have-been" and face the facts of the present situation. I wonder, with the greatest respect, if we are justified in coming to the conclusion that the livestock industry would have been more prosperous had it not been that tradition dies hard, and that the very conservatism of our Liberal friends is having a retarding influence on the more liberal policy of the Conservatives. If Liberal Members of the Government have any fear that the livestock farmers would look upon Government assistance as a substitute for efficiency, I would ask them to turn to the breed societies of Great Britain. These societies have had little or no help from Governments in years past, and they deserve to-day a special word of commendation for having, purely by their own voluntary efforts, and by their intelligent foresight, built up those wonderful breeds of cattle, pigs and sheep which have not only raised the standard of stock in this country but have gone far to populate the great stock-raising countries of our Empire. I can assure the Liberal Members that that is the spirit which will be found in all branches of the livestock industry.
I hope that in my maiden speech I have not been over-critical, for, apart from the livestock question, our farmers have every reason to be grateful for the help that has been given to them by the present Government. All those who are fair-minded must realise that the present Minister of Agriculture with great courage and infinite tact has done more 618 for British agriculture in the last six months than any of his predecessors have done in six years. Of all his successes, surely his greatest is this, that he has at last instilled into our farmers the will to organise. The machinery was there before, but it was unemployed. It is my right hon. Friend who has set the works in motion, and that has gone a very long way to help agriculture in these difficult times to climb back to its rightful place, which is the first and the most important of the industries of this country.
§ Viscount LYMINGTON
I should like to offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) on his maiden speech. I hope that he will not stay too long or too often in the shade of his Malvern Hills, but that he will come to this House and make many more speeches, for he has shown that he already possesses the native shrewdness and native wit of his namesake and master. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) made a statement or a deduction which should not go unchallenged. He said that out of the inspections made by the inspectors of the Ministry into the administration of the payment of agricultural wages under the Minimum Wage Acts, 23 per cent. on the average of those inspections had shown that there were less wages being paid than should legally have been paid. I have always, as far as lay in my power, fought the battle of the agricultural labourer as sincerely and as wholeheartedly as the hon. Member, and where a penalty is deserved no one would like to see it more drastically employed. To deduce from the fact that out of that small number of inspections 23 per cent. of the cases proved to be underpaid, and that therefore 100,000, or one-fifth of the whole agricultural labouring population, is being underpaid, is a very grave statement and casts a stigma upon the industry.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I said that on the basis of the figures obtained after test inspections over a period, 23 per cent. were found to be evading the law, and I said that if we had 500,000 agricultural workers it is possible on that basis for 100,000 workers not to be receiving the wages to which they are entitled. That may or may not be the 619 case, and I am not going to argue that 100,000 are not being paid the proper wage.
§ Viscount LYM1NGT0N
If that was the hon. Member's meaning, it has left an impression which ought to be corrected, for the sake of the farmers in this country. If one reads an account of cases of young ladies at a seaside resort wearing indecorous clothing, and that 25 per cent. were held to be indecorously clad, one would not therefore say that one-fifth of the women of the country are indecorously clad.
Turning to the subject of the Vote, it is notable that for once the Minister has been able to stand at the Despatch Box and give an account of his year's work with a better heart and a realisation of having done more in the last few months for agriculture than has been done for a number of years. As he indicated, what he has not done has not been his fault. It is because of the limitations imposed upon him by various members of his own Cabinet. Whether they were rightly or wrongly imposed, one cannot argue here. The hon. Member for Don Valley said that the Commissions that have been set up to deal with agriculture are going to take the point of view of Protection and not an impartial view, and that the marketing system would not be brought out. Surely, we all know that it is impossible for any farmer to try to set up, in times of falling prices, his own marketing scheme until he has some chance of security in front of him. It is almost impossible to get the 350,000 farmers in this country to agree. We are told that because they cannot agree they are totally unfit to have any protection, while at the same time we find 800 mineowners are unable to agree and 46 nations at the League of Nations are unable to agree. Because 350,000 farmers, separated in all parts of the country, cannot agree, we are told that they are hopeless to be helped until they can agree among themselves.
The Minister has been forced to economise. For myself, although I might possibly feel a little grudging in regard to some economies, it is a bad thing when one is pinched oneself to have to ask that other people should be pinched also. I do not think we ought to grudge 620 the economies, difficult as they have been, but two or three things stand out as a result. The first is that the administrative expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture cannot be very much cut down, and they represent one-fifth of the whole expenditure. That is a very high overhead charge, but anyone who knows the work that they are doing at the Ministry knows that it is not an undue charge. It remains to be seen how we can deal with the money at our disposal with the greatest profit. It is very difficult to see how we can get results from research work by spreading it over a very wide area or on small things. At a time like this the results will not be applied, because for the next six or eight months, or possibly for the next two or three years, the agricultural position will not rapidly get better. Therefore, we ought to try to canalise the money that we spend, in order to produce two or three valuable results, rather than spread it over a large number of small things from which we shall not see much effect.
The first is machinery. The manufacturers in this country are backward in regard to agricultural machinery. Foreign machinery is not made for the English land. It is made to benefit the great virgin lands. The manufacturer here is not going to start extensively to spend money on research in regard to agricultural machinery until he finds that he is going to have some certainty of a future market. Therefore, if results are to take place it can only be through the Ministry's action in research itself. Anyone who considers the question of agricultural cultivation, harvesting and the drying of crops must realise that it will be of great advantage to agriculture generally and to livestock breeding if we develop research which will produce economic results in a short time, which will make us all the more fit to extend our protection and to meet any criticisms which hon. Members may level against us for not having our house in order.
The other side of research upon which money should be spent to the greatest possible extent is research into the wasteful diseases of animals. Few people realise that epizootic abortion among cattle produces far greater loss than any other disease. To a certain extent that disease has been combated, but the results are not really percolating to a suffi- 621 cient extent to get right through the country. At the same time it is very desirable that we should endeavour to stop the disease known as Johnes disease, which is rapidly and alarmingly increasing of late among dairy herds. The dairying industry, which is only a part, with its by-products, of the meat industry is the largest single industry in the country and Johnes disease is rapidly increasing dairy wastage. Very little is known about it. It is a disease which we must tackle. I am almost certain that the wastage from this disease is considerably more than the wastage from foot-and-mouth disease last year.
The serious point about this disease is that it is not notifiable. It does not require fresh legislation to make it notifiable, and I hope the Minister of Agriculture will consider doing so. Animals come into the market with this highly wasting disease in its early stages upon them, and farmers cannot judge whether the animals are affected, but they come into contact with other animals and go into other hands and so spread the disease. I have had letters from veterinary inspectors of the Government asking me if I could do anything to help them in this matter, because they have to notify far less serious diseases when, at the same time, they have to stand and watch animals with this disease upon them being sold in the markets, and are unable to condemn them. If we could get these two things in the way of research—research which would really bring some lasting economic benefit to the agricultural industry on the machinery side and research which would prevent the wasting of our flocks by disease, we should get real results and do something in the waiting period so that when agriculture is developed we shall be able to start immediately and go full speed ahead.
§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) on his excellent maiden speech. My experience has been the same as that of the hon. Member. I have just come from a gathering where the question of sugar-beet has been discussed. I sat next to one of the officials, and after speeches had been made throwing bouquets at the Government, he said that he felt in quite a different atmosphere altogether, and 622 did not know quite what to imagine. I told him that it was much too early to suffer from a swelled head because he had not yet heard the National Farmers' Union on the subject. It may be rather ungracious on my part to have any grievance at all, but I do sympathise in some respects with the National Farmers' Union. I congratulate the Government on the policy which they have put before the country. It is the right policy, but I want them also to realise that the principal branch of agriculture, the livestock industry, has had no help at all yet. It has been going through really bad times. The price of milk is lower than it has ever been, and the price of meat is also very low, and while other branches of the industry have had the advantage if some protection, nothing at all has been done for this important and vital branch, the livestock industry. Perhaps I ought not to say that because something has been done in the case of some milk products which have received a small protection. Sweetened condensed milk has the advantage of a 10 per cent. tariff, but sweetened skimmed milk is left without any protection at all, and we are importing about £2,000,000 worth into this country as compared with £500,000 worth of condensed milk, which gets help.
I want to ask one or two questions rather than make a speech, because this Debate is intended to deal with questions of administration and not with policy. I do not see anything in the Estimates for expenses for the representation of the agricultural industry at the Ottawa Conference. I have already drawn the attention of the Government to the vital importance of agriculture being fully represented at Ottawa. The Dominions want the agricultural market in this country. They will be anxious to make bargains, and unless our agricultural industry is strongly and well represented, great damage might be done at the Conference to our producers at home. I suggest that the Agricultural Council of England will be able to suggest suitable names. It is a body which ought to be more recognised and more used by the Government than it is at present. They do not represent one section of the industry, but all sections—landowners, farmers and labourers and rural industries.
623 I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has inaugurated the milk reorganisation scheme. It must be a long process, and no help can be expected before October next when the yearly prices for milk will have to be settled. In the meantime is it not possible by some arrangement to prevent the disaster which happened last year occurring again? On that occasion the milk producers were beaten down, and the price instead of being 1s. 4d. per gallon was 1s. They could not produce milk at that price, and they did not; and there was a shortage of milk. The result was that the foreigner imported more liquid milk in December and January than ever before. I understand that many of the retailers who endeavoured to knock down the producers of milk were hoist with their own petard, because they had to pay the foreigner more than they would have paid to the British producer. I hope such a disaster will not occur again, but until the whole milk industry is organised in all its branches there will be no real dealing with the matter. I hope we shall be able to have a scheme in operation before next September to give the milk producers in this country some protection for the next winter.
It is equally important—and I am glad that the Government are doing it—to have some re-organisation in the meat industry. If they can be properly organised and are able to put their case for a tariff before the Advisory Committee, then I hope that they will not forget one of their most important by-products, the hides of the animals which are slaughtered. There is a tremendous waste every year through the ravages of the warble fly, and I hope that by research work and advice, if necessary by compulsory order, stock farmers will be encouraged to put an end to this pest, which takes many hundreds of pounds out of farmers' pockets and out of the industry of tanning. There is an item in these estimates of £233,000 for a survey of Great Britain.
I thought it was part of the Estimates, I was going to ask if any money had been saved.
It has been suggested by one county council that economy should be effected by doing away with the county agricultural committees. I do not know whether the Minister has heard of this suggestion or not, but I hope that he will not consider it for a moment. I believe it comes from an important agricultural county in the North of England. We owe a great deal in the matter of education on agricultural subjects to these county committees, and although they may have been somewhat extravagant in some cases, they should on no account be scrapped.
§ Mr. CHARLES DUNCAN
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
The Minister of Agriculture gave us a very interesting story in his speech this afternoon, particularly in regard to the economies which have been effected. I desire to refer to the matter of His Majesty's Ship "Challenger." Hon. Members interested in agriculture have suggested various methods of research, and have said that the value of such research is immeasureably superior to the amount of money expended. Exactly the same case was made out when this matter was before the committee which investigated the fishing industry. We had before that committee the representatives of the British Trawlers Federation who pointed out that there were certain fishing grounds off the coast of Greenland where remarkable captures of turbot and other fish of that type were made. The difficulty which they experienced was that owing to the fact that those particular coasts were not charted properly, vessels might go to a certain place and make a wonderful haul of fish, but afterwards would have the greatest difficulty in going again to the same place because of the lack of charts of that area. The evidence laid before the committee was considered by them and taken very seriously and the committee had no doubt whatever from that evidence that there was an extraordinary prospect of development of the fishing industry provided that the facilities asked for by the trawl owners were granted.
625 We reported in favour of granting those facilities. The Government agreed and the ship was built, but now it appears that, instead of putting that ship into commission to do the work for which it was intended, it is to be handed over to the Admiralty and Heaven knows to what use it is going to be applied. The result will be that the available supplies of the higher qualities of fish will not be anything approaching what they might have been, and the possibilities are that the trawl-owners of other nations who are looking after this part of the coast of Greenland, will profit out of the loss sustained by our trawlers. That kind of thing has its repercussions. It was suggested before the Committee that if this part of the coast of Greenland was charted it would mean that more boats would have to be built. The shipbuilding industry, as we know, is in a very bad way and it seems to me that something might have been done along those lines which would have been of assistance to them. The economy which is being practised by the Minister in this respect is, I suggest, a false economy. Instead of assisting the fishing industry it is endangering it. Instead of assisting the shipbuilding industry it is leaving that industry to "stew in its own juice," if I might put it that way, with a tremendous proportion of its workers unemployed. That is done in the interests of economy but it is economy plus inefficiency.
Another point of interest to me in connection with agricultural wages is the reduction of the number of inspectors by six. I have had a considerable number of letters from working men in the agricultural districts on this matter of the failure of farmers to pay the proper rate of wages. The figures given by the Minister in reply to a question on this point are astonishing. With all the good will in the world for the farmers, with all the desire possible to avoid casting any reflection upon them, with a full knowledge of the difficulties which they are facing, yet one finds it astonishing that in 1,000 odd visits by inspectors over 500 cases were discovered in which the proper legal wages as decided by the wages committee, were not being paid by farmers. The worst side of the question to me is this. Everybody knows that of all sections in this country the people who have to work the hardest and 626 who get the least are those who work on the land. That being so it is an extraordinarily wicked thing that these men should be virtually defrauded of even the miserable wages which they are supposed to receive for their labour.
It seems inexcusable on the part of the Minister to reduce this inspectorate. When these six extra inspectors were appointed, it was known that a considerable amount of evasion was taking place and these additional inspectors were put on to the work in order that that evasion might be checked. I believe that if these inspectors were continued and if some check were put on this evasion, the possibility is that the farmers would find that that kind of thing did not pay and that would be all to the good. It would have the result of establishing a higher code of honour among the farmers and indicating to them that when they did wrong, Nemesis would overtake them. But the action of the Minister in reducing the number of inspectors detailed for this work is likely to give an impression to some farmers that the Government are not very much concerned about the business and that they are not taking the active steps which are essential to put an end to this nefarious practice. That seemed to me to be the weakest point in the speech of the Minister. I do not know whether it is possible or not to persuade him to reconsider his decision in this matter. I presume that these cases will go on and, possibly, if the right hon. Gentleman finds that they continue to be as bad as they have been in the first quarter of 1931, he may be persuaded to reconsider the matter with a view to putting some effective check upon this sort of thing. My request cannot be considered unreasonable. If somebody was "pinching" something from the Minister's own salary, I am sure he would not object to inspectors being put on to the job of checking that kind of thing. How much more anxious should he be to check it when it affects a class of people such as agricultural workers? When we consider the work which they do and the wretched wages which they get, surely the last thing in the world on which we ought to economise is any protection of their interests.
627 I am delighted to learn that there are two sections of the agricultural industry in connection with which marketing boards are to be set up. I understand that milk and meat are to be covered in that way. I take a great deal of interest in that question. I have spent all my life organising workmen and I know something about organisation, and I feel sure that as the various sections of agriculture are organised, they will themselves soon find remedies for their difficulties, apart altogether from tariffs and the other points mentioned in this Debate. The first duty of agriculture is to itself; and its first duty to itself is to organise in such an effective way as to be able to market its produce so as to command a proper price. In all the discussions on this subject the point which crops up most frequently is the disparity between the amount received by the producer and the price of the produce sold in the towns—the tremendous margin which exists between the two. The condition of things which exists to-day in agriculture in this respect is simple anarchy. There is no other name for it. The people who act as intermediaries play off one party against the other and beat down the price to the producer. The producer is bested every time by the acuter brains who are making profits on the difference between what the farmer gets and what the consumer pays.
It does not matter much what tariffs you put on while such a state of affairs exists. We had the case of hops, in regard to which a protective duty of something like £5 per cwt. was imposed. But owing to the fact that organisation among the producers had broken down, a section of them would not come into the council which was set up in the industry, and they undersold those who were anxious to effect some sort of control of the production and sale of hope. They were actually selling hops at less than the £5 per cwt. which was put on to assist them. It brought the whole thing down to absolute farce. You cannot carry on business in that way. It is the very essence of self protection that those concerned in a particular industry should have some form of organisation. The marketing boards give farmers a 628 greater opportunity for organisation than any section of individuals in any civilised society have ever had. I would like to see that kind of thing extended to the workpeople of this country. They would soon teach the farmers how to organise effectively and so to control production that the producers and not the wholesalers would be the masters of the situation.
I hope the marketing boards will be multiplied. I think there is wonderful scope in this country for their development, and I believe that the farmers are intelligent enough to work them effectively. I have met many farmers; I have met the executive of the Farmers' Union, and I know that there are men of extraordinary intelligence and ability among them. I believe if they set about this task with determination and with the advantage of marketing boards, they will be able to put themselves into a much stronger position than they have ever been in before. They will be able to put their own house in order and to secure such payment for their produce as will ensure them a life of comfort and decency and some degree of certainty. I hope the points which I have indicated will not be lost sight of by the Minister. I know that he is a busy man and that nowadays when everybody is crying out for protection he is kept particularly busy. It is no wonder that at times he wears a worried look. But in the midst of all these other complications I hope he will not overlook the home side of the business and the organisation side of the business. I hope he will bear in mind the desire which I have expressed that the wages of agricultural workers should receive a full measure of protection and not a skimpy measure of protection; and that he will look upon them with some degree of sympathy, however poor and lowly they may be.
I would like to ask for that tolerance which this House in its courtesy is in the habit of extending to those who address it for the first time. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) made his speech from the angle of the Herefordshire livestock industry. I want to make my remarks from the point of view of the arable area of north Lincolnshire which is, as I hope to show, a little different from the majority of the arable area in 629 England. I want to refer first to the agricultural policy as a whole. We welcome the quota Act for wheat as the keystone of almost the whole of that policy. That Act provides a price of 45s. a quarter to the grower of wheat. The price is such that hon. Members opposite appear to have a good deal of difficulty in deciding how the profits which will arise out of it are to be apportioned. I can assure them from experience that to sell wheat at 45s. a quarter, or even a little more, will not do a vast deal more than meet working expenses.
Then we have the Import Duties Act which has helped agriculture, including the arable side, to a small extent; and after the proceedings which took place in the House last night, as a result of which the claims of agriculture for further protection are to come before an independent committee, I hope that that Act will shortly benefit the industry as a whole. On the subject of other branches of the industry there are to be several commissions, one or two of which have already been appointed. I have no doubt that the work they will do will be of the utmost benefit. In short, I believe that the policy which the Government have in mind and have embarked upon is a well-considered and long-range policy, which is the only policy by -which to tackle agricultural difficulties.
I represent a large area of North Lincolnshire which up to the present has benefited to a smaller extent than any area in England from the measures which have been brought into force by the Government. Although wheat is undoubtedly the key crop of England's agriculture as a whole, barley is the key crop in Lincolnshire, and all that they have gained in this area from the import duties is a benefit of 10s. an acre. The farmers are undoubtedly grateful for that, tout it will not help to keep farms in operation. I do not think that the absolutely desperate plight of farms and farmers in this area is adequately realised. The farms as a rule run on the large side; they require adequate capital and labour, and the second is impossible without the first. Almost every week I hear of farm after farm going into the hands of the landlord or going out of cultivation altogether. Every week I hear of farmer after farmer filing his petition. They are not farmers 630 who have failed because they had not ability or means, but they are men who started with adequate means and adequate knowledge, and who had, above all, the gift of hard work. If these men are unable to carry on, what must be the case of those whose advantages and abilities may be second to them? There is a man whom I know as one of the best farmers in his area, who a short time ago had adequate means to farm his holding and ordinarily employed 15 men. He tells me now that he is obliged to reduce the number to about one-half.
That is going on all over the district, and I know not who is worse off, the farmer or the worker, because there is no dole for either of them. They must live by their industry. I know that every possible means are being pressed on and that the policy of the Government will in time overcome the difficulties with which the industry is faced, but the danger is that while the doctor is preparing his treatment, the patient will die. If this land goes out of cultivation for years, a large amount of expenditure will be required to restore it, even if it is ever restored. Now there has happened a thing which I deeply regret; the Government have been unable to reduce the tax on beer. That tax is having the effect of destroying, in the area of which I speak, the market for malting barley. On top of everything that is a very heavy blow to the industry, a blow which it will have the utmost difficulty in withstanding. May I venture to appeal to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to add his powerful representations to those which are moving in other directions in the hope that this difficulty may be avoided?
Another point on which I want to touch is the question of sugar-beet, which is another section of the agricultural industry which largely affects my district. We know for a year ahead what is to happen. Contracts are now made, and I believe that they are, on the whole, as satisfactory as anyone could hope for. In fact, I believe I am not going too far in saying that, if anything, the factories have erred a little on the generous side in the hope that their position will be a little better than it is. Over this portion of the industry there is hanging a cloud of suspicion because we do not know what is going 631 to happen. We understand that a commission of inquiry will sit with the object of recommending a policy with regard to sugar-beet. I hope that the commission will not be long in arriving at its conclusions so that those interested may before long know the worst or the best— I hope it is the best—with regard to this portion of the agricultural industry. Up to the present time beet has represented a profitable crop among a number of unprofitable crops. The result is that you find, even now, beet being grown to a certain extent on land which is not good enough for its proper cultivation. The result is, obviously, that the production is smaller per acre, and the price, in order to be economic, has to be high. Therefore, I have every hope that as the other departments in agriculture become more prosperous, it will not be necessary for the farmer to strain the beet section of it in the way that he has done in places for a number of years. May I hope, in conclusion, that the inquiries into such things as pigs and pig products and milk will proceed with as much speed as possible; but in the meantime I ask the Government not to neglect to put into force any measures which may, even in a small way, help to bridge over this terrible time during which farmers and their workers are hanging on by their eyebrows and hoping that the promised help will materialise. Above all, let us hope that nothing further may occur which will act as a setback to farming; let us hope there may be no more heavy blows for the industry such as it received last week.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
It is my very great pleasure to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Brigg (Captain Hunter) upon his first speech in this House, and to say how much I enjoyed it. It showed great practical knowledge of the industry in the county which he represents, and we shall await further contributions from him with great pleasure, because of his mastery of his subject, and his restraint in dealing with an industry which is suffering so greatly. It is also a pleasure for me to congratulate a fellow-countryman of mine, representing a county just on the border of Wales—the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas)—on one of the 632 most eloquent maiden speeches we have had this Session. He showed distinct evidence of culture and talent as a speaker, and I feel humbled in making any remarks concerning the excellence of that speech. Another thing to which I wish to refer is the welcome reappearance of the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. C. Duncan), who, after a long illness, has returned to take part in the work here. I think his speech showed that he has recovered his full vigour of body and mind.
The Minister gave us a most interesting speech this afternoon. With his usual good taste and moderation he presented a careful and detailed account of the work of his Department since he assumed the responsibility for it. In the early stages of his speech he did not appear to be quite at ease, and spoke as if he were not quite satisfied with the measures of economy which he had been able to effect. He began by saying that if he had been able to disturb some arrangement which was rigid and could not be interfered with he would have been able to save more than the 27 per cent. of the total expenditure of his Department. I do not think the Minister ought to have shown any pride in reporting to the House that the useful activities of his Department were to be curtailed, and I do not think he was the happiest man in the Committee at the time, because I noticed that when he referred to the cuts in agricultural education, land drainage and the Fisheries Vote, one or two hon. Members cried "Hear, hear" very audibly, and the Minister did not appear to be at all encouraged by that approbation.
The Minister proceeded to show that he had tried to spread out the economies, that he had not wholly cut out a single service. He went over the Votes one by one to show that after his economies a substantial volume of service could still be rendered in every one of the main branches of his Department: but he gave vent to a most unfarmer-like expression in saying "I have spread these economies very fairly over the whole field." Indeed, he has done no such thing. On the contrary, he has robbed every corner of the field, and after taking all the crops he has gone gleaning and picking up any few grains that he could find, even taking up the small potatoes that were left after the main 633 crop had been gathered. The field is now very much poorer and the Minister cannot be content, not as content as he tried to appear—unsuccessfully tried, I think. But I noticed that in that portion of his speech he did not speak as a Minister of Agriculture but as a Member of the National Government, which is an entirely different thing. He was speaking as a Member of the Government rather than as the owner of an estate or a good husbandman. In taking pride in his economies he was really belittling the importance of his Department, with the great services which we expect from it during the lifetime of this Government.
He referred with pardonable pride and with almost lyrical eloquence to the variety of the duties which he has to perform, speaking of cultivation and commerce, mushrooms and microbes—indeed, I cannot remember all the alliteratives he used; and the Committee were delighted in the knowledge that we have in the Minister one who is conversant with all these aspects of his Departmental work. The Minister did speak with real enthuiasm in that part of his speech in contrast with his demeanour when he dealt with economies. He told us about the research into diseases of animals and plants, and gave us an encouraging account of the very efficient service here for the notification and treatment of a disease like foot-and-mouth disease in contrast with that of other countries. The total cost of the services dealing with foot-and-mouth disease in this country, including the expenses of inspectors, cannot have been less than £100,000 in the last year; but when we look across and see the ravages caused by this disease in Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands we must realise that there is an advantage in our being an island, an advantage that is augmented by our strict supervision over imports and a readiness to act as soon as any disease is notified. Then the Minister went on to talk of diseases of plants. I am not an expert on plants, but I do know that we have there a very profitable field for inquiry and work. When he referred to what had been done in connection with the Colorado beetle and other insects and pests he made me feel almost creepy, and we are thankful that he is not dismayed by having to tackle those formidable and objectionable creatures.
634 On another point I was disconcerted by the Minister's remarks. He claimed that the new import duties have conferred a great benefit on agriculture. I do not think that up to the present those duties have done anything for agriculture; so far from helping it, they may worsen its position, if they are considered in conjunction with the economies to which he gave such prominence. When we remember that we are cutting down the expenditure on research, on agricultural education and on drainage, what is the use of talking about this bit of contribution to the revenue, this £164,000? Is the Minister a kind of errand boy or office boy in the service of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, very pleased to collect those few miserable pounds to put into the till? What does it profit a nation to gain a few miserable pounds if it loses its learning and its knowledge? It cannot be an advantage to this country to gain these few pounds, shillings and pence at such a sacrifice. The Minister may, if he likes, raise £164,000 a week, but that contribution to the Revenue does not tell the whole story. We cannot make a money contribution to the Exchequer and stop foreign products coming in at the same time. The higher the contribution to the Revenue from that source the greater the confession that the measures taken by the Government have failed in their main object. This claim by the Minister needs further examination, and I advise hon. Members representing constituencies where there is flooding, where the rivers overflow and where land is below the water level, to make a calculation and ask themselves whether any temporary advantage gained from these tariffs, any prospect of a slight alleviation of the Income Tax, is not more than offset by the loss in the value of land through the curtailment of drainage services.
The Minister then referred to the exhibition at Vincent Square, and a very fine exhibition it is. I managed to find time to go there for half-an-hour this week, and I enjoyed it very much. I realised then that there was something more in farming than heavy and tedious labour, that there was beauty of colour and of design. That exhibition showed that the horticulturist is not only a worker on the land but an artist in colour and in form. It is a very great privilege to be 635 shown free, or at a very small charge, those wonderful exhibits. It is the "Royal academy of nature" which one sees in such exhibitions. I derived another lesson from that. I saw that they had an attractive way of presenting their products which one would like to see followed in this country. I have been to some of the market towns in the Division represented by my hon. Friend opposite, and I have noticed that, while the fruit in the orchards looks very well indeed, its cultivation being wonderfully perfect, the presentation of the goods in the market is not nearly so attractive. I do not know what the Minister proposes to do in the way of encouraging new methods of marketing, but I notice that the Vote for this purpose has been cut down by one-half. Instead of doing this, I think the Minister ought rather to take the responsibility of encouraging the farmers to visit these exhibitions, where they might see better methods of marketing, and, if he carried out that policy, I am sure the farmers would appreciate the advantages which they would gain.
Next the Minister referred to the Fishery Department, a department which interests me personally. I happen to represent a shellfish gathering area where both mussels and cockles are collected, and these products form a good addition to the small incomes of the fishermen. I am glad that the Minister is interesting himself in this subject, and I hope he will go further and give local authorities the power to establish shellfish washing plants, in order that the shellfish may be free from even the suspicion of disease, because that would be sure to increase their consumption. We want an assurance that shellfish are being sold in a clean state fit for human consumption. The Minister of Agriculture made reference to the report on herring fishing. I think everything is right in the herring industry, but the cod-fishing industry is awaiting a report.
The hon. Member for Hereford made an eloquent maiden speech, but one or two of his remarks I was not able to follow. He referred to some wonderful lady on the stage who was the centre of attraction at one time—the star lady, but she only occupied that position for a short time, after which she was sent into the wings and another star was brought 636 in to take her place. It is just the same with the policy of the Government. Wheat may be the star attraction to-day, and meat may be the favourite to-morrow. These star artists are dismissed ignominiously to the wings after they have played their part, but we have to pay the full price for them. It is the same with the Government's policy of Protection. One by one they come and one by one they go, but we have to pay very heavily for the popularity of these turns. An hon. Member opposite complained that in regard to proposed tariffs on meat 10 per cent. was not enough, and I feel sure that the hon. Member is waiting to tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer to deal with this point by imposing a duty of at least 3d. per 1b. on all meat. Another hon. Member behind me recommends a tariff of 10 per cent. on meat and argues that that would enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take a penny per pint off beer. Let it be known in the future that the Tory party are willing to place 3d. per lb. on meat in order to take 1d. off beer. That is good Tory policy.
On this Vote, I want to give the Minister a little encouragement, and I wish to inform him that we are not going to vote against this Estimate. We have proposed a reduction of £100, which of course is a mere bagatelle to him. I am sure a reduction of this kind will not disturb the Minister, and I hope he will get every possible assistance in his policy from the agriculturists of this country. I wish we could develop agricultural science on more practical lines. We hear a good deal about superphosphates and the value of artificial manure. For the greater part of my life I have worked below ground, and consequently I am able to appreciate more the beautiful work done by agriculturists on the surface. We have the most beautiful country in the world, and its attractiveness has been enhanced by a generation of agriculturists. Our practical farmers have a good knowledge of the foundation of the agricultural industry, and we are fortunate in one thing, and it is that we have a. good geological setting for the agricultural industry. In this respect, there is no better country in the world. The backbone of our country is the solid limestone of the Pennine Chain, which is the most valuable chemical element in 637 agriculture. We have in other parts of the country the same very necessary element. In former days it was the custom to use lime very largely for agricultural purposes. I do not wish to deprecate the use of new chemicals and artificial manures, but I want to know if the Minister could not do something to encourage the use of lime by the farmer. Now, by the making of new roads and by the development of our transport services it is possible to carry goods for long distances at very cheap rates. Lime can be carried and delivered to the farmer at a much cheaper rate than was the case before the development of our transport services.
I want to know from the Minister whether by some better organisation he can make arrangements to extend the use of lime by farmers. A more extensive use of lime by farmers in this country would give more employment in the quarries and more employment to the coal miners, because a large quantity of coal is consumed in the kilns, and for these reasons alone I think the right hon. Gentleman might see what can be done to encourage the use of lime by our farmers. There is no doubt about the usefulness and value of lime to the farmers. We have the most perfect vitamin laboratory in the world, a very good soil, and a perfect humidity and temperature, and a greater possibility of production than any other country. The development of our agriculture is a great national problem. The Minister of Agriculture should not let the Chancellor of the Exchequer bully him, and he ought to insist upon having more money for research, for education, for drainage, and more efficient farming. If we can secure an efficient agricultural system, then we shall not quarrel over external matters. We shall not need protection by tariffs. Real protection can be achieved by sound internal organisation, by building up and maintaining a strong virile organisation for marketing as well as production, rather than relying on artificial and flimsy shelters which do not prevent the blasts of competition from cutting through. We press the Minister to attend to the real problems of agriculture and will promise him our support to that end.
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
We have listened on this side of the House, as we always do, to the speech of the hon. 638 Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) with great interest, and we are glad to note that among the Opposition there is is a great awakening in the interest which they now take in the industry of agriculture. It is now realised by all parties that the farmer, the fisherman, and the miner really produced the wealth on which the prosperity of this country depends. I listened with interest to the speech of the Minister of Agriculture, and I congratulate him upon the economies which he has been able to effect in his Department. I can imagine nothing more difficult than a Minister taking office and finding that his first duty is to institute a series of cuts and to make large economies in the administration of his office. I think the Minister has carried out that arduous task with great tact and a minimum of hardship to all those concerned.
I listened with interest to his general survey, and I was surprised to hear him dispel the fallacy that fishermen are untruthful, and that he looked to the pages of the "Fishing News" for accurate prophecy and truth. With regard to the Estimates, I note that the right hon. Gentleman has to deal with ail the expenses in connection with Kew Gardens. This tends to make the Estimates out of proportion, because such matters have nothing to do with agriculculture as the Vote for police and patrols at Kew Gardens. I noticed, too, that the Vote for the International Institute of Agriculture at Rome has been increased by 20 per cent. I want to know what special service is being performed by the Institute of Agriculture at Borne? When I was in Rome recently I visited that institution, and I was not very much impressed with the work that was being done there on our behalf. It is true that a large building has been erected on expensive lines, and that statistics are being prepared there on a large scale, but I do not think that those statistics have so far been of very much value to the English agriculturist and; fanner. I would rather see a reduction in the grant to the Agricultural Institute at Rome and more money devoted to improving and encouraging a better system of marketing.
Another question I want to refer to is the Development Commission. We 639 have never had a Debate on that question, and we might well inquire how far that Department is of use to us or how far it is really a fifth wheel to the coach. I feel that everything that is being done there could be done equally effectively by the Ministry of Agriculture. We have heard from hon. Members opposite criticisms of the farmers, and it was suggested that farmers are out to cut down the wages of agricultural workers. While it is true that there may be certain cases in which farmers have not played the game and done the right thing, on the other hand hundreds of cases could be quoted where farmers have made great efforts to keep men in employment when times are very difficult. It has also been said that the workers would be able to teach the farmers how to manage their own business. The experiences of cooperative societies have not, however, given any helpful lessons to farmers.
Criticism has often been made of the wheat policy of the Government and, in that connection, it is fair to quote a few figures in regard to the tenants of county council smallholdings. The county council, with which I happen to be associated, has an estate of 19,000 acres on which we have 1,700 tenants and four associations, and I am glad to say that in the main our smallholdings programme has been remarkably successful. On studying the cropping of these smallholders, I find that in 1930, of the land cultivated by those smallholders 41 per cent. was devoted to the growing of wheat, barley and oats, 14.37 per cent. was devoted to cultivating beet, and only 8.4 per cent. to grass and seeds. These figures indicate that, so far as the area in which I live is concerned, the Government was wise, not only from the point of view of the large farmer, but of the smallholder in encouraging the growth of cereals.
Reference has been made to the Import Duties. I believe that they will do a great deal to encourage the market gardener and smallholder. I hope, however, that in our zeal for assisting and helping in this direction we shall keep the industry as free as possible from any form of bureaucratic control. We have already made good progress, and I feel that we shall make further advance in 640 the future. I would congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on the vision he has shown in this new form of policy. It will require genius to carry that policy to full fruition, but I believe that, when the mists which hang over agriculture in this and other countries have cleared away, as indeed they will do, agriculture will then once again be re-established on a sure and sound foundation.
§ Mr. DREWE
I wish to intervene for a few moments on behalf of the agricultural constituencies in the West of England. I regret that in the discussion, on these Estimates it is not possible to discuss the general future policy of agriculture, but I know that my right hon. Friend is well aware of the extremely difficult position of our farmers in all parts of the country. Farmers realise and appreciate that we have a Minister of Agriculture who is not only a practical farmer but has very great sympathy with the industry as a whole, but they cannot understand why he cannot urge the Government to rather quicker action in helping to restore better conditions. If his colleagues in the Cabinet cannot immediately announce their definite and final policy, can he not issue some interim statement or make some announcement which will bring some encouragement to farmers, who are absolutely at their wits' end at the present moment?
A good deal has been said in the Debate this afternoon about the question of research. While all of us on this side of the Committee agree that economy in all Government Departments to-day is of the greatest necessity, is he quite sure that he is getting full value for the money which he is spending on research at the present time? I am personally well aware of the great value of the research work which his Department has carried out for many years past. The various publications, orange books, leaflets and reports of all sorts, are undoubtedly of the greatest value to the agricultural industry, but I am not satisfied that that information and those publications are being used by the farmers in the way they ought to be if we are to get full benefit from the research already made. Farmers to-day are in the frame of mind to try any new methods which they think will benefit the industry, but many farmers in different parts of the country are not aware of this research or that this re- 641 search is available at the Ministry of Agriculture. Not a few farmers find it difficult to get into the frame of mind of writing to Whitehall, even if they know that the information exists there.
Would my right hon. Friend consider a new method of distribution with regard to the research already made? Would he consider getting into touch with local newsagents in our market towns and asking them if they would sell the publications of the Ministry of Agriculture? Would he give them sufficiently attractive terms to encourage them to push sales or, as an alternative suggestion, would he, through his county agricultural committees or in any other way, set up stalls in our principal markets throughout the country so that all these publications could be displayed prominently in our market places and offered for sale? If we could get all the information which exists readily before the farmers, it would be of immense value to our agricultural industry. Would he consider, too, the question of a poster propaganda campaign, either in our market towns or actually in our markets? If he could, by means of posters or by any other methods, clearly demonstrate to the fanner the difference in pounds, shillings and pence to his own pocket through using a properly balanced ration for dairy cattle or for stock or as a result of using the right type of manure for his particular farm, then the Minister of Agriculture would be doing a very useful thing to help farmers at the present time.
We hear a good deal of criticism, when the bacon industry is discussed, to the effect that farmers are to blame because they do not breed the right type of pig. Why should not my right hon. Friend, in conjunction with some poster campaign, put before the farmer the type of pig he wants them to breed so that they can see what they ought to aim at? If the Minister says that these questions of distributing literature or other propaganda would cost him too much money, I would suggest that it would be better, even at the expense of curtailing research still further, if necessary, to spend that money and to make available to the farmers the research in his Department which is not known to agriculturists all over the country.
Is the Minister satisfied that he as getting full value from the livestock im- 642 provement schemes, a matter of very great importance to agriculture? In the horse-breeding industry the schemes are thoroughly efficient. After all, a stallion is a very mobile animal, and in the course of the season can travel a very large area, but, when you are dealing with bull societies, the same thing does not apply. The right hon. Gentleman gives grants to bull societies, but there may be one in one district and then there may not be another bull society for a very long way. It is obviously impossible for farmers to get their cows and heifers long distances over a road and very often, too, these bull societies only cover an extremely limited area. Would the right hon. Gentleman consider some alternative scheme in this respect, and, instead of giving grants to approved societies, consider authorising his county livestock officer to purchase a certain number of good-class bulls suitable for the particular district and hire them out to individual farmers with adequate safeguards that they must make them available for the use of other farmers, subject to proper maintenance and insurance charges? Alternatively, would he be prepared to start some scheme on hire-purchase lines so as to make more bulls available to farmers? My object an raising this matter dealing with livestock is simply that, if we are to improve our cattle still further, as everybody desires, it can only be done, in my opinion, by getting more good-class bulls available in all our districts. Until that can be done, we can never get a satisfactory solution of the problem of finally eliminating the scrub bull. I make these points with the idea of pressing forward some helpful suggestions to assist our industry at the present time, and I hope that my right hon. Friend may see his way to give these matters his consideration.
§ Mr. CHRISTIE
I was very interested in the remarks made by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) at the beginning of this Debate. He was giving details of the bankruptcies of farmers in the United States and gave a very high figure of failures owing to non-payment of taxes. It struck me that that was one of the results of a system of taxation of land values from which this country has so far been saved. I thought that was a very interesting illus- 643 tration of what would have been the result in this country if the late Government had been able to carry through their policy of land taxation. Then he made another point with which I must disagree. Referring to turning agricultural labourers out of tied houses, he said that the committees were prepared to grant certificates practically to any extent. I have served on one of these committees for a great many years, and can say definitely that, certainly in my county, that is not so at all. Every case for the possession of a tied house is considered most carefully and sympathetically, and it is only where a really strong case has been made out for the farmer to have possession of the house that a certificate is granted.
The inevitable regrets have been expressed that agricultural education has been deprived of some of its funds, and has had to curtail its activities. I am sure everyone will agree in regretting that that should be so, but in my county it has had one very peculiar result, and that is that, whereas in the past, when money was fairly freely available, agricultural education was not so highly appreciated, now, when the amount available is curtailed, and the activities of the staff also are curtailed, agriculturists generally are bitterly deploring the absence of that assistance, and are getting very keen that it should be increased and that more use should be made of it. I suppose it is human nature that, if you can have a thing to pretty well any extent, you do not appreciate it, but directly you begin to lose it you realise its advantages.
I should like to ask the Minister whether he cannot do something to prolong the time during which the duty will remain on foreign strawberries. I am told that, as at present arranged, it will come off in the middle of June, but, as you get further into the country, the date of ripening of main-crop strawberries becomes later, and it is felt, in my part of the country at any rate, that, if strawberries are allowed to come in free after the middle of June, that will be so early that the maincrop strawberries in our parts will not be able to have the advantage of the duty. I be- 644 lieve that that is a matter which the Minister can alter administratively, and I would ask him whether he cannot see his way to prolong the period, at any rate till the end of the month.
There is another matter which I have had in mind for a long time, and in which I think it will be possible to render great assistance to the poultry industry. That is the question of the marketing of eggs at the packing stations, and also in the retail shops. As the Minister knows, the present system is that the farmer sends his eggs to the packing station, the eggs are then graded, and subsequently he receives an account of the eggs he has sent, with the appropriate payment. Farmers are disinclined to enter into that sort of bargain. They like, when they send their produce to the market, to receive at once the money for what they have sold, and I believe that packing stations would become very much more used if the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to altering the method so that the farmer could be paid at once for the weight of the eggs he sells, relying on the fact that the number of eggs which are above the standard will be set off by the number of eggs which are below it, and that, therefore, it will be a perfectly fair bargain both for the farmer and for the station. I believe that if, when the farmer takes his eggs to the packing station, they are weighed, and he is immediately paid the appropriate price, these packing stations will become much more popular.
As regards the retail sale of the eggs, if a rule could be made that eggs must be sold by grade, and not simply as so many new-laid eggs, the purchaser would have to say what she wanted, whether standard grade, or pullets, or super-grade—I forget now what the technical terms are—that again would be a tremendous advantage for the industry. I believe that these two reforms would be of the greatest assistance, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to see his way to look into them, and also into the strawberry question, and that he will do his best to make some such alterations as I have suggested.
§ Mr. ROSBOTHAM
I think that this Debate proves how true it is that the industry of agriculture is still in its in- 645 fancy, and it has been very pleasing to note the useful speeches which have been made from all quarters of the Committee this afternoon. I desire to offer my congratulations to the present Minister of Agriculture on the success, so far, of his efforts to bring back prosperity to the industry. In doing so, I should not like to omit to include his predecessor, who worked very hard to help to bring back prosperity to the industry. But there is this great difference between the position of the two right hon. Gentlemen. The present Minister is supported by an enthusiastic band of those who are keenly interested in agriculture, and are determined that something shall be done to put the industry on a proper footing and bring people back to the land. Dr. Addison was equally anxious, but he lacked the support of a House composed like the present one.
With regard to horticulture, we have had this week a practical example, in the exhibition that was organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, of what can be accomplished with the aid of the legislation which has been recently passed by the House, and which will encourage the cultivation of more of our land and the production of more foodstuffs and other produce at home. I would like to draw the attention of the Minister to the question of settling an additional number of men on the land to grow the additional quantities of produce that will be required in this country owing to the legislation which has been passed.
I notice with regret that the amount allocated for smallholdings and allotments in these Estimates is reduced by £2,000. Much disappointment has been expressed throughout the country at the cutting down of the grants for allotments during this season. We know that that has been inevitable, and the Minister has given valid reasons for it. I must pay a tribute to the Society of Friends, who have come forward and put so much energy and voluntary work into making a success of the allotments movement this year, and in helping to get together the contributions which have become necessary owing to the cutting off of the grant from the Ministry of Agriculture. I paid a visit to their office, and I found there ladies who have given up much of their pleasure, and are making great sacrifices, to help forward the movement and make 646 it a success, and I say that all credit is due to them.
I had not the pleasure of hearing in full the Minister's opening speech, this afternoon, because at Four o'clock I was called to the Committee on the Children Bill to help to make a quorum, but I had the satisfaction of seeing the Children Bill carried through Committee and made ready for presentation to the House for Report and Third Reading. I would like, however, to draw attention to the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act. I know it is argued that the Act is cumbersome and costly to put into operation at the present time, and I am not disputing that, but we must agree that there are two kinds of economy—real economy and false economy. I would advise an examination of the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act, and, if possible, its amendment so that, even in the financial conditions of the present day, some parts of it might be put into operation, namely, those parts which would help in the settling of more men on the land on allotments and smallholdings. If that be not possible, I would suggest to the Minister that he should examine the Act of 1926 dealing with smallholdings and allotments, to see how far it would be possible to grant more powers and more latitude to the Minister, and also to the county agricultural committees, in the matter of acquiring land for allotments and smallholdings.
I would also recommend that the financial Clause of the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, 1919, whereby loans could be advanced by county agricultural committees, guaranteed by the banks, to approved applicants, should be examined. In the county from which I come, those loans did a vast amount of good, and gave great assistance to ex-service men by helping them to cultivate their smallholdings, and the county committee suffered scarcely any loss. The loans were paid with commendable punctuality, which speaks well for the ex-service men. I think that that idea might well be re-examined. Instead of the loans being granted, as they were in those days, free of interest, I think just a fair interest might be charged, say, 4 per cent. I feel sure that smallholders would be willing to pay a small interest of that character if they could have such assistance.
647 7.30 p.m.
I should also like to ask the Minister whether the increase of a few thousand pounds in the expenditure under the Agricultural Marketing Act is due to the setting up of new schemes under the Act? I am sure that, if that is so, it is a matter for congratulation and satisfaction. I see that only £110 is allocated this year towards the expenses of experiments on flax, as against £10,000 in 1931. Have these experiments been abandoned, and, if so, why has their abandonment been necessary? With regard to fishery research, I notice that the sum allocated this year is £7,660, as compared with £74,460 in 1931. I would ask the Minister if the heavy expenditure last year was due to the building of the research ship referred to by the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. C. Duncan), and whether the Minister can give the Committee some information with regard to the work that has been done by that research ship. As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Clay Cross, it was found that there were valuable fishing areas in the North Sea that could not be navigated safely until a chart had been made. With regard to the research and development in connection with shellfish to which reference was made by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), I notice that only £735 is allocated for that valuable work, £55 less than 1931. I should like to know if that sum includes the cost of research in the establishment of oyster beds, because that is a valuable part of research work. If we can produce our own oysters on our own shores, that is worth all the money that is spent in research. I have been to Conway and seen the valuable work that is done there in the laying down of oyster beds. With regard to agricultural research, I notice that there is a cutting down of £44,049, leaving a sum of £116,820. That seems to me to be a very small amount considering the importance of our industry. One would have thought that, with our recent legislation and the great importance that is attached to the growing of larger amounts of horticultural produce, there would be need for greater expenditure in the future than there has been in the past. I know something of the value of agricultural research in the district from which I 648 come, and I would refer to the research station in connection with potatoes at Ormskirk. That work has been invaluable. This year a new potato has been put on to the market, a new early kidney potato of very fine quality, and I am certain that that will be a valuable acquisition to the potato growing industry, and it will lend itself to canning purposes. It is a valuable addition, and the work that is done at Ormskirk deserves every support.
Something has been said with regard to the neglect of the agricultural worker. I have heard the accusation that has been made against the farmer of not being willing to pay the minimum wage. In Lancashire you seldom hear of the minimum wage. The minimum does not become the maximum, and more is paid. I am surprised to hear so much said against the farmer in that respect. After all, what is required is to bring back prosperity to our arable districts and our dairying and grazing areas and our horticulture. If you bring prosperity back to those branches of the industry, you will hear very little of the nonpayment of the minimum wage.
I am sure it is the wish of all concerned that the agricultural worker shall be looked after and shall share in the prosperity of the industry, because we look upon our rural population as a valuable national asset. Every effort should be made to make the agricultural worker as happy, contented, and prosperous as possible. I am thankful to know that much has been done in the way of providing houses for agricultural workers and it was satisfactory to hear that the Minister is prepared to consider favourably any schemes put to him at any time for the further erection of houses. I am sure the Committee will appreciate that rural districts are not as dull as they used to be. Omnibus services are opening them out and connecting them with the towns, and rural life is becoming brighter. I notice that, when we have discussions on unemployment, the benches are packed, but there is nothing in this country so able as the land to provide work if we will only do our best to bring prosperity to the industry, and legislation has been passed by this Government to make it a paying concern. There is the outlet, and I congratulate the Minister on the interest he 649 has taken and on the encouragement that he has given to the industry. I hope he will go forward with the same bold policy till he has brought real happiness, contentment and prosperity to the rural districts.
§ Mr. RAIKES
We have heard a great deal from the Opposition about marketing, but they do not seem to have learnt what the Government has shown that they have realised—it is the first time it has been realised in the history of the country—that no marketing scheme will carry you very far unless at the same time the Government are prepared to provide a sure market for our produce. That has been done in regard to wheat, and in a minor way in regard to the commodities that come under the 10 per cent. and, instead of criticising too much, hon. Members ought to be prepared to help. By all means have marketing where marketing is necessary, but without a secure market, which we are able to get hold of by means of tariffs, marketing cannot offer a great deal. I quite realise that hon. Members opposite have the same desire as we have to see a flourishing agriculture. They want to see the rural side of life improved, because the lop-sided urban system that we have had for so many years has told very greatly against the country as a whole.
I should like to make one or two observations in regard to the poultry industry, which is sometimes a little bit forgotten. Our aim should be to develop, so far as we can, those sides of agriculture which will give the greatest employment. In the poultry industry you have a tremendous field for greater employment. It could very well do with the setting up of a commission to consider the whole question of poultry development. Even in 1930, taking the industry as a whole, you find that poultry produce was valued at somewhere about £33,000,000, as against £28,000,000 for the whole of the wheat, oats and barley crops of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—a very surprising thing. That industry is still showing signs of development. You have somewhere about 43,000,000 fowls in the country—about the same as the population. They need a considerable degree of attention. A skilled man can look after about a thousand. If you are rearing as well as using the fowls in other ways, sometimes you need one man to 650 500, and a still higher percentage probably in some of the big pedigree stock places.
In the poultry industry there is perhaps a higher rate of employment per acre than even on arable land, which I know rather better than the poultry industry. The industry is developing. We have about 10 times as many eggs sold here as we sold before the War, and we have had a tremendous increase in the number of adult fowls that are kept on smallholdings. I think they have gone up by about 70 per cent. even since 1913. It is admirably suited to smallholdings, and I do not suppose there is a Member who does not desire to see smallholdings satisfactorily worked and extended consider ably further where they can make a fair profit.
If a Commission were set up to consider the poultry industry, it would have to report to the Minister on a certain number of points which I believe are still holding the industry back. On one side you have the great gap between wholesale and retail prices, which has done a great deal to let in foreign imports. You have about £22,000,000 a year of poultry produce coming in from abroad, very largely owing to the fact that there is that gap, I believe an unfair gap, between what the producer gets and what the retailer charges. That might well be examined.
The Commission might consider perhaps more closely the marking of poultry produce. It is held that under the present Act it is not distinguishable enough and that you ought to have the marking on rather a larger scale. It is a matter which experts could decide and which a Commission might very well consider. There is the question of liquid eggs coming in from abroad. What little we do in the way of liquid eggs is very carefully regulated in the matter of sanitary arrangements. You get a great deal of liquid eggs coming here from different countries in the South and East, where undoubtedly there are not the same sanitary precautions taken, and it might be well to consider how far it is right and proper for the health of our own people to allow them to come in. You might go still further to my mind in regard to the importation of certain forms of eggs in shell from China and Czechoslovakia. My opinion is that the greater part of the 651 small eggs sold in small shops, mainly from Czechoslovakia, have very little nourishment in them. They are very suitable for the liveliness of an election but I do not think they have any health giving qualities. Undoubtedly they hit the British producer very hard.
I believe every branch of progressive agriculture ought to be encouraged, as far as any Government can encourage it, in these times. Agriculture is the most complex and the most difficult of all the industries, because it is a case of many industries in one, but I believe all parties might get together to do one thing. They might take the question of the fight between town and country out of the old warfare of party politics. That is one of the great troubles we have always had, our town representatives denying any protection that is sought for agriculture. It has gone all through our history ever since the Corn Laws. The Labour party is a Protectionist party, although they do not always recognise it. By means of reasonable Protection and by a determination to bring our people back to the land, my right hon. Friend in this Government, and I hope in Governments to come, will be able to set an example of having done something to restore to that great industry something of the prosperity which it deserves.
Those of us who have listened to the Debate this afternoon must have noticed an alteration in its general tone and in the way in which hon. and right hon. Members are approaching the subject of agriculture. I was particularly delighted to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), who showed a certain amount of sympathy with this industry and seemed to see in it the germs of employment for some of our people. It is a state of advancement that we have not noticed for a very long time, and we welcome it from hon. Members representing the Opposition. I am certain that these Estimates presented by the Ministry of Agriculture will be accepted with more genuine pleasure at the prospect of spending money in this direction than any other Department's Estimates that come before us, because at this time Great Britain has realised that there is a necessity for a virile agricultural industry, and that we cannot 652 hope to carry on this great industrial country without having a better balance between the town and the country people. Also we have, by reason of the terrible economic position which we have reached, to do all that we can to increase the volume of food produced on our own soil. Therefore, these Estimates are a help in that direction. One of the most serious menaces to the curing of the problem of unemployment is the lack of prosperity in the agricultural districts. Many of the young people who were very glad and wanted to stay on the land have found no means of getting a job there and have drifted to the towns, where there were already many people unemployed, and they have only aggravated that very serious situation.
In receiving these Estimates, I am sure the Committee would wish to thank the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, who have done their work so very well during the past year. The information which they have been able to supply to farmers has been of very great value, and the farmers are appreciating more and more the work that is carried on by the Department. I hope, however, that this Committee will not feel that all is well with agriculture now that we have a National Government, even in spite of all that they have done, for which we are very grateful, but general agriculture is still in a very peculiar position. Farmers do not yet feel to have real confidence. The Minister has restored the position as far as wheat growing is concerned, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer has destroyed it entirely as far as barley is concerned, and this year our farmers will be faced with a very difficult situation in connection with the disposal of their barley crop.
I do not want to go into the merits of the Beer Duty at this juncture, though I hope to have something to say about it later, but it will make a very great difference when it is realised that at present a quarter of barley is going to have to pay, when it is put into beer, the colossal sum of £27 in taxation. What the farmer receives £2 for, the National Government receive £27 for; and, of course, that is a situation which is going to create more and more difficulties. There will be less barley used in that direction, and I want to ask the Minister and his officials to see whether they can 653 help our barley growers to get more markets and whether they will consider, in providing the extra food that will be needed for the increased poultry population of the country, if it is not possible to have a national mark barley for supplying to poultry keepers. We have a national mark wheat for flour. Is there any reason why we should not have a national mark barley for feeding to British poultry, and so be able to dispose of a larger amount of barley, which when it goes in that direction, generally makes a fairly substantial profit.
I want to say a word about the county agricultural officials. I think they are generally being made more and more use of up and down the country, but I want to see them under the more direct control of the Minister and the Ministry of Agriculture. Every different authority has a different way of looking at agriculture, and there is not that co-operation and cohesion about their efforts which many of us would like to see. The Ministry make a grant to the county authorities of 60 per cent. of the officials' wages, and therefore they ought to have a good deal more to say in the general work that is carried out by these officials. I also wanted to ask what the Ministry are doing in connection with the supply of electricity for agriculture. It is a. most important subject and one to which the Ministry ought to give the closest possible attention. We have spent millions and millions of pounds in despoiling the countryside by these wretched pylons, and the agriculturist so far has not received any benefit at all from them. We were promised, when this legislation in connection with electricity went through this House a year or two ago, that we should have cheap electricity for the countryside.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
The supply of electricity comes under the Ministry of Transport, not under the Ministry of Agriculture.
I was only trying to impress upon the Minister that probably in looking in that direction he might be able to make a substantial contribution to the farmers' working tools, and I regard electricity as one of those tools. We are very grateful to the Ministry for setting up these new Commissions to deal with specific subjects 654 in connection with agriculture, because everybody realises that agriculture is a number of businesses all built into one great organisation, but that each particular one has its own peculiarities, which have to be dealt with on their own merits, and by setting up this Pig Committee and this Milk Committee, we shall get down to a real, sensible, national programme in these two departments of agriculture, which will be of very great value. We are glad to see that Colonel Lane Fox has been appointed Chairman of one of the Committees, because he is a man of very considerable experience in this particular department of agriculture. I want to assure the Committee that, as far as the farmers in East Yorkshire are concerned, they are looking very anxiously to the future. They are hoping to leave their period of despair and despondency behind them when the full results of this Government's programme have been effected, and I feel that when the time comes, you will find that these farmers and their workers will be able to make a very substantial contribution towards the country's needs at this time.
May I say a word about the Fisheries-Branch of the Ministry? The salaries of the officials in connection with the Department have been reduced, but the charges that they make for the work of these officials have in some directions been increased, and I would refer the Minister to the charges for the inspection of fishing boats in some of our smaller harbours. Those boats have to be inspected annually, and the fishermen have to pay a fee for having their boats inspected, which fee, I understand, goes to the Ministry of Agriculture. If you are cutting down those officials' wages, I do not think that is the time to put up the price of the work that they do, and I ask the Minister to see that some substantial reduction is made in these charges and that the fishermen are not handicapped any more than is necessary. We are very grateful to the Ministry this year particularly, at Bridlington Harbour, for the provision of a new fish dock, which has been of very great value to our fishermen. They are finding a substantial increase in the turnover that is done in that harbour, and I believe that the expenditure that has been in- 655 curred there will be found in the future to have been very justifiable indeed.
We feel in East Yorkshire that agriculture has tremendous possibilities if it is only given the opportunity. We feel that what the fanner wants for the future is continuity of policy by all the political parties in. this House. We do not want to be chopping and changing about with variations of policies, and we are hoping that when these new tariff schemes become fully operative, they will not be altered from day to day or from month to month, but will be something that the farmers can rely upon, because I want to ask hon. Members to believe that it is not a bit of good, in any country in the world, trying to make a prosperous agriculture when commodity prices are below the cost of production. Someone has got to give way there, and the farmers and producers have been giving way all the time. It is time to get prices up to a substantial level, where reasonable profits could be made and proper and adequate wages paid to those who work in agriculture. We are on the way towards doing that, and I hope that these schemes that are being proposed, where farmers are getting closer together and co-operating more, will be of benefit in doing something to stabilise prices.
I can assure the Minister that the farmers of the country want to play their part at this time of the nation's difficulties, and want to do whatever they can, and that they are grateful to the Ministry for the help that they are giving. I am sure that these Estimates have been carefully gone through and that the economies that have had to be made have been very necessary, but I hope the Estimates have not been so pared by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Ministry will not be left a full margin with which to carry out its operations in connection with the new legislation that it is proposing. I hope that adequate provision will be made in the Estimates for a wider extension of the activities of the Ministry of Agriculture, and that we shall not find that we are not able to carry out our work properly because adequate money is not provided. In conclusion, I want to thank the Minister for what he has done so far and to wish him and the Government success in the new legislation that they are proposing.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE
I am sure that we all listened with very great interest to the account of the activities of the Ministry of Agriculture which the Minister gave us this afternoon, and I think we all agree that the Ministry is one of the most efficient Ministries, that it is run with the least waste, and that it gives better value for money than any other Department of the Government. At Question Time to-day the Minister said that the travelling expenses of the Ministry came to £58,000. That sounds a very large sum, but I think it is money well spent, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Drewe) stated, it is no use having a great deal of money spent on research if the results of that research are not got down to the people for whom it is intended. It would be much better to use some of the money spent on research a little more in spreading the knowledge that is obtained. A great deal is done by means of lectures, farmers' clubs, and so on in the way of spreading this knowledge, and I should like to reinforce what my hon. Friend said about getting pamphlets more widely published in small market towns and getting them down to the farmers. It is no use finding out all sorts of things unless the knowledge thus obtained gets to the farmers, and they are now anxious to take advantage of scientific research. Not very many years ago farmers did not think very much of what we found out in this way, but now they fully realise the value of it and how much they can learn, and they are anxious to get all the knowledge in that way that they can.
I think the Minister realises to a certain extent the very serious position of agriculture, but I am not at all sure that he realises it quite fully. I believe, or, rather, I know, that agriculture is in an absolutely desperate condition to-day. Old farmers come to me and tell me that the last year was the worst that they have had for 30 years, and unless things improve and something is done to help them, it will be utterly impossible for them to carry on. Agriculture is a large conglomeration of different industries, and not one of these different industries pays, at the present time, with the possible exception of the production of cider apples. There is not the least doubt that the production of cider apples has benefited very 657 largely by the national marking of cider. People now know that they can buy good cider that is really made from English apples, and that fact has been a great help to the farmers in my part of the country who grow cider apples. National marking has been a great help in other ways.
Arable farmers have suffered a great deal more than stock farmers and the Government was quite right to deal with the question of arable farmers first by bringing in the Wheat Act. The arable farmer has not had as much as he might have had, and he will be unable to sell his barley, owing to the increased price of beer. That is going to result in a. very serious position for the grower of barley. Things have been done for the arable farmer, but they do not affect very much the farmers in the West of England, who are rather left out in the cold. The farmers in the eastern counties have been helped and have got a great deal, but the western farmers have got nothing to help them from the Government. They feel that the present Government, which was returned to restore the balance of trade, ought to realise that one of the best ways in which the balance of trade can be restored is by encouraging more production of British meat and British bacon. By encouraging the production of bacon we can do a lot to decrease the imports of bacon, the amount of which at the present time is tremendous.
The Minister has set up a reorganisation commission for the pig industry, but it will take a long time before that Reorganisation Commission is able to report. Meanwhile, the owners of pigs are destroying their breeding sows, and, unless something is done at once, it will be too late, and when the industry is reorganised it will not be able to recover fast enough to supply the bacon which is required. I therefore beg the Minister to hasten the report of the Pig Industry Commission and to try and do something at once, without any further delay, to help the industry. He could, at any rate, give them some encouragement and make the farmers feel that something is being done to help them and prevent them from destroying their breeding sows. The pig industry can be increased very rapidly, and it is an industry which is of the very utmost importance, because it 658 affects every farmer of every sort throughout the country, from the biggest farmer down to the smallest smallholder. I urge upon the Minister that he should take immediate steps to encourage the industry, so that it might not be completely ruined before the Reorganisation Commission reports.
I know that this is an exceedingly bad time to urge upon the Government anything which is going to mean extra expense, but I must once again refer to something which I have constantly talked about in this House, and that is the question of meat for the Army. It is said that a very large sum is involved, but we only ask for it for six months in the year, and I believe that the sum which was mentioned was exaggerated. It was a definite part of Conservative policy at the last election that we should supply meat to the Forces during six months of the year, and that part of the policy, which was given by the party practically as a pledge, has not been carried out. I ask the Minister to take some steps to get at any rate a portion of the meat supplied to the Forces from home-grown beef.
I should like to refer to a point connected with the fishing industry. It is well-known that all round the Devon coast are a large number of wrecks, caused during the War, and that those wrecks do a great deal of damage—or did, I do not know whether they still do— to the gear of the fishermen. I went to the Minister of Agriculture a year or two ago with a deputation on that subject, and it was then suggested that some form of insurance might be worked out so that men when they lost their gear from no fault of their own could get compensation. I should like to know whether any steps have been taken. It was not the fault of these men that ships were wrecked on the coast during the War or were torpedoed. The fact is that the wrecks are there, ruining the fishermen, and I hope that something is going to be done by the Ministry.
§ Mr. SMITH-CARINGTON
As one of the representatives of the eastern counties, I am very glad to have an opportunity of intervening for a few moments in this Debate in order to put before the Minister the parlous condition of agriculture, particularly in that 659 district. About a year ago I was talking to one of the best-known agriculturists of this generation, and he told me that in the eastern counties there was only one farmer left, and that was the bank. I am afraid that the position has become aggravated to-day, and I think that even the one farmer is rather sorry. In those circumstances, we feel that we have a very good friend in the Minister of Agriculture. He has done a very great deal in a very short time. His opportunity, in point of time, has been of a limited nature, and we appreciate very much not only what has been done, but the various other things that have been placed upon the rails and which we hope he will do for us in the near future.
While recognising his efforts and the very valuable instalments of policy that we have received, I would like to urge that the time factor is a very important one, in view of the desperate condition with which we are faced. The time factor is becoming one of very great urgency and seriousness. We have, of course, the Wheat Act. Some portions of the eastern counties have benefited considerably from that Act, and we are glad that they should. I am not one who would belittle the Wheat Act. On the contrary, I think that its opponents have misjudged it a good deal when they speak of it as only affecting one and one-third million acres. It affects fully three or four times that amount when one takes into consideration the fact that wheat is only one of the crops in the rotation. Although we are grateful for the Wheat Act, we feel that barley comes a little nearer home to us. A great deal of our land is unsuitable for wheat, and, unless we can carry on a successful barley cultivation, there is danger of a good deal of the land falling back to its natural condition of heath and common. That would be a very serious national loss. If we take the balance of those two efforts, one of the Ministry of Agriculture and the other unfortunately forced upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we feel that the latter probably outweighs the advantage to our farmers that they might derive out of the Wheat Bill.
Various tariff arrangements have been started. I am one of those who, for a quarter of a century, have been strong supporters of tariffs. I feel a great 660 gratification that at long last tariffs should have won the place to which they are entitled. The tariffs are various and, in so far as they affect horticultural products, I think we can describe those tariffs as being of a very valuable kind. Some of the other tariffs I am afraid are too small to effect all that we would like of them. It might be fair to describe them rather as heartening than fattening. They encourage us and make us feel that the National Government have got away from that old policy under which agriculture wilted. The fact that the Government have got away from that is heartening, and is a happy augury for the future. I am afraid that in the present collapse of prices for agriculture, the 10 per cent, duty is not going to help us very much.
From time to time in the Debate, stock-farming has been mentioned. Stock-farming up to now seems to have been the Cinderella of the agricultural position. A very well-known agriculturist, writing in the "Times" newspaper only a week or two ago, said that if all the Cabinet had been vegetarians, stock farmers could hardly have got less than they have. It is a fact that meat has been put upon the Free List and has not yet won a place which I, and my hon. Friend who preceded me, feel that it is entitled to in the dietary of the Forces of the Crown while they are staying at home. Prices have been falling with a ruinous velocity, and the position of the stock farmer is a very precarious one at the present time. We are very grateful to the Minister for what he has done, and we consider that he has done a very great deal during the time that he has been in charge of our agriculture. We realise that the National Government have supported the industry in a generous measure, and that they have many other claims upon them and cannot devote their attention entirely to this great industry. I would like to stress again that the time factor is all-important.
I would associate myself with the hon. Member who urged that we should have the reports from the commissions hastened so far as is practicable. I notice in recent times a tendency, which I am glad to say has not been present in the Debate to-day, for critics to say that any Government help given to agriculture must be conditional upon farmers reorganising themselves. In general 661 terms, one agrees with reorganisation, but the most valuable and the best reorganisation is that which comes out of the industry and is worked by the industry. The only point I desire to make in that regard is to suggest that we must not put the cart before the horse. It is impossible for farmers, out of their depleted resources, to carry out reorganisation schemes until they have a good programme to which to work. Reorganisation is a matter both of time and of money, and we cannot reasonably expect any very great launching out in that direction unless there is a programme.
I wish to associate myself with the remarks which have been made during the Debate as to the vital necessity for security, a programme which will not change from time to time, but will run upon a national basis and be supported so as to give that continuity and sense of security of which the industry is so constantly in need. We thank the Minister for what he has done, and congratulate him upon his courage in facing some of our difficult problems. We ask him not to grow weary in well-doing, but to persevere and to show even more courage and a greater lead in tackling the problem. If he does that I am convinced that the fanning community will eagerly respond and work with him.
§ Major HILLS
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Smith-Carington) in saying a few words about the position of the stock-raiser. Stock prices are now being broadcast, which, I understand, is a very valuable service of the British Broadcasting Corporation, and I should like to know whether the Ministry are themselves concerned with the broadcasting of those prices. I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who criticised various details and aspects of the agricultural problem, but I missed from his speech the common, broad view of the industry as a whole. As he was speaking, I felt great regret that he was not using his very considerable abilities in trying to help lift the industry out of the depressed condition which he knows very well it occupies. There are, of course, points to be criticised with regard to marketing and 662 the administration of the wages boards, and here and there, but the big thing we have to do—and I am prepared to believe that he wants to do it just as much as we do—is to try to make agriculture a prosperous part of our social system. What particularly caused me to rise to-night was the statement which he made in regard to production. The hon. Member criticised the composition of the two committees set up to study milk and pig products. His ground of criticism of the second committee was that the committee would look at the industry from the point of view of production; that production would be their primary consideration, and marketing their second consideration.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I said that so many members of the commission were believers in Protection in advance that I feared they would concentrate upon the quantitative regulation of imports rather than emphasise the organisation of the marketing side.
§ Major HILLS
I think that the hon. Member will see when he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, that he criticised the committees on the ground that production would be their primary consideration. The hon. Member must agree that production must be the primary consideration. Agriculture is the production of food from the soil. Production must come first, and it is no use talking of distributing the products of agriculture until you have the products of agriculture. We are suffering from the fact that production is falling because it is not profitable. If you deal with prices, you will get all the production you desire. Marketing, important as it is, must come second. Also, it is no good improving marketing if the people who benefit in consequence are not the farmers but the foreigners. You have to study production. It is at the root of all national systems, whether industry or agriculture. In contradiction to the view of the hon. Gentleman, I hope that those committees will make production their primary consideration. He and I differ, though respecting each other's opinions, upon the merits of Free Trade and Protection. The hon. Gentleman is a convinced Free Trader; I believe that you must protect agriculture. You cannot protect industry and leave agriculture out.
663 The hon. Member drew a moving picture of the damage by floods at Bentley in the Don Valley. I agree that drainage ought to be attended to and that the inhabitants and farmers ought to be protected against having their houses and lands flooded. I entirely agree with that object, but will not the hon. Gentleman help us to keep back another flood or fog, that of despair—despair is not too strong a word —which has arisen in the stock-raising parts of the great county of Yorkshire, with which both of us are familiar? I am sure that he must be aware of the very serious position of the stock-raising areas. To-day we are promised help for pig products, and we are promised the reorganisation of milk products. Those are very valuable matters, and I hope that they will eventuate into a good scheme. We have also the Wheat Quota, but the unfortunate stock raiser, the man who produces the beef and the mutton, up to now has been left out. Even the Army has been denied to him as a source of supply. The hon. Member knows very well that many a farmer in recent years, frightened about arable farming, has turned to stock raising as an alternative, and now stock raising is a more important part of agriculture than wheat growing. We have spent a large part of our time in helping the producer of about 5 per cent of the product of the land and we are leaving out the producer of a far larger percentage.
Does the hon. Member think that we can bring prosperity to the stock raiser by marketing alone? He must have something more. I believe that we could do it by some sort of Protection, or quota, or some other system, without unduly raising prices. If production is carried on at a loss it is not for the good of the community. If you say that you will not take any means of making production profitable, why then not say that you will buy all that you need from abroad? I know that you do not say that. I believe that the Labour party agree with me that a price is worth paying to save the stock raiser and I appeal to the hon. Member, who speaks always with great fairness on these questions, to look at the position that stock raising is in at the present time. Can he find any means of bringing prosperity to 664 it, short of Protection? I suppose all of us if we could find any method would gladly adopt it. I have given what thought I can to the question and have tried to the best of my ability to examine it from all angles, and I am driven to the conclusion that the only means of preserving stock raising in this country is to impose a tax on imported meat.
§ Sir JOHN GANZONI
All those who come from agricultural areas have a good deal for which to thank the present Minister of Agriculture and the present Government. There is the Wheat Act, the Abnormal Importations Act and the Import Duties. We very badly need assistance in the agricultural areas, because agriculture is, I am afraid, one of the most depressed industries. From what I have said it will be implied that I associate myself with agriculture areas. I come from the middle of one. It is true that my own particular constituency of Ipswich is a borough, the only borough in that part of the country. It is a very compact borough. I can walk to any hall, chapel, church, or possibly circumstances may arise when I might walk to any cinema on a Sunday—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or to a public house!"]—or to a public house, if you like—public houses make good use of the products of agriculture—in 10 minutes. That borough has widespread agricultural county divisions surrounding it. We depend entirely upon agriculture. Our corporation has just spent £10,000 on restoring our cattle market. We have a big corn market, and our shops and the public houses are earning legitimate profits in a lawful trade by supplying the workers in agriculture who come in from the county.
There is no Estimate for which I would vote with greater pleasure than the one for the Ministry of Agriculture. All around us in Suffolk and Norfolk the farmer and the farmer's man have found things have failed them in turn—wheat, barley, pigs. Then they turn to stock. They keep stock for eight or nine months and feed them during the autumn and winter and sell them in the following year for less than they gave originally, taking no account whatever of what has been spent in keep. Beet has just served to keep the farmer alive, but there is no great profit to be made out of that 665 in East Anglia, and we are very much afraid that unless the Minister of Agriculture, our good friend, can infuse something of his spirit into the Chancellor of the Exchequer a fresh blow is falling upon our agricultural areas and upon our borough.
A very few years ago, perhaps only two or three years ago, unemployment was scarcely known in agriculture. To-day unemployment is a very real and very serious problem, especially in the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk. We have far too much unemployment in my own borough constituency, and we are naturally most anxious to support the Minister of Agriculture in continuing the good work he is doing and in doing anything it is possible to prevent an increase of unemployment, which is already such a deadly menace and such a canker in our midst. I have heard during the last two days of a brewery in Bury St. Edmunds and of three maltings—malt-ings full of malt—that are closing. Therefore, what is the prospect next year for barley? Difficulties accumulate one on the top of the other upon the unfortunate farmer, and they react immediately upon the farmer's man. Therefore, while thanking the Minister and while assuring him that if there had been a Division, which I do not think there will be, I should have had the greatest pleasure in voting for his Estimates, I beg him, if he can, to infuse a little of his spirit into the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and combine with him in that team work which will ensure that our agriculturists, especially those who depend upon barley in East Anglia, are not visited with an even greater calamity than the calamities that they have known during the last two or three years.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. PERKINS
I do not wish to detain the House more than a few minutes, but I should like to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on a very remarkable achievement. To have saved the immense sum of £630,000 on the civil servants employed by the Ministry is a very fine and remarkable performance. Nevertheless, some of us feel that it would be still possible to make further economies in the number of civil servants employed by the Ministry. On looking through the Estimates very closely we see that under one heading, on 666 page 81, the Establishment Division, there has been an increase in the number of people employed by the Ministry. We find the same thing on page 81, the Finance Division, the same thing on page 83, the Market Division, and finally, on page 96, we find exactly the same thing in regard to Kew Gardens. I hope that the Minister will explain to the House, in a very straightforward manner, why it has been necessary to increase the number of the civil servants in these four departments at a time when economy is of vital importance. I do not want to take away credit from what he has already done but I cannot but feel a little critical of the increases in these four sections of his Department.
I suggest that perhaps the reason why the increases have been necessary is in order to provide machinery for the Bacon Reorganisation Committee. We have been told that the bacon industry is hopelessly disorganised, that the farmers are not producing the right kind of pig and that the bacon factories cannot get hold of any pigs at any price. I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friends on that point. They are perfectly accurate when they say that the bacon industry is hopelessly disorganised, and I welcome this reorganisation committee because at last we shall have a body which is capable of compelling if necessary the bacon industry to organise itself on modern lines. But, although we welcome this reorganisation committee, there are some of us who are a little doubtful as to its effectiveness in restricting the import of bacon into this country.
There are only two ways in which they can be restricted, either by means of quantitative restrictions, a quota, or by the simple, straightforward and honest method of a small annually increasing duty. The Government, no doubt in order to make it easier for the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) to sit in the National Government, have turned down the simple method of a, duty and have adopted instead the highly complicated method of a quota. It may work, I hope it will, but I hope when we see the quota that it will be nothing like so complicated as the wheat quota, which is now the law of the land. Some hon. Members, myself included, spend a little time in solving cross-word puzzles and we would willingly tackle the most com- 667 plicated cross-word puzzle rather than explain the wheat quota to an audience of farmers. It is one of the most complicated Measures ever brought forward in this House, and I hope that the bacon quota will be nothing like so complicated as the wheat quota.
I also hope that it will not mean a great increase in the number of civil servants. I deplore the fact that the Government has not had the courage to stick to their beliefs and adopt the simple and straightforward method of a small but annually increasing duty on pig products coming into this country. If they had done so they would once again have restored confidence to the bacon industry, sent a word of encouragement to pig dealers, and shown the industry that there they really meant business, and the industry would have responded, under the shelter of a small tariff; the pig population would possibly have doubled itself in two or three years' time and in four or five years we should have captured a large proportion if not all of the imports of the pig products coming into this country.
I deplore the fact that the Government have not faced the issue, because it would have been simpler and more effective, a more honest and straightforward method of dealing with the matter and, further, it would have been understood by the farmers. It has been tried out in other industries and has been successful. I should like to ask the Minister of Agriculture one question. When we have this quota scheme, is it to be designed merely to check imports into this country, is it designed merely to prevent a sudden increase of imports, or is it to be designed to win back for the British farmer the whole of that £38,000,000 of pig products which are now coming into this country? When we see the quota I hope it will be designed to capture in four or five years the whole of the import trade of pig products into this country.
§ Sir ERNEST SHEPPERSON
It is with great pleasure that I notice a reduction of £500,000 in the Estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture. My pleasure in looking at these figures is in my capacity as a Member of this House and in looking at them from the point of view of the National interest, but I am bound to say that in looking at them as an 668 agriculturist my pleasure is not so great, because I fear that this reduction may mean some lull in the useful activities in the Minister of Agriculture. It is not necessary to dwell on the depression in the agricultural industry, it is known to every hon. Member. When things go wrong with us we always want to blame someone. The farmer is merely human, and when things go wrong with him he also wants to blame someone. In the first place, he blames the weather, and if that is not sufficient he turns round and blames the Government. The Minister of Agriculture undoubtedly realises that agriculture is in a difficult position by the number of letters he has received, but he is not alone in this respect. Every representative of an agricultural constituency is receiving communications from his constituents expressing their dissatisfaction here there and everywhere. Many of us spend a great deal of time and a great deal of energy in influencing, and in some cases initiating, legislation for the good of our constituents. Sometimes we are successful; sometimes we are not. When we are successful, how many letters expressing gratitude do we receive? Very few. But if we are not successful our post bag is full of those who have a grievance and a curse against us.
We have had a National Government for some considerable time. I represent an agricultural constituency, and am an agriculturist myself, and I am prepared to say on behalf of agriculture that the National Government have done more for the industry in the last six months than any other previous Government. We have had the Horticultural Products Act, the Abnormal Importations Bill and the Wheat Quota Bill. In every one of these Measures I took what part I was able to take in assisting their passage through this Houe. What expressions of gratitude did I receive? Not too many! But last week the announcement was made that there would be no reduction in the price of beer and my post bag has been full of communications from those who condemn the iniquity of the continuance of the present price of beer. Some of my constituents appear to have forgotten all my activities with regard to the wheat quota, and all the rest of it, and are upset because of the price of beer. I think we should get on better in 669 this world if we were a little more liberal with our thanks and a little less free with our curses. It is true, generally, that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, and that is why this evening I am going to express my gratitude to the Minister for what he has done to help agriculture.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I was hoping to be able to administer the honey to catch the fly. I sincerely trust that the Minister realises that a considerable section of agriculturists are prepared to, and do, express their appreciation of his efforts, during the past six months, to help agriculture and that these honeyed words may stiumlate him to take similar action with regard to bacon and later on to beef. They may also stimulate him to try to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give us a little off beer.
The Minister in his opening statement said that in all probability there might be some criticism of the reductions proposed in these Estimates, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will take it amiss if I offer some criticisms on that ground. I was very pleased to see the reduction with regard to expenditure on land drainage. It is no good spending huge sums on draining and reclaiming land which is not now in cultivation until we have made land a possible economic proposition when it is cultivated. The industry must first be made a paying proposition, and then money can be spent on land drainage. There are, however, some other reductions on which I should like to express criticism. I do not like the reduction in regard to the collection of agricultural statistics. I know that, for a period, agriculturists did not like filling up forms and returns, and resented those inquiries which are necessarily entailed in the collection of statistics.
To-day, however, the farmer realises the value of those statistics. The information which is obtained by the Ministry, for instance, in regard to the pig population, enables the farmer to know whether he ought to extend or to decrease pig production. Statistics as to the acreage under various crops is also useful to the farmer. All this information enables him to know whether it would pay him to 670 put a particular crop on the market at a given time, or whether it would pay him better to hold it until later. I hope that there will be no reduction in the Ministry's activities in that direction—in fact I would like to see them extended. If the agriculturists who are growing potatoes, or possibly carrots or other vegetables, could give to the Ministry in January estimates of the acreage which it was intended to grow, and if it was found that the total acreage was in excess of the normal, the Ministry could then inform the various growers that they ought to reduce the acreage of that crop by 5 per cent., 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. The agriculturist would be protected in that way from over-production of those commodities.
A reduction of some £77,000 is proposed in reference to agricultural education. I value agricultural education very highly. The farmer is cautious, and some years ago he looked with considerable doubt on agricultural education, but he is now beginning to realise its value. It has been remarked that it is only as soon as an attempt is made to cut down agricultural education that farmers begin to desire it. The reason is because, year by year, farmers are realising more and more the importance of agricultural education. In order to extend scientific agriculture and mechanisation as applied to agriculture, it is essential that the farmer should, if possible, receive a scientific education. Another criticism which I have to make concerns the proposed cut of £44,000 in agricultural research. That, also, is a branch of the Ministry's activities which is being appreciated more and more each year by agriculturists. If we are to compete with foreign countries in agricultural production, we must keep our production up-to-date, and that depends to a large extent on agricultural research. As I have mentioned in this House on a previous occasion I worked for a considerable period at agricultural research in Cambridge, under Professor Sir Rowland Biffen, in bringing forward the "Little Joss" and "Yeoman" varieties of wheat. It is essential that the varieties of wheat grown should be suited to the districts in which they are grown. There are some districts in which "Yeoman" is suitable and others in which "Little Joss" is suitable, and it is only by research that we can obtain 671 information as to the parts of the country which are suited to certain varieties of wheat, and where those varieties will produce the best results.
There are also research activities in progress with regard to potatoes and other crops. It is not only within the Ministry, that agricultural research is taking place, but also in every agricultural college throughout the country, and I would like to ask the Minister whether it would not be possible to bring together, within the Ministry, all the information obtained by the various agricultural colleges throughout the country, and to make that information available to the agriculturists of the country. If it were made available in a volume issued once a year, agriculturists would willingly pay for it, because, as I say, the agriculturist of to-day is anxious to make full use of all the agricultural knowledge available. I listened with great pleasure to the speech of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) who, evidently, realises the value of scientific knowledge applied to agriculture. I was about to interrupt him when he mentioned the question of lime, to say that lime was essential to certain varieties of wheat, and was not required with others. There are certain manurial ingredients essential to all kinds of land, one of them being phosphates and the other nitrogen. If it were possible for the Ministry to provide information as to the proportion of phosphates, of potash, of nitrogen, and of lime that are essential to particular crops, potatoes, barley or wheat, such information would be very useful to the agriculturist.
The same remark applies with regard to feeding cattle and pigs. Albuminoids and fats are essential constituents of the food, and it would be of extreme use to the farmer in feeding cattle for meat if he could obtain information from the Minister as to the ratios of carbohydrates, albuminoids, and fats in various foods. In order to do that he wants to know the percentages of those things in certain foods, and, if the Minister could publish a volume every year (containing the results of agricultural research in order to make these facts available to the farmer, he would do a useful work in helping the agriculturist to fight the distress of the present 672 times. As an agriculturalist who represents an agricultural constituency, I appreciate the activities of the Ministry of Agriculture, and particularly of the Minister himself, in all that has been done to help agriculture during the last six months. On behalf of agriculture, I beg of him to go on in the future as he has done up to the present. If he will do for the grazing farmer and the meat producer what he has done for the arable farmer, there will be some hope for this great industry.
§ Mr. GLOSSOP
While I much regret that it has been found necessary to make cuts in the grants that the Ministry provide for agriculture, I realise that in times of national difficulty our industry has to bear cuts with other industries. I want to make one or two criticisms which I hope that the Minister will appreciate as being made in a constructive spirit. It is difficult for any agriculturist to criticise, for he is always regarded as a perpetual grumbler like all farmers. If we farmers are grumblers, I assure the Minister that it is due to our mental make up and that it in no way represents what we actually think. I know of a farmer who always grumbles; and after one extra good fanning year, such as I believe they had occasionally before I was born, he was asked what his views were with regard to the season. He frankly admitted that it was the best agricultural year he had ever had, but he concluded by saving, "But the excellent crops we have had will be a terrible drain on the goodness of the soil."
I wish to refer to two of the larger items which appear in these Estimates. The first is the grant given by the Ministry to local authorities under the Diseases of Animals Act, 1925, in relation to tubercular cattle. The Ministry give a grant of 75 per cent, to local authorities in connection with cattle slaughtered under the tuberculosis regulations. I am not altogether happy that the working of the scheme is resulting in full benefit to the country, particularly with regard to the way in which the compensation is paid. The compensation is largely paid in the first place on the value of the animals, but it varies according to the density of the disease in particular animals. A cow can have tuberculosis not only in the 673 lungs, but in the liver, the intestines, the joints, or the neck, and, when the owner notifies the local authority that he suspects the animal is suffering from tuberculosis, and the local veterinary surgeon agrees, the animal is slaughtered. If only one part of the body is affected with tuberculosis, the compensation is relatively high, no matter how long the disease may have been affecting that particular organ. If when the animal is slaughtered it is found that the disease exists in several parts of the body, although in a very slight degree, the compensation is relatively less, because the disease is said to be more general throughout the body. I consider that a cow which has advanced tuberculosis in one particular organ may be a more dangerous source of infection to the rest of the animals in the herd than a cow which has localised tuberculosis in possibly a couple of joints of the legs.
Under the present system of awarding compensation there is no real inducement for the conscientious owner, who imagines that one of his animals is suffering from tuberculosis, to notify the local authority. If the animal is only slightly suffering, it may be three years before it gets into a bad state, and the owner has a fear that, if he notifies the animal as being suspected of tuberculosis, he may get only small compensation owing to the fact that the disease is generalised. If the animal is badly affected, and it is obvious to the owner that the animal will soon die, he notifies it, not because he desires to rid the country of tuberculosis, but because he knows that compensation under this Order is much more profitable than the price he will get from the knacker for the animal. The Committee is asked to approve Estimates under this category amounting to £53,500, which is an increase of £7,000 on last year. The Committee, in voting such a large sum, are entitled to be assured that we are getting the best value for the money. The object of spending this enormous amount is not to give money to fanners who have tubercular cattle; the whole idea is to get infected animals notified at as early a date as possible and slaughtered so that we may eliminate one of the most terrible cattle disease scourges. I suggest to the Minister that it would be worth the while of his Department to consider whether it is not possible to alter the methods under 674 which compensation is paid in the case of the destruction of tuberculous animals.
The second point I wish to put forward relates to milk recording. No greater benefit has been conferred on the dairy and cattle breeding industry in this country than the giving of a Government grant towards the development of milk recording. In the Estimates I see that under the head, "Grants for milk recording and for heavy horse stallions, bulls, boars and sheep" there is to be a reduction of £5,000. I do not know whether that indicates a reduction in the grant to milk recording societies, but I would point out to the Minister that these societies are having a very bad time and are finding it extremely diffiult, owing to the adverse conditions prevailing in agriculture, to continue their excellent work without making a loss. Therefore, I hope there will be no cut in their case. Although, as I have said, the milk recording movement has conferred a great benefit on the industry, I regret to say that it is not at present sufficiently widely adopted. The scheme as it exists is admirable for the pedigree stock breeder, the man who is keeping a very precise record of his cattle, but ordinary dairy farmers who, after all, are those who really matter, because they are providing the milk for the masses of our people, have been slow to adopt this movement largely, I think, on account of the scheme being a little too complicated. I hope it may be possible to try to popularise the milk recording movement by introducing a rather simpler scheme which, though possibly not so desirable as the present one, would require less book-keeping and would make more of an appeal to the ordinary commercial dairy farmer.
Further, I think the time has come when the Minister should try to work in the production of milk of a higher butter fat content with the milk recording movement. At present the work of improving the butter fat content of milk is run apart from the milk recording scheme, in contrast with what is happening in other enlightened countries, where the people demand milk of higher quality. After all, we in England only use milk for colouring tea. In other countries, where they drink milk on account of its health-giving properties, they pay for it on a butter fat basis. Whether we look to North America or to Europe we find that 675 milk is sold on its butter fat content basis. The people wish for real milk, and are prepared to pay a little for for it than they will pay for milk of a low butter fat content. We shall have to contemplate introducing such a system into this country, and the Minister ought to work in with the milk recording scheme a system of recording officially the butter fat content. Scottish Members will know that the Scottish Milk Recording Association already have a scheme. The records of their cattle are taken every three weeks, whereas in England they are taken only every six weeks, and every cow is tested for the butter fat content of its milk every time the recorder makes a visit. There is no doubt the Scottish scheme is very much more efficient than the milk recording scheme we have in England, and I hope the Minister will consider the question of instituting a similar scheme in this country.
Money spent on milk recording societies is very well spent, because, more than anything else, it encourages the introduction of business methods in dealing with dairy herds. It is impossible for any farmer who is dealing with his dairy herd on a scientific basis to run it profitably unless he adopts the milk recording system in its entirety. Milk recording tends to make the dairy producing industry very much more efficient; by increasing production it tends to lower the costs of production, and that ought to benefit the masses of the people in the towns who consume milk. It is no exaggeration to say that herds which a few years ago were giving an average of 450 gallons per cow are now, as the result of the adoption of the milk recording scheme, the elimination of bad cows and the introduction of more scientific feeding, now yielding up to 800 or 900 gallons per cow. It is a national asset if such an improvement can be brought about. Further, the more uniform adoption of milk recording would make the work of the livestock officers who go about the country inspecting our herds much more valuable. Milk recording methods introduce businesslike methods, and if in addition to keeping records of the milk a record is kept of when the cow calves and when it is put to the bull it is all so much more helpful to the livestock officers who are trying to stamp out tuberculosis and contagious abortion.
676 While we have no alternative but to submit to these Estimates, in spite of the fact that there are cuts in the money devoted to our industry, I hope that when times are more prosperous those cuts will be restored, because there is no industry in this country which is in more need of development than agriculture. There is no industry upon which money can be spent to better advantage in extended education and research. Money spent in that direction will add to the national wealth through the greatest industry which we still have in this country.
§ Mr. LECKIE
I intervene in this discussion in order to make an appeal to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to do everything he can to assist and to encourage the allotments movement in industrial areas. I know something of the good work of this movement in South Staffordshire, and I am sure that the agricultural Members who have spoken to-day would be amazed if they could see the quality of the produce raised from allotments there by men who are ordinarily engaged in ironworks or the leather trade or similar occupations. In Walsall, which is my own constituency, we have several thousand allotments, supplied almost entirely by the town council, at very low rents, and those allotments are being worked to the full. Last year, through the instrumentality and the enthusiasm of the minister of the Central Hall in Walsall, unemployed men were brought into the movement for the first time. Through his interest and the help of the town council 50 unemployed men were given allotments and provided with seeds and implements, and as a result there was at the end of the season a most creditable display of produce. It amazed many people who had not realised what could be done. That movement has gone ahead notwithstanding the regrettable fact that the grant for seeds which has hitherto come from the Government was not available this year. Happily the Society of Friends came to the rescue, supplying seeds at greatly reduced prices, and I believe there are 100 unemployed men working allotments this year.
There are infinite possibilities for this work to be increased, and it can be done at very little cost. I appeal to the Minister of Agriculture to entertain favourably the increasing of the grants 677 for this work when he comes to consider the Estimates for next year. It is too late to do anything this year, but no better work could be done for the unemployed than to give them allotments, and encourage them to undertake this kind of work. I am told—and I believe it to be a fact—that the difference in these men since they worked allotments is remarkable. Now they really have something to do, and the work has given them self-respect and a knowledge that they can at least do something. This has encouraged them to go on with the work. In addition, these men are producing valuable food, which has been a splendid asset to the domestic cupboards. I feel that a few more thousand pounds spent in this direction would be well spent, and would produce an excellent dividend in helping the unemployed to do useful work and produce food as well.
§ Lieut. Colonel WINDSOR-CLIVE
In this Debate so far there has been very little criticism of what the Minister of Agriculture has done, but a good deal of urging him to do more. That is due to the fact that there is at the present time a greater sympathy with agriculture in the towns as well as in the rural districts than has been the case for a long time. There is a general feeling in the country that the National Government has done more good for agriculture in six months than any Government in the past has done for a long time. The Minister of Agriculture passed the Wheat Bill, and he is carrying out investigations into milk and pig products, but I cannot help reminding the right hon. Gentleman that nothing has been done in regard to beef and mutton. I hope that when the investigations into milk and pig products have been completed, the Minister will take into consideration the question of beef and mutton.
I understand that our delegation at Ottawa will be assisted by agricultural experts. It is with regard to meat that the Dominions compete most with our home producers, and it is very necessary that the interests of our home producers should be adequately represented at Ottawa. I was very glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said to the effect that the reduction in the number of inspectors had not caused any loss 678 of efficiency in the administration of the Agricultural Wages Act. The vast majority of farmers are anxious to carry out their obligations under that Act. They would like to pay more wages than they do at the present time, and it is only right to say that many of them have kept men in work whom they could ill afford to employ in order that they should not lose their jobs. But there are black sheep in every profession and it is necessary that the administration of the Agricultural Wages Act should be properly supervised.
I do not suppose that it would be in order for me to go into any detail with regard to rural housing, but I urge the Minister to see that that question is pushed forward as much as possible. I think it is in the better provision of house accommodation in the rural districts that we shall find a solution of the difficult question of tied houses. If the measures which the Government are undertaking result in increased prosperity, a much greater supply of houses will be needed in the rural districts. It is the experience of every representative of an agricultural district that they find very few young men are going into agricultural employment as labourers. The reason for that is because the wages are low and housing accommodation is often bad and there are very few prospects of advancement. One reason why I welcome what the Government have done, and what I hope they are going to do for agriculture, is that it will once again make agriculture worth while for the young man to go into with some hope of advancement. I believe that the policy they have adopted will stop the flow of the agricultural population towards the towns, and will once more restore prosperity throughout the country districts.
The subject which we have been discussing to-day is one which at the present moment is of supreme importance. This Parliament was elected to support a National Government, and also to undertake a comprehensive investigation into the basic industries of this land and a rehabilation of the countryside. There is no doubt that more interest is being taken in agriculture to-day than has been the case for a long time. I wish to join in the many con- 679 gratulations which have been offered by hon. Members to the Minister of Agriculture for all that he has done, on behalf of the National Government, in seeing that agriculture shall have care and consideration at long last meted out to it. We have had a much disputed wheat quota Bill passed into law so far as this House is concerned. That is only the first step, but a very great step along the road in the right direction. This afternoon we have had two remarkable maiden speeches dealing with agriculture both from the arable and livestock point of view. I am one who is almost entirely concerned with the animal production side of agriculture. The Debate last night gave those of us who are connected with that branch of agriculture additional reasons for hoping that that side of the industry is to have special attention in the near future. This afternoon we were all glad to hear the Minister of Agriculture emphasising the large percentage of the animal production side of the industry.
I want to say a word with regard to two branches of animal production. First of all, I will deal with this question from the dairyman's point of view. There is no doubt that that branch of the industry is in a greater plight to-day than it has ever been before, and unless the dairy branch of agriculture is very carefully and drastically handled in the near future, there can be no doubt that those who have invested very large sums of capital in that branch of the industry will be entirely submerged.
I have had during the last few days some remarkable representations made to me. It has been pointed out that individual and collective efforts have so far entirely failed because those engaged in dairying have been up against forces which have undoubtedly been too strong for them. The first of these is foreign competition, which I can only label as unfair, in the shape of dried milk imports which are made possible owing to reasons of which we here have no conception. The 10 per cent,ad valorem duty under the Import Duties Act will, no doubt, be of material assistance towards helping to right matters. We have not yet had time to realise what the value of the 10 per cent. duty will be. But all the duties will not help to 680 put the dairy farmer in the position in which, undoubtedly, he ought to be put. The monetary policy of the Government will, no doubt, also be a help in so far as it tends to drive prices up, but, having regard to some of the statements made by my hon. Friends opposite in the course of the Debate last night that the Government were, perhaps, in this respect going in for a gambling concern, those of us who are interested in dairying propositions are not too sanguine. At all events, we do not wish to make another losing bet and that is why I respectfully suggest to the Minister that in regard to the dairy farmer, we ought to have some regulation of prices to ensure that the producer gets a fair and square deal, while by no means neglecting the interests of the consumer.
What has been said to-night about the interests of the towns emboldens me to say that the consumers in the towns do not fear any legislation in this direction, but are only too willing to give those in the countryside the relief for which they are asking. With regard to the livestock-raising branch of the industry, the same considerations hold good. There can be no doubt that the industry of livestock-raising affords during the course of the year the maximum amount of agricultural employment, and that, I think, is a most important point for all of us to remember at the present serious Juncture. It ensures the presence of green crops in rotation, and thereby makes directly for an increased demand for agricultural labour. We have heard in this Parliament a great deal about the conditions of the labouring classes as a whole, almost entirely from the point of view of the townsman or the representatives of the industrial areas. Sometimes when I think of all those sallies that are made upon the means test, which is sometimes called the "mean" test, I am reminded of the agricultural labourer who is out of work, or who may quite possibly find himself out of work in the near future, and for whom there is no provision whatsoever. The agricultural labourer is a descendant of those small landholders and landowners who were displaced as a result of the enclosing of land. Through force of economic circumstances they had to give way to the tenant-farmer who held the land under the landlord.
681 9.30 p.m.
By the same force of economic circumstances in recent years we have seen the breaking up of large estates and the farmer owns his own land, but the position of the agricultural labourer is just the same, in as much as he has only his agricultural wages to depend upon. He has no direct interest in the produce of the soil. Just as in the 'Seventies and the 'Eighties the question of security of tenure for the tenant farmer was fought out in this House, under William Ewart Gladstone, so to-day we have to find security for his produce in the shape of markets. Above all, we have to make sure of the secure position of the agricultural labourer. When matters pertaining to agriculture are brought up, it is nearly always the farmer who is spoken of, and people, whether in this House or outside, seem to forget that for every farmer there are many agricultural labourers. To-day their position is a very insecure one indeed.
Not many months ago I was present at many farmers' meetings, and I am very sorry to say that at several of them it was said that if the present condition of things continued, the only way to solve the problem would be to reduce the wages of the farm servants. We have heard to-day about evasions of the agricultural wages' boards and also some rather hard things said about my friends the farmers. I am going to make bold to contradict those statements. There are black sheep in every flock undoubtedly, but there is no decent farmer who would seek to reduce the wages of his men simply for the sake of securing an unfair advantage. It is the force of economic circumstances alone that is driving him to it. In this country and in Wales there is the security, at all events, of the agricultural wages' boards. In Scotland the agricultural worker has no protection at all. It has often been said that in the past, when industry in this country was in a flourishing condition, agriculture flourished. That statement I must also most definitely contradict, because in the 'Seventies, 'Eighties and 'Nineties and particularly in the 'Seventies and 'Nineties, when industry was flourishing, agriculture was almost as depressed as it is to-day. But now there is a chance when a Parliament such as this is supporting a Government such as 682 the present one. The great feature of the last election was that a great battle was fought and a great victory was won. The victory was our fiscal freedom and it is that freedom that we have to realise and enjoy to-day, and not suffer ourselves to be stifled by the miasma that arises from the fool's paradise of so-called Free Trade.
§ Lord SCONE
The Minister has tonight had the experience—rare it is true, but very well deserved—of being almost overwhelmed with floral tributes. I must add my quota to them, but in offering my bouquet I trust he will not take exception when he discovers in the middle of it by no means half a brick, but just a small pebble of criticism. The criticism that I have to make relates to barley. A few days ago I put a question in this House to the right hon. Gentleman, and his reply was that imported barley was now subject to the 10 per cent. duty, and he hinted that the barley growers might well be content with that. I must respectfully submit that that is not going to solve the problem so far as barley is concerned.
There has been all over the country, during the past few years, a steady reduction of the acreage under barley, and it continues at the present day; and the unfortunate circumstances which, at any rate up to the present, have prevented the Chancellor of the Exchequer from reducing a tax which has been on the lips of most Members of the House during the past few days, have tended only too much to aggravate the situation. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the question of distinguishing between malting barley and feeding barley is still under consideration, but I must remind him that it has been under consideration now for a good many months, and I hope that he and his Department will be able to make a definite statement on this subject before many weeks have passed. If that be not done, it certainly will lead to more land going down to grass, and to still fewer men being employed in the growing of barley.
I must differ most respectfully in one item from the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson), who, I regret, is not in his place at the moment to hear my criticism. It is with regard to the grants for land drainage. England is particularly 683 unfortunate in that respect, because this year, I understand, she will get no drainage grants, while in Scotland we shall still get them, though in a reduced form. This discovery moved the hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Colonel Clifton Brown) to very righteous wrath when my question elicited the information, and, after all, he was justified, because, although the hon. Member for Leominster made out, as I understood, that drainage grants applied principally to arable land, it must be remembered that drainage is no less important, and, indeed, very probably is more important, in regard to hill pasture. There is a very large quantity of land in the North of England, as there is in Scotland, which is likely, if drainage is not continued on the present scale, to become so waterlogged that it will take a number of years to restore the pasture. I myself am of the opinion that it is harder to restore grass land that has become waterlogged to its former condition than it is in the case of arable land.
There is only one further point to which I would like to draw the Minister's attention. Information has reached me within the last 24 hours—I have received a telegram while I have been at the House today—that it is very probable that, in the course of the next month or six weeks, an enormous increase will take place in the imports of Spanish potatoes into this country. For some reason which has not yet been fully disclosed to me—I hope to get information with regard to it in a day or two, but it is undoubtedly connected with the 10 per cent. duty and other duties that are now in force—the Spaniards have not dug their potatoes nearly so early as they normally do, but are going to dig them some six weeks later, and my information is to the effect that anything up to 250,000 tons of potatoes will be imported during May and June, and possibly another 150,000 tons during July. I would submit to the right hon. Gentleman for his consideration that, if this takes place, it will be a very severe Wow to the early potato industry in this country, and one which well merits some serious consideration. In conclusion, I should like to say that, whatever minor criticisms we may make, we are absolutely certain that a step forward has been taken to provide a genuine 684 agricultural policy the like of which has not been seen in this country for many years past.
§ Mr. PIKE
I rise, not as an agricultural representative, but as one who is extremely and definitely industrialist, and who represents people whose industrial success depends upon a successful agricultural policy. As the three preceding speakers have said, we have too long ignored the necessity for a successful agricultural industry in this country, and there was a great deal in the statement of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie), that since 1880 or 1890 there has been a general tendency in this country to ignore completely the importance of agriculture as an industry producing staple products, and to place too much reliance on the ability of industry to see us through. I would remind hon. Members that the House has just assented to various Measures which to all intents and purposes have turned this country into a tariff country, and I would ask them to regard a successful agricultural industry as the necessary forerunner of a successful tariff policy. It is not possible to conceive that these various Measures can achieve ultimate success unless we can establish an agricultural industry that is successful from beginning to end, and I am convinced that without it we shall not get that economic security at home which is so necessary to the successful operation of a new fiscal policy such as we have adopted.
Although the Minister has gone a great way in encouraging communities that have drifted from the rural to the industrial areas to go back to the rural areas, he has not, in my opinion, done a sufficient amount of work in that direction to warrant such a flow-back as would be necessary to a really successful agricultural industry. I realise that it is not easy to encourage industrial workers, or rather, those agricultural workers who have gone into industry, to return to agriculture, unless they can be offered the same amenities of life, or at least a reasonable social outlook after they have finished their daily task. Possibly some hon. Members do not think that the agricultural worker should want to enjoy himself after his daily toil as the industrial worker does, and possibly this is one of the reasons why such amenities have not been 685 provided for him. It is also suggested that the industrial worker cannot be expected to go back to agriculture unless he can go back on at least the same favourable terms of employment that he has been enjoying in industry. I do not for a moment believe that the time is yet ripe when the same wage levels can be enjoyed throughout agriculture that are enjoyed throughout industry, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind something that he can do. We are suffering from an unemployed army of over 2,000,000. In many cases during the last month, in my own constituency, steelworkers and ironworkers have said to me, "If I get a definite promise of two or three days' work on a farm, will it debar me from my right to enjoy the benefits to which I am entitled as an insured industrial worker for the remaining days for which, I sign? "At the moment the law does not provide for that contingency—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
As the hon. Gentleman has just said, the law does not provide for that. I am afraid that legislation would be required in order to provide it, and we cannot discuss legislation in Committee of Supply.
§ Mr. PIKE
I will not pursue that matter any further, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to realise that there are numbers of men in the country to-day who are anxious to do agricultural work provided that their doing it will not jeopardise their position. To encourage that type of workers and others back to the land is going to be difficult, and we see that in this Estimate the educational grant for agriculture has fallen by £77,000. Naturally, that is owing to the financial position in which the country finds itself, but we cannot expect to get men back to the land and to get a successful agricultural industry if we take away the means of training these men up to a point of agricultural efficiency, and I sincerely hope that the Minister, as soon as the position justifies a turnover, will give back to the fund as much of this money as is available, so that every phase of agricultural education can go on and develop and assist in the production of a real live and efficient agricultural worker.
686 The question of barley has been raised, and it is of great importance to remember that the consumption of barley in one trade alone last year only represents 10,500,000 cwts, whereas the same industry in 1914 consumed no less than 15,500,000 cwts. That is not a decrease that has come about naturally. It has been forced upon the industry and, if it continues, it is likely to lead to the complete annihilation of that side of a very important product. The Report of His Majesty's Customs and Excise for 1929, the last available, contains an official table giving the materials used by the brewing industry, and it says that in 1928 10,500,000 cwts., in round figures, of malt were used. I believe 440 lbs. of barley make 336 lbs. of malt. It also says that 800,000 cwts. of rice and maize together, and no less than 20 per cent. of the total product, which is 1,800,000 cwts., of sugar were used. Each of these figures would show a great increase on those that I have quoted had the industry been allowed to remain in a more or less normal condition in respect of taxation. I believe that the moment you can relieve the brewing industry of its present burden, you will give a great impetus not only to the agricultural industry generally but especially to the barley, maize and sugar-producing branches. If we can do that, we surely should do everything in our power to see that nothing stands in the way of those branches being successful. The Minister mentioned the progress made towards the successful operation of the canning industry. We have great and; wonderful fruit gardens in this country, and until quite recently we were not taking advantage of them in the way we should. The canning industry is only a very small child at the moment, and, further assistance to fruit growers and, I will not say out-and-out Protection but measure which will involve guardianship for these fruit growers, will increase tremendously the potentialities of the great canning industry which is commencing in the fruit-growing districts.
I should like to support the appeal that has been made for grants-in-aid for allotments. If the right hon. Gentleman ever comes to Sheffield, he will see that the city is surrounded by a mass of allotments. If he had come at this time of the year two or three years ago, he 687 would have seen a sight pleasing to his eye, every one of these allotments well kept, well manured, everything being done by the unemployed to make them real wealth-producing concerns. But to-day they do not look the same. The land is not being utilised to the same extent and, in consequence, those who own or rent them are having to pay an exorbitant price for their vegetables and they have not the same immediate occupation to attend to, because their allotments are not really a proposition worth consideration in view of the cuts in the grants. I would ask the Minister to restore them to the full at the earliest opportunity. It is better to have the unemployed usefully occupied on their allotments than to have them walking about the streets losing their sense of citizenship and their general outlook on the affairs of life. I believe much can be done in that respect even at this late stage of the Estimates. What the right hon. Gentleman has done is fully appreciated by the industrial areas in Yorkshire. I hope he will progress with the work and in due time will be able to come to the House with a still greater programme of achievements to his credit.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I cannot, of course, join in the paeans of praise and thanksgiving to the right hon. Gentleman. I dissent from his Protectionist policy as strongly to-day as ever. I think it is rather early to talk about the tremendous results that have been accomplished. In the words of Mr. Asquith, it will be wise to "wait and see." I am not at all as sanguine as hon. Members opposite as to the results of this policy. I am not an agricultural labourer, but I spent a portion of my life in Queensland, and there I was an agricultural labourer, so I know a little bit about milking, ploughing, and harrowing and about potatoes, turnips, and pumpkins, and know a little of the hardship of working fairly long hours and getting precious little for it. I am often amused when I hear speeches by Members representing agricultural districts as if we who live in the towns have no sympathy whatever for those who work in the country. We have the greatest sympathy for them. They have been crushed not because of Free Trade, 688 not because of the want of tariffs, but solely because of the industrial revolution which turned this country into a country of factories.
I am astonished at the ignorance with which hon. Members approach this subject. I sat in the Gallery years ago and heard the beginning of the controversy which has culminated in the events of the last six months, and every argument which has been used to-day was used then. But always there was this outstanding fact that, when this country was under Protection, the agricultural worker was in the most poverty stricken plight of all his history. I am entitled to give my experience of the men who were middle-aged and old when I was a boy, many of whom lived during the period of the "hungry 'forties." Those men told me of wages of 5s. and 6s. a week, and many of them with big families, and none of the advantages of being allowed to work overtime for themselves on allotments, in big gardens, and so on, that there have been in the last half century or so, and making up their wages in that way.
I am not going to admit for a moment that any advantage that the farmer will get from any of the things that are being done for him to-day will be automatically shared with the labourer. I am quite certain that they are not being shared with the labourer unless the farmer is compelled to share them, and proof of that was given by my hon. Friend who opened the Debate from this side. No one has controverted his figures, because they are the official figures. Therefore, do not let us have any cant about the labourer going to be better off under these conditions. There is one other thing that few hon. and right hon. Members have taken the trouble to think about, and that is that in all probability, if agriculture comes to be an industry that will be a paying concern, it will be turned into a kind of factory organisation. You will not have it left un-rationalised and unorganised as it has been up to the present, but even under present conditions, with the advent of machinery, the Ford tractors, and the other mechanical appliances on farms, even in the case of dairies, things for milking, and so on, unquestionably you will get a bigger output with the employment of fewer men and women. You will 689 have exactly the same thing happening in this industry as has happened in every other, and all your dreams of getting multitudes more people to stay on the land or to go back to the land will vanish into thin air.
Human society is up against a problem that neither tariffs, nor Free Trade, nor anything else that continues the competitive fight of man against man can solve, and you can look to some altogether different method and a different spirit. Thirty or more years ago I met that very great agriculturist, Sir Horace Plunkett, to whom the people of Ireland and this country owe a tremendous debt of gratitude. Sir Horace Plunkett converted many people in his lifetime to the principle that we are advocating here, the principle of co-operation, the principle of men coming together and sharing their gifts of brain-power and skill with one another, for the success not only of themselves, but of those with whom they cooperated. You talk about starting on a new road, with new hope and so on. You cut down education and research, but what built up agriculture in Denmark? In that country agriculture was simply bankrupt. The country was on the verge of ruin, but what brought it to what it is to-day and through a very terrible period of depression was the fact that both the Government and the people co-operated to pool their brains and their efforts and established the finest system of co-operative farming that there is anywhere in the world.
The reason our people did not do it was that more money could be made by investing in factories and in oversea investments. About that there cannot be any dispute, and I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is really happy that the Government have cut down the grants for research and for education, whether he really thinks that agriculture has reached the limit of education and of research, that there is nothing more to discover, and that all the money that has been spent in the past in this way has been wasted. He knows very well that it has not been wasted, and he knows as well as I do that a very considerable amount more needs to be spent. Instead of congratulating him, I condole with him for being at the head of a Department that has been so ruthlessly hacked in 690 expenditure that is so absolutely necessary. To me, it is one of the scandals of this Debate that hon. and right hon. Members who stand up for agriculture have not thought it worth while, except in a very casual way, to protest against the cut in that expenditure.
I want now to come to the question which has brought me mainly to my speech in this discussion, and that is the question referred to by the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. Leckie) and the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division of Sheffield (Mr. Pike). The question of what to do with the unemployed is one of the most terrible for anyone who sits for an industrial area. I do not care whether you are a Tory, a Liberal, a Communist, or a Socialist, if you have any feeling in you at all, you cannot go into your division and face the young men and the middle-aged men who, day after day, wander aimlessly about the streets looking for the work that is not there. Before the War there was a period of unemployment relatively as bad as this, and that is a thing that I would like to impress upon those who are thinking about trade and industry. It is a little worse now than usual, but we have had these periods of unemployment and bad trade ever since I have known anything at all, and from 1900 onwards, just after the Boer War, we were in a very terrible plight indeed.
There came to this country an American who believed that if you could get idle land and idle men brought together, a great deal of unemployment would be got rid of. Rich man as he was, and clever man as he was at business, he had forgotten that you could not really start a new industry of that kind in just the way that he first imagined, but he did see this, and the Society of Friends have seen it since, that if men who had no ordinary work could be found occupation in the waste places of the city where they lived, they would be able, not only to occupy their minds, but to grow a very considerable amount of food. The right hon. Gentleman's Department has in its archives the whole of the particulars of the Vacant Land Cultivation Society. For a number of years I was its chairman. I believe that the allotments at Sheffield mentioned by the hon. Member who has just spoken took their rise from our agitation, 691 when we were going about the country begging the people in the towns who had bits of land to let it rent free to the unemployed, who were to go on it and clear it, and, at the end, were to have whatever they produced. Here in London we regularly held an exhibition of vegetables, flowers and fruits, grown amid brick rubbish in the heart of London. Outside this House, at Millbank, the Church Army organised a whole set of gardens which must have produced thousands of pounds worth of food.
During the War, that society, in the Metropolis and in other great towns, organised old people, young people and women. The Minister's Department has all the particulars of this. During the War many hundreds of tons of green-stuff were produced, without costing anyone anything except a few pence necessary to buy tools and seeds. Last year the Government, for the first time since the War—before the War they gave grants, and perhaps I am making a mistake and there have been grants since the War, but whether I am right or not is beside the point—a considerable sum was put in the Estimates to spend on seeds and tools, and so on. This year, there is no money in the Estimates. The right hon. Gentleman says that voluntary effort is finding the necessary money and that the work will not suffer. I want to point out to him, if it is true that we are doing as much work as was done last year, that last year we did not a tithe, not a hundredth part, of what was necessary.
I appeal to the Committee. We have the power, and if the hon. Member for Attercliffe and the hon. Member for Walsall will get their friends together, we will help them, of course, and will bring such pressure as is necessary on the Minister to get the necessary money grant. The Estimates are not enough. We want a bigger sum to be put in in order that not merely Walsall or Attercliffe, but London, will benefit. I am not asking that the sum should be given to an individual. This matter can be organised quite easily through a number of organisations in the various towns. My appeal is exactly the same as that of the hon. Member for Walsall. It is that we should prevent the demoralisation that comes to men who have abso- 692 lutely nothing to do. Last night His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was at Newcastle, and he said there a very true thing. He said that one can help people in small ways as well as in big ways, and that, instead of talking about the big things, we might talk about some of these smaller things and get them done. I ask the Minister whether he will not make a name for himself by his Department responding to the appeal of the Prince and doing what appears to be a very small thing—providing people all over the country with seeds, spades and forks, and stimulating those who are willing to give their time in organising the work.
It is no use thinking that it can be done merely by private charity. You cannot raise sufficient money. I must not be told that there is not enough land. There are lots of building sites. I repeat that the right hon. Gentleman will find the records in his Department, and I appeal to him to give attention, not only to what I am saying, but to what hon. Members on his own side have appealed to him to do. It would be a big piece of social work if it were done, and it would mean a great deal of effort, yet it would in many cases preserve men's self-respect and keep them in condition. I will tell the Committee another thing it would do: it would give the children in the homes a little more food. Obviously, what food was grown would be in addition to the money that the growers could get from the Employment Exchange. If there is any doubt about it, I can say to the Committee that in Woolwich there are a number of allotments, and that arrangements have been made with the Ministry of Labour, in reference to those allotments, by which the men who use them are not in any way penalised in regard to their Employment Exchange money.
I know that people will say quite truly: "You are always telling us that what is needed is not more production but greater consumption." I plead guilty to that inconsistency. Consistency is not at the disposal of men. The land is there but it is shut off from the people. While we are living under these conditions, I have all my life said that we must do the best we can with the means that we have at our disposal. No one ought to gibe against me because I am apparently pleading something very contradictory. 693 I am mainly concerned about the welfare of men who are victims of unemployment and their women and children. This is such a tiny thing, yet, spread all over the country, it would be a Godsend to tens of thousands of people. I most earnestly appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to worry the Exchequer and get this money. I wish he would also get the money for education and research, but if he cannot get both, he should get the one I have spoken about, because— [Interruption.] Well, I am a moderate person and I will take whatever I can get. I do not believe that there is a right hon. Gentleman or hon. Gentleman who, if he had the money, would not give it, because he knows what a splendid thing it would be. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to see whether he can get it.
The only other thing I want to say is that I do not think agriculture can be organised on this form of protection that has won so much adulation to-night. I believe that agriculture must be reorganised from top to bottom and that the old individualistic idea of each farmer for himself living for himself is played out, and that you have to have a truly reorganised and rationalised form for agriculture in this country. Then you will produce on land whatever that land is fit to produce, and there shall be no charges upon the people who occupy the land or use it other than the necessary charges for carrying out their industry. Above all, there is no salvation for agriculture until the workers are treated as partners in the business of production.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
The last speech was the twenty-sixth speech to which I have listened, and I must acknowledge at once the great kindness of the Committee in regard to the general tenor of the Debate. To anyone who, like myself, is charged with the supervision of a very complex Department, it is most encouraging to realise that there is a very genuine interest in the administration of the Department in all parts of the Committee. I have heard to-day at least two maiden speeches. They were the speeches of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) and the hon. and gallant Member for the Brigg Division (Captain Hunter), and I am sure that the House will welcome their inter- 694 vention in Debates in the future. May I also add that we are glad to welcome back the hon. Gentleman the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. C. Duncan).
The Debate has ranged over a very wide area, and the last thing I should wish to do would be to introduce into the discussion the slightest note of acerbity or the least expression which would raise any feeling. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) asked me whether I was quite happy about the economies which I had had to carry out. Anyone who gives a moment's thought to the situation in which we all find ourselves must be certain, whether it is the Minister administering a great Department of State, the business man, the farmer or the unemployed, that no one is happy at the economic condition of our country, or indeed of the world. But there are certain hard and patent facts which we cannot ride past, and one of them is, clearly, that whatever our hopes and aspirations may be either now or in the future, we must recognise, as I said in my opening remarks, that economy, not only in this great Department of State but in every other Department of State, is absolutely essential. In making those economies we have tried to deal fairly between the various interests concerned.
Upon the question of agricultural education and research, about which a good deal has been said from a variety of points of view, I realise the great advantage which the agricultural community receives from agricultural research. I am very conscious also of the urgent necessity of directing research into those channels of inquiry which will result in the most practical effort and in being brought before the farming community translated into a simplicity of words of which the farming community can make use. For that reason I welcome the setting up in this country of the Agricultural Research Council. That body was set up under Royal Charter last October, and the council are now busily engaged in surveying the whole field of research and in visiting, and conferring with, the various institutions with the object of advising His Majesty's Government and the Ministry over which I preside as to the most effective method of taking 695 advantage of research. This problem of research is carried on in a great variety of institutions, and grants are being given from various sources. At the present time, when we are facing this very difficult period, it is right that we should ask ourselves, with the greatest of care, what is the most productive effort and where we can improve upon our existing methods.
The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who opened the Debate from the Opposition side, seemed to think that our object was not to make full use of the organisation and improvement in marketing which comes in so closely with the problem of education and research. I can assure him that that is very far from being the ease. I am certain that if the farming community as a whole is going to reap the advantage of the results of the inquiry to which I have referred, or of the Commissions which we have set up dealing with milk and bacon, or if they are going to reap the fullest advantage from the Duties—whether they are approved in one quarter of the House and disapproved of in another— which are, in fact, stimulating activity and interest in the expansion of production, and if they are going to achieve the fullest results of those efforts, they must turn their minds more and more to the orderly marketing, the proper packing, and the presentation to the public in an attractive form of those articles which the public desire. I emphasise the fact that whether in agriculture or in industry we are just a trifle inclined to be a little self-satisfied with the particular lino on which we have been in the habit of proceeding. Just as in agriculture we have had to change from the kind of stock which we reared and put upon the market, so we must do in regard to our horticultural products.
I was asked a question as to the Committee presided over by the Noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, and as to what has happened about his researches into the agricultural colleges. Unfortunately, like many other inquiries, that inquiry came at a time of great financial stringency. Be that as it may, we have tried fairly to distribute such moneys as we have and to maintain the structure not only at the great central colleges but in the more rural agricultural districts. I had great 696 pleasure in being able to continue those moneys which give facilities to the rural worker to get scholarships and to step from them into the actual rough and tumble of agricultural life. We have done that. I was also asked by one hon. Member, I think the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton), about the extra grant which appears on the Vote for the Research Institute at Rome. Any of the extra money required there is due purely to the monetary situation and to the fact that payment had to be made in the equivalent of gold francs. There is, in fact, no extra money involved. That office, which is used by continental countries and supported by our Dominions overseas, has provided us with some of those statistics which one hon. Member has referred to as being of great value to agriculture. No doubt this kind of expenditure must be carefully watched and reviewed if necessary.
The hon. Member for the Don Valley asked a question about the Royal Veterinary College. I am in great sympathy with the views expressed in many parts of the House as to the necessity of the Governments policy having within it some regard to the animal products of the country, and I can conceive of no service which can be of greater value to our live stock than a properly equipped veterinary education service. We all know the difficulties under which the service has been carried on and the great urgency of putting the Veterinary College in London in a proper condition. I regret very much that the financial situation forced me to say to those concerned in the rebuilding and development of this college that for the present I could not give them the grant which they had had promised, but I trust that this is merely a postponement; and it is a happy circumstance that they have in their hands at the moment enough funds of their own to make a beginning. Therefore, we can look forward to that being done.
Many hon. Members have referred to the future administration which is required. We have set up commissions to deal with milk and bacon. I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for the Don Valley say that he thought the personnel was not good. Let me say quite frankly that when I set out to find the personnel, particularly in the case of the commission on bacon, my right hon. Friend the 697 Secretary of State for Scotland and myself deliberately did not go to those who were directly immersed in the agricultural industry. We tried to find men of affairs, men who had a knowledge of business, and we selected accountants on both commissions. We took the advice and help of men who had been engaged in the reconstruction of other businesses; and I hope that all the industries concerned, the milk producer and the milk distributor, those engaged in the production of milk and dairy products, those engaged in the breeding of pigs and also those who are responsible for the curing of pigs, as well as the distributors of the finished product, will be ready to give their help and advice by oral or written evidence upon this problem. It is a matter of some urgency.
I have been asked whether anything can be done to expedite matters. I think that in my experience in agriculture one of the things that has been very evident is that, whatever urgency there may be, we must exercise a measure of patience and common sense in these matters. I believe that we have before us a field of great possibilities. I think that we have to-day a great deal of good will both on the part of those who speak for the cities and on the part of those who are concerned with the countryside. Many hon. Members have expressed that feeling to-day and I look forward, therefore, with some hope to co-operation between these interests. Is it not true, fundamentally, that whatever these commissions may do, whatever Parliament may do, if there is good will between the various parties in the industries concerned, those industries can of themselves do a great deal to put their own houses in order and to facilitate progress? I believe that we shall see a very great measure of co-operation in this respect.
A good many hon. Members have spoken about the difficulties, and it has been pointed out that we have helped the wheat grower and we have set up these commissions to deal with milk and bacon, and, it is asked, "What about barley"? Some hon. Members have said that a duty upon barley is not sufficient, but I would point out that that is not the last word in this problem. The opportunity is there, and the machine is 698 there for those who deal with these matters to bring their views before the tribunal which Parliament has set up for that purpose. I venture to say quite frankly to my hon. Friends who are disappointed with what has happened in regard to the beer duty—though that is outside the province with which I am dealing—that this is not a time in which the House could reasonably expect the Chancellor of the Exchequer to upset his Budget. Again, I would say to my hon. Friends that they must exercise a little patience and common sense.
The Leader of the Opposition addressed himself as other hon. Members have done to the problem of allotments. I am not an enemy of allotments or smallholdings, but once again I must be frank with the Committee and say that we are carrying on our Vote a very large sum which we are obliged to do, for smallholdings established after the War, and, while we are still operating these smallholdings through the local authorities, we are bound to have some regard to the question of cost. I calculate that we are going to increase our smallholdings during the year by something like 300 holdings. It may not appear to those who are enthusiastic about this question, that that is enough, but we are limited in this as in other matters by the stern facts of finance. I know the value of allotments because I have seen them working for a considerable period. The Committee will realise that when I first went into the National Government and bad to make those economies which I had to make, I was bound to have some regard to the major interests of agriculture as a whole. It may be true that this is a problem which affects the unemployed, but, if that is so, it is more a matter of unemployment than of agriculture pure and simple. In itself the provision of allotments is an excellent thing. It gives encouragement to the people, and is of great value.
We had to find last year some £26,000, but I cannot find that amount this year. On the other hand, we have always placed at the disposal of bodies, like the Society of Friends, whose services are worthy of the highest praise, any help and advice which we can give them. I am happy to think that by a special grant given by that society and by public subscriptions they have been able to obtain sufficient funds to assist approximately about the 699 same number of men as were assisted last year, that is to say, 64,000. That shows that there are throughout the country people who are ready to help, and I believe that that is a good way and a sound method in which to proceed in this matter.
I will conclude by saying a word on the question of the wages boards. I who come from across the Border have had to envisage and administer a system very different from that which I know in my own country. I am told that you cannot make these regulations in England without spending something like £37,000 upon inspectors, on allowances, and on committees with independent people presiding over them in order to settle these wage problems. Across the Border we have nothing of that kind. These things are arranged between the representatives of the men and the farmers without cost to the State. They are arranged after close co-operation with those who speak for the workers, men like Mr. Duncan, a friend of my own whom I am glad to have as a friend. They make their own bargains. Be that as it may, I in my present position have to administer the machine as I find it. We continue to make these allowances, and to have these committees, and we continue to keep our body of inspectors to investigate complaints. The only thing I have done is to do away with a special body of inspectors costing something like £5,000. If that is all the economy which that branch of this administration has had to suffer, and to suffer without any loss of efficiency, is it asking too much?
Some hard things have been said to-night about farmers. I have read with great care from time to time reports of what has actually happened in these inquiries. In a great mass of these cases where it can be shown that not exactly the right remuneration has been paid, it is owing not to malice on the part of the farmer but to ignorance. Let the Committee observe that complaints are 700 made from the workers, of which a considerable portion are found to be without foundation, and if accusations are to be made against one side, it ought to be borne in mind that accusations have equally to be made on the other. For myself, I am not particularly concerned with that, because I am satisfied that any complaints which are made can be properly investigated in the present circumstances and with the staff available. If I were assured that the staff was not sufficient to carry out the duties which Parliament has imposed upon me, then obviously it would be my duty to deal with the position. But I am not going to say that I think there is any justification for that complaint; on the contrary, I believe there is none. This has been a very interesting Debate. I am sure that if, in a year's time, we see a development of some of the schemes to which we have set our hands, if we see a general improvement in the conditions of the country, then we shall be able to congratulate ourselves upon a brighter future for the industry in which we are all interested.
§ Question, "That a sum, not exceeding £1,195,818, be granted for the said Service," put, and negatived.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn.—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes before Eleven o'clock.