§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN
I beg to move,That this House is of opinion that the encouragement of rural industries and the maintenance of a thriving and contented village life, together with a prosperous agriculture, are vital to this country, and urges His Majesty's Government to take every possible step in this direction.When I put down this Motion, I inadvertently gave notice that I would call attention to the plight of rural industries. I meant really to call attention to the condition of rural industries. I do not want it to be thought that rural industries are 2050 grumbling at a condition of affairs which is not being shared by many other industries at the present time. When I moved a similar Motion in March about six years ago, I went a good deal into the historical details of rural industries in Tudor times and into other matters, and I was twitted by an hon. Member opposite as having begun my speech with William the Conqueror and finished it with the Minister of Agriculture. I do not propose to go into historical details to-night, nor do I wish to alarm my right hon. Friend by saying that all the ills from which the countryside suffers have anything to do with him. It has to do far more with past generations in this country. We must realise even in the country that as things change so also does the countryside. The old industries which used to be essential are no longer essential.
Thousands of acres of the best agricultural land are built upon yearly. I was interested in a cutting which I saw 2051 in the "Times" of yesterday, which stated that agriculture in Surrey had lost 3,000 acres in 10 years owing to land being built upon. I often think that the loss of agricultural land for which agriculture has often been blamed has been more due to the spreading of the towns into rural England that is realised. We have to face the fact that the big towns are spreading and that rural England is becoming urbanised. We must also realise that many of the rural industries which were necessary for our fathers and our forefathers are no longer necessary. As far as village life and life in the far off rural areas are concerned, the cinema, wireless and motors have very much altered the outlook of our village folk.
When people coming to this country from Eastern countries, India, or from European countries approach the cliffs of Dover, or go up the Bristol Channel, to Avonmouth, or wherever they hit rural England, they feel that there is a different land before them than that from which they have come. The fields are greener, and they are smaller. If you happen to go to Kent a little later than this in the year you will see the most wonderful garden in the whole of the world. I think that Kent has been well described as "England's garden." England is very different from other countries, and our countryside is a very great asset, which we should do all we can to preserve. When you come to talk to the villagers in our villages, they may Be more reserved than the foreigner, but they have a sense of justice and fair play that strikes you almost at once as different from what you meet in a foreign land. They are bred up with fewer comforts, but they are healthier from their harsher circumstances. They learn from nature, by which they are surrounded, to understand nature—human nature—and they learn more patiently and truly to distinguish what is false and what is true. How to maintain, under modern condition, what Shakespeare so well describes asThis happy breed of men, this little world,This precious stone sat in the silver seais really the question underlying my Motion this evening. There are, of course, many rural industries which we cannot help to resuscitate or revive. 2052 Most of the rural industries depend on one thing, and that is a prosperous agriculture. If we get a prosperous agriculture in the country, many of those industries will revive. On the other hand, there are industries not dependent on agriculture which still ought to be kept in every kind of way from underselling by the foreigner, industries which give much employment. As far as agriculture is concerned, I gratefully recognise the effort which the present Government have made in very difficult circumstances to give real help to that industry. I have been a Member of this House for 10 years, and can honestly say that I have never been under a Government that has really tried to help industry as the present Government is doing at the moment. It has nothing to stop it, because it is looking from a business point of view, without any Protection, Free Trade, Socialism, nationalisation or any other point of view, at the problem before it.
I do not agree with many of the things that the Government put forward, but no honest person can deny that it not only has the chance but has the will, and is making an effort to make agriculture, the most important industry in our countryside, really prosperous once again. If it succeeds—and I think that every man and woman ought to help in this object—it will be the only thing that will stop the drift of our young people to the towns from the countryside where they ought to be. It will be the only thing that will encourage investors to put capital back into our agricultural land instead of investing it in businesses, perhaps overseas and in a foreign land. I should like to say with much pleasure to my right hon. Friend, who I am glad to see here to-night, that there is only one test of all the Government legislation; whether it gets a fair price for the producer. Then it will pay; otherwise, it is not worth the trouble of doing anything. The people of England must understand that if they want a prosperous agriculture and a prosperous countryside, they must pay a fair price to the producer for the goods in the countryside, in the same way as the dweller in the countryside must pay a fair price for the goods he buys for his work.
I should like to put forward one fact about the countryside. We are luckily now able to evolve schemes for properly 2053 planning the town and countryside of England. Nothing is more important, as you realise when you see the shocking spread of industrial towns into the countryside, than to get committees formed all over England, on a big scale and composed of the right people, to decide which is to be country and which is to be town. The Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, which will come into force on the 1st April, will I hope be used wisely and well. Under that Act there is at all events some chance of dealing with those who come from the towns and desecrate the countryside, coming down in their motors and opening gates, breaking glass bottles and leaving them about where they can cut the feet of the cattle; setting woods on fire, as sometimes they do. There will be some chance of stopping that conduct and forcing those people to behave in a proper way. Many persons talk about the countryside being abused. We welcome all people who want a quiet day in the country, but we want to feel sure that they are not abusing our hospitality or desecrating the beautiful scenery which we have spent many years in producing, and that they will behave properly, as they do in the streets of London.
Some industries could be revived without other help at once, if agriculture is made more prosperous. If we get agriculture prosperous, we shall be building farm buildings, and owners, as every agricultural owner has done in the past and will do in the future, will provide cottages for those who work on the farms. That will be, without any doubt, an alleviation of the rural housing problem. There are local brickmaking works in many parts of England—in Southern England there are thousands of them. If agriculture is prosperous, there will be a bigger demand for bricks, land drainage pipes, and tiles for cottages. You will encourage the industry and get more employment for it. It does not want other help; it is doing fairly well now, but it would be enabled to employ more men and to have a more prosperous time. Thatchers, again, are a skilled race of agricultural labourers—there is no race more skilled. They are getting scarce. There are various reasons for this. Mechanisation plays its part in the unemployment of skilled workers on the countryside. Another reason is that Dutch barns are going up with iron roofs 2054 that require no thatch, whereas a thatcher was required before. On the other hand, if agriculture is prosperous, there will be more demand for thatching in the fields, and the demand for skilled thatchers, who are so important, will be kept up, and they will be as skilled as they have been in the past.
There is one very sad side, from a picturesque point of view, in the disappearance of one part of England—the old mills that used to grind the corn. They are either derelict or have disappeared, and there are very few left. I doubt whether under modern conditions they are worth being resuscitated, even with a prosperous agriculture. But an old workman told me that in his father's time, when the workmen wanted some more flour to bake bread, they went to the governor and asked him to send wheat over to the mills to be ground. He sent it over at once; the price was paid, and they had flour for their old ovens in the cottages—which, unfortunately, they do not have now—and it was very much to the advantage of the farmer, who got cheap offal from the grain for his stock. I was sorry that flour was not forbidden to come into this country as well as the whole wheat; I believe that such a step might have given some encouragement to the country mills, which are not only a picturesque ornament to the country and add to its beauty, but are a useful and cheap means of giving the farmer flour and offal with which to feed his stock.
Those are some of the industries that depend on successful agriculture and which will come right with the prosperity of agriculture. It is essential that some other things be kept up in the countryside, and one of these is to give the children in schools a rural bias in education. In a quiet way, in many schools in many counties, gardens are provided for these children and a competition is held at the end of the year by the squire or the farmer. Tours are arranged for the children round the farms to show them the cows being milked and other kinds of work. Education in one form or another can be given without any expense to children who are going to be the skilled agricultural workers of the future, to give them some: keenness in agriculture, so that at 15 and 16, when they would otherwise want to go off to the 2055 town, they will desire to stick to the country where they were brought up.
No one has helped the countryside more in, education, not only among children but among workers, than the Rural Community Councils formed under the Rural Industries Bureau. They get a grant from the Development Fund of only £6,300, but I am very glad that they have something. Of this they give to the Rural Community Councils some £5,400, and very good use is being made of this money with the help of private subscriptions. The Bureau does its best to send people down to teach craftsmen, such as blacksmiths, wheelwrights and saddlers, in the villages; they are given instruction, and these little men who have that knowledge in a village can nearly always get a living and are a very useful asset to the farmer. The average county, I understand, has 100 smiths, wheelwrights and saddlers. The Bureau also says that if estate and farm repairs were carried out as in pre-War days, all these men would be busy. Harrows, drags, horse hoes, and cultivators, specially designed to suit local conditions, are still manufactured by blacksmiths, especially in the Eastern counties.
There are many other activities, especially in Scotland and elsewhere, and although I do not plead for further funds, especially at a time like this, I hope that the Government will give all the encouragement it can. The local Community Council in my own county of West Sussex has been formed for the last 10 years. Among other things, it undertook to ascertain through its constituent bodies, if the rural districts wanted public libraries. Owing to the action it took, we now have libraries in the villages. They also carried out inquiries in the local villages on what craftsmen were at work, and made great efforts to popularise many forms of industries, by giving lectures and holding exhibitions. With the help of the Women's Institutes of that county they have spread education among those who desire to have it and among those whom it may benefit. They have taught lobster-pot making, they have set up experimental plots for growing willows, and have started underwood work. But I think that their best effort in my county of Sussex—though I am not Member for Sussex, I live there—has been to start the young farmers' clubs, 2056 which are so well known in most counties, where all young agriculturists can receive good training in the work on which they are likely to be employed in their later years.
I was told that there was very little to talk on in this Motion, but I have so much down that I must hurry on. I do not think that I can pass over this subject without paying a real tribute to the Women's Institutes, which deserve all the encouragement that they can possibly get. By working in with the educational policy of the Rural Community Councils, they have done almost more to spread education than any other body that I know. There are two interests for which I want to put in a plea with the Minister. I am afraid that it is not exactly a matter for the Minister of Agriculture. It may be more to do with the Board of Trade. There are industries independent of agriculture, which employ a good many people in one way or another and which ought to be encouraged in this country. I am referring to forestry and to the underwood industry, which in many counties are going on very hard at the present time. It is an industry which gives employment to many hands in the winter time, when work on the farm is rather slack. In the old days the agricultural labourers were employed in the forests of the neighbouring estates, but owing to the poor prices ruling for timber very little work has been done either in planting or cutting. Indeed, the forests of England are getting seriously denuded, and it is a matter which should receive most serious attention for the future.
I went as a representative of the Central Landowners' Association, who produce a great deal of this timber in this country, before the Imports Advisory Committee. We went with the timber merchants in order to support their plea for a higher duty on hard wood, which we can grow in this country in sufficient supplies. I asked a question last June as to what had been done, and it has not been answered yet. I am told that the reason for this is that the Board of Trade are bargaining with other countries over other materials. If that is the case they are doing so to the detriment of the forestry industry in this country, and it is time that they made up their minds as to whether they 2057 are going to treat this particular industry fairly or whether they propose to use it in bargaining as against some other industry. That does not help the countryside at all.
Forestry employs a great many hands in its various ramifications. We can produce the timber in this country. We have been told that before anything can be done by the Government the industry must organise itself. I want to tell the Minister of Agriculture that the Central Landowners Association, the producers of this timber, or a large part of it, are getting on with a scheme for the reorganisation of the production and selling of timber. We have been assisted by the Forestry Commissioners, who are the largest producers of this timber in this country. We are doing our best to get a proper organisation of the timber producers, and we want to get the timber merchants in as well. When we have this organisation and go again with our application to the Imports Advisory Committee we do expect to get better treatment than we had before. We do not expect to be used as a pawn in bargaining with some other industry. If something is done in this direction it will make a great deal of difference in the number of men employed. Up to this year it employed all the spare hands in many villages, but for the first time there is no demand this year for underwood at all, entirely owing to foreign competition. It is found that the people who use this kind of wood are able to buy their supplies from outside this country at so cheap a price that the producers in this country cannot compete with it. This is a rural industry which should get fair play; it should not be treated as a pawn.
Another industry which the Rural Community Council has done much to help and assist is the osier growing industry. Why has that gone out? Osiers make baskets. In their report they say:The recovery of the underwood industry depends on the recovery of general trade. Bosoms are used largely by docks and wharves and also by the steel trade, though the demand for this has completely ceased for the present.There are figures to show that this industry is hard hit by unfair foreign competition. The osier growing and basket making industries provide work for a considerable number of men, including many blind persons. The home trade has shown 2058 a marked downward tendency in recent years. In 1926 it was down by 5.49 per cent. as compared with 1925, in 1927 by 7.87 per cent. as compared with 1925; in 1928 by 27.41 per cent. as compared with 1925; in 1929 by 12.49 per cent. as compared with 1925; in 1930 by 17.69 per cent. as compared with 1925, and the last census figures gave 7,000 basket makers as employed in the industry as compared with 4,500 at present. The number of employers in the industry is about 900. Osier growing in our rural districts gives employment to at least two men per acre, and if my suggestion is carried out employment could be given to agricultural workers in this way and also for part of the year in the forests. For some years the growing of osiers has been diminishing and unemployment has increased by 60 per cent. and 70 per cent. I am only talking of small things but these small things make all the difference in the life of the country. They cannot cost very much even if a little more protection is given them.
I hope the Debate, academic as it be, will do something to encourage sturdy British village folk all over rural England to hold fast to their old traditions of faith and character. It will be a gesture of good will and remind them that even in these times of national crisis, when great industrial problems present themselves for consideration, that their interests are not overlooked in this great assembly of the House of Commons.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. LENNOX-BOYD
I beg to second the Motion.
The House has this afternoon been considering urgent matters of great international importance, and it may be something of an anti-climax when we ask it to consider a matter of this kind, but I venture to suggest that there may come a time when the various concerns with which the House has interested itself this afternoon, deflation, reflation, inflation, sterling, prices and tariffs, and all matters of that kind, may well be merely a part of history, and that any legislative assembly which may survive may still be called upon to decide questions vitally affecting rural and agricultural life. I do not go so far as to say that in the future they will still be flint knapping in Norfolk, as they have been doing from 2059 neolithic times, or that they will in Barnstaple be making pottery as they have made it for the last 1,500 years, but I think it highly improbable that the inventive genius of man will ever discover a more effective way of sustaining life than by the cultivation of the fields, and as long as that remains true, any question which vitally concerns agriculture must demand the attention of any Parliament in the world.
My hon. and gallant Friend who has proposed the Motion referred to the previous Motion which he himself moved in 1927, and perhaps the House will remember that that Motion was rather rudely interrupted by a count. There are all the indications that some such situation may arise to-night, but I have every intention of being very brief, and especially because the Minister of Agriculture has been courteous enough to be present and proposes to speak in the course of the Debate. When my hon. and gallant Friend proposed his previous Motion he was speaking at a time when during the 16 years previous no fewer than 126,000 agricultural workers had left the countryside for the towns. Since he made that speech a further 17,000 agricultural workers have left rural Britain and gone into the towns, and have gone either upon the dole or superseded other industrial workers, who have themselves gone upon the dole. In the same period in almost every quarter of rural Britain the rural workshops which were flourishing 18 and 20 years ago have been closing down. In a period of five years in Norfolk and in Suffolk nearly 1,000 rural workshops have closed down and over 1,500 men have lost their employment.
When my hon. and gallant Friend proposed his Motion in 1927 it was perfectly true that more people were employed on the land than are employed to-day, but there was a very definite difference between the position which ruled when he made his last speech and the position which rules to-day. To-day agricultural Britain knows with gratitude and certainty that the Government have decided on an agricultural policy and have put it in the hands of a Minister who commands the respect and loyalty of the whole agricultural community. The situation is indeed different to-day. I want briefly to try and explain what I understand is 2060 meant by rural industries. I am afraid that there is grave danger that some people may go away with the idea that the Mover and Seconder of this Motion are concerned with some of those trades like raffia working, and arts and crafts which can scarcely form suitable subjects for the deliberation of Parliament. I can assure the House that we have no intention of asking for a subsidy to encourage raffia working, nor do we want a subsidy to bring about what the Prime Minister described as an artistic Utopia, a Medici print in every cottage. We want to draw attention to real rural industries which are ancillary to agriculture, and which have been going through times even graver than the great industry of agriculture to which they themselves cater.
I refer primarily to the rural building trade, the building by small rural craftsmen of houses which are in every way suitable for the district in which they are placed. Secondly, to the old rural past-times, hedging, ditching, thatching, shoeing and blacksmith work, all of which it is vital to retain if we want to keep in our midst live craftsmen living upon the land. It should not be necessary in times of agricultural enlightenment to stress the advantages of rural trades. They are vital to agriculture, and if you once allow people who can perform them successfully to die out, and no successors to be reared, you will find at a time of agricultural expansion that you lack the people to whom you must turn. To-day anyone who examines the figures will find that we have few young men, in many districts no young men who are taking up such a vital rural trade as thatching. You can survey counties from end to end and count on the fingers of one hand the young men who are being trained to carry on this vital trade. That is not the only advantage, because rural trades have provided in the past for nearly every agricultural householder a highly valuable source of alternative income.
I represent an agricultural district, where, if the same amount of work in one trade was being given to-day as 20 years ago, no less than £12,000 would be paid out every year in wages, in a district no larger than 20 square miles. It is rather a tragic thing that we should, in response to the gospel of cheapness, have allowed 2061 this industry—the peeling of onions for pickling—to be superseded by cheaper onions imported from Holland and other countries. Also in the district I represent there were, until a few years ago, no fewer than 7,000 people who brought home every week to their homes a considerable sum of money through the making of Bedford lace. To-day what is a really historic and important English trade is carried on by people who can be numbered in mere hundreds.
It has been suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend that these rural industries would keep enterprising men on the land. I would like to refer to what I consider almost the most valuable thing that such men could do, and that is to produce beautiful and artistic things and gradually to raise the whole public taste. Everyone knows that at the moment mass production is killing enterprise and the power to create the simple and beautiful things that our fathers turned out. If we are ever to overcome the undoubted degrading of the public taste which mass production has brought about, it will be largely because of the demand for the products of the village skilled craftsman, who in time will make his wares popular and thereby affect mass production itself.
It is all very well to catalogue a series of grievances and not to suggest one or two practical steps which the Government could take. Obviously a first step, a step which we in this House can ask of our Government—the Government is responding—is to pursue with vigour a live agricultural policy. It is true that a number of our rural trades, not all and not even all the vital ones, will revive with a general revival in agriculture. If we look at the various! important wood trades, rakes, hurdle making and trades of that kind, we find that their depression has coincided very largely with the general agricultural depression. We shall find it very difficult when the better times come, the times for which the Minister is working with such vigour and such chance of success, to find people who will be trained enough to carry on these trades, unless something is done now.
Another thing which we can suggest to the Government is that in their industrial policy they should remember that in a good many rural districts of England the recovery of rural trade will come 2062 about through industrial recovery. It is impossible to over-emphasise the collapse in agricultural rural life which has been occasioned by the decline in the purchasing power of the great towns. If only we can revive that purchasing power we will find an enormous fillip given to our rural trades. There are a whole variety of small ways in which a revival in industrial life would bring about a revival in rural industries as well. If, for example, the iron and steel trade and the shipbuilding trade revived there would be an immediate response in the small rural trades which makes heather besoms on the northern moors. If the textile trade were to revive the bobbin mills of Yorkshire and the Lake District would foe called upon to satisfy some of the new demands.
A third way in which the Government could help would be to give rural trades that protection against foreign imports which many of them can legitimately ask. There was for many generations a very flourishing rush-plaiting trade carried on in this country. It was carried on for centuries. It had been entirely killed by the cheap imports of Belgian plait. When the War came there were Belgian refugees in England, and a man in the district who had bought his plait from Belgium naturally thought that he might get some of the Belgian plaiters to work here by taking them to Islip, and that so he would be able to purchase cheap plait such as he had bought previously from abroad. But he was met with the reply that not a single man among the refugees could carry on this trade, because it had been invariably performed by convict and reformatory labour in Belgium. So in response to the gospel of cheapness we had allowed a very old and romantic and attractive English rural craft to be faced with extinction.
The Government have faced up to the problem in one vital trade to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred. That is the basket trade. It is not generally recognised that Covent Garden Market requires every year 2,000,000 sieves and half-sieves. It is absurd that market gardeners in agricultural districts which produce the goods should foe forced to buy their baskets from foreign countries. There was a duty put on foreign baskets in 1932, and the immediate result of that duty was a reduction by one-half of the imports of foreign baskets. I can speak 2063 from personal experience and I am sure that though a certain part of that figure is met by a falling off in demand, the greater part is met by increased production among the basket-makers of England.
My hon. and gallant Friend referred to rural bias in education, and I would make a brief comment on that subject. In 1926 the Board of Education issued a pamphlet in which they explained why it was that the secondary education of England was rather taking the form of industrial as opposed to rural education. They said that as secondary education was voluntary it was inevitable that the form of education provided should conform to what the public wanted. They said that the average parent believed that if a child who had had a secondary education went into any occupation other than commerce or clerical work, that child's secondary education was inevitably wasted. I hope that the Government, through the Board of Education, and everyone who has influence, through the normal channels, will do all that is possible to impress upon the people the fact that probably many rural trades to-day are a far better climax to a, secondary education than industrial or commercial life. It would be a real service to dispel the illusion that the only man whose education has justified itself is the person who can wear a black coat— and then find, when he looks for work, that there is no job at hand. It is a widespread belief.
Take, for example, the primitive and ancient trade of charcoal burning. There is very little prospect of an increased demand for charcoal, unless the League of Nations embroils us in war with Japan and more gunpowder is required. But our charcoal burners are living in huts which are almost exactly replicas of the hut-circle habitations of our primitive ancestors. But a Government inspector comes round and finds that, though these men have worked for generations in those huts and have taken no harm from the woods, the huts do not conform to some regulation of the Ministry of Health, or that a small boy in the hut is ignorant of some algebraic problem, and the whole force of Parliament is brought to bear, an Act is prepared, the Government Whips are probably put on, a bright new red brick villa is built in the woods, an 2064 asphalte path is laid from the villa to the school, and there the child learns of the day when William the Conqueror came to the Throne, but he will be taught to despise a trade which was old at the time of the Conquest. His feat will be planted very firmly on the ladder which will eventually land him outside an Employment Exchange in some nearby town. If we are to put an end to that, we must do our best to revive the old honourable and useful system of apprenticeship. You will never revive rural crafts and give the people a proper sense of what true education is, unless you revive the system of technical apprenticeship which built up the prosperity of Britain and provided, in nearly every case, that career open to talent which it must be the aim of elementary education to give.
No one who speaks on the subject of rural industries ought to leave altogether out of account the progressive and tragic degradation of the face of Britain which has been taking place for the last few generations. Any Government which determines to tackle firmly the problem of rural industries must assume almost autocratic powers. If we had a dictatorship of the fine arts in Britain, as we could quite properly have, a dictatorship which this Government with its gigantic majority could assume, it would be possible, immediately, to insist that no local authority should pass for building the plan of any cottage or house which did not conform as best it could, to the prevailing architecture of the district. It would be possible to insist on the use of local stone and local slates and the employment of local craftsmen and it would be possible, if need be, to waive some of the exaggerated and unnecessary regulations which exist at present.
There was a case a little time ago in which a rural district council of great good sense, required some gutter stays for its houses. Somebody suggested that a local craftsman might produce them almost as cheaply as and certainly better than a firm of manufacturers. They used the locally-made article with the result that the houses which they have built are improved architecturally and from every other point of view. The people who live in cottages of that kind and who go from those cottages to earn their daily bread in that revived agriculture which my right 2065 hon. Friend the Minister is doing his best to bring about, will be better citizens and happier men than if they had been put into some Addison monstrosity in some new street. It was well said by an Irishman only a few days ago, speaking of a friend: "He was born a countryman, as I was, but the streets closed in on him— at the end—God pity him." We have an opportunity, by encouraging these rural trades, of keeping on the soil in happy and profitable content a generation of men who, if we do nothing, will inevitably gravitate to the towns. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister who has shown great courtesy in being here and who is, I understand, to speak in this Debate, will give some encouragement to those who believe that a rural bias in education is almost the outstanding educational need of the day.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) upon introducing this Motion. My only regret is that more hon. Members were not in the House to hear the very lucid way in which he presented it. I am disposed to think that that, to a certain extent, may be an indication of the attitude which is too often taken by those who live in towns or industrial areas towards the requirements of the country districts. But if the rural population of this country continues to drop and drop as, it has been doing nothing but disaster lies ahead of this country and it is well that Parliament should address itself to what is one of the most important and urgent problems connected with our national life.
This Motion is complementary to the Bill which received a Second Reading a fortnight ago dealing with home and Empire settlement. In the Debate on that Bill a good deal of attention was paid to the problem of home settlement and there can be no doubt that there is increasing anxiety in various circles as to the situation in our rural areas to-day. The problem to-day is not merely one of stopping the drift from country to town but also one of endeavouring to bring back to the country as many as possible of those who have gravitated during the last generation to the towns. This 2066 problem is closely associated with the problem of unemployment. I believe that, with a definite, progressive, forward policy in connection with the rural areas, much might be done to assist in dealing with unemployment.
The depopulation of the rural areas is not merely a quantitative problem. It is a qualitative problem also. Anyone who has been brought up in a rural area or a country village and whose recollection goes back 30, 40 or 50 years, must realise the great change that has taken place in that time. When I first read this Motion a few days ago I was at home. I took one of my usual walks in the country and went into the parish where I lived in my boyhood. I began to make comparisons between the situation in that parish 50 years ago and the situation to-day and I could not help being struck by the great and serious difference in the character of the inhabitants. There was a big drop in the population but, apart from that, I found that the two or three blacksmiths' shops which were there 20 years ago had been closed; there was no saddler and the two flour mills had long since been closed and were in a dilapidated state and very unlikely ever to be set going again. These changes meant that other occupations had also ceased to be practised in that district. The wheelwrights, for instance, had gone. If one were to make a survey of a number of parishes and rural areas one would find the same story repeated. Not only has the population gone down but the local crafts have died out, and all the work required in these districts has to be carried out at neighbouring towns.
The remedy is not merely to bring men back to the land, not merely to encourage men to remain in the country, but to see, as far as possible, that there is no further drop in rural industries and that something is done to restore those industries which are capable of being restored. There are many, of course, that cannot be restored, such as the milling industry of the country, but there are certain industries which have migrated into the towns for whose return to the rural areas we might hope, and something has been done of recent years in this direction. The hon. and gallant Member who introduced this Motion referred to what has been done by the Rural Industries Bureau, in co-operation with the Rural 2067 Community Council, in organising craftsmen in various parts of the country. Reference has also been made to the activities of the Women's Institutes which are scattered throughout the country. It may be of interest to hon. Members to know that the first women's village institute was started in Anglesey, in North Wales, in a small village with a very long name—probably, if it were printed in full, the longest name on the map of England and Wales. [HON. MEMBERS: "Say it!"] I am afraid it would be eleven o'clock before I had finished it.
I propose now to refer to what has been done in Wales in connection with one industry, because I believe it is some indication as to what might be done in other parts of the country. I refer to the woollen industry. There was a time when the woollen industry was one of the great industries of Wales. Long before any coal mines were opened in our country, our small woollen factories not only supplied their own localities, but flannel and cloth were sent across the border to markets in border towns, from North Wales to Oswestry and Shrewsbury, and from South Wales to Hereford and other border towns; and a great quantity of it was conveyed from these towns to all parts of England. Unfortunately, that industry gradually declined, but at one time there must have been hundreds of small woollen factories in all parts of Wales. The water power in the rivers and the valleys of Wales was found to be of immense value in connection with this industry. Recently, there has been a turn of the tide, and the woollen industry in Wales, although it is suffering at the moment owing to the depression in the mining districts, has some prospect of revival, I believe.
Reference has already been made by both speakers who have preceded me on this subject to the importance of educational work. It may be interesting to know that a few years ago the Welsh University took up this matter. A certain fund was placed at the disposal of the university in connection with Welsh industries, and a committee, of which I had the honour to be a member, decided that it might very usefully be expended in making a survey of the woollen industry, to see what could be 2068 done in order to develop it in various parts of Wales; and an advising and organising officer was appointed. In the first instance, a very interesting report was published on a survey of the Welsh textile industry. The report gave an account of the mills and factories in various parts of Wales, and made certain suggestions in connection with organisation in the future. As a result, the Welsh Textiles Association was founded, and this association has not only assisted in stimulating the industry, but has done one important thing which was absolutely necessary in connection with it, namely, improving the design of the cloths woven at the different small factories in Wales. In probably the same report to which the hon. and gallant Member referred, the report of the Rural Industries Bureau, reference is made to this matter, and I think perhaps a few sentences from this report will give the House a better idea as to what has been done in Wales in this connection than can any words of mine:The Bureau works direct with the Welsh textile industry …. Welsh industry consists of 100 rural mills hitherto producing flannel, blankets, and coarse cloth. With Bureau help Textiles Association has been formed, and new modern fabrics designed by the Bureau and gradually being introduced have been exhibited, for the first time, at the British Industries Fair, where export orders were received from all over Europe. Assistance with design will continue and two looms be permanently devoted to design experiment. The technical advice is supplied by a Welsh-speaking expert working permanently in Wales. The industry uses local wool, employs 1,000 men, and is capable of employing 2,000. After success at Fair, interest in design and new methods is spreading to more factories in Wales.When the House realises that there are something like 140 factories, the great majority of them in the three counties of South and West Wales-Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire—it will be seen what can be done by organisation of this character. This is one of the rural industries which I believe has largely been saved by the assistance, given, in the first instance, by the Welsh University, and subsequently by the Welsh Textiles Association, which was established in conjunction with the Rural Industries Bureau. This is not the only industry to which attention has been devoted of recent years in Wales. In a very interesting report, published in the year 1927 and 2069 compiled by Miss Anna M. Jones, reference is made to a large number of other small industries, such as pottery and basket-making, and it is an indication that a good deal can be done if, in various localities, there is some kind of organisation, and a possibility of receiving advice, and in some cases, of course, of getting certain financial assistance to start an industry.
The question to which the House naturally desires to address itself is what can be done to stimulate this movement. No one disputes the importance of developing rural life in its various aspects, and the Minister of Agriculture has certainly a great opportunity. I like to regard the Minister of Agriculture as the Minister of Rural Industries dealing with all aspects of rural life. I will suggest in this connection that, so far as Wales is concerned, the Welsh Secretary of the Board of Agriculture, who is stationed in Wales and has a staff at his disposal, might work in conjunction with the local authorities and the education authorities to deal with all aspects of rural life. I am very glad that such emphasis was made upon the importance of giving a rural bias to education.
I speak with a good deal of knowledge of the educational movements in Wales when I say that I am afraid that our elementary schools have been regarded too largely as schools to train children to go to the secondary schools. Our secondary schools again—the great majority of them, at any rate—have simply gone largely upon the old idea of giving either a good literary education or an education in science subjects. The practical side of education has been neglected to a very great extent, particularly in the rural areas. What is the result? A very large number of the children who pass through rural schools think that their only possibility of a decent future is in the towns or in industrial districts. If something can be done in the elementary schools to give a more practical side to education, it would certainly mean that more children would be prepared to remain in the country. A child should not be brought up with the idea that it is only by following what many people regard as more respectable occupations that he can find a future after he leaves school.
2070 I trust that the Government will not merely accept this Motion to-night, but will follow it with action. I cannot imagine that there will be any attempt from any part of the House to oppose it. The danger is that once a private Member's Bill has had its Second Reading and is sent upstairs to Committee to be scanned, and once a private Member's Motion is passed, it goes into the pigeonhole of some Department or other and is forgotten until it crops up again three or four years afterwards. This is one aspect of many of the problems which are baffling us in this country, and I trust that the Minister of Agriculture and the Government will, after the House adopts this Motion, as I am certain it will, will see that something is done at no distant date in order to implement what I believe to be the views of the great majority, if not of the whole House.
§ 8.50 p.m.
Mr. J. P. L. THOMAS
As I represent a constituency whose welfare is entirely bound up with the prosperity of its agricultural population, I should like to add my congratulations to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) for bringing this Motion before the House, and to congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) for the very able and charming way in which he did his share by seconding the Motion. I welcome the Motion on my own behalf, for to those who represent agricultural constituencies one of the most pleasant features of our work lies in the attraction and the interest which we find in village life. Any action or trouble that we may take now cannot be too great a burden if thereby we can do anything to preserve the happiness and contentment of the people in our villages. For some time past we have watched the drift of our rural population from the countryside to the town. Year after year we have watched them with a feeling of despair because we felt that our hands are being tied behind our backs by a futile and worn out system of Free Trade. Until this Government came into office we had been powerless to help them, and we had to stand by while our rural industries had to stand up by their own unaided efforts against the competition of the foreigner.
2071 That day is now passed, and it is because the Government have put into our hands the weapon of Protection, and because the Minister of Agriculture with great courage has launched us on a venture of building up once more the greatest of our British industries, that we support this Motion with more optimism than we possibly could when last the hon. and gallant Member introduced it in the House. The decline in the prosperity of agriculture has seen the decline also in our rural industries. In this country it is the concentration on manufacture in urban localities which contributes so largely to the displacement of the population of our rural areas. Unlike other countries, we have taken no steps until a short time ago to preserve the balance between our towns and the population of our countryside. It has not been so in other countries. Germany, for instance, as far back as 1870 after the ending of the Franco-Prussian War, was engaged in reconstructing her life as a national unit. She aimed at balancing the claims of the country and of the towns. She adopted that policy 60 years ago, and we have waited until the present day before we ourselves have attempted to adopt it. That it was a right policy is beyond doubt, because in the years of the Great War she reaped her reward. Her resistance to the blockade was one of the greatest wonders of the War.
This example has not altogether been lost on us, although we could have made greater use of the methods which they used, for successive Governments since 1921 have given practical financial help to the Rural Industries Bureau Development Fund. This has worked most successfully in at least 18 of our counties, through either the rural community councils, the rural industries bureau and other bodies, especially the women's institute. I, too, would like to seize this opportunity of paying a very fleeting tribute to the women's institutes, who, with their most admirable instruction work, do so much to bring content into our village life.
As the county which I represent is one of the 18 which are receiving this help. I hope I shall not bore the House if for one moment I give an example of a rural industry in Herefordshire. The hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) 2072 told us how the people of his county used to market their goods in the markets of Herefordshire. We have taken a leaf from the book of the hon. Member for Flint. We have set about and are making great strides in the industry of woven tweeds, but we do not return the compliment of using Flintshire as our market. We seem to have gone farther afield, for to-day not only are Herefordshire tweeds being sold in all parts of the British Isles, but they go to South America, South Africa, Czechoslovakia, Ceylon and Denmark. Now, with a mixture of linen and wool, we are preparing to produce light-weight tweeds suitable for use in tropical countries. The development of this new industry is already having a tremendous effect on the building of new looms, and giving great work to village carpenters in my constituency.
The hon. and gallant Member for Newbury spoke to us of the possibilities of basket-making were it given sufficient Protection against the foreigner. We, too, in Herefordshire make baskets. He pleaded for an increase in the tariff against foreign goods. I understand that certain of the basket-makers are asking for what I should call a prohibitive tariff against foreign imports. I assure the House that I should be the last person to grudge tariff Protection to any agricultural industry, but there is a danger on this particular question. The customers of our basket-makers are the users of what we call containers, and if regular supplies at reasonable prices are too difficult to obtain there is a possibility that they will give up the use of baskets and take once more to non-returnable boxes and to crates. Although I hope very much that the 20 per cent. tariff which I understand is at present upon the products of that industry may be increased, it is just as well that it should not be increased to a prohibitive level too suddenly.
I certainly have no wish to pose as a person with any particular knowledge of the subject of this Motion, but, if I might with very great respect make one suggestion to the Minister, it would be to extend to these rural districts the benefits of a marketing organisation. We have all seen the very attractive products of our rural craftsmen at exhibitions, and surely we can agree that there must be a very large potential demand for the 2073 products of our village blacksmiths, our wheelwrights, our potters, and our textile workers. The trouble at the moment seems to be that the large stores and distributors are unable to purchase these articles wholesale in sufficient quantities, and to be certain at the same time that they will be up to sample. Would it not be possible for rural producers to be registered at some central organisation, possibly the Rural Industries Bureau, which would be in a position to accept orders on a large scale knowing that it would be possible to meet the demands in a satisfactory manner? The cost of a marketing organisation would have to be considered, but if we follow the examples which have been presented to us during the last few months, and especially on Monday, surely that cost might be defrayed by producers in the form of a levy. I am quite convinced that this is a step which will have to be taken if these rural industries are to continue to prosper and to expand.
I realise that this Motion may seem possibly, a question of secondary importance to the Minister of Agriculture, who is for the moment facing such tremendous problems in his Department—tremendous problems in all the branches of agriculture—live-stock, arable and dairy farming—with such sympathy and with such courage. I say of my own knowledge, and I am speaking for one of the greatest live stock areas, which has been terribly hard hit through the collapse of prices in the meat market during last year, that in that area he has won from the farmers and agricultural workers the greatest admiration and the greatest confidence. That is the case to such an extent that I am sure he will be victorious, with their help and co-operation, in rebuilding our great industry and recreating a rural civilisation. But if that picture is to be complete it must contain within its framework the prosperity also of the rural industries referred to in this Motion, and I feel sure that he will look upon the suggestions which have been made in previous speeches with the greatest sympathy. I would also ask him, with great respect, whether he does not think the time has come when a very serious inquiry might be held into the following three points: first, to see what other rural industries existing already in foreign countries might be 2074 started here in Great Britain; second, to see how best to develop the rural industries already in existence here; and thirdly, and to my mind most important of all, to consider the need of a sales organisation. I support this Motion because I realise, as does every other right hon. and hon. Member of this House, that the eventual triumph and the eventual strength of the agricultural population, will rest upon the initiative and the native craftsmanship of every individual agricultural worker.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Commander COCHRANE
I wish to give whole-hearted support to this Motion, and I start by saying that because I would like to give my very brief remarks a rather different direction from that which has been followed by any of the other speakers up to the present; and for this reason. I think my hon. and gallant Friend who introduced this Motion was, if he will forgive me for saying so, speaking about to-morrow in the terms of yesterday. Even in the rural districts things will not be in the future as they were in the past. I regret exceedingly that that should be so, but it appears to me that conditions are changing so much in this country and throughout the world that we cannot expect to get back to those conditions, which I am sure we should all like to see, where the rural industries which he indicated were the ones which could be successfully carried on in our country districts. I think one of the greatest mistakes which we have made in this country in the past has been to divorce the great industry of agriculture from our other producing industries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. C. Thomas) mentioned just now what had been done in Germany, saying that there they had endeavoured for the last 50 years to weld together, as I understood him, the agricultural industry and other productive industries. I believe that the Germans describe that process as making their people "crisis-resistant," that is to say, the inhabitants are not entirely dependent upon either one or the other industry. I do not think that there was ever a time in this country when we had more need to apply the same principles. To-day, as a result of the displacement of men, not entirely but largely because 2075 of the so-called rationalisation of industry, that is, by the perfection of machinery, men are becoming unemployed, and, at the same time, voluntary associations all over the country are trying to find small plots of land so that those men may do something to keep themselves until they can get back into employment in their own industry.
We cannot regard that as a satisfactory state of affairs. On the one hand, skilled men are being turned off because of the excessive use of machinery, and on the other hand, every effort is being made by those voluntary associations to find the unemployed men some occupation at which they will not produce anything useful. The voluntary associations are at once in difficulties as soon as they produce anything for which they must find a market. There must be some middle course which would avoid those two extremes. I think that we must accept the possibility that the industries of this country, and by that I mean the great agricultural industry and the other productive industries, must be more closely linked together, if we are to have a prosperous country in the future. The Government are taking steps and powers which will make it possible for them to bring about this great change in the country. The question I would submit is, would it be right for them not to do so? We have only a limited amount of land, and we must face the question as to whether that land is to be used for the purposes of producing food-crops by the ruthless use of machinery and so on, or whether we are going to employ that limited amount of land in order to sustain as many people as possible? I submit that the only rational way in which we can make use of the land of the country is by giving as many people as possible some alternative source of income.
I come back for a moment to the people I mentioned just now who have been thrown out of ordinary productive industry. Would it not be a much happier state of affairs, and should we not see the people of our country much more crisis-resistant if each of those unemployed men had a comparatively small plot of land which they could use for part-time employment, and from which they would gain a certain amount of produce? My hon. and gallant Friend the 2076 Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Clifton Brown) mentioned with approval —and I entirely agree—what has been done by the Forestry Commission. He mentioned also the Central Landowners' Association. Men are employed part-time at forestry and part-time upon smallholdings. I have never understood why the production of trees should be thought the only productive industry which could be usefully linked with agriculture. I believe that much can be done in the way of adding other productive industries to agriculture.
I am encouraged in that view by the fact that, in spite of all the talk that there has been in recent years—you do not hear so much about it now—of the rationalisation of industry, there were, in 1930, 97,000 factories in this country each employing fewer than 25 men. There were another 11,500 employing between 26 and 50 men each. All those factories might have been in rural districts; I do not say that they all were, but it would be possible that they should be in rural districts. There is nothing in a process which can be carried on in a factory employing fewer than 25 men which prevents it from being carried on in a rural district. The total number of people employed in the smallest class of factories was very nearly 650,000 in the depressed year 1930. I believe that we must look to a development of that sort in the future, and it is for that reason that I ventured at the outset of my speech to say that I should feel bound to suggest to the House a rather different argument than that which had already been put forward.
We are embarked on this course. I do not say that it is our fault. World conditions are such to-day that the Government having taken powers, with the full assent of the country, to plan conditions in the rural districts for the future, if they face that problem as they faced the great difficulties with which our other producing industries are faced—and, after all, they are inter-linked problems —they will find it more and more necessary to link agriculture and other productive industries together. By doing so, I believe that we shall witness a revival of rural industry, but I do not think that those industries will be on quite the same lines as those which have been the standby of our country districts in the past.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
It is with some trepidation that I take part in this discussion, partly because in my constituency there are but a few fields, and on them only a few black sheep, and partly because I want to raise a question on those craft industries which the Seconder of the Motion, in a most admirable speech —I am sorry that the hon. Member is not in his place—deprecated as not worthy of the attention of Parliament. I wanted to make some rather imaginative remarks upon that matter, because we have to-day on the Front Bench a Minister who, we hope, is the most imaginative Minister. There is a good deal of difference between imagination and fantasy. Imagination leads to truth; fantasy leads to deception.
It was once my good fortune to go into the Law Courts when a breach of promise case was on. The learned judge was just beginning to sum up, and he began by going into the complete history of engagement rings since they first became desired by, and satisfactory to, the vanity and the avarice of young ladies. This question of craft industries is one which cannot be studied without first looking into history, noting those periods when craft industries flourished and seeing if those conditions are compatible with conditions in this country at the present time. Those industries certainly flourished in monastic days, when the craft guilds in every rural town in the country looked after the interests of the industries themselves and insisted upon the system of apprenticeship.
Now, however, those craft guilds have fallen into disrepute; they have sunk away into the dim ages; and even their town confreres, the City companies, have also become merely centres of conviviality and erudition. The goldsmiths, who, again, in the country, used to encourage craft industries, are also gone. These were succeeded by the period of the parson and the squire, when the parson and the squire were mostly engaged in disporting themselves either over a country or under a table, or came up here to Westminster as rather scaly-skinned die-hards and opposed every bit of progressive legislation that was put forward by their opposition, the Whig aristocracy. The Whig aristocracy, quite clearly, performed a most admirable service to the country. They did encourage some craft 2078 industries. But, at the same time, they mostly gave their attention to more refined and cultured people abroad. They went on the Grand Tour, and brought back tastes in Venetian pictures. Then we had the industrial revolution, and our craft industries were really endowed with very small strength to meet the temptation to flock into the towns.
I want to go into another little reminiscence. When I was at Oxford, the wise and benevolent president of my college decided that it would be a good thing if I spent one term in the country. I chose, as the place to go to, a little village, and lived there with a reverend gentleman who had a house which was entirely built in the style of the village —built entirely by local craftsmen. It was fitted up in every part with beautiful old furniture; the candlesticks were of wrought iron, made in the country; the tables, perhaps, were made in the old monastic days; the pottery was made in the country. Everything was beautiful, and everything was in its way significant. The point that I want to make is that every one of those articles was actually made by people, not as luxury articles, but intended for everyday use.
To-day our new houses are furnished entirely with machine-made goods, and they are often built to the complete desecration of the country side. In the Vale of Conway, for instance, a new village has been built right along the hillside, and great interest has been taken in it by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). It is a complete blot, a straggling blot, on the face of one of the most beautiful valleys in England. I do not know whether this is not the appropriate time, even with all the appalling problems with which we find ourselves confronted, for the right hon. Gentleman, who, as we hope, has the imaginative mind, to turn to this piece of really constructive legislation, to fortify himself with powers to stop the building of country houses with bricks which are incongruous in. the district in which they are used. To restore the balance between town and country, something must be done to add dignity to our-modern countryside.
Something in that direction is being done to-day. There is a church which Gilbert Spencer is decorating at Cook-ham; there is the glass which is being 2079 made at Broadway; there is the monastery which is being built at Buckfast, in Devonshire, by the monks. All of these are definite undertakings which will have the effect dignifying the countryside. Is it not possible to relate activities of that kind to the problem of to-day in our towns? Is it not possible to start settlements in the country of small groups of people who, under the guidance of competent craftsmen and competent artists, will undertake to revive those industries? I know that there are plenty of competent craftsmen; I come across them every day in the district in London where I live—craftsmen who would be only too glad if the chance to go and guide a community in the country towards developing a craft industry.
There are three questions that have to be asked: Where do you get your men? Where do you get your money? And, most important of all: Where do you get your markets? I suggest that you could get your men from the occupational centres which are springing up in the towns. I believe that you could get your money if the right hon. Gentleman would make a statement—a positive, emphatic statement—that he believed that there would be a market for those goods. It depends, of course, upon the answer to the question: Would there be a market for those goods? I do not know what is the use of a great deal of our education if it is not going to lead to appreciation of the fact that what is made by hand is, generally speaking, more significant than what is made by machine.
We live in a time when capitalism is floundering in the morass that it has created, and the only alternative given is a Socialism which has absolutely no ideals for an individual, or else something Motional in between the two. The study of history satisfies me that, when you have a period in which you do not make use of your capacity to create beautiful things, to dignify both town and country with what is beautiful, then you have a period of national decay. Where there is no vision, the people perish. As was said by the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) the other day, it is our duty to build up a new capitalism that will give hope for 2080 every person with a brain—a brain to appreciate, a brain- to use, a brain to construct. I suggest that this is not a wrong time at which to ensure that that capitalism shall partly be a capitalism of the countryside.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Sir ALAN McLEAN
Like other Members of the House, I desire to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) on his fortune in the Ballot, and to thank him for the use that he has made of it. This Motion asks the House to record its opinion that it is vital to the country to maintain a thriving and contented village life, together with a prosperous agriculture; and, of course, if we could restore prosperity to agriculture, there is not the slightest doubt that it would go a very long way indeed, if not the whole way, to getting a thriving and contented village life. My hon. and gallant Friend has been fortunate in that this Motion comes before the House at a time when we may be said to be in the middle of a Second Reading Debate on probably the most important agricultural Measure that has been before the House, at any rate since the War. The Corn Production Act did for the time restore a great deal of prosperity to agriculture, but we hope that the Measure which will get its Second Reading next Monday will have a far more permanent and beneficial effect.
In this House we frequently talk about the depression in agriculture but, partly no doubt from the fact that the agricultural labourer does not come within the unemployment insurance scheme, we have difficulty in comparing the depression in agriculture and among agricultural labourers with the depression in other parts of the country. I believe that, in a purely agricultural county, such as Norfolk, our position is comparable to the position in South Wales or the North-East of England. In Norfolk we share the unenviable distinction with the county of Durham of being the most highly-rated counties in the country. In a county where you have industries other than agriculture, the men and women in those industries are maintained to a great extent when they fall out of employment, first, by the benefit they get under the Unemployment Insurance Act and, secondly, by transitional payment. To 2081 that the residents in other counties contribute through the taxes, and the residents of Norfolk help to contribute to that benefit in every other county in the Kingdom. Yet in Norfolk, owing to the fact that we have got no unemployment insurance in agriculture, we have to maintain our own unemployed agricultural labourers. This additional burden is one of the reasons why the smaller industries, the shopkeeper and others, in a county like Norfolk are feeling the pinch in the way they are now.
If we are to get, in the words of the Motion, "a thriving and contented village life," we must get employment for our agricultural labourers at a time when work on the land is normally at a low ebb. Nothing can be more depressing to a man who is reaching the end of his job than to feel that there is not another job waiting for him. If we can get him to realise that the moment he finishes a particular job there is another waiting for him, it will do a great deal to restore contentment to that man. In East Anglia we have, in our sugar-beet industry, an industry which does give employment to a great many agricultural labourers at a time when they would normally be thrown out of employment on the land. The present system of help for the sugar-beet industry in this country comes to an end next year, and I hope that, in considering the future of that industry, my right hon. Friend will press on his colleagues the importance of this industry from the point of view of giving employment to people in the countryside at a time when normally they cannot get very much work.
There is another industry in the countryside which also gives work to our agricultural labourers in the winter time, the malting industry. This is not the time to go into the vexed question of the taxation of beer, but in our country maltings we have an industry that does give a great deal of employment throughout the winter season. Those country maltsters have a permanent staff all the year round, but they take on a good many men in the winter season. Owing to the depressed condition of the industry at the present time, many of these country malthouses are closed down altogether and others are employing far fewer men and for a shorter time than in the past. One of the malting houses of my constituency is employing something like a 2082 third of what it has been accustomed to employ. I had a letter a short time ago from one of these maltsters in which he said:The men are engaged in malting when they are not required on the land. This was always the case in normal times—95 per cent. of the men had employment waiting for them directly they finished malting, and more often than not the farmers would approach us asking when the men, who were required for the haysel, hoeing roots, and harvest would be at liberty. The two industries dovetailed in and helped one another. The men were at work all the winter months under shelter, earning good money, and left in good fettle for land work.If we can restore prosperity to our country malthouses, we should be doing a good deal to get that contentment in village life which we all desire to see.
I was glad to hear references to afforestation. We hear a great deal now about the futility of most of such relief work as doing to-day the work that would normally be done to-morrow, and there are difficulties in finding the kind of work that will give benefit to the country as a whole. Many jobs that could be done in the countryside cannot be done because they give benefit to an individual or a small group of individuals, but in afforestation we are giving jobs to men, the whole benefit of which will result to the nation at large. In East Anglia, in Norfolk and Suffolk, the Forestry Commission are planting something like 40,000 acres, about one half of which is in my own constituency. A tree growing singly is a very beautiful thing, but, when you have trees growing in hundreds of thousands, mile after mile of them, opinions may differ as to whether they are real beauty or not. There are advantages and disadvantages to the country in these schemes of afforestation, but, if we can use that scheme for giving employment to our people, especially in times of adversity, there is a great deal to be said for it.
In the process of economy the Forestry Commission had to cut down to some extent their schemes, but they are naturally keen to carry on as evenly as possible their normal planting of so many acres in order to have a regular continuity of plan. There is scope at the present time for the Government and the Forestry Commission getting together to see if there is not work to be done on the forestry lands which will permanently improve those lands and will at the present 2083 time give employment to men otherwise unemployed. The cost to the country will not be great because one can set off against the cost of employing those men on the land the reduction in the cost of transitional payment or public assistance. I hope my right hon. Friend will do all he can to get that kind of work done, because there again it will be giving work to men in that difficult season of the year when there is not much work on the land. For all these reasons, I desire to support very heartily the Motion now before the House.
§ 9.34 p.m.
I am sure the whole House is under a deep debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) for using his chance in the Debate to secure for us this valuable discussion on rural life in all its aspects. Although the hon. Member and the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Crossley) in his particularly picturesque address dwelt upon the minor rural industries, they will forgive me if I do not follow them in detail, because I wish to address myself particularly to the great central rural industry of agriculture. We are all hoping, we are as near being certain as we can be in this mortal life, that the efforts of the National Government will speedily result in agriculture attaining once more the position that it ought to occupy in the body politic.
There are one or two other matters which at once thrust themselves upon our attention when we think of expanding agriculture, namely, What are we going to do to provide for the housing of the additional workers who, we hope, are going to be called for and what are we going to do to provide them with the other amenities of life? A very great deal remains to be done in the villages of England, and Scotland, too, towards providing a proper system of drainage and giving them the water supplies which other more fortunate citizens possess. I hope very much that the Government will devote much of their energy in this direction. Even at present when, alas, many agricultural workers are being driven out of employment and the absence of any scheme of unemployment insurance for the rural worker prevents us knowing what the real figures of unemployment in the industry are, there is a housing 2084 shortage. What will conditions be like when in a few years' time we will hope there are more workers to be housed? The House has had under consideration within the last few weeks housing Measures with regard to both England and Scotland. I am very glad indeed that the Government saw fit to deal with the housing question in North and South Britain by two separate Measures. In doing so, they showed that they fully realise the different conditions that obtain, both in town and country, in England and Scotland. Much of the controversy that has raged around those Measures has been on the question of subsidies.
Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I must point out to the hon. Member that the Motion is somewhat limited in scope. He now seems to me to be getting far away from it.
My point was simply the question of the provision of houses for the rural worker and the plea that has been made that adequate steps should be forthcoming owing to the withdrawal of the subsidy. In Scotland the rural worker will be in a more happy position, because the continuance of the subsidy will ensure him an adequate supply of houses. I hope the Government will devote their energies to the provision of houses for the rural workers with the same ardour that I hope they will display with regard to providing drainage systems and water supply. With regard to the agricultural industry—
Again, I must point out that the agricultural industry does not arise on this Motion.
I was under the impression that it arose owing to the words "prosperity of agriculture" appearing in the Motion. More than one speaker has alluded to the Marketing Bill which we were discussing only two days ago.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present: House counted, and 40 Members being present—
The attitude of the farming community towards the Government is not that they are dissatisfied that the Government have done too much. With regard to what legislation has already been undertaken towards resuscitating agriculture, pleas are repeatedly made 2085 from the benches below me that nothing has really been done to benefit the farmers, that what has been done would have been much better left undone, and that those engaged in agriculture will find that their last state is worst than their first. I would warn hon. Members that when they make such statements they are in no way meeting the requirements of the farmers. I warn them also that when they embark upon such a crusade they will be sowing the seeds of a terrible harvest whenever the next General Election comes, at all events, in the rural constituencies. It is all very well in this House to try and score debating points, and to say that Ottawa, for instance, did nothing for the farmers. That is merely one side of the picture. It is begging the question and is providing no alternative whatever. The farming community, especially in Scotland, are far too shrewd and long-headed to be beguiled by such specious pleas. It is not that Ottawa or anything else went too far. The farming community still think that matters have not been carried far enough. In view of what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said on more than one occasion recently, the farmers are beginning to feel more satisfied and comfortable with regard to the future. The Government have nothing to fear from action, but they will have everything to dread from delay.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS
We must be grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) for introducing this Motion and providing an opportunity for this discussion. There has been a very serious drop in the number of children attending many of the schools in the countryside of England, and it is a very close indication of the decay which is going on, not only in the agricultural industry but in the ancillary industries grouped around it. I wish to draw the attention of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to two or three points in the hope that he may bear them in mind in future. Unemployment, unfortunately, is growing in the villages, not only among the agricultural labourers, but among the community who act as gardeners and grooms. Although it is perhaps not entirely a question for the Department of the Minister, I hope that he will use his influence to secure a reduction of taxa- 2086 tion—particularly of Death Duties—which is draining the countryside of its very lifeblood. It is easy enough to sneer and laugh at that kind of remark, but the fact remains that agriculture is having its lifeblood drained away, and the men who usually find employment in gardens and in stables are finding it more and more difficult to support their wives and families.
Another industry which is suffering very severely along the Surrey-Sussex border and which used to be a very prosperous one, is that which was referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend, namely, the underwood industry. In days gone by many farmers and estates made a considerable profit every year from the sale of their underwood, particularly for the purpose of fencing, and, in some districts, for hop-poles. The best of the wood was usually sold for hop-poles, and to some extent this still goes on. The fencing industry, however, is very nearly dead owing to foreign competition. These may be small points, but I am sure that hon. Members will realise that 10 or 12 men out of work in a small village constitutes a considerable proportion of the population, and to the particular village it means a great deal. There is a large number of small country brickfields dotted about the country, and I hope that the housing policy of the Government will have the desired effect of re-employing men who are now being stood off in those small brickfields.
I urge the Minister to bear in mind the proposals which have so far been put forward, but they do not really touch the problem of the agricultural labourer's cottage. The low wage of the agricultural labourer has in the past been in some measure compensated for by the low rent at which he has been able to occupy his cottage. If my right hon. and gallant Friend can urge his colleague the Minister of Health to take a further step forward with regard to the provision of cottages for agricultural labourers, it will have a very desirable effect upon employment in the villages near the brickfields. These two or three points which I was anxious to raise appear to be very small compared with the importance of the Debate to which we have listened this afternoon, but, after all, the lives of the individuals who live in the countryside are just as important to them as our lives are 2087 to us. We ought not to lose any opportunity of bringing those questions to the fore whenever we have such a splendid opportunity as that which has been provided for us this evening.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. RAIKES
I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) upon bringing this Motion forward at a singularly appropriate time when we have the Agricultural Marketing Bill being steered through the House of Commons by my right hon. and gallant Friend. If there is one thing which is certain it is that rural industry cannot possibly revive until agriculture itself is placed upon a satisfactory and sound basis. The whole weakness and difficulty of agriculture in the past few years has been that there has been no incentive whatever for agriculture to reorganise, simply because there has been no security for the home market nad for agriculture as a whole. Now, at any rate, we are facing a new situation, which by helping agriculture will help all those rural industries which are dependent upon the main branch. Agriculture will realise when my right hon. and gallant Friend has had his way and in a comparatively short time, that it can obtain some security provided it is reorganised.
The whole of the village communities and rural industries are dependent upon one thing, namely, that of a flourishing organised agriculture. It is not simply a question of the people who are actually at work in agriculture itself. It goes beyond that and embraces many sidelines of the agricultural industry in which men secure employment when agriculture is prospering. These include local veterinary services, blacksmiths, and trappers, who when things are prosperous are able to get employment and be their own masters, but who when, on the other hand, agriculture is fading and dying simply drift away and are lost. All their knowledge is lost, and the small individualism which they represent goes too.
Beyond those local trades there is the advantage to what I think is one of the best sides of village life, namely, the work that exists for the Jack-of-all-trades. I mean the man who is not directly concerned with any particular branch of agriculture, but who may, with the aid of 2088 his wife, keep the village grocery store, He ekes things out a little further by usually doing a certain amount of slaughter for local farmers, perhaps keeps a few poultry, possibly a cow or two, or a pig or two, and at the same time very likely keeps ferrets, which he also loans out at a price either to neighbouring farmers or to poachers, who also need those animals. That is a useful function, and he is a man of some individualism. He is a man who works for himself; he is his own master, and one of the troubles of the whole situation to-day, throughout all this country, is that agriculture is over-industrialised, and there are not enough small men able to work their own job and able to make use of their own gifts.
Beyond him you have one thing which I think we should face. So far as mixed farming advances, it helps rural industries—all those people who lie, so to speak, in the wake of successful agriculture. But we ought to be careful not to turn our minds too much in one direction, which we have been inclined to emphasise of late: that of more cereal fanning. On cereals alone you get the same danger of complete industrialisation and mechanisation that is one of the troubles of the towns. The danger in the cereal side of agriculture is that you may get away from individualism. You may gradually denude your land of men by means of mechanised inventions; you may, in fact, kill those very virtues which are the chief reasons why agriculture is still the basic industry and the greatest industry of the land. I say, quite frankly, that I am afraid of that sort of mechanised, industrialised capitalism, whether it is a capitalism of the individual or simply a capitalism of the State. It is more and more making our own people throughout this country cogs in a great machine, without individualism and without the opportunity to develop their own talents, which, after all, in the long run make or mar a nation. Rural industry, so far as it has been developed on the small lines that I have indicated, can at any rate give men a chance of getting out of the mere common rut.
There are two further points on which I should like to say a word in support of my hon. and gallant Friend. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Rhys) raised a question concerning Death 2089 Duties. If you are going to have Death Duties at all, I submit to my right hon. and gallant Friend that in the long run Death Duties taken from the land ought to be put back on the land and not simply frittered away on things outside. There is some argument for taking money out of capital if it goes back, in a sense, into capital. If Death Duties on the land were transferred back into schemes of forestry, electricity or drainage, they would not simply mean, as they mean to-day, the killing of capital and the still further weakening of a very great industry.
Beyond that there is the question of banking. More harm has been done to agriculture as a whole by irresponsible loans from banks than, perhaps, by anything else. Agriculture for nearly 100 years has been gradually getting into the hands of the rentier class. Farmers have had too much credit, and too much credit is quite as big a danger as too little credit. I should like to see the re-establishment of land banks, so far as it could be done, on the lines of the old county banks, which have some knowledge of the individual's security, the individual position of the individual man. They can give help in a worthy case and can judge a case on its merits, and at the same time they are not working simply to pile mortgage upon mortgage until in the long run they ruin the producer. The future of this country lies with the producer. You must, so far as you can, make the producer rather than the distributor or any class of rentiers the real factor upon which to concentrate and for which to find employment.
My final criticism is that in our rural education we tend far too much to allow townsmen to teach our boys and girls mere useless town stuff. You ought to have more countrymen as teachers in our village schools; you ought to give more practical rural information and teaching to those boys and girls. I suppose it is the Liberal party—who are mainly townsmen—who have played the chief part and done the most work in this movement. If you can be a little less dogmatic, if you can give a little bit more of real practical education to your village and agricultural children, you will be helping the drift back to the countryside. Although I differ from my friends of the Labour party, I believe that the Labour party are going to realise the value of 2090 the return to the land. In fact, it has been asserted that we must, in this country and in foreign countries, have a definite scheme of bringing men back, of stabilising the home markets, rather encouraging people to go in for agriculture and to work out their talents within that vast industry than letting them drift away and join the mechanised millions who are displaced time after time and queue up at the street corner and increase and increase. Until you get back to the land you are, day in and day out, weakening the virility of your country and wasting every opportunity of pulling it round to a strong and lasting state. You have to secure your home markets; you have to encourage the small man, to encourage the subsidiary industries that touch on agriculture. I venture to say that my hon. and gallant Friend's Motion to-night has at any rate ventilated a great and important problem, and I look forward, old-fashioned Tory as I am, to some support and some help from my friends on the Socialist side and on the Liberal side to the Tories in bringing these schemes forward.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Mr. ATKINSON
I only rise to put in a plea to the Government to encourage and support the County Development Associations. They do more than any other body to encourage rural industries. There are several in existence, and my own county of Cheshire has an excellent one. It is the duty of the Government to do their: best to help these associations. It is very important to get every urban authority and every district authority interested in them, and to support them financially. I suppose there is no more essentially rural industry than pig production, and that there is no county more fitted for the production of pigs than Cheshire; yet there is not a bacon factory in that county. We could produce very good cheese, but the marketing arrangements are limited, and there is no advertising at all. The association hopes to do something for those industries. That is merely an illustration of the way in which these associations help; many others could be given by Members in connection with their own counties. I should like to urge the Government, among the steps that this Motion urges 2091 it to take, to assist the formation of these associations, and I should like to urge hon. Members to do their best to encourage the local authorities in their constituencies to join these associations. It is only by organised effort that these industries will be assisted.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
The Motion refers to the need of a contented village life, and in order to secure that asks for the assistance of the Minister of Agriculture and that His Majesty's Government should take every possible step. Therefore, this is a very wide Motion. The hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) pointed out that we must take every care of the small man. But we must first of all produce the small man. Nothing has been more regrettable than to see in the Press the appreciative paragraphs referring to the fact that many of the villages of England were really museums of the ancient, consisting of small cottages, housing men and women 70, 80 and 90 years of age. If village life and village rural industries are to prosper and progress there must be a fostering care on the part of the Government of the village labourer's wife. There can be nothing more disheartening than for a village labourer's wife to come to London and see the lavish social services at the disposal of her sister in London, and to compare that with the impoverished social services at the disposal of the village labourer's wife.
You can see arising in every city expensive buildings, staffed by an expensive body of experts, for maternity and sickness, but in the country village you have the country doctor who suffers in contrast with the panel doctor in the town. You have the village midwife working under great difficulties, whose return hardly pays for her existence. To ask village life to prosper under these conditions is to ask a lot, and I am sure that His Majesty's Government must give a care to the return to the country of some of the money they take from the country in the form of social services comparable to those received by town dwellers. It may be difficult, but difficult problems should be the prize of good administration. If village life is to prosper there must be a complete culture; it must not be a half life. I agree that 2092 the veterinary surgeon can contribute to village culture, but you must have a complete civilisation; and in addition to the village parson you must have a first-class village teacher and parish doctor, and, I think, a squire. There must be leaders in the social, medical, clerical and teaching world, and then civilisation in the country will be complete, and able to stand against the false blandishments of town life. When men decay in the villages the country cannot prosper. I shall support the terms of the Motion which asks His Majesty's Government to give a care to village rural life.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Major Elliot)
I am sure that the House will realise that in the years which have passed since the hon. and gallant Member first brought forward this Motion that the subject has matured and ripened; and that the count which brought that Motion to an untimely end has served on this occasion to ensure a more continuous audience, which has throughout the evening displayed a remarkable ingenuity in the variety of the subjects it has found possible to raise under this head. It is true that the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) was debarred by the Chair from entering into a discussion of the building industry, and I could see him chafing against the restraints of order which kept him from making the speech which we should have expected from him; but there is quite enough in the Motion, and in the speeches which have been made, to give us plenty of food for thought. It is clear that the House is more and more anxious about the position not merely of agriculture itself, but about the focal points of civilisation, the villages and the industries which the villages support.
It is true, I think, that mechanised agriculture, producing quite as much in the way of tons of meat and butter and cheese as agriculture does at present, may be organised in such a way that it would not be a great contribution to the strength of the nation: indeed the reverse. There is a more ancient kind of life than to hear a whistle blown at six o'clock in the morning, calling everybody to work. There is a more ancient and honourable way of existence which gives a close contact of the man with his job, and with the fruits of his job; knowing 2093 where they are to go and working well because it will be appreciated by the people who are personal friends of his own and whose good will he desires to secure and maintain. That is essentially the link which it is desired to have between village industries and the users of village industries; and that is the object which for years past His Majesty's Government have done their best to secure and extend.
The work of the Rural Industries Bureau has been of the greatest service to village industries during a time when village industries were not as highly thought of in the councils of the nation as they are to-day. I should like to pay my tribute to Mr. Vaughan Nash who both at the development commission and at the Rural Industries Bureau worked whole-heartedly and enthusiastically. Until his lamented death he did more than any single man towards keeping alive the spirit of village industries, to which we are all looking forward to a much greater development. The work of the Rural Industries Bureau and the Rural Community Councils has been referred to, but there was one aspect which, oddly enough, has not been mentioned, and that is the emphasis which the Rural Industries Bureau has laid upon the blacksmith and the smith as craftsmen whom the village finds impossible to dispense with.
The danger of the village losing the smith is a real danger indeed. Horse traction, in spite of everything, is still a live factor in our countryside, and I think it is possible that horse traction will in this country, as in many other countries, be able even on an economic basis to compete and perhaps surpass mechanised traction. But not without the blacksmith, not without the smith. I was reading a book written by a nephew of the President of the Board of Trade, who, after a career as a young man in the Flying Corps and other services, settled down as a village blacksmith, but who in addition to being a good blacksmith was able to write a very useful and entertaining book about it. I think it is an example of what we hope to find increasingly in the future, that people will devote themselves to labour not merely for the purpose of making money out of it, but because they realise that a mode of life is as valuable a thing as a pocket- 2094 ful of money, and that it is possible that our factories have overdone the necessity for toil from morning to night for the purpose of filling a big pay envelope at the end of the week. We have certainly got a mode of life which is a much less attractive one than that of the village worker who is in an industry small enough for him really to feel a sense of possession in the work and in the products of his labour.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire (Commander Cochrane) brought out a note in a very short but extremely interesting speech— the remarkable figure that there were in this country at the last Census of Production no fewer than 90,000 factories employing fewer than 35 men each. As he truly said, there was no particular reason why those factories, or a great many of them, should not be in smaller centres of population rather than in larger. It may be that the dovetailing of winter work with summer work, of work on the land with work in the shop or factory of some kind, to which other speakers have referred, notably, the hon. and gallant Member for South-West Norfolk (Sir A. McLean), can be found not merely in the older industries but in the new industries which are growing up.
Henry Ford has put it forward as his ideal that all men should be in the country, and that they should work on the manufacture of parts, which should subsequently be assembled in a larger central depot, and that a considerable proportion of every factory worker's time should be devoted to work on the land. That American dovetailing does not always work out so satisfactorily when brought to the test of actual experience, but it is at any rate interesting to note that one of the oldest of rural industries, the malting industry, draws its strength from precisely that dovetailing which in a more modern form has appealed to the most modern of men, the American millionaire, Henry Ford.
It is possible that we, in looking at the decay of certain rural industries, neglect the rise of certain other rural industries. To-day there are some rural developments which are favourable to life in the countryside and in the village, as against developments which 25 years ago were unfavourable. I do not quote the motor omnibus as an unfavourable 2095 factor in village life; I should quote it as a favourable factor. It removes the sense of isolation, by making the rural dweller feel that he, or rather she, can get into the town and return again to the country. That makes it more easy for people to remain in the village. It is not that one can get out of a place that upsets one, but the feeling that one cannot. If one feels that one can leave a place, or a man's company, at any moment, one is more content to stay in a place.
The wireless has also done a great deal to make people contented with village life. They can listen-in to the words of the great ones of the land and come to the conclusion that those words are not any more intelligent than what they could hear at the blacksmith's or the cobbler's shop while, in the case of the wireless, they have not the great fun of butting in and putting their own side of the case. I am not at all sure that even the cinema has not its good side as well as its bad side in this respect. The dweller in the countryside can see exactly the same show as the town dweller. I do not think that those shows are always of the sort that any of us particularly admire or value but at any rate the man or woman in the country has exactly the same chance of seeing "Shanghai Express." for instance, as the town dweller. I do not say that "Shanghai Express" is the sort of thing on which we should wish either the town or country dweller to concentrate too much. At all events, if they want a fairy story, there is a fairy story —one which has, apparently, no relation to real life whatever. The dweller in the country can see it and say, "If that is the sort of thing that they get in London and the big towns we might just as well go out and look at the sunset which is much better entertainment and has the advantage of being free."
Here, then, are features which are favourable to rural life, but all these are useless unless we have the foundation of an economically sound rural life. I shall not dilate upon that point because we have other Measures and other opportunities for bringing that about, but I heartily sympathise with the expression of opinion which has come from speaker after speaker, that, without a sound economic life, it is no use trying to make 2096 a synthetic "arty and crafty" sort of rural existence, backed up by subsidies. I appreciate the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End (Dr. O'Donovan), who pointed out the necessity that the services which are available for the town dweller should, to some extent, be available for the country dweller also. That point was stressed by other speakers—it was one of the points got in by the hon. Member for Galloway before he was called to order—particularly with reference to-water supply. The kind of village life that we all desire must not be based upon the slavery of the housewife. Efforts must be made to see that the rural housewife has access to sources of clean water, and that when she is bearing children she has the same services as those afforded to her sisters in the towns and living nearer to the great centres of medical research and education.
This Debate has been marked by many interesting speeches and by a particularly interesting speech from the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas). He brought forward several points which will certainly receive the attention both of myself and the Department. His suggestion that it may be desirable to look again, not merely into the organisation of existing industries but the possible foundation of new industries, is worthy of attention at the present time. In the attempt to rebuild rural life in a near-by country, in Ireland, when Lord Balfour took up his work as Chief Secretary, one of his chief efforts was to investigate through the Congested Districts Board the possibility of new industries, and to cooperate with the inhabitants and with people willing to take some leadership in the question, to see whether new industries could be set up in the congested districts of rural Ireland. That work met with a great deal of success by not trying to impose some cast-iron structure upon the whole industry, but by realising that only by individual effort, by picking out here and there where a seed was likely to grow was it possible for an efficient rural industry to be started. The carpet industry and other industries in Ireland owe their inception to the stimulus given through the Congested Districts Board 2097 when we were attempting to solve the problem of the rural life in another country. Let us hope it will be possible to take some lessons which we learned when working on the rural life of another country and apply them when we are trying, as we are here, to develop our own. Another point which was made by several speakers, and in particular by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) was that the school was a key point in rural life and that the bias given one way or the other in the school might be a factor of overwhelming importance in the subsequent attitude of mind of the scholars towards the whole question of existence in the country or in the town. One or two speakers have pleaded for a greater education in practical agriculture, notably my hon. Friend the Member for South East Essex (Mr. Raikes). I am not quite certain—I am not here speaking as Minister of Education, although we have the great advantage of a Minister of Education who has been himself a Minister of Agriculture and has sympathies with the countryside as large as any man in Parliament to-day—whether the ideal of education in agriculture or of education in rural life is the better, because education in agriculture may have the effect of most of our education, that is to say, filling one with an enduring disgust of the subject in which one is educated, and I should be most unwilling to see the land and agriculture obtain the same wholehearted dislike in later years by the scholar that the great dramatist Shakespeare does when one has been driven through his plays as a school subject for the purpose of passing examinations.
It is again noteworthy that the Danes, when they started on their efforts to recreate rural life, went for a cultural, not an agricultural, education. I am not dogmatising on this, but merely contributing my part to a Debate which has been singularly fruitful in the pooling of ideas, and I merely ask my hon. and hon. and gallant Friends who have spoken to consider whether in fact the best of all solutions would not be the highly educated man who comes to agriculture or to rural life with the desire to make a success of it, believing that, after trying other things and having all the resources of civilisation open to him, rural life is the best thing he can possibly 2098 take up and the soundest way of life for a really rational man to engage upon. These things, of course, take one a little far from what one might call the sealed pattern of a rural industries Debate. I am sure that at the present time we have to go a little wider than these close examinations if we are to get down to the real recreation or revival of rural life which we all desire.
I think the success, which has been also referred to in this Debate, of the Women's Institutes has done as much as any single factor towards the recreation of rural life. They did not stop simply with agricultural education. It is true that in many cases they have developed into rural handicrafts in a most admirable and praiseworthy fashion. I had an opportunity of visiting an exhibition of handicrafts which the Women's Institutes recently had. It included needlework, basket-making, leather work and the making of things which one does not immediately associate with women's activities, such as carpentry and even iron-work. All these things were put forward in a most interesting exhibition. That started from working at community life and desiring to obtain the feeling that people were not merely isolated units in a village community, but a group of people who were working together and living in the country, and intended to go on living in the country because that was where their lot was cast and they had no desire to depart from it. I think that the rural community councils which have been spoken of to-night are striving to do and will more and more take on important work. They are off-shoots of the National Council of Social Service, which has recently been asked by the Government to undertake important duties, and which, I think, is performing them to the satisfaction of all.
In accepting this Motion we do desire not merely, as the Mover and Seconder said, to insert it in a pigeon-hole and see that it is not again taken out except for the purpose of dusting it some years hence. The encouragement of rural industries and the maintenance of a pride in village life are fundamental to the policy of the Government. We are making a start with the great industry of agriculture. These other industries are ancillary to the industry of agriculture. 2099 It may be that agriculture itself cannot reach its full stature except with the assistance of these odd outlying industries of which both my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire have spoken to-night. Let us always remember that rural industries are a part of the life of Great Britain as a whole. Do not let us segregate town and country. As so many speakers have said to-night, we have too much developed the life in the towns but the people there are all Scots, English, Irish or Welshmen, and they are not very far away from the country; they are not many generations removed from it. If you can make life in the country heathy, tolerable and cultured, we shall find our people returning there. The queues at the Employment Exchanges are the strongest propaganda for the rural life. The people of this country are not fools, and are looking at the queues and saying, "If this is the end of factory life, perhaps our forefathers who stayed in the villages were wiser men than their sons who went into the towns."
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
If only for the purpose of pleasing the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Clifton Brown) I rise just to say that we offer no opposition to the Motion which he so ably submitted to the House. We are rather sorry to have to intervene for one moment in what has been a very pleasant afternoon since 7.30. In 10 years I have never seen a more happy family party in the House of Commons than we have had during the last four hours. A mutual admiration society would perhaps better describe the position. How the Minister felt when congratulations were coming in upon him from North, South, East and West I really do not know. I think the right hon. Gentleman was correct if he felt apprehensive. In any case the Motion has provided an opportunity for a very varied discussion on rural life, which has been pleasing, helpful and constructive. Sometimes I felt that we had more representatives of Gandhi in this House than we had hitherto thought. Many hon. Members want to go back to the state of Gandhi, to the hand loom and the many towels round the body, and so 2100 forth. I think the hon. and gallant Member for Dumbartonshire (Commander Cochrane) was quite correct when he said of somebody that he was thinking of tomorrow while looking at yesterday. That was a fairly accurate description. Nevertheless, many of these rural industries which have died out are a distinct loss to this nation, and could circumstances be created under which they could be restored, even though they employed only two or three men in a village, it would be of distinct advantage not only to village life but to the health and the social life of the nation as a whole.
One thing dawns upon us in listening to the long lament over the depopulation of the countryside—that the lopsided development from which this nation is now suffering has at long last brought many rural Members, and even the hon. and gallant Member who introduced this Motion, to a stage in their development where they have at least begun to realise that the depopulation of the countryside is not of value to the State. It is rather a pity that the hon. and gallant Member should not have thought of this 30 or 40 years ago, for he must have known then, as we all know now, that it was because profits in industrial life were so easy that the countryside, village life and all those glorious things to which he referred were sadly and seriously neglected. We are suffering the consequences to-day. Social life and social value were ignored for the material life which was so easily obtainable in a world of expanding markets. Now, as the hon. Member below the Gangway who had the misfortune to take an uncomfortable seat said, we have lost a great deal of our social life and our social values, through having paid too little attention to the production of food and the development of village industries. We paid more attention to the towns and the profits which were so easily obtainable therefrom on an expanding market than we paid to the development of a strong, healthy, vigorous race in the country.
I would say to hon. Gentlemen who want to restore large numbers of people to country life that they must take the hint of the hon. Member for Mile End (Dr. O'Donovan), who suggested that we cannot expect people to leave the social life of the town for the countryside until the services in the country are almost 2101 equivalent to the services in the town. We cannot expect people to migrate from the towns, where they have electricity, water, sanitation and all the other social services, unless the countryside is similarly served. That becomes a question of money and of interest. Hon. Gentlemen who want the restoration of a happy, vigorous country life may think out how we can give our village population a good water supply and a good supply of electric light or gas, and if we do that the chances are that we shall be able to persuade many of those 97,000 factories employing 25 persons or less, to go out into the villages, where the populations would be sufficiently large to make a village institute or a women's institute a live entity and of real value in the social life of the country.
I was rather interested to hear the suggestion of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire when he appealed to the Minister to hand on some sort of recommendation to the Import Duties Advisory Committee for the increase of the duty upon baskets. I was equally interested to hear the hon. Member for Hereford who replied to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire. It happens that those two hon. Members represent two different phases of agriculture, and that a heavy duty upon imported baskets, or upon the raw material, would obviously suit the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, while it would not suit the hon. Member for Hereford. What is one man's meat is the other fellow's poison. I suggest to the hon. Gentlemen that they argue the matter outside the Chamber, and that they give the Minister the benefit of their conclusions after a very healthy debate. If they rely, as the hon. Member for Hereford suggested, wholly and solely upon Protection, I am sure that they will not get even the support of the Minister. Protection is not a policy; it is a means of escape from producing a policy.
To re-establish a happy, vigorous, contented village life we have to do something much more than merely provide protection for agriculture. The hon. Gentleman who introduced this Motion suggested that the landowners' associations of this country, who were now doing great things in the production of timber and were organising themselves efficiently for the purpose of selling that timber, wanted protection and assistance from 2102 the Import Duties Advisory Committee. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee will remember that there are many other industries in this country that are not very prosperous, and that to impose a duty upon timber—such as, for instance, upon pit-props—would hit very heavily such already sorely depressed industries as the mining industry.
We welcome the Motion. We think that the intention and the purpose of it, apart from the protective suggestions that have been made, have been of real value. We are glad to note the development in the education of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. We are pleased to note that in 1933 they recognise that the lop-sidedness of things has become a positive danger to the State. If this Debate finds its way into the minds of those responsible at the Ministry of Agriculture and in other Government Departments, and they will set themselves the duty of trying to re-arrange our economic life, giving the countryside a much better chance than it has had in the past without imposing a heavy burden upon the rest of the community, I, and I believe my party, will think that this Debate has been useful.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. GLOSSOP
I intervene for a few moments because I think that the subject of this Motion is bound up entirely with the Government's policy as regards the restoration of prosperity to agriculture. For years this House and the people of this country, if not directly, have indirectly sneered at those who have to make their living out of the land. There has been among the masses of the people of this country during the last century an atmosphere that the people who live on the land are inferior, that they are not of such great intelligence as those who live in the towns. In view of the Government's policy with regard to agriculture at the present time, it is essential to let the country people know that at least we realise that those who live in these rural areas of our great country are the backbone, and will largely be the salvation, of the country in the future.
I was delighted to hear the Minister remark on the value of the wireless. It has done and is doing a great deal towards developing the rural mind and making the rural people conscious of 2103 their own position and importance in the make-up of the country. There has been in the past a feeling among country people that, because they speak with a certain type of dialect, they were uneducated, but I think that the British Broadcasting Corporation, in broadcasting, as they have from time to time, plays in the dialect of different parts of the country, have made those people realise that there is something real and vital behind their dialect and customs in their own local villages.
The Minister referred to the village smith and the saddler. I think that my right hon. Friend has only come to the rescue just in time, because we have seen during the last 10 years almost the extinction of the real village smith and the real country saddler. Those of us who have farms of our own know the difficulty that there is now in getting good saddlery work done, because so many of the saddlers have gone out of business. That has not been because the saddler or the blacksmith did not make excellent articles, but because, owing to the depression which has pervaded the agricultural industry, farmers and others have been compelled to buy agricultural implements and saddlery made in the factory, which are not nearly as good as those made by the local smith or the local saddler. Only on Monday, on my own farm, I had an illustration of the superior work of the village smith as compared with the work of a large manufacturing foundry. I was following a pair of harrows which had not had their teeth reset since 1926, and yet to-day those teeth are almost as sharp as they were some seven years ago. That particular set of harrows was made by the village blacksmith, at a larger cost, I admit, than that at which I could have bought them from a foundry, but the harrows made in the local smithy were of a much more durable quality than those which could be bought elsewhere. While the Minister has recognised the importance of the village smith and the village saddler, his bold lead with regard to the development of agriculture has only just come in time, if in time, to save those two important factors in rural life.
I want to refer to another rural industry which I think is a very important one, namely, the bee-keeping industry. 2104 Hon. Members may know that bees are good for rheumatism. Bees kept on a farm or market garden are of the utmost importance, not only for bringing in a small revenue from the sale of honey, but for the fertilisation of flowers and fruit. The bee industry, capable as it is of very large development, has been very much neglected in the past. There has been little or no encouragement to the man who desires to keep his apiary free from disease. He often finds that although he fumigates his hives and keeps his stock in a really healthy condition, he finds perhaps that his neighbour half-a-mile away who is losing bees as a result of Isle of Wight disease, has never taken even the trouble to fumigate his hives or close the shutters in front of the hives. Small in the aggregate as is the importance of the bee industry, it is one which is capable of considerable expansion. One factor which is playing an important part in developing the minds of the rural workers and people who live in the villages is the libraries introduced by the county councils, and which enable the people of the villages to read really good books and novels. I cannot think of any better way of making the rural people appreciate their position and their importance in the country and realise what an enormous tradition there is behind the agricultural people of this country than that they should perhaps take from the shelves of these libraries a book called "Roots," dealing with a Yorkshire agricultural family, a book which, even in these difficult times, should stimulate every person engaged on the soil.
In conclusion, I want to deal with one point touched upon by the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Clifton Brown) and susequent speakers, the question of education in our rural schools. I do think we might do something to try to interest the children at our rural schools in some of the farm machinery which we hope they will be able to utilise and work alongside when they leave school. I am not one who is opposed to the money which this country is spending on education. I am concerned that we should spend it to the best possible advantage of the individual and the country as a whole. I cannot help thinking, however, that Morris dances and painting are of little use to the potential farm labourer and that it would im- 2105 prove his mind Very much better if he was taught the parts of a plough and of various other agricultural implements I do think the county councils and education committees should encourage those school masters and school mistresses who desire to instruct their pupils in regard to practical agriculture during the years when they are at school. At the present time there is an enormous difficulty for the enterprising schoolmaster to get permission from the education authority to take his pupils, perhaps, over some neighbouring farm with a good deal of up-to-date machinery. I do hope the Minister will communicate with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Education to see if it is not possible for some encouragement to be given to schools to provide facilities to schools to go round farms in their neighbourhood.
I cannot help thinking that we are bound from an economic point of view to increase settlement on the land in this country. I believe that in the next year or two, when the policy of the Minister with regard to agriculture has had time to fructify, it will be possible for many more people to be occupied on the land. I believe that the increased settlement that we hope to see will be largely the small man, the smallholder, and I believe these persons must be adaptable to their jobs. However hard they work, however profitable the Minister can succeed in making their industry, it will be impossible for them to employ highly skilled workmen in the same way that the large farmer does. The smallholder, to make a success, must be able to do carpentry and repairs to farm machinery himself. If he has to start by getting outside labour, often at trade union rates, it will be impossible for him to carry on. For that reason, I stress that, when the Government are making everything possible for a large resettlement of people on the land, we should at the same time educate the rising generation in such a way that they will be able to make the fullest use of the opportunities that will be provided for them. I welcome the statement of the Minister and the importance that he attaches to the Motion.
That this House is of opinion that the encouragement of rural industries and the maintenance of a thriving and contented
village life, together with a prosperous agriculture, are vital to this country, and urges His Majesty's Government to take every possible step in this direction.