§ Order for Third Beading read.
§ 11.12 a.m.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr Elliot)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
The discussions on the Bill have, I feel, been exhaustive during its various stages, and I think it is clear that no major issue remains to be threshed out. The necessity for the Bill is simply this, that failing an extension of the period the Government would have no alternative but to proceed to the regulation of meat imports during the currency of existing agreements, failing an agreement on levy by the consignors to this market. A week from to-day the Australian Prime Minister arrives in this country, and it would clearly be a most unwise act to proceed to some large decision on policy until the arrival of those who have come so far to discuss policy with us. It would also be impossible to sit still and allow the Act to run out, which would happen by the 31st March. It would be impossible to agree on a policy and get a Bill through the House in time to handle the situation before the expiry of our present arrangements. Therefore, as the House is unanimous in the view that the livestock industry must be maintained, it seems to me that no practicable alternative to this Bill has been brought forward whereby it can be so maintained in the immediate future. On Second Reading the House decided in principle for a Bill of this nature. During the Committee stage it decided the methods by which assistance should be given. The only point is whether the Bill should or should not receive the assent of this House.
It has been suggested that opportunity should be taken in this interim arrangement to deal with certain outstanding questions which have arisen during the administration of the temporary measure under which we are now working, but I suggest that that would be unwise and injudicious. This is a Bill purely to prolong the present arrangement, and, that being so, points such as the position of the producer-butcher, raised by the 744 hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) on Second Reading, cannot arise for decision, as he himself, I believe, agrees. The case for the producer-butcher was very carefully considered when the original Bill was drafted; in any alterations affecting that category both co-operators and private producers would have to be treated alike, and that, we all agree, would lead us into difficult marginal cases. For that reason the Government decided against touching such cases at all in the prolongation of the present emergency arrangement. I do not rule out further consideration of such cases on their merits in connection with any further scheme which might replace the existing emergency arrangement. We do not deal with any of these matters in the present Bill.
The present arrangements, on the whole, worked smoothly, and they are being prolonged as a purely temporary measure in view of the important negotiations which are about to take place, negotiations which are so important that the Prime Minister of one of the great Dominions, having cancelled all his engagements, is hurrying from the other side of the world to be here, as I say, a week to-day. That being so, the House would do well to pass the Bill. The issues involved have already been thoroughly debated and thrashed out.
§ 11.17 a.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his reference to the producer-butcher, I confess that, although the point I raised was a very real and substantial one, the administrative difficulties are also very real, and I quite appreciate the hesitancy of the right hon. Gentleman to involve himself in large sums of money and many administrative problems in regard to a comparatively small section of the producers. On the general question it is clear that if co-operative societies who farm on a fairly large scale are to be denied privileges enjoyed by private producers, there must be disturbance and considerable indignation expressed. We are not anxious to delay the proceedings this morning to any length on this question, because the question has been discussed more or less ad nauseam. A final word is, however, called for from these benches.
745 The emergency provision embodied in the Bill is only one of those brought forward by the Government during the past three and a half years and which, every hon. Member knows, cost the taxpayers and the consumers untold sums of money, amounting to many millions of pounds. Unfortunately those emergency provisions have produced neither stability nor prosperity in agriculture. It is true that wheat producers, with a guaranteed 35s. per quarter, are enjoying greater prosperity than they otherwise would do, but it is equally true that the consumers pay £6,000,000 per annum towards that prosperity; that the arable farmer who produces sugar is better off than he was before 1924, and that the efforts of the Government in regard to the emergency provision for milk have, in the nature of things, to some extent helped that side of the industry. Restrictions or quotas for potatoes and other commodities have had some little effect, but, although every form of quota and restriction has been practised by the Government, it would be a very courageous man who would dare to say that agriculture is prosperous; indeed, the Minister and hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies tell us with a good deal of truth that agriculture, broadly speaking, is not only not prosperous but is in a very parlous plight. One can select odd spots here and there which have been very well fertilised by the Treasury and which are doing better than hitherto, but there is no general stability in agriculture even after all the emergency provisions costing so many millions of pounds. The only question for us to consider this morning is whether the continuance of similar emergency provisions will produce results.
The law of supply and demand, which was the old orthodox economic theory, controlled itself, but when subsidies were introduced the law of supply and demand, being tampered with, tended frequently to do the very opposite from what was desired by the Minister. A short time ago there was the problem of surplus milk. The moment a subsidy was introduced this surplus increased, because the supply was stimulated, and the second state was as bad as, or worse than, the first. If supply be stimulated, even by such a small subsidy as that which we are considering under the Bill, and demand remains constant, it is 746 obvious that what has happened was bound to happen. The price of beef has decreased since last July. The right hon. Gentleman argued some three weeks ago that the stock raisers had benefited to the extent of the 5s. per cwt. given to them as subsidy—he did not argue that the stock raisers were better off in February than they were in July of last year—but whatever the Government gave them in the way of subsidies was pretty well absorbed by the reduction in price. The Government of 1926 gave a subsidy of £23,000,000 to the mining industry, but neither coal owners nor mine workers secured any advantage from the money, because so long as supply was in excess of demand, internal competition remained and individual units continued, prices persisted in falling, and we practically gave that £23,000,000 to foreign buyers of our coal and left the industry actually worse at the end of the expenditure than it was before.
Similar circumstances have obtained with regard to beef. If one excluded every other consideration, when the Government gave 5s. per cwt., the producers would have benefited to the extent of 5s. only if everything else remained constant; but things do not remain constant. That must be the besetting evil of these emergency provisions because the provisions do not quite work out as the Minister or we would desire to see.
The right hon. Gentleman suggests that, assuming the House were to refuse this Measure a Third Reading, his only alternative would be to apply stringent restrictions. But, if no attention were paid to the potential demand for fresh English meat of the quality to be subsidised, and its relation to the spending power of the people of this country, even stringent restrictions might not have the result that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. It is because of the general failure of these emergency provisions that we have persistently opposed this Measure, and not because any member on these benches is less sympathetic to the farmer or the farm labourer than any member of the Government benches. Clearly, representing largely, as we do, the lower orders, we are anxious to see the maximum number of workpeople employed on the land. It gives me far greater pleasure to see a prosperous farmer than a down-and-out farmer; my 747 natural sympathies are as much in that direction as are those of any member of the Government. But it is forced upon me, from what I have been able to read and from the examination I have tried to make of this problem, that only when the Government settled down to a real general plan, starting, not with the smaller insignificant sections of the industry, but starting at the top with the livestock section, determining what the potential demand for its products is, to what extent our soil and climate are capable of meeting those needs, where imports fit into the general scheme, and continuing with the organisation down to the best means of production, the best marketing system, and a costing system which will be equally equitable to the producer and the consumer—only then do I, at all events, think that we shall be on the high road to agricultural stability and prosperity in this country.
We have in existence a Livestock Committee and a Market Supply Committee; a comprehensive examination has been made of the methods of slaughtering and marketing animals; we have a very formidable document in the Cattle Diseases Report. All of these have made recommendations of their own to deal with some phase of livestock production, but so far no general conception of a plan has been produced and made available, and we seem to be, through these emergency provisions, working to no particular end. The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his official duties yesterday, had to interview a body of farmers. They, quite naturally, because they have been nurtured on this kind of thing, want more money from the right hon. Gentleman, and they do not mind if the money comes directly or indirectly. I do not cast any reflection upon the farmers. Presumably, were I a farmer, I should, in existing circumstances, be a whole-hearted supporter of the farmers' organisation; it is neither worse nor better than a steel magnate who wants a duty on the imported product, or a textile manufacturer, or anyone else; but it does not lead us anywhere—there is no finality about it. There is no general plan that one can look at as a whole, though I know that the agricultural industry is a fluctuating industry, and it requires a greyhound, almost, to keep pace with it. Considering the change in diet and the change in 748 the habits of the people, added to the import problem, I know it is not so easy as one would imagine; but neither is it easy to find £5,000,000, £10,000,000, £15,000,000 or £20,000,000 and still preserve a quiet, contented body of consumers or taxpayers who are paying the price.
It is more in regret than in anger that we are obliged to oppose this scheme. We do not think it is going to solve the problem, and the only other suggestion that has been put forward from the Government benches is that at some time we may subside from the direct subsidy on to a levy. We have watched opinion in the agricultural world and in the minds of Conservative Members of Parliament during the past year or two, and slowly but surely they are all turning towards our import board proposal; they are moving in the direction in which we have been trying to teach them to move for many years. They have discovered through the Wheat Act that it is a very desirable thing to have an ad hoc body sitting somewhere in obscurity, collecting money on imports, and distributing it to farmers in certain proportions. That may be wise in its way, but they have to go the whole way. If they are to succeed with their import regulations, they will have to import, they will have to control, they will have to sell, they will have to have a costing system which will be equitable all round.
I do not want to detain the House further. I would only say that, no general plan having been produced during the last three-and-a-half years to deal with the industry from top to bottom, we are satisfied that these emergency provisions are not going to produce either prosperity or stability. We should like to see new ideas applied to a new problem. We want to see agriculture prosper, but, unless and until a general plan is produced, which will involve the taking of very vital decisions at 10, Downing Street, we can see no chance of attaining that stability which the Lord President of the Council prays for for agriculture, and which the right hon. Gentleman who is now in charge of agriculture prays for every night before he goes to bed.
§ 11.33 a.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS ACLAND
I think the Minister was quite justified in claiming 749 that this matter has already been discussed a great deal, and ought not to take up much time this morning, and, therefore, I shall only intervene for a few minutes. I hardly think I should have intervened at all but for the fact that my right hon. Friend, in his very good-humoured, and, if I may add, effective way, when this matter was under discussion last Friday, offered the House a searching analysis of the way in which Members of the party to which I belong had voted or abstained from voting on the previous stages of this Measure. The main point that emerged was the large number of abstentions. I wonder how many there would have been on his own side, if he had given us those figures? The debates that we have on these matters are generally arranged in such inconvenient corners of the week's work that one does not get a very full attendance from any set of members when they come up, but I would like to answer the Minister's good-humoured challenge for my own part by confessing quite frankly that I have abstained.
I find it difficult to vote against these proposals, because quite definitely they do help, though not as much as was expected, a considerable proportion of my constituents. On the other hand, I find it impossible to vote for them, because I hate the subsidy system, and believe that in the long run it can come to no good. As soon as you allow an industry to get a finger into the pie of national funds, it is extraordinarily difficult ever to get that finger out again. I have a peculiar personal habit—it must be very unusual and exceptional, because I do not think any other Member in the House of Commons abides by it—in that I will not vote for things which directly help me financially. However, I will not deal with the matter.
The main point I want to make is this. I quite understand, and I think it is almost inevitable, that no permanent proposals can be put forward, either with regard to imports or with regard to marketing schemes until the conferences have taken place to which the Minister is looking forward. When those conferences are concluded as one hopes in as completely an amicable manner as may be possible, will the way then be immediately open for the presentation of a marketing scheme? Is the scheme now ready but only being held back until the 750 Minister can agree or attempt to agree on these difficult questions of the supplies from other countries? We began a set of actions in this House many months ago which were only based, and could only have been based under the law, namely, the Marketing Act of the present Government, on a certificate having been given by the President of the Board of Trade that a marketing scheme was definitely in preparation. I do not remember the actual words of the Act, and therefore I am not capable of quoting them exactly, but at any rate the limitation on the supplies from Ireland which began many months ago could only be taken under, I think, Sections 1 and 2 of the Marketing Act of this Government. Therefore, one must assume that it was definitely then being prepared, and I would like to hear a few words before we finally leave this matter as to how far that preparation has gone. I know that it is extraordinarily difficult, but when we are having duties put on and limitations of foreign supplies under that Act owing to the fact that a scheme is definitely being prepared, one would like to know how far the scheme has got, and whether, when the present difficulties have been dealt with the scheme will be produced.
Meanwhile what is happening—and I think that it is rather inevitable, and I am not blaming the Minister—is, unfortunately, having a very bad effect on the prospect of schemes in general. The more schemes mean subsidies or duties, the less they mean real improvement in marketing, and, if they are to do any good, they must be primarily improvements in real marketing and only secondarily subsidies, duties, restrictions or quotas. I know that the two go together, but what has happened under this Bill has tended to confirm a tendency which one has already observed in connection with agriculture to regard marketing schemes as being only very indirectly connected with real improvements in the structure of marketing and being primarily protection for the industry, direct or indirect. That is a bad thing. As far as marketing schemes are concerned, there are two schemes besides the cattle scheme which will presumably soon be coming before the industry, the egg scheme and the fruit scheme. The egg scheme, which really does go into 751 the structure of marketing very definitely, is probably good, but I see all around me many poultry farmers who have a tendency to say, "Look what has happened in cattle. They have got protection, a tax on meat instead of a subsidy, and why bother about marketing? The present system may be very unsatisfactory and untidy, but there is no guarantee that any other system will be better. Why not simply give us the same sort of protection, a tax on another article of food, as you are going to give the cattle industry, and let things go on as they are and not interfere with all the old methods to which we have got accustomed."
My point is clear, and I do not want to labour it. This sort of thing, the continuance of a subsidy month after month, and the proposal to replace it by a direct tax on food, with the question of real improvements in marketing very much in the background, will encourage people to think of marketing schemes as meaning subsidies or some other sort of artificial help for the industry, rather than those improvements in the quality and grading of the product which alone in the long run can make marketing schemes really acceptable to, and accepted by the people of the country.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I do not propose to intervene for more than a moment or two, but I wish to express real appreciation of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who spoke from the Labour benches. He really had some regard for the agricultural community, which I was glad to see and to welcome. He spoke of agriculture being in a very parlous state. I do not propose to argue the question of subsidy. I am glad that the Government did come to the help of the livestock industry. There is one thing I propose to say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. I do hope that these direct subsidies will come to an end very soon and that we shall have the permanent policy of the Government adumbrated and carried through the House. I speak of the question of subsidies because it is really damaging the agricultural interests in the large urban centres. The hon. Gentleman opposite 752 said that the Government are giving subsidies of £5,000,000, £10,000,000, £15,000,000, £20,000,000, and that sort of thing is being said in the urban centres. They say, "You are being given these large subsidies, and yet you are not satisfied." I could make out a case for agriculture if I wished, as I have the material here, but I do not propose to detain the House.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not go on too long by the Dominions assent. It is quite right for him to consult the Prime Minister of Australia, but do not let the conversations go on too long. I assure the Government that in the rural constituencies a considerable feeling is rising up that they are not being fairly treated with regard to this Dominion problem. I will not say more than that. I support this Bill, and, contrary to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland), I shall vote for it, but I hope—and I make an appeal to the Government—that these direct subsidies, which are very objectionable, will come to an end and that the long-term policy will be passed through both Houses as soon as possible. We agriculturists do not want anything but fair play, but we do hope that we shall get fair play from the present Government.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
After listening to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) I have, for once in a way, to admit that he has not given the occupants of these benches a curtain lecture. On the discussion of the Financial Resolution concerning this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman rather twitted us, because he said that we were prepared to support subsidies for the mining industry, but always opposed subsidies when they applied to agriculture. That statement is not true. We on these benches who know a little about the mining industry have never recommended subsidies as a policy. It is true that at certain times in the last 10 or 12 years subsidies have been given to the mining industry, but not with the sole consent of those who speak from the mine workers' point of view. There is, however, this difference between the subsidy to the mining industry and the subsidy to the agricultural industry, that 753 when the £23,000,000 subsidy was given to the mining industry there was a definite and specific qualification attached to it, and that was that miners' wages should be maintained at the then existing rate and that they should not be reduced in any circumstances while that subsidy was in operation. In the agricultural industry such a qualification has not been laid down. There has been subsidy after subsidy given to agriculture for wheat, sugar-beet, milk, meat, and so on, without any guarantee that the agricultural workers were going to get a square deal.
§ Mr. SMITH
The right hon. Gentleman says, "Oh, yes." His attitude is that the Agricultural Wages Board is there to look after the wages, but surely he knows that there has not been a very substantial increase in agricultural wages and that wherever the agricultural representatives have put forward a case for an advance to the workers it has usually been met with a certain amount of hostility from the farmers, who have been receiving subsidies from the State. Therefore, there is a difference between the subsidy given to the mining industry and that given to agriculture.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Does the hon. Member suggest that in any single instance miners' wages were increased during the interim period, and does he not admit that in many cases agricultural wages have been increased during the interim period?
§ Mr. SMITH
That is very interesting. The miners' wages during the time that the £23,000,000 subsidy was in operation stood at 46.66 above what was known as basic rates. It is also true that the subsidy maintained the wages at a figure higher than the mineowners intended they should be maintained. That subsidy was only given as a temporary measure in order to carry us over to another position. I submit that if the right hon. Gentleman will face the facts he will be bound to admit that the agricultural worker has not received a square deal since the operation of these various subsidies.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I cannot admit that proposition for one moment. My hon. Friend will admit that agricultural wages have risen. He says that the subvention in 754 the mining industry was given to carry us over to the long-term policy. That long-term policy is the policy of quota. When we get to our long-term policy in agriculture we shall be able to discuss the matter frankly, and look for the hon. Member's support for the policy of quotas.
§ Mr. SMITH
None of us will sit quietly when the so-called long-term policy comes, if we feel that it is not the right thing. One of our chief complaints is that for 3½ years we have been told to wait for the long-term policy, and when there has been no sign of that long-term policy coming along the right hon. Gentleman has said: "Give us another couple of million pounds until we have had time to get our long-term policy prepared." In this Bill he is asking the taxpayers to guarantee during the next three months £1,050,000, with the possibility of that amount being doubled in the next six months. The right hon. Gentleman must admit if he examines the situation fairly that in some parts of the country the agricultural workers have not had a square deal.
§ Mr. SMITH
I may not be able to point to any place where wages have been reduced, but the position is that in some cases they have not been increased and in other districts where they have been increased it has been due not to the generosity of the farmers but to the strength of the organisation behind the agricultural workers. The right hon. Gentleman must know that in some parts of the country nearly half of the wages bill is paid by the State in various forms of assistance. One of the reasons why we oppose this subsidy is because we are not satisfied that up to now the farm worker has had a fair crack of the whip. Last Friday the right hon. Gentleman, rather facetiously, pointed out that during the lifetime of the Labour Government many people lost their work. Does he believe that those men were thrown out of work because of the Labour Government?
§ Mr. SMITH
I thought you would pull me up, Mr. Speaker. We have been twitted by hon. Members opposite that we are opposed to agriculture. That is not true. As my hon. Friend the Member for the Don Valley said, we want to see a prosperous agriculture, but we have a right to be a little suspicious that there is a good deal of exaggeration from certain quarters about the real position in agriculture. I should like to see an up-to-date costing system in operation in the agricultural industry. Whatever may be said about the mineowners, they can always produce a mass of statistical evidence as to how things are in the industry, but in agriculture we cannot get that. We are often told that books are not kept, and that it is very difficult to know exactly what the position is. I am convinced that in some localities the farmers are not quite in that state of depression that hon. Members try to make out.
With regard to this Bill, we were told last week that we ought to advocate that the working classes should eat English beef. One hon. Member from the other side said that the policy of the Labour Opposition seemed to be that the working classes should be confined to the purchasing of low-quality beef. We have never advocated any such thing. We all know that English beef is far preferable to foreign beef, and nobody enjoys English beef more than the British working classes, but unfortunately many of them have never had the opportunity of getting steak and chips for some considerable time, for the simple reason that they are not able to buy beef at the price in the shops. You may go on subsidising agriculture so long as you like but until you give the mass of the people some purchasing power to enable them to buy English beef you are not going to get prosperity for the industry. We cannot agree with the Bill. We are sympathetic towards agriculture, and we want to see it prosperous, but we do not think this is the way to bring it about. The hon. Member for the Don Valley made an allusion to fertilisers. The best slogan in agriculture to-day is, "Subsidy is the best fertiliser." It is astonishing how they are able to come here and extract money from the British Treasury. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not delay his long-term policy, and when it does come I hope that we 756 shall find a solution of the agricultural problems without repeatedly coming to the Exchequer for subsidies.
§ 11.54 a.m.
I must protest against what was said by the hon. Member in regard to the farm worker not having had a fair deal under the policy of the present Government. The farm worker has had the best possible deal that could be given to him in view of the fact that every single product which the farmer produces to-day can only be sold at a loss, world prices being taken into account. The hon. Member was unable to point to any case in which agricultural wages had been reduced. On the other hand, we know, as in Lincolnshire, that there are many cases in which wages have risen. This month throughout the county of Lincolnshire there is to be a rise in agricultural wages.
One shilling per week. I should not be in order in discussing agricultural wages and how they compare with wages in other industries, such as mining, but in Lincolnshire, although farmers have suffered severe losses—there have been many bankruptcies and land has gone out of cultivation, although much land in under-cultivated because farmers are not able to afford the money to cultivate it properly and landlords have not in many cases received any rent, the wages of agricultural workers have only dropped 1s. per week; while at the same time their cost of living has been reduced. Let me point out that in the great industries of the country, to which the Government have not felt able to afford perhaps the same assistance as they have to agriculture, unemployment has been very severe, while in agriculture there is to-day only between six and seven per cent. unemployment amongst the workers. Therefore, from the workers' point of view the policy of the Government has been absolutely justified. While this period of depression has hit many workers throughout the country severely the agricultural worker has, at any rate, been preserved in his employment and in his wages. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) express sympathy with 757 those engaged in agriculture and a desire to help them. He suggested that an inquiry should be undertaken in regard to costings and other matters, by the Government and that afterwards they should come forward with a scheme.
In the earlier part of his remarks he pointed out that in regard to many of the schemes which the Government have put into operation changed conditions have to some extent upset them. Conditions, of course, do not remain the same. Who could have foretold when the Wheat Act was put into operation that the price of wheat, which was then far higher than it is to-day, would have fallen so low as it has. Stated in terms of gold the price of wheat to-day is something like 10s. per quarter. No one could have contemplated the fall which has taken place since the Act was introduced. It has, however, worked remarkably well. Let me say one word on the advantages of this subsidy. None of us like subsidies, and I hope that the long-term policy of the Government will come in as soon as possible. But when all is said and done, when we have said all that we can about subsidies which we all dislike, there is this to be said, that the policy of subsidies has saved the agricultural industry from disaster, has kept men on the land and maintained land in cultivation.
§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
Are there not 28,000 less employed on the land than 12 months ago? Are these men being kept on the land?
I agree that subsidies have not kept the entire agricultural population on the land, but if you compare agriculture with many other industries you will find that the proportion of the population kept in employment compares favourably with the number of workers who have been maintained in work in other industries. In the main the population has been kept on the land, and the land has been kept in cultivation. I do not say entirely, because some land has gone out of cultivation, but in the general result the policy of subsidies has been successful. We are told that people in the towns object to paying these subsidies. I think that people in the towns might remember that they are having the cheapest and best food supplies in the whole world; they 758 are gaining that immense advantage. The policy of the Government which has maintained cheap food supplies of first class quality has played its part in seeing this country through the economic crisis. I go further and say that a policy of subsidies is to the advantage of the working people. The subsidy comes out of the Exchequer, and as the weight of taxation in this country falls on the broadest shoulders, upon those most able to bear it, it follows that the rich pay more taxes than the poor. Therefore, since it is the rich who find most of the subsidy it is the working classes who get most of the benefit. It is difficult to understand why the party opposite, who profess sympathy for agriculture, should oppose this Bill. We in agriculture have great sympathy with the mining population because we realise that the British miner, if he had a chance, would be our best customer. Therefore I cannot understand why a temporary measure like this, passed in a time of severe stress and while a long term policy is being evolved, should meet with opposition from the Labour benches.
§ 12.4 p.m.
§ Mr. PERKINS
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) suggested that the benefits which have been showered on British farmers have not been passed on to the agricultural labourers. He suggested that wages have not gone up in the agricultural industry. Let me point out to him that unless these benefits had been showered on the British farmers it would not have been a question of wages going up or down, but the simple question of wages or no wages at all. It is undoubted that had it not been for the various measures passed by the Government during the last two years there would have been a great deal more unemployment in British agriculture than there is at this moment. Let me remind the hon. Member of another fact that he and his friends sat on the Government front bench and were responsible for two years not only for our agricultural policy but for the whole policy of this country. During the two years that they were in office there was a steady drop in wages, not only in agriculture but in practically every industry, whereas now, thanks to the measures adopted by the Government, that process has changed, and once again wages are 759 starting to rise not only in agriculture but in almost every other industry in the country.
I should be neglecting my duty to my constituents if I did not praise and back up the Minister in introducing this Bill. I have the honour to represent a very important constituency in which a large number of people earn a living by producing beef. I think I can claim, and I am sure the House will agree, that the best beef is produced in the fertile valleys of Gloucestershire. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—not perhaps in the opinion of this House, but in the opinion of the best judges in this country. What now is the position in British farming? Beef is the only trouble. As far as bacon is concerned the measures taken by the Government have succeeded. As far as cereal crops are concerned the measures taken by the Government have succeeded. As far as mutton is concerned there are no troubles and no grousings; and as far as beef and milk are concerned the whole House will agree that a great deal more has to be done.
In the case of milk we all know that there are two fundamental troubles. There is the trouble of the imports and there is the trouble of the low price of beef. I know in my constituency a large number of farmers who used to produce beef and who ought to do so, but they have now switched over to milk owing to the low price of beef, and as a result there is a local glut in the milk market. If we want to help the milk industry as well as beef we have to do something, and do it now. I believe that if my right hon. Friend will bring in some form of guaranteed price shortly, not only will he cure the troubles of the beef industry, but he will also go a long way to put the milk industry right; he will remove for all time a very large number of the difficulties we see in agriculture, and will go down in history as the greatest Minister of Agriculture we have ever known, and earn the everlasting gratitude not only of the country districts but of the towns.
I believe that people in the towns now realise that their prosperity is linked up with British agriculture. I believe they realise that there has been going on for the last 50 years a steady drift of people from the countryside into the towns, and 760 I believe they are beginning to realise that that drift is not in their interest. They realise that that means more competition in the labour market of the towns and results in lower wages, and in overcrowding in the towns. I believe that they are with us on that issue, and that they are with us because they realise that a prosperous agriculture provides a prosperous market for the goods that they make in the towns and have to sell. They realise that every penny put into the pockets of the farmer or his wife or child is an extra penny that will be spent in the towns. The more you increase the purchasing power of the people of the countryside the more you increase the demand for things made in the towns. For the first time now we have got the towns with us.
There are two alternatives for dealing with the beef problem. We can either use a duty or a quota, or use neither and have some form of guaranteed price. As the House knows, at the moment we are barred from using a duty because of some unfortunate agreements which have been made by the President of the Board of Trade. We cannot use a duty except by agreement with the Empire and the Argentine. Therefore, we must turn down the policy of a duty for the moment. I turn to the policy of the quota. It has been tried for the last three years, and everyone will agree that it has been a ghastly failure in the beef industry, because the price has dropped and dropped for over three years. I have no great faith in quotas, and I come to the only logical solution and the obvious solution of the problem, and that is some form of guaranteed price to the beef producer. There comes a serious objection, how is it to be financed? I think we should be making a mistake if we went to the taxpayer next year or the end of this year.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is now going considerably beyond the Bill. He must make those proposals another time.
§ Mr. PERKINS
Of course, I bow to your ruling, but I understood that this Bill was a Bill to gain time in order that the Government might keep the industry alive while they carried on negotiations with the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand and Canada, when they 761 come to this country in about a month's time. I was under the impression that there was to be a kind of informal Imperial Conference and that the Minister of Agriculture was to try to persuade the Dominion Premiers to accept some form of duty in order to finance a guaranteed price to the British producer in this country. I would make one suggestion. I wish the Minister of Agriculture luck in the negotiations, and I hope he will bear in mind two facts. We are the only market for the beef that the people of the Argentine and of Australia have to sell.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Those suggestions should have been made on the Second Reading and not on the Third Reading of the Bill. We must confine ourselves now to what is in the Bill.
§ Mr. PERKINS
I sincerely hope that the Minister will get the Third Reading of the Bill and gain three very valuable months, and that as a result he will be able to persuade the Dominion Premiers to agree to a levy which will benefit British producers.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ Major HILLS
I want to say only a few words, and I would not say them but for the speech of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith). I do not intend to enter into a competition with him as to which party has conferred most benefit on the farm worker or on agriculture. I may remind him, by the way, that in conjunction with the late Sir Mark Sykes some years ago I brought in a minimum wage Bill for agricultural labourers. I believe it was the first Bill of the kind ever brought into this House. It was not actively supported by the Labour party of the day, it was frowned upon by the Liberal party and it got no further than introduction. I mention that because my withers are quite un-wrung by any charge that the hon. Member may make.
I only want to say this further: The levy is not popular with anyone. Farmers would far rather not have it. It is like a monopoly. It creates an invidious atmosphere and puts the farmer rather in the position of being supported by other parties of the community. That is the last thing that the farming industry wants. I believe that if my right hon. 762 Friend the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) had been in charge of agriculture at this particular period he would have been driven to a subsidy to save a temporary situation which looked like becoming much worse, bad as it was. But it is only a temporary matter, and after all it is not a very big sum that is involved. I welcome very heartily the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). If I understood him aright he would not be opposed to a levy if it carried with it an import board. I have always failed to see much difference between the system of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and the import board proposed by the Labour party.
As soon as you begin to control imports by quota or otherwise, you do, in fact, set up an import board, and whatever that board does—and we may differ very much as to what it does—still the system of control of imports does carry with it some sort of organisation which may be called an import board. I hope I am not going too far or being too optimistic in saying that the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley did point to the possibility, at any rate, of a common policy for agriculture. His complaint against my right hon. Friend was that, instead of treating the industry as a whole, he was treating it piecemeal. I think the answer to that is quite simple. Agriculture is not one industry. It is several industries, and you have to start individually. But I am quite certain that my right hon. Friend, in all he does in these individual schemes which are brought in to deal with the different branches of agriculture, has in mind one general scheme for the regeneration of the whole industry, and that, I believe, we shall see before long.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
I am always very much interested in the efforts which the Minister of Agriculture makes to grapple with the problems of this important industry, and although I do not agree with the various methods he pursues from time to time, I do recognise the fact that he is striving very hard to do something which he considers will be effective in regard to agriculture in general. But I could not understand why a moment or two ago he was rather in- 763 dignant with my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith). At any rate, he disavowed that, but he seemed to me to be very indignant when he rose on two or three occasions to intervene while my hon. Friend was speaking. I recollect that during the lifetime of the Labour Government he frequently accused us in those days, when there were declining numbers in the agricultural industry, that that was due to the policy the Labour Government were then pursuing. What has he to say about that now?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I hope he will not say anything, as what the hon. Member is saying has nothing to do with the Bill.
§ Mr. BROWN
I am very sorry, Mr. Speaker. I will not pursue that further. I want to refer very briefly to a matter raised by the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), who called attention to the fact that the policies of the Minister are exciting some opposition in certain rural distrcts. Hon. Members opposite sometimes think that we, on these benches, have no interest in agriculture, but since the present Minister of Agriculture got busy, I have had a number of contracts with members of the agricultural community, and many of them are by no means satisfied with the policies which the Minister is pursuing. At an earlier stage of the proceedings on this Bill he paid a tribute to the Cattle Committee which was set up under the original Act to deal with this question of the beef subsidy, and he pointed out that it was a very effective body. But a number of farmers—I know
§ he has tried to explain this—have wanted to know where the first £3,000,000 has gone.
§ I had rather a remarkable interview the other Sunday morning with the indignant wife of a farmer who came to see me on this particular point. She very strongly observed that, as far as she could detect, none of the benefits had come their way in regard to the fat stock they had taken to market. I would ask the Minister whether, under the Bill we are now discussing and this extension of the subsidy, he is taking any greater precautions than on the first occasion to see that the money goes into the pockets of those for whom it is intended? If you are asking for a subsidy, you ought to see to it that the subsidy goes to those for whom you intend it. That is one of the things about which you ought to concern yourself. If Mr. Speaker will permit me, I will add that the farmer's wife who complained to me bitterly about this had another complaint to make. This also applies to the policy in connection with the beef subsidy. Her husband had just been fined about £30 by the Milk Marketing Board for failing to fill up a return. I tried to persuade the lady that she and her husband had gone into the scheme voluntarily, but I could not pacify her in any way. She left me saying, "When you go back to the House of Commons, tell the Minister of Agriculture that he ought to be thrown into the Thames."
§ Question put, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ The House divided: Ayes 118; Noes, 29.765
|Division No. 106.]||AYES.||[12.24 p.m.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd.)||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.|
|Beaumont, Hon. B. E. B.(Portsm'th, C.)||Doran, Edward||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller|
|Belt, Sir Alfred L.||Dower, Captain A. V. G.||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Duckworth, George A. V.||Hume, Sir George Hopwood|
|Blindell, James||Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)|
|Bower, Commander Robert Tatton||Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Ker, J. Campbell|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Everard, W. Lindsay||Kerr, Hamilton W.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Fleiden, Edward Brocklehurst||Kirkpatrick, William M.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks., Newb'y)||Fox, Sir Gifford||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Fraser, Captain Sir Ian||Law, Sir Alfred|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Fremantle, Sir Francis||Leckie, J. A.|
|Christie, James Archibald||Glossop, C. W. H.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Gluckstein, Louis Halts||Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Goff, Sir Park||Loder, Captain J. de Vere|
|Cooke, Douglas||Grimston, R. V.||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.|
|Copeland, Ida||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Mabane, William|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Guy, J. C. Morrison||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||McConnell, Sir Joseph|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootie)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of w.)||Ropner, Colonel L.||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|McLean, Major Sir Alan||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Wallace, Captain, D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)||Wallace, Sir John (Dunfermline)|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney).||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S.|
|Mille, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)||Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dinc, C.)||Watt, Major George Steven H.|
|Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Spene, William Patrick||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour|
|Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Peteref'ld)||Strauss, Edward A.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertf'd)|
|Orr Ewing, I. L.||Strickland, Captain W. F.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Ptarton, William G.||Sutcliffe, Harold||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Perkins, Walter R. D.||Tate, Mavis Constance||Womersley, Sir Walter|
|Petherick, M.||Taylor, Vice-Admiral, E. A. (P'dd'gt'n, S.)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley|
|Potter, John||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Pownall, Sir Assheton||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Reid, David D. (County Down)||Touche, Gordon Cosmo||Sir George Penny and Dr. Morris-|
|Remer, John R.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.||Jones.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Griffiths, George A. (Yorks, W. Riding||Thorne, William James|
|Banfiold, John William||Grundy, Thomas W.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Batey, Joseph||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||West, F. R.|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Daggar, George||Lawson, John James||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lunn, William|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Dobbie, William||McEntee, Valentine L.||Mr. Groves and Mr. Paling.|
|Gardner, Benjamin Walter||Parkinson, John Allen|
Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.