HC Deb 05 July 1937 vol 326 cc47-116

Order for Second Reading read.

4.0 p.m.

The Minister of Pensions (Mr. Ramsbotham)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has every reason to be satisfied with the reception already given to the proposals in this Bill, both inside and outside the House. Indeed, if it be really true that certain hon. Members opposite desire from time to time to adopt a more drastic and militant attitude towards Government measures, it is no mean achievement on the part of my right hon. Friend to have secured the approval of the Opposition to about three-quarters of the proposals contained in this Bill. The House will, I am sure, agree to regard this Debate as in some sense a continuation of our Debate on the Financial Resolution last week. Thanks to my right hon. Friend, that Resolution was so widely drawn that we were able to discuss practically all the topics which will be debated to-day. From the proceedings last week it appears that of the four main portions of the Bill, dealing respectively with lime and slag, oats and barley and wheat, land drainage, and diseases of animals, it is only the portion dealing with oats, barley and wheat which commands the positive disapproval of hon. Gentlemen opposite. What their attitude will be to the Bill as a whole, I do not know. I would say this to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), speaking as one politician to another, that it is sometimes difficult to explain to one's constituents, when one votes against a Bill, that one is really in favour of three-quarters of it.

I would like to deal for a short time with that portion of the Bill which the hon. Member for Don Valley opposes and which he wished to expunge from the Financial Resolution last week. In that connection I would like to enlist his sympathy for those Socialist candidates who are hanging on by their eyelids in oat-growing districts, in Scotland, parts of North-West England and parts of Wales, where the assistance to oats and barley will be very welcome to the farmers. I cannot help thinking that the hon. Member by his vote last week went a long way to sign the political death warrant of those unfortunate supporters of his. It is out of consideration of the point of view of those candidates and the political future of the hon. Member himself, for whom I have a high regard, that I will try to persuade him to swallow the gnat as well as the camel and convert his 75 per cent. of support into 100 per cent.

The hon. Member's main objection to the scheme was that part which insures the price of oats and barley and extends the area of wheat eligible in certain circumstances for assistance. He said that we could not hope to compete with the rolling plains of Canada and the United States, of Australia and South America. If that be so, the logical inference from that position is that we should grow no cereals at all but import all our requirements, whether of animal or human food. That would be in strict accord with the old Liberal Free Trade theory that you should not produce here what you can import more cheaply from abroad. But I thought that the hon. Member and his friends had abandoned that idea long ago. I am sure he does not wish to push his criticisms of our cereal proposals to that extreme. But are we in his judgment to offer no more encouragement to cereal growers? Is the hon. Member, are the party opposite satisfied with our present acreage under oats and barley and wheat? Does the hon. Member say that we have reached the optimum, that without any further raising of the price we can now rest on our oars; let the future look after itself and rely on a continuation in cultivation of our present acreage of oats, wheat and barley? If that is the hon. Member's opinion I suggest to him that he is really unduly complacent about the position.

I would remind the hon. Member that in recent years there has been a steady fall in the production and the acreage of oats and barley in the United Kingdom, compared with the 10-year average of acreage and production from 1925 to 1934. Last year's production of oats was 15 per cent. below, and that of barley 22 per cent. below the average of those years. Even with wheat there was a decline in 1936 compared with 1935, although the 1936 figure was in excess of the 19-year average. Incidentally, I do not know on what authority the hon. Gentleman told us that most of the land was wheat sick and that wheat was being grown on land that was unsuitable. I have looked up the figures giving the average of wheat acreage and production for the years 1910 to 1913. They show the acreage to be 1,849,000 acres, and the production 1,579,000 tons. There is no suggestion that the land was wheat sick or that the farmers were growing wheat on land that was unsuitable in 1910–13. In 1936 the acreage under wheat was 1,798,000 acres —slightly less than in 1910–14—but the production is larger, 1,722,000 tons. That really does dispose of the contention that our land is wheat sick and that farmers are growing wheat on land that is unsuitable.

What it comes to is this: Are the party opposite prepared to see a decline in cereal production with equanimity, to let it fall to lower levels? If so, to what level can it fall before they become alarmed and wish to take steps to arrest it? I would also ask this question. Is it really wise to be so dependent upon imports of cereals from abroad? We have been told that the rise in the price of foodstuffs for human beings and animals is due to world causes, to climatic and economic conditions affecting the world's harvests and the cost of production of those harvests. That is mainly true. It is also true that for some years we have been purchasing distress cargoes. I believe the time has gone by when that is possible, and I doubt whether any more bankrupt stock will be forthcoming. Unless we ourselves possess resources, and considerable resources of our own, surely our position as a buyer in the world market will become a very weak one.

Let me give a case in point. Take the sugar-beet industry. The production of sugar-beet in this country has always been regarded as a very useful insurance against our being charged unduly high prices by producers from overseas. Apart from the general economic aspect, there is the very important aspect of National Defence in the event of an emergency. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) has rather curious views on that matter. He told us last week that he thought it unwise to grow large quantities of cereals because we had command of the seas and could import all that we required. Certainly we had command of the seas in the last War, yet according to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) we were at times, to use his own words, "face to face with starvation." In any event it is common knowledge that there was the most acute anxiety on that score during the War. I cannot help thinking that hon. Members opposite would have intensified that anxiety a hundred-fold if their views on the growing of cereals had been adopted before the Great War broke out. It was difficult enough for our Navy to keep the seas open then. The hon. Member and his party would surely make it far more difficult.

But the hon. Member does admit that there is a case for limited assistance by the State under special conditions in the cereal-growing industry. If he and his friends will examine the proposals of the Bill they will see that the assistance is limited not only as regards price but as regards the acreage eligible to qualify under the provisions relating to the standard acreage. Some of my hon. Friends behind me think that that provision is too drastic. Therefore I suggest to the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean and his friends that, in view of our experience in the Great War, in view of our intention to limit the assistance, he and his friends should reconsider their attitude to the cereal proposals and earn the thanks of the cereal farmers for so doing.

I would also remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that the maintenance of an arable area enables us to keep on the farm the necessary equipment, the horses and tractors and implements and so forth, which would be required should an emergency arise. Apart from the question of Defence and the importation of supplies, there is the equally important effect of cereal growing on the land itself. The land matters more than anything else. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, in the Debate on the Financial Resolution, reminded the hon. Member for Don Valley that his attitude with regard to cereal growing would have a very unfortunate effect on the grass lands of Scotland. I gather that you cannot keep land for a long time in permanent pasture in many parts of Scotland without the grass deteriorating, that it is necessary to keep it in arable in order to grow grass. My hon. Friend said that in some parts the land could not be kept in grass for more than three or four years, and in certain cases not for more than one or two years.

Again, the proposal of the hon. Member for Don Valley to bolster up grass at the expense of cereals in order to increase the head of livestock would have a very serious effect on East Anglia. About 60 per cent, of the value of agricultural output from the Eastern Counties comes from livestock. They produce, proportionate to their acreage, nearly as much meat as the rest of the United Kingdom. It is only made possible by the growing of corn and the feeding stuffs needed by the livestock. If East Anglia were laid down to grass the result would be either that an immense quantity of feeding stuffs would have to be imported to feed the livestock, or the head of livestock would have to be reduced and we should be increasingly dependent on meat from abroad. The hon. Member, I know, does not wish either result to flow from his policy, but I cannot help thinking that one or other of them would do so. The right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) said the other day that there must be a certain balance between grass and crops, and between crops like wheat and oats. That is true. We cannot treat grass-growing, grain-growing and livestock producing as all in separate watertight compartments. They are inextricably linked together and form part of the very balance of agriculture which the hon. Member is anxious to preserve, though I think his policy would do something to destroy it.

A few words about the effect of the hon. Member's policy on employment. There was a most serious and regrettable fall during the last five or six years in the number of agricultural workers in England and Wales. It amounts to nearly 12 per cent. compared with 1931. But in arable areas there was very little change. In the Eastern counties there was a fall of 1½ per cent. and in Norfolk, Suffolk and the Isle of Ely there was an increase, compared with 1931, of 1¼ per cent. It is the fact that the number of workers per thousand acres of crops and grass in a typical arable area like the Eastern division is something over 40 compared with 25 per thousand acres in a typical pastoral division like the West Midlands division. That is, to some considerable extent due to the assistance already given to beet and to wheat, and it may well be hoped that employment will be maintained—we are hoping it will possibly be increased—by the assistance contemplated in this Measure. Therefore, in view of these considerations I express the hope that the hon. Member and his party will support all our proposals. I claim that they treat the agricultural problem as a whole. They do not break it up into separate unrelated processes, and their effect will be to store up fertility in the soil, to keep the plough going, as much for the benefit of grass land as for the production of food for man and animals, and there is practically no form of agricultural activity which is not likely to benefit from these proposals.

I will say a word in regard to the attitude of the Independent Liberal party. My right hon. Friend has been even more successful with the independent Liberal party than he has been with the official Opposition in front of me, because it appears from the proceedings last week that he can count upon the support for his four main proposals from seven-tenths of the Independent Liberal party and will meet with opposition to the cereal proposals from only three-tenths, so that the area of my missionary effort is limited and the field is narrowed. As regards two-tenths of the dissentient three-tenths, the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) and the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth), I doubt whether any missionary could convert them. They are deeply sunk in political paganism and I admit now I can do nothing to save their agricultural souls, particularly as their constituents in Bethnal Green and South Bradford are not, so far as I know, directly or indirectly interested in oats and perhaps only indirectly interested in barley. But I have many more hopes for the remaining one-tenth, the hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely), and I believe that there I can snatch a brand from the burning when I assure him that in Northumberland three-quarters of the acreage in that county which is under cereals consists of oats and barley, and I believe that that argument will bring a Liberal tithe to my barn. His other two colleagues are beyond redemption.

I referred just now to the limitation involved in Government policy in regard to the price of oats and barley, and I said that I would just mention that. It is true that the production both of oats and barley is less than pre-war. There were factors before the War making for increased consumption and therefore increased production which are no longer present to-day. There was a very much larger number of horses and an increased consumption of beer, and to stimulate the production of oats and barley to-day, up to, say, the pre-war figures in the absence of pre-war factors, would be to encourage artificial and uneconomic production and create an unstable position in those commodities which sooner or later would have to be liquidated at very great cost to those concerned. I am positive that nobody in this House wishes us to repeat the experience of the Corn Production Acts. Also I might put this point to the Committee as well—a policy without limitation would not only endanger the price of oats, but might also involve the taxpayer in expenditure without limitation. The taxpayers' hands are quite full enough, or I should say empty enough to make him adverse to entering into indefinite commitments.

This Bill, as my right hon. Friend said on a previous occasion, does not purport to put agriculture on a war-time footing. It is a peace-time Bill, but it is designed to enable expansion to take place in an emergency should an emergency arise, more rapidly and more efficiently than would have been possible some years ago or is possible at the present time. Whatever happens, none of us here will regret the improvements in the fertility and the productiveness of our soil and in the health of our herds which should result from this Bill. If the worst should happen, if an emergency should arise, then we should be in a position as a result of this Bill to take immediate advantage of the enhanced productivity of the country thereby secured.

I do not propose to expatiate on the other proposals of the Bill. They were fully debated last Monday and I think met with general approval. I do not think that the Committee will wish me to preach to the converted or waste their time by painting the lily and gilding the rose. I commend the Bill to the House. It is a good Bill, whether for peace time or whether for emergency, and my right hon. Friend is heartily to be congratulated upon it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs speaking a short while ago on the Agricultural Estimates claimed, I think, authorship for a good deal of this programme. I am not saying that in any way in disparagement. On the contrary. But I am no Solomon to settle the claims of two contending mothers and I am pretty sure that if I now threaten to cut this Bill in halves, there would be a far louder cry of anguish from my right hon. Friend than we should ever hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. At the same time in order to avoid any possible offence, should he read these words, or they be reported to him, and as a peaceful compromise, I am quite prepared to admit that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon's contribution, illustrates quite clearly the importance of pre-natal influence. In any event, that such a determined and vigorous opponent of the Government as the right hon. Gentleman should be anxious to pay tribute to these proposals is a very considerable testimony to their value, and that, I think, should encourage all of us, supporters of the Government and opponents alike, to vote for this Bill with a good heart and a clear conscience.

4.24 p.m.

Mr. Paling

The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill tried to pull our legs a little, I think, when he referred to the fact that the production of the Bill was no mean achievement in that three-quarters of the Members on our side were in support of it. I think that the hon. Member has used exaggeration. It is true that we welcome the proposal in the Bill dealing with diseases very heartily indeed, but on the question of drainage some of us think that the proposals are not as good as they might be. Fertilisers are very necessary, but we are not quite sure that the provisions in the Bill are so very good, and there are the provisions in respect of oats, barley and wheat which we are against altogether. If the hon. Member sums up the position on that basis, he will have some difficulty in saying that 75 per cent. of us are in favour of the Bill. He also referred to the fact that the party on the Government Benches are doing well in the rural and farming divisions. The most typical farming division in the list of by-elections was probably Boston-with-Holland where our vote went up and the vote of the hon. Members opposite fell disastrously, so that there does not seem to be too much justification for complimenting themselves in that direction.

Nobody will deny that, with regard to this Bill and farming policy generally, agriculture has had a fair share of the attention of this House since 1931. I do not know how many Bills have been presented to the House and how many administrative efforts have been made, but they are very numerous indeed. One would have supposed that, in view of the number of times agriculture has had legislation proposed in its favour and administrative efforts made on its behalf in the last six years, it would have led the agricultural industry into the paths of prosperity, and that, after six years of intense effort by a party thoroughly believing in agriculture, with all its friends in agriculture, and with a huge majority enabling them to do as they wish and pass any legislation they like, agriculture would have been doing very well indeed. But if one listens to the complaints of hon. Members opposite who represent agricultural constituencies, one is forced to the conclusion, that, in spite of all that has been done, they are not doing very well, and still appear to be in Poverty Street. We have had tariffs, subsidies, levies, quotas, restrictions, marketing schemes, and we have dealt with beef, wheat, milk, butter, bacon, potatoes and pigs, and in this Bill we are dealing with oats, barley, fertilisers, drainage and animal diseases. If we go on at this rate there will hardly be anything left in agriculture with which to deal. We have gone through the whole lot of commodities which they produce.

Sir Joseph Lamb

Except prices.

Mr. Paling

I shall come to that before I finish. In spite of all that has been done, enough has not been done, and they still cry for more. I have been reading in some of the agricultural papers, that in the very near future agricultural credits are to be given, and there are to be short-term loans. Did the hon. Member shake his head? At any rate, I read in the papers that this is to be done, and also that poultry is to be dealt with shortly. If the efforts of Members in this House, during the last 12 months in particular, indicate anything, they indicate that they are proposing to put sufficient pressure upon the Minister until these things are dealt with. In this week's agricultural papers it is stated that pigs are to be dealt with in the very near future.

Major Dower

Is the hon. Gentleman against assistance being given to the primary industry in this country?

Mr. Paling

I am merely indicating what has been done in the past, what is being done at the moment, and what hon. Members opposite intend shall be done in the future with regard to agriculture. I read: Mr. Morrison will make an announcement on pig policy within a month. Assistance will probably be given by way of covering the producer when his feeding costs rise beyond a certain figure. It goes on to say: The Ministry has been exploring the possibilities of this course for some time. It is now a question of putting the finishing touches to the machinery of distribution. The money, of course, could be derived from a levy, and there should be no difficulty in devising a scheme whereby the curer would be compensated after adding the 'agreed subsidy' to the producers payment sheet checked by a Treasury representative. As I have urged before, this should not be regarded as a subsidy to the producer; it is really a consumer's subsidy. So that apparently these things that are being done for the agriculturist are not so much for the benefit of the producer as for the benefit of the consumer. I read also that, despite all that has been done, all that is being done at the moment and all that is intended to be done, the agriculturists are still unsatisfied. I read, for instance, that in Cumberland and Westmorland the Farmers' Union are sending out a questionnaire to Members of Parliament. They ask six questions, some of them very interesting. They ask:

  1. "(1) Are you prepared to vote for such a tariff as may be found necessary to secure the first claim for the British farmer in the home market?
  2. (2) Would you be prepared to support a subsidised scheme of tile drainage similar to that which was in force some time ago, and is at present in force in Scotland?
  3. (3) Will you support subsidising farm wages to bring the rate of wages up to an equal standard with the local demand in respect of other industries?
  4. (4) Are you in favour of foreign farm implements, feeding stuffs and manures coming into this country free of duty?
  5. 57
  6. (5) Are you in favour of all wheat being milled in this country and of offals obtained therefrom being used in here?
  7. (6) Are you in favour of a duty upon foreign milk products, foreign eggs (including liquid eggs) and poultry?"
We might sit here as representing agriculture, but we are doing more this afternoon. There are three other things which the Ministry is going to help. In spite of this, agriculture is putting up this comprehensive list of questions to Members of Parliament as to what they are prepared to do in the future. It appears to me that, in spite of all that has been done, the Government's policy has not been particularly successful up to the present time, as appears from the farming representatives themselves.

There are one or two questions I would like to ask with regard to lime. One thing that I noticed in the discussion last week was that the Minister was asked once or twice as to the cost of lime per ton. He said he was not able to answer. I think two or three days later a question was put down by an hon. Member behind me also asking for that information, and again the Minister was not able to answer. It appears to me that before the Minister went into the question of giving a subsidy on lime to the extent of paying half the value he must have gone into the question of cost.

Mr. Ramsbotham

The Minister could not explain, and the reason is that there are so many very different grades of lime and the price varies according to the quantity of oxide. Had I been asked to give the cost of any particular grade of lime I could have answered.

Mr. Paling

In spite of that I should think that it would have been possible, particularly in answer to a question of which the Minister had at least two days notice, even if the price was asked for no particular grade of lime, it would have been possible to give some information to the House as to the cost of lime. That has not been given up to the present. There is another point. We all agree that lime is necessary; we are not disputing that, but it appears to me that more care might have been taken by the Minister with regard to price. We do not know what it is. We know that 50 per cent. is to be paid, but we do not know the average cost of lime, and it appears to me that he might have given more care to the matter. It is safe to assume that if 50 per cent. of the cost is to be paid by the Treasury, the amount of lime consumed will go up considerably, and that may mean a rise in price. They have made an arrangement with the lime industry, but I do not know that it is good enough. If there is a huge increase in production, the cost of production should go down rather than increase, and if producers are selling much more than they are at the moment, it should be possible to secure a decrease in the price of lime, and not merely get an agreement that the price will remain at its prevent level.

I have no reason to suppose that the present price of lime is not good. Lime has been in great demand in this country for a large number of years, particularly because of the large amount of building that has taken place. It is used in a number of other directions, and, so far as I know, there is no reason to suppose that the present price of lime is not good, and it was not too much to ask that he should get not only a guarantee that it would not increase, except in certain cases, but he should come to the House with a guarantee that it would be very much decreased. With regard to basic slag, perhaps, the argument does not hold good to quite the same extent. The amount to be paid for basic slag is only 25 per cent. against 50 per cent. for lime, and I understand that with regard to the basic slag the suppliers have agreed to a reduction of one shilling per ton on high grade, 9d. for middle qualities, and 6d. per ton for low grade. The Minister thought this was so good that he said: I should like to express my appreciation to the producers of slag and to the British iron and steel industry for the way in which they have met me in these negotiations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1937; col. 1819, Vol. 133.] But I have my doubts as to whether the proposal is good enough. The steel industry has had a tremendous help by the introduction of the armaments programme. It is doing exceedingly well now, and because of that is making an increasing amount of slag every day and every week which at the reduced or ordinary rate of consumption might have become a drug on the market. Then prices would have tended to decrease in any event, and if that had been taken into full consideration, I think it highly probable that a lesser price than the Minister has obtained would have been gained. Again, reading some of the farming papers I see they take the same point of view. The editor of the "Farmers' Weekly" writes in the "Editor's Diary": The Government's proposals for encouraging farmers to use more basic slag certainly fit in well with the rearmament programme. This has led to a much greater production of steel and, incidentally, to a begger output of slag, the by-product of steel manufacture. It is being said that if matters had been allowed to take their course, and the ordinary rule of supply and demand had been left to operate, farmers would, anyway, have been able to get their slag cheaper this autumn. The inference from this argument is that the benefit of the Government grant of 25 per cent. of the price of basic slag will go to the manufacturers who are thus enabled to maintain their selling prices. Another letter says: Is the Government grant for basic slag really meant to help the farmer, or is it a subsidy for the steel manufacturers? With the present high production of steel, stocks of slag must increase. Unless consumption of slag also increases, prices must come down. And another suggests: The prices of British slag as published recently are substantially higher than the corresponding prices of Continental basic slag, even after adding freight, landing charges, carriage, etc., and the import duty. A subsidy confined to British basic slag has the effect of a secondary import tax on foreign slag. It will prevent a reduction in the prices of British slag. The farmer, therefore, will not get the full benefit of the subsidy. So that in the view of the farming community themselves and the people who issue their publications, the Government have not done half so well in this case as was indicated on the occasion of the Debate last week.

Now I come to the question of wheat, oats and barley subsidy. I do not pretend to be an expert at this. I could not tell you when the maximum amount of wheat which is good for our agriculture is being grown, but I have listened to Debates in this House, and I have read farming papers, too, and there seems to be some genuine doubt as to whether this increase of 33⅓ per cent. over and above what is already produced is really going to be a good thing for the industry itself. The hon. Member also referred to the question of whether it was wise to depend on such large imports from abroad, and whether it was not better to develop our own production. In a general way, of course, it would be better to develop our own production, but in spite of anything we do here, in spite of the most intense production of wheat that we can make, it still remains the fact that we have to import by far the biggest proportion of our foodstuffs from abroad, and, so far as I can see, it does not matter Whether it be wheat or any other necessary.

There was another matter mentioned by the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) in that Debate. He is a practical farmer, and everybody will admit that he speaks with great knowledge of the subject. He said with reference to the Wheat Act, 1932, that the then Minister gave some kind of guarantee: We desire that the farmers should try by every means in their power, and we believe the Bill will encourage them, to market their produce under the most economical methods and to produce their wheat in the best form." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1932; col. 751. Vol. 263.] The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean went on to point out that that was not being done, and that, as far as his reading and research showed, it was far from being done, and the promise that had been given was not being carried out. In spite of that, the growing of wheat is to be increased by 33⅓ per cent. Oats and barley are not quite in the same category as wheat, and I do not see why the subsidy should have been given in those cases except it may be that there was a substantial demand on behalf of one or two people in this House, particularly those representing Scottish constituencies, to have as good a deal as the grower of wheat had made in the English counties. Apparently they have succeeded at the present moment, but, at any rate, I understand there can be no competition of foreign oats in this country. I am told that the import is only round about 7 per cent. When we talk about wheat, we say the low price is duc to intense competition from abroad, but that cannot apply to oats. Oats are at a very low price, and I am told that the biggest proportion of oats grown in this country is consumed on the farms. If the farmer gets a low price for his production, he pays only a very low price for the thing he is to consume, so he does not lose much. But now he is to get a subsidy in addition, and that appears to me to be a very bad illustration of the old saying about having your cake and eating it at the same time.

With regard to barley, the same thing seems to operate. I am told that 60 per cent. of the barley is consumed by the brewers. Some years ago an agreement was made with the brewers in regard to the consumption of British barley, which was called "A gentleman's agreement." According to the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, I understand that that "Gentleman's agreement" has not been carried out to the satisfaction of the farmers. Seeing that 60 per cent. of the barley goes to the brewers, surely it does not pass the wit of man to arrange that it might be possible to stabilise the price of barley, when one customer takes the major portion of it, and that customer such a wealthy customer. The brewers have been making profits for years, almost second to none. They have made profits on a large scale through the years of the depression. In spite of that fact, there is to be a subsidy for barley.

Now I come to the question of drainage. We admit the necessity for drainage work being done, but we want to call attention to the fact, and we will not let the House lose sight of it, that nearly all the land of this country belongs to private people. I am told that there are about 1,750,000 acres of land suffering from lack of drainage. It is a sad commentary on private ownership that 1,750,000 acres of arable land should be in need of the most necessary treatment, that of drainage. That state of things exists despite the prosperous times that landowners have had, if not in the last few years at any rate previously.

Sir J. Lamb

Does the hon. Member say that land wholly mortgaged is still in private ownership?

Mr. Paling

It is owned by the mortgagees, who, in a good many cases, are the banks. The hon. Member would not suggest that they are badly off. If the mortgagee happens to be a bank they are surely in a better position to do the drainage than some of the private owners of the land. It is private ownership that has led to this position. Another point to remember is that if this money is spent on drainage of the land, the land will increase in value. Is that going to be for the benefit of the landlords? Is the State to come in and do the work which private landlordism has failed to do, and then when the value increases, the landlord is to run away with the increased value?

Sir William Wayland

Does the hon. Member not consider it to be a public duty to drain agricultural land, just as it is to drain the towns?

Mr. Paling

If the land of this country belonged to the people I should not have the slightest objection to the people finding the money with which to drain it, but in view of the fact that most of the land, particularly agricultural land, does not belong to the people but to private landlords, I do not see why the public should find the money to do something which the private landlord ought to have done himself. We grant that the work ought to be done and that these 1,750,000 acres ought to be put into a state of production, but while we agree to the money being spent, we wish to point out that private capitalism and landlordism has failed, and because it has failed the State has to come in and do the duty which it ought to have done for itself.

With regard to the question of animal diseases, we give our whole-hearted support to what is proposed to be done. The Minister of Agriculture stated that diseases of animals were responsible for the loss of about £14,000,000 a year. That is a tremendous waste for the community, and if it can be prevented it ought to be. As far as we are concerned, we will willingly spend any money in that direction. On this question I should like to quote a statement in an article in last week's "Farmers' Weekly," which points out that for animals the cheapest and best of all food is good water. The article goes on to refer to the fact that thousands of beasts, dairy cattle, in this country are drinking water that is filthy and foul, and that that is a prolific cause of disease. Is anything to be done to remedy that state of affairs? I do not see any remedy in the Bill. This is one of the things which might be attended to. It is excellent work to have research committees and veterinary services for the purpose of curing and eradicating disease. It is much better to prevent disease by insuring a purer water supply rather than dealing with the disease after it has occurred.

My last point deals with a matter that is not in the Bill, namely, the question of wages. I said at the beginning of my speech that all sorts of matters relating to the farming community had been dealt with since 1931, when the National Government came into power, but that nothing has been done as far as I know for the agricultural worker.

Sir Francis Fremantle

What about the Agricultural Wages Committees?

Mr. Paling

We put into operation the Agricultural Wages Act, which gave the agricultural worker a minimum wage, and the first thing the National Government did after coming into office in 1931 was to reduce the number of inspectors who see that the agricultural worker gets the right pay. It is only because of the amount of agitation on this side of the House and from other quarters that the number of inspectors has since been increased. That is about the only thing that has been done for the agricultural worker since this Government came in. The Minister of Agriculture stated the other day that the minimum wage of the agricultural worker was 8 per cent. higher than in 1933, and the National Farmers' Union state in their report that whereas in 1925 the average wages were 31s. 3d., they were 32s. 3d. in 1936. As the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) pointed out, there has been an increase of Is. per week in the wages of agricultural workers in II years, in spite of all that has been done for the farmers, in spite of the millions of pounds of subsidy that has been poured into their pockets and the millions that are to be poured into their pockets. It would appear that the farmers and the landlords have kept the money in their own pockets and have not passed any of it on to the agricultural labourer.

We are also told that there has been an increase in production of 14 per cent. and that farmers' prices have increased by 31 per cent. Surely, leaving out the subsidies and having regard only to the increased production of 14 per cent. and the increase in prices of 31 per cent., the agricultural workers ought to have had some substantial increase in wages during the last few years.

Mr. De la Bère

What about the millstone of mortgage that is hanging round the necks of the farmers?

Mr. Paling

The hon. Member asks me about the millstone of mortgage. Mortgage has already been mentioned this afternoon. That subject is not on the list of subjects with which I am to deal, but if on some future occasion I am allowed to speak about that, I will say what we as a Socialist party would do with the millstone of mortgage. In a bulletin issued by the Cambridge Farm Economics Branch, it appears that in the Eastern counties the output value has increased per 100 acres from £654 in 1931 to £928 in 1936. That means that the output value has increased by about 42 per cent.—a tremendous increase. The statement also shows that profits in 1931 per 100 acres were £1 and in 1936, £139, yet the wages of the workers have gone up by only 1s. per week. Reference is also made to the fact that there has been a decrease in the number of workers employed on the farms. Is there any wonder at that decrease in view of the wages that are paid—an average wage of 32s. 6d. per week, on which the farm worker has to keep his wife and family? In face of the increase in profits and in output value to which I have referred, and in face of the huge subsidies that have been poured into the agricultural industry, the worker's wage has increased by 1s. Is the agricultural worker getting a decent deal?

When I opened my correspondence this afternoon the first thing that attracted my attention was a copy of the "Land Worker," the organ of the Agricultural Workers' Union. On the first page there is a statement of a budget on a weekly wage of 32s 6d. Here are a few of the items. A joint of meat of about 5 lbs. for four people, 2S. 6d.—6d. per lb. for meat for the people who are producing the best meat in the world. They cannot get British beef at that price. Bacon, half a pound at 1s. per lb. Sixpenny-worth of bacon. What sort of a wage is it that allows a family of four only to buy half a pound of bacon? Milk, an article of food produced by the agricultural worker himself, one and a half pints a day, at 3d. Is that good enough? Yet, in spite of these facts, every Bill that has been produced by the Government dealing with agriculture has paid no attention to the agricultural worker. Nothing has been done for him.

Major Dower

We have instituted a system of insurance for the agricultural worker?

Mr. Paling

Yes, on the same basis as everything else that this Government has done for the agricultural worker. It is true that a system of insurance has been instituted for the agricultural worker, but it is at a rate of benefit about two-thirds or three-fourths of what is paid to the ordinary worker. In other words, because the wage of the agricultural worker is shockingly low, much below the average wage paid to the industrial worker, the agricultural worker is penalised in his unemployment benefit. The hon. and gallant Member is proud of this unemployment benefit. How would he like to live on the benefit that is paid to the agricultural workers? The Government would not have done even that but for the pressure from this side of the House.

Major Dower

Why did not your Government when in office introduce such a scheme?

Mr. Paling

There is a very good answer. When we were in office we did everything that we were allowed to do. We did as much as we could do, and no more. One of the things we did was to pass the Agricultural Wages Act, which is the best thing that has ever been done for the agricultural workers. In spite of the fact that the present Government have unprecedented power, and that they have brought in Bill after Bill and made administrative efforts time after time on behalf of the farmers, they have really not done a scrap of anything for the agricultural worker.

Sir R. W. Smith

Was the hon. Member in the House the other day when a Bill was passed for the agricultural workers in Scotland?

Mr. Paling

That is on the same basis as the insurance scheme to which reference has just been made.

Sir R. W. Smith

The hon. Member said that nothing had been done for the agricultural worker.

Mr. Paling

It has taken the Government six years to think about it. I read a book a week or two ago dealing with the agricultural community and land in general. The chief character in it is a man named George Simmonds. He takes a farm known as Sutton Manor, and round this farm the story is woven. The author sums up to the effect that the landlord wanted his rent, the farmer wanted his profit, the parson wanted his tithes, the dealer wanted his profit and the agent and auctioneer wanted his commission. George Simmonds was the only man who had put more into the industry than he got out of it. Exactly the same circumstances apply to-day, and in this Bill—one of many Bills brought in for the benefit of the farming community—the George Simmondses, of whom there are thousands in this country, are once again forgotten. The workers in this country are the only people who create the wealth in the industry, and they are the people who put more into it than they get out of it, but it is the people who get more out of it than they put into it for whom the Government are catering.

What have the Government got in mind? Does the hotchpotch that we have had for the last six years represent a plan? What are the Government trying to get at and what are they trying to do for the agricultural industry? On what stable basis are they trying to put the industry? What is their policy? We have had one-term policies, short-term policies and no policies at all, and there is not a Minister on the other side who knows what he is after. They are using their powers for the benefit of their own class—the privileged class—for hitting the man who does the work every time. We are asking, when these numerous Bills are brought in giving subsidies and levies, that in the future they will have more regard for the man who does the work, and that if they are going to bring in any future Bills giving subsidies to the farmer, the landlord and the profiteer, they should also bring in a Bill giving some small amount of assistance to the agricultural, labourer.

5.5 P.m.

Mr. R. Acland

Shafts of wit have been directed at my two senior Whips, and I take a serious view of those shafts of wit because they indicate a point of view which I believe is foreign to the best traditions of this House. Incidentally I am defending—although it is no part of my duty—the hon. Members above the Gangway from the shafts of wit directed against them. The hon. Member was inviting hon. Members above the Gangway and the hon. Member for Berwick (Sir H. Seely) to vote for something in which they do not believe, in order to catch votes in their constituencies. Is not that invective addressed to us on this side by the Minister because he has caught the atmosphere of his own party? One hears many speeches from hon. Members opposite, speeches on subjects on which, if similar subjects were raised on a county council, the hon. Members opposite would not be entitled to vote. They are speeches which I can only describe as pure dole-scrounging and vote-scrounging speeches.

On this side we refuse to put ourselves in that position, and I would rather lose my seat than pay any attention to the arguments which the Minister addressed to my hon. Friend here, asking him to vote for something in which he did not believe because of the effect it would have upon his electors in his constituency. We do not refrain from supporting Government proposals when we think the case for them has been made out, but—and I do not think the House will deny it—in proportion to our numbers and in the matter of constructive suggestions other than the mere pouring out of public money in relation to agriculture, the record of this bench will stand comparison with that of any part of this House. I would like to proceed with the process of throwing constructive suggestions before the Minister. This Government has made itself a past-master in the art of taking hold of a policy which amounts to nothing more than tinkering with the surface of the problem and introducing it with a blast of trumpets which makes it sound like an agricultural revolution. They have done it in all Departments—the Minister of Labour in relation to the Special Areas and the Minister of Transport in relation to trunk roads—and now we have got it in this Bill.

I can understand the point of view of my hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. He is a lucky man. The Secretary of State for Scotland had to wrestle with this problem of continually falling world prices, and perhaps that is why he has gone to Scotland. The present Minister of Agriculture has taken on the job when prices are going up, so I can understand why it is his policy to make as much noise as he can and do as little as he can to annoy anybody, to rely upon the rising world prices and leave the impression that he has been the best Minister in the history of this industry. There is a little bit of work that he is doing in relation to grass. In a speech which he made he said he hoped we could develop the great resources of grass to a degree that would decrease our dependence upon imported stuff. He said we regarded grass as a crop and not something which was laid down on land, and the Government could combine the application of lime and slag in a policy for improving grassland management.

I want to know where that policy is. Where in these pages is the policy for improving grass? I ask the Minister in reply to point it out. It seems to me that the management of grass has five requisites: Drainage, manures (the correct manures for the particular soil), a grain or root crop every fifth year (I am told it is the second or third year in Scotland and the fifth year in my part of the country), the breaking up of the soil (both in relation to hilly pastures and poor pastures), and the pedigree seed. With those five points in mind, what are the Government going to do? There has been a negligible sum provided for drainage; it amounts to £5,000 per year, I think. With regard to manures, we are to encourage the application of two types. That is good so far as it goes, but it is inadequate. The science of manuring is now an exact science. I am aware that there are many farmers who, by long training, have acquired almost a subconscious instinct for knowing what are the right manures to apply, but to-day even the instincts of the best farmers can be beaten by the scientific tests in modern research. Soil requires a particular quantity of a particular manure and not just a general application of an unspecified amount of two manures. Rather than use this blunt instrument to force upon a farmer two particular manures, I would suggest that a farmer should get his soil tested and get those manures in those quantities which the test indicates are desirable, and that the application of those manures should be subsidised.

Would not that be a more accurate and scientific policy? I think I know one of the answers to such a suggestion, that some of these manures come from foreign countries and therefore they ought not to be encouraged. But I want to know who is governing this country. Is it a National Government representing all shades of opinion or is it the hon. and gallant Member the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft)? If the hon. and gallant Member the Member for Bournemouth is in control I can understand that any foreign manure will poison our crops, but if we are an all-party Government representing all shades of opinion, can we not be sensible and apply to the land the particular manure that it requires, no matter where it comes from? As to the roots and grain which are needed in the fifth year, is it not curious that we are going to encourage grain for four years? There seems to be little connection between the grain policy and the grass policy, so I assume that the grain policy is different from grass management. Now we come to the breaking up of land and sowing a pedigree seed, and there is no mention of it at all in the Bill. Does the Government mean business or does it not? One hears reference made to Professor Stapledon. Here is a quotation from the Minister about research: Research is of no use if it ends in the laboratory. Its fruits must be brought into the field. Does not the Government mean anything by those words? Professor Stapledon has taken this matter as far as laboratory research can take it. It is beginning now to dribble and trickle out into the fields with, behind it, the limited resources which the individual and the institutions connected with the subject can find. Why does not the Government apply its weight and authority and apply some financial assistance to the suggestion? There is the question of pedigree grass seed. If we had a grass policy worthy of this nation we would not have a hundredth part of the pedigree grass seed that is needed in this country. It is a question of sowing the pedigree seed which we have got and taking the resulting seed and resowing; only then can the grass policy be set in motion. Why is not the Government doing that?

Ought not the Government to put financial resources behind this Fertility Committee so as to enable it to tackle a job of that kind. With regard to breaking up of pastures—indifferent pastures and hilly country pastures—has not the Government made up its mind whether it intends to convert beta minus into alpha pastures or gamma minus into beta plus? In any case there will be needed apparatus for breaking up the land far more costly than any ordinary farmer can hope to acquire. Who is going to do this? Is it to be left to Professor Stapledon to do the work which the Government ought to be doing?

The Government ought to endow the Land Fertility Committee with money to acquire the apparatus for breaking up the indifferent pastures and hilly country pastures at the cheapest possible rate. How are they going to do it? Lectures by scientists in halls, booked on market day, produce very little effect. Visits to experimental farms or to agricultural colleges produce rather more effect, but, even so, farmers remain suspicious, because they say there are unlimited resources behind it. The only thing which is going to get a British farmer interested in grass development is when he can see what is going to be done on his neighbour's farm. Could not this Land Fertility Committee get down to the business of producing public demonstrations of that kind? I suggest that they should break up the land on certain farms free; that they should sow pedigree seed free; and apply the correct manures free; and that they should offer to do all these things for the first couple of hundred farmers who might apply.

When the Government have demonstrated the result on farms throughout the country they will be able to say to all other farmers, "These men took the risk and invited us to cut up their farms, to take control of their farms for two or three years. We did the work free, and this is the result." Only then will it be possible to offer to do it on other farms at a price which will cover the cost of provision and management. I suggest that the Land Fertility Committee should be converted into a public body whose function it would be to improve the grassland throughout the country on a nonprofit-making basis. I hope the Government will consider this and will not turn it down as a piece of Socialism. I hope they will not reject it out of hand as being a public enterprise and that they regard themselves as being the agents of private enterprise. After all, they claim to be a Government which represents all points of view.

On the quay at St. Ives, at a public meeting quite recently, I heard the Government spokesman say that if the Communists came and said "We have got an idea," the Government would reply, "Come on in and help us to carry it through." If that is the real state of mind of the Government it seems to be a more sensible point of view than that adopted by the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison). I think it is worth serious consideration on the part of the Government to make the Land Fertility Committee a public non-profit-making corporation for the improvement of grassland, and to put into practice the experiments which have been carried out in the laboratory. In his speech the Minister of Agriculture said: We shall be glad to place within the reach of the agriculturist an apparatus which confers upon agriculture this immense boom of ensuring a home supply of all the food required for wintering our cattle."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 7th June, 1937; col. 1440, Vol. 324.] What do the Government mean by saying that they will be glad to place this apparatus within the reach of agriculturists? What steps have the Government taken to place it within the reach of farmers? None whatever. It is another case of trumpet blowing, and no action. They are going to wait until private enterprise, with miserably inadequate resources, has slowly been able to turn out these machines as a practical proposition. They will let the machines trickle into general use and then pat themselves on the back, saying what a wonderful think we have achieved. I hope the Government will consider whether this is not also a proper field for a public company. This apparatus is much nearer perfection than is generally believed.

Mr. Ramsbotham

indicated dissent.

Mr. Acland

The Minister of Pensions shakes his head but I think that as a result of the competition which will be announced at the Royal Agricultural Show to-morrow for grass-drying machines, in which the Ministry's officials have been acting as part judges, it will be revealed that a machine has been perfected which is transportable and which has a drying ratio of nine pounds of water driven out for one pound of coke consumed. That is a staggering advance on anything which has been possible up to now, and if I am right I suggest that the position has become urgent. What is going to happen? You have four or five different individuals or companies with inadequate resources working to perfect these machines. They are each taking out patents. Some may be good, and some may not, but you will get four or five machines on the market, some with some advantages and some without, and not one of them with all the advantages of all the possible patents.

The people who are experimenting in these machines have sunk what they consider to be a large amount of capital in their experiments, although it is quite small from the point of view of the public. They may make the machines as cheap as they can and sell the maximum number, but there is no moral reason why they should not quite legitimately make a few of them and sell a smaller number. But that is not good from the point of view of the interests of British agriculture. I believe the Minister regards this as presenting possibly a revolution in British agriculture. In that case ought it not to be done by the State? Ought we not to buy up the experimenters at this stage? Ought we not to pool all the discoveries they have made, spend money in experimenting a little further and then for the Government to produce these machines as cheaply as possible, get them out into the country at the lowest possible price and in the greatest possible numbers. I beg the Minister to consider these ideas and not to talk about a great policy of developing grasslands which leaves out almost every essential element of grass management as understood by every expert body.

5.25 p.m.

Major Hills

The hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. R. Acland) has certainly given plenty of advice to the Government. He objects to everything they have done. He objects to the scheme for increasing the fertility of the land and for manuring the land, in fact, from start to finish, except in regard to land drainage, he thinks the Bill will do nothing. I would respectfully suggest that it is no good increasing the fertility of the land unless the products of the land can be sold at a price which will give the farmer a living. In fact, you have to follow two lines of policy which at the end will meet. You have to improve the fertility of the soil and at the same time by duties or subsidies make it possible for the farmer to make a living out of his land. I am sure the hon. Member will forgive me for saying that I began to listen to Liberal speeches on agriculture before he was born—and they have not changed. They are full of advice to the farmer and also carry the implication that the whole knowledge of farming is inherent in the Liberal party. In fact, the hon. Member said so. He said that the record of the Liberal bench would compare favourable with the record of any party in Parliament. At any rate, their record has been a highly critical one and a great deal of intelligence has been brought to our debates from Bethnal Green and South Bradford, well known agricultural districts, criticising those of us who, in face of great difficulties, are trying to help agriculture slowly up the hill.

When hon. Members opposite jeer at us and say that we have been trying for six years to put agriculture on its feet, they forget what happened before 1931, a period of bad prices, the disastrous effects of the Gold Standard and the catastrophic fall all over the world in the prices of primary products. All that reduced agriculture to a condition very near bankruptcy. The present Secretary of State for Scotland had a tremendous task when he was Minister of Agriculture to bring the industry out of the terrible condition in which he found it. If mistakes have been made a great deal of success has also been achieved, and while there has been a rise in prices the hon. Member for Barnstaple cannot attribute the whole of the success to external circumstances, but must give some credit to the Ministers in charge of agriculture.

Mr. Acland

The right hon. and gallant Member must bear in mind that in the three years 1934–35 and 1936, during which we had an enormous number of schemes with no very substantial world or national recovery, the index price for primary products rose four points, and that in the year 1936–37, during which there has been a considerable increase in internal prosperity, and we had no new schemes, the rise in agricultural products was 16 points. It looks as though the Liberal party were right in saying that agricultural prosperity depends far more on the general prosperity of the people than on any particular scheme.

Major Hills

I do not in the least underestimate the effect of general prosperity upon agriculture. A strong consumers' market is essential for agriculture. I agree with the hon. Member that an increase in prices did take place, but I do not put as much weight on it as he does. One must be certain that when there is a strong consumers' market, the benefit goes to British producers. It is in that respect that the party of which the hon. Member is so distinguished a representative fails. Hon. Members who belong to that party say that the soil should be made fertile by manuring and they say that the best sort of knowledge should be given to the farmers, which, of course, I admit is absolutely necessary; but after those things have been done, one has to make sure that the farmers get reasonable prices for their products. If they do not, they will not stay on the land, and above all, there will not be any increase in farm workers' wages.

The present position with regard to labour is extremely serious in the agricultural industry. In the district of Yorkshire that I represent, men are going to the aeroplane works, where they get much higher wages, and land which in the past it was easy to let and easy to sell—which was always bought as soon as it came on to the market—cannot now be let or sold in some cases. One cannot get something out of nothing, and one cannot get wages when no profits are made. The farmers' profit and the wages paid to the farm worker are really the same question. If agriculture is prosperous for the farmer, it is also prosperous for the farm worker; and anything that I can do to help the prosperity of both parties concerned in the land I shall do, as I have always done in the past.

Turning now to the speech of the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling), it always seems to me to be rather curious that hon. Members opposite do not take a different line. I think they might have claimed that the policy initiated by the present Secretary of State for Scotland when he was Minister of Agriculture stole a good deal of their thunder. Who would have thought that the farming community, the most individualistic in the world, would have accepted the principle that nobody may plant an extra acre of potatoes without paying a heavy fine? Who would have thought that the milk producer would have agreed to sell his milk only to a certain purchaser? Both of those things might have been claimed by hon. Members opposite as part of the Socialist policy. [Interruption.] It is so, for the Socialist policy is to have entire control of agriculture, not for the benefit of the producers certainly, but for the benefit of the consumers.

The work of my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Scotland has been accepted by the most individualistic community in this country. The right hon. Gentleman created an organised system which is of tremendous advantage to the farming industry and which, I believe, contains in it the seeds of future prosperity. It seems to me that hon. Members opposite attack the wrong part of that policy. It is a policy which may be open to criticism here and there, but in its general lines I do not think it is open to the criticism that they make against it. The hon. Member for Wentworth, for instance, sees no good in that policy. To him the whole policy, whether it be liming, or the wheat, oats and barley subsidies, or land drainage, is bad from start to finish. Yet, on the whole, agriculture is in a much better position than it was six years ago. I do not think hon. Members opposite have helped the industry towards that prosperity. I have heard many Measures discussed in the House; I have heard wheat, milk, potatoes, beef and veal discussed with a view to helping agriculture, but I have never heard a word from hon. Members opposite either helping the Government or bringing forward an alternative policy.

Mr. Quibell

That is not true.

Major Hills

The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who is an extremely able debater, has always said, when challenged, "Let the farmers produce their accounts, and if they cannot show a profit, then is the time for giving them a subsidy." That has been the continual cry of hon. Members opposite. Only at the end of a long inquiry would they consider the possibility of granting a subsidy. Surely, hon. Members opposite must accept the fact that agriculture was at a very low ebb in 1931. There are two methods, I think, of making the industry more profitable, after an essential preliminary measure, marketing, has been carried out. When one has arranged for the marketing of the produce, one must be certain that the produce which takes advantage of the marketing scheme is not foreign, and to make sure of that one has to apply one or both of two policies, either to tax foreign products or to subsidise British products.

I have never heard anybody suggest an alternative. I ask hon. Members opposite whether they want taxation in place of a subsidy. The subsidy comes from the taxpayers, and taxes to a very large extent fall on the rich. If one imposes a duty, it falls on the consumers, and it falls particularly heavily upon the poor consumers. I believe the best course to follow is to combine a low duty on the foreign product with a subsidy on the home-produced article. We are often told that we on this side of the House do not have regard for the consumers. The consumers must be there or the stuff cannot be sold; unless beef is eaten, it is of no use producing it; unless wheat is made into bread, it is useless. Therefore, anybody who looks at farming cannot for one moment disregard the existence of the consumers. There must, of course, be a large consumers' market. Let it be remembered that the consumers' market depends, not on what a few rich people eat, but on what is eaten by the vast majority of people who cannot afford to pay much for their food.

I see that the hon. Member for Don Valley is now in his place. There is nobody whose debating powers I admire more than those of the hon. Member. I wish he would devote his great intellectual capacity to helping agriculture. He always seems to be on the point of saying something that I think will help agriculture, but then he turns to something else. I am not quite despondent about the hon. Member, for at the back of his mind—I wish it came forward more often—there is a genuine love for agriculture and a genuine wish to see that great branch of national activity prosperous.

In conclusion, let me say that I welcome this Bill in all its parts. I welcome the fact that we are extending the wheat subsidy to other cereal products, not entirely for the reason that it will make the growing of those crops more profitable, but because cereal crops are essential for the cultivation of land. There is especially a danger that the oats crop might be neglected if the price were allowed to fall too low, and that the class of land on which oats are grown might go out of cultivation. I welcome the part of the Bill which deals with drainage. I believe we have to do a great deal more in drainage matters. This Bill applies only to the smaller features of drainage—field drainage and the draining of the smaller water-courses—but no one can go about the country without realising that a great deal of our land is much too wet, and that drainage is necessary. I welcome the Bill as a step forward. It is one more stage on the long road that still has to be travelled before agriculture is as prosperous as I would like to see it. I regard agriculture as being one of the most important, if not the most important, of our national industries. I want to help the man who produces something, whether it be coal or corn, and who adds to the national wealth.

5.44 p.m.

Mr. Quibell

I wish to refer to the speech made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills). I understood him to say that he has never heard suggested from this side of the House an alternative to taxation of the foreign product or a subsidy on homegrown products. I am afraid that I have not been in the House as long as the right hon. Gentleman, but I distinctly remember that this question was debated from 1929 to 1931 and on several occasions during the present Parliament. I will suggest to the right hon. Gentleman an alternative. I do not believe in subsidies, for I think there is a better way of helping agriculture. Far from the Government's policy being a case of Socialism, as was stated by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland), I believe that it is bureaucracy and enslavement of agriculture of the worst kind, and that it is the wrong way of putting the industry on its feet. There is no Member in the House who wants to see agriculture helped more than I do. But in my own constituency, despite all the help that has been given to agriculture, one sees in the local papers farms advertised as to be let. Only last week-end I saw one of the best farms in my district advertised as to be let, and I venture to say that there will be difficulty in many cases in letting such farms. I know that some estate offices have had to make arrangements for the farming of land, while awaiting tenants. That state of affairs is manifestly wrong. Therefore I say that the subsidy has not remedied the problem and is not likely to do so.

The right hon. and gallant Member said that no practical alternative has been put forward. May I suggest one which would, I agree, involve a measure of Socialism? Contrary to the opinion which has been expressed in many quarters of the House, I believe that wheat is an essential crop for British agriculture. I would stabilise the price of wheat at 45s. a quarter and insist upon a higher standard of cultivation than exists to-day. On some land that I know of, one finds three crops growing at once—a crop of docks, a crop of thistles and a little corn. We have been subsidising the bad farmer as well as the good farmer. Subsidies are all alike in that respect. On some farms of 300 acres one finds three men employed and some of the men have expressed the opinion to me that while "the boss" is well content to take all the subsidies and subventions that he can get out of the Government, as far as cultivation is concerned he does not care. At any rate the land does not get the kind of cultivation I would like to see and I am sure hon. Members opposite would also like to see. The farmer employs as few as he can and takes as much out of the State as he can.

That is all wrong and, as I say, I would stabilise the price at 45s. I would then set up a wheat import board. I remember when complaints used to be made about Russian wheat being imported at 19s. a quarter. Well, I would buy it at 19s. a quarter through the wheat import board and I would give to the farmer a stabilised price that would encourage him to grow wheat. The more wheat per acre he grew the better it would be for him and for agriculture in general. That plan, I submit, would preserve the best principles of Free Trade. I know that hon. Members on the benches below the Gangway go on their knees to the principles of Free Trade. Personally, I am not such a blind worshipper of Free Trade, but the scheme which I suggest would, as I say, preserve the best elements of Free Trade while securing an economic price for the farmer.

Mr. Maxwell

Is not that a subsidy?

Mr. Quibell

No, it is not a subsidy as far as the State is concerned. May I illustrate it further in this way? I would apply compulsion to the millers who have set up big mills at places like Cardiff and Liverpool and destroyed all the little mills which used to exist throughout the country. In my county there used to be a great number of these picturesque mills, where the corn was ground into flour, but now the corn is used only as chicken corn instead of being sent to the mill to be made into flour and finally into bread. Now it does not find its way into the mill at all, and hon. Members who have practical experience know that that is not because it would not make good flour and good bread. It is simply because there were in some places such small quantities to be ground that the great millers who imported from foreign places set up these huge mills at the ports and now we scarcely know flour made from English-grown wheat. I would impose a condition in that respect. I do not think that any subsidy would be required, nor do I think that the price of bread to the consumer would be raised by a fraction. These great millers have made millions. In fact one knows that a particular milling combine could supply a new parish organ to every parish in the United Kingdom; but they have destroyed all the little mills with their huge combines.

In regard to barley my hon. Friend who spoke from the Front Bench criticised very strongly the brewing fraternity —at least I suppose they are regarded fraternally by hon. Members opposite, if not by hon. Members on this side. Some of them, I agree, are not altogether bad fellows. Nevertheless they dip very deeply into the public purse. I would apply compulsion to the brewers of this country in the same way as to the millers of this country, and I would compel them to pay at least the world price to the home producer—the price which they pay to the foreign producer. I have gone into the market in Brigg in Lincolnshire, the town from which my division derives its name, and I have found two or three buyers of barley there, who met in a hostelry and fixed the price that they were going to pay for barley that day. It was a price which had no connection with the world price. But a farmer could walk about that market from 8 o'clock in the morning until 4 o'clock in the afternoon and he would not get any more than the price on which those buyers had agreed among themselves. In one case the price was 29s., whereas they were paying at that time 55s. for barley from Czechoslovakia.

I hope the Minister of Pensions will pass that information on to the Minister of Agriculture and ask him whether he thinks that the National Government are giving a square deal to the farmers by allowing brewers—who have had a subsidy by being derated—to pay the home producer, the man whom they ought to support, only 29s. a quarter for malting barley while they were paying 55s. a quarter to the foreigner. If that is giving agriculture a square deal, I do not understand it. My alternative would be to make them take a certain proportion of home-produced barley for brewing and malting purposes at the proper price. If those two crops were dealt with in that way, we would have gone a long way towards dealing with the problem of those parts of the country where barley is grown, as well as the heavy lands in parts of eastern England which grow wheat, following potato crops. So we could go on to deal with several other main crops. That is a practical alternative and one which would, I submit, help agriculture.

This Bill makes me wonder what is to become of the farmer. The farmer has never been regarded as an educated man, but it will be necessary to send him to a university to tune him up a little if he is to fill in all the returns now required from him by the new bureaucracy which is being set up by the National Government. What with subventions, subsidies, acreages and so forth, and returns of all kinds, it would seem that we are going to turn the farmer into a clerk. I am delighted to find in the Bill a reference to land drainage, although I do not think it is likely to solve the difficulty. As I have said before on this question, it is far more important to secure efficient administration of the Acts already on the Statute Book than to continue passing Measures which become dead letters. The 1930 Drainage Act has not been administered as it should have been, and that is due almost entirely to the fact that the National Government have not found sufficient money to aid the drainage authorities to carry out their work efficiently. I cannot find in the Bill any reference to the authority who is to carry out these provisions. The Minister himself does not seem to know. The Bill provides: The Minister may, out of moneys provided by Parliament, make towards expenditure incurred by drainage authorities to which this section applies in the exercise of their functions in carrying out drainage schemes, grants of such amounts and subject to such conditions as may be approved by the Treasury. Here we find the dead hand of the Treasury in this Measure, as we found it in the 1930 Act. Then the Bill goes on to say: The drainage authorities to which this section applies are all drainage authorities as defined by section eighty-one of the Land Drainage Act, 1930, except catchment boards, and except the council of any county borough which has not established an agricultural committee constituted in accordance with a scheme approved by the Minister. Who are these authorities to be? In the drafting of these Measures could we not have a few words plainly indicating the machinery of administration which is to be used? Could it not be made clear in this case for instance, whether the Bill applies to field drainage? Main rivers are already provided for by the main catchment boards and tributaries by the internal drainage boards, and if this does not apply to catchment boards and county boroughs, what machinery is being set up to administer this Bill or what existing machinery can administer it? The success or failure of the Measure will be determined by how it is administered, and it is in the administration of a large number of the Measures passed by this House that we have failed lamentably.

The Minister makes provision in the Bill for dealing with diseases of cattle, and I was very pleased to hear my hon. Friend who spoke from the Front Bench mention, in this connection, the question of drinking-water for cattle. Those who live in river areas know that this is another case where there is a necessity for collaboration between the various authorities concerned, or else be a clear statement from the Front Bench indicating who is to be responsible for seeing that the water supplies in grazing areas are not polluted. We know the danger of cattle drinking out of polluted streams and we know that in some cases the water supplied to cattle is abominable. Whose duty is it to look after this matter? Is it the duty of the Ministry of Health or of the Ministry of Agriculture? Whoever has the duty, it has been neglected for many years.

I could take hon. Members to places where all the effluent from the farm goes down-hill into a pond and that pond is the only source of water supply for all the animals on the farm. Veterinary surgeons occasionally inspect the animals and the shippens, but we would like to know who is responsible for seeing that the scandalous state of affairs with regard to water supply is altered. With its alteration there would be a distinct improvement in the housing of the cattle. I would like to draw the Minister's attention to part of the Bill which gets on my nerves. On page 21 it says "Animals' means cattle." That is news, is it not? It goes on: sheep and goats and all other ruminating animals and swine and horses, asses and mules, and includes also in the case of any particular section of Part IV of this Act any other four-footed animal to which the Minister may by order declare that section to be applicable. That definition is, indeed, all-inclusive. It really beats me what it means, because there are other Acts which apply to some of the four-footed animals. It is the two-footed animals with which I am concerned in considering this Measure. With regard to the assistance for lime and basic slag and all the other subventions, I am one of the old-fashioned sort who believe that if you give economic prices to agriculture a number of these things will remedy themselves. Unless there is field drainage the Drainage Act of 1930 is of no avail. Unless the ditches on the farms are cleaned out the field drains cannot operate, but they are not cleaned out and the hedges are not trimmed. Whatever figure is put in the Bill for drainage, it will mean nothing unless drainage is efficiently administered. We must have ditches cleaned out, adequate field drainage and economic prices.

A farmer said to me on Saturday, "I do not want to be no the dole, nor do I want subsidies. What I want is a price for the stuff I grow." I want the agricultural labourers also to have more wages than they are getting. This Bill would be more palatable if it were made to operate for only five years on condition that there was an automatic increase in wages to bring them up to £2. Most of the farmers would like to see their labourers in receipt of wages as good as they would get in industrial areas. Why should they not be as good?

This Bill will give some temporary aid to agriculture and this will not be the last time the subject is debated, for agriculture will come for something more. This Bill is the wrong way of dealing with the problem. While I support anything that will help agriculture, my view is that this Bill will not put it on its feet. It is not dealing with agriculture in the best way. The industry want stabilised economic prices. They will lead to a prosperity which will reflect itself in increased wages on the countryside and stop the flow of agricultural labourers to the towns. It will retain the skilled men who are leaving the countryside to work on aerodromes and in the towns. A depopulated countryside is developing and we want to see the rural areas repopulated. I welcome any provision in this Measure that will help it, but I warn the Minister that this is not the last time this question will be considered, for this Measure will by no means put agriculture on its feet and bring prosperity to the countryside.

6.6 p.m.

Sir R. W. Smith

I am sure that the House has listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell). I always find that what he has to say about agriculture is nearly my own opinion. There is hardly a Member who sits for an agricultural constituency who would ask for more if farmers could get a stabilised economic price. The point is how is that to be attained? The best thing that could happen would be for the hon. Gentleman who spoke first from the Opposition bench to have a chat with the hon. Member for Brigg, for that would enlighten him a good deal on agricultural subjects. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) said that he disapproved of the proposals of the Government because the benefit would go into the pockets of private individuals inasmuch as the land was privately owned. I would point out to the hon. Gentleman, who apparently does not know much about Scotland, that the largest individual landowner there is the Department of Agriculture. He also objected to land drainage because the benefit would go into the pockets of the landowners. If he objects to that, why does he approve of the proposals with regard to veterinary services? They will cost the country a lot of money. I was unaware of the fact that the cattle of this country belonged to the State and not to private individuals. If it is not correct to assist land drainage because the land is privately owned, it is not correct to assist in veterinary services because the cattle are privately owned.

It would be as well if the Member who is leading for the Opposition should at least know something about oats in Scotland. The hon. Member for Brigg spoke about wheat being a staple crop for England. It is just as necessary in Scotland to have a white crop if the land is to be kept in condition. In many parts of Scotland oats and barley are the only white crops we can grow. Therefore, if we are to keep the land up to its proper ratio of production, we must have some crop that will pay. That is why these proposals are in the Bill. In introducing the Financial Resolution the Minister practically said that the oats and barley subsidies were being given for the sake of Scotland. The hon. Member also stated that there were very few oats sold off the farm. All I would say is that the hon. Member had better come to the north-east of Scotland and see what the farmers say about it. The farmers in my constituency arc very much disposed to consider that the six cwts. which are being taken as the average amount sold off the farms in Scotland is rather low. They say that it ought to be 12 cwts. Some farmers in my part of the world, who have taken their results over II years, find that they are nearer 12 cwts. than six. It is of vital importance to Scotland that we should keep the land in cultivation, and I would ask the hon. Member to look into it from the point of view of Scotland before deciding what is and what is not good for agriculture.

The hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. R. Acland) made a speech of high moral tone in which he accused us of voting subsidies for our own pockets, and said that his party would never do anything of that sort. We had a Debate the other day and a right hon. Gentleman closely connected with the hon. Member said that he had been asked to go down to Cornwall to the by-election that was taking place, but he thought that it was a more important duty to attend here and to support the policy of the Minister of Agriculture. Apparently the hon. Member for Barnstaple and other Members of his party do not agree on that policy.

Mr. Acland

When we agree on a policy we support it and we cannot be induced to support a policy with which we disagree by the kind of argument which was brought forward by the Minister of Pensions to-day. Our support or otherwise cannot be influenced by that line of argument which, even in fun, ought not to be bandied about the Floor of the House.

Sir R. W. Smith

The hon. Member spoke about Members on this side voting on questions when they would receive some benefit, but I see that the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) pressed the Government to give assistance for field drainage. I understand that the right hon. Baronet is a large landowner, and not only did he press the Government to do that, but he voted for the Financial Resolution. Therefore, I fail to see why the rest of us should be blamed for voting on this question. The right hon. Gentleman also said: If we are convinced of one thing, it is that the Minister of Agriculture is very much in earnest and extremely sincere about the proposals he has made, that he explained them very clearly, and that we shall be in safe hands in following him through their complexities in the next few weeks in this House." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1937; col. 1901, Vol. 325.] It does not seem to be a very united party on the Liberal benches. I draw attention to these facts because it is only fair to say that all of us here wish to do the best we can for agriculture, and there is no necessity to say that men on this side of the House who happen to be landowners support this Bill merely in order to put money into their own pockets.

The hon. Member who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench said that a tremendous lot had been done for agriculture, was being done for agriculture and remained to be done for agriculture, but that agriculture is still in a hopeless condition. Let me point out that with the exception of what has been done in the case of wheat, sugar-beet and one or two other things the policy of the Government has been in force only for a very short time. We have not seen the effect of the livestock policy, which it is admitted deals with a most important branch of agriculture. But it certainly cannot be said that the Government has given no help to those branches of agriculture with which it has dealt so far. If the hon. Member asks a grower of sugar-beet, for instance, what value he puts on the assistance which has been received from the Government he will find that the grower holds a very different view from his own. It is no use talking about what we are doing for agriculture at the present time and then turning round and saying that Government assistance has proved of no use to agriculture. As we are told, this is not the final policy of the Government, and most of us are happy to know that it is not, because there are still many aspects of agriculture which require to be dealt with.

I welcome the Bill very much, especially as we in the North-East of Scotland particularly have felt that the branch of agriculture in which we are specially interested has so far been rather neglected, and many farmers have found that it would be impossible to carry on unless they could see higher prices. There are one or two points, however, on which I should like to hear more from the Minister. In regard to the Land Fertility Committee which is to advise the Government on questions of liming and other points connected with the soil, as the Bill is drawn there appears to be no provision that one member of that Committee should be a Scotsman. In the case of a committee of this importance there ought to be at least one Scottish member who will understand Scottish farming conditions. Another point is that many farmers fear that in the course of the first year after this Bill comes into operation the supply of lime in Great Britain will probably be hardly large enough to meet the demand. We want to be assured that the Land Fertility Committee, or whoever will have charge of the administration of this part of the Bill, will see that if there is any scarcity such supplies as are available will be fairly distributed between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, because it would be unfair to benefit the land of one part of the country at the expense of the land elsewhere.

Further, I should like to know whether, if a farmer is liming his ground on a more lavish scale than is considered necessary, there is any power by which the Minister can refuse to contribute towards the cost of that lime or basic slag. I should also he glad if the Minister could give us an explanation of what is meant by the words in paragraph (i) of Sub-section (1) of Clause 3. Make different provisions in relation to different kinds, descriptions and quantities of lime and of basic slag. That is very general language and I should like to understand what is meant by it.

Next I would turn to the question of oats and barley. There is no doubt that the assistance which is now offered to the oat growers of Scotland has been long overdue. One small point, but a very necessary point, to which I would refer is the fact that the Bill speaks of "subsidy payments." The phrase is found first in the second paragraph of the first Sub-section of Clause 6 but is used throughout the Bill. "Subsidy" seems to me to be a very unfortunate word to use, especially in view of the speeches we get from the other side of the House, in which we are always told that agriculture is getting subsidies and subsidies. This is not a subsidy, but a deficiency payment. It does not come into effect until there is a deficiency in the price, and it is wrong to call it a subsidy when it is given only to make up a loss.

Further, I am worried, and so are many farmers in Scotland, over how the average price for oats in the United Kingdom is to be arrived at. That it is to be an average price for the United Kingdom will work rather hardly in the case of many farmers in Scotland. Under what rules are the average prices to be worked out? The prices one finds in the agricultural papers are the prices prevailing at certain markets throughout the country. I do not know whether it is intended to take those prices to arrive at the average price in the United Kingdom. If so, that is not a fair way of doing it. I suggest that it would be preferable to take the price which the farmer who has produced the crop gets for it before anything is added for carriage or anything of that description. Some of my farmers probably sell oats down in Bristol. If the oats are sold in Bristol and the Minister calculates his average on the prices ruling in certain markets, then it is the price paid for those oats at Bristol which will appear in the returns; but that will be unfair to the Scottish farmer, because it will not be the true average price. The proper way to arrive at the average is to take the price which the farmer receives before there is any cost of carriage or any other charge to be taken into account.

We in Scotland will suffer because the United Kingdom price will probably be a higher price than the average price in Scotland. It would have been much fairer if the Minister had taken the average price for each of the three countries, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The average price in England is usually a few shillings higher than in Scotland, and it would be unfair if there were no deficiency payments in Scotland when the price of oats there was well below 7s. 7d. a cwt. because the average price for the three countries was not below 7s. 7d. That would be a very hard position, and I hope the Minister will do all he can to see that the system he is proposing is made to work fairly.

I have a further question to ask regarding the relation of the reduction of the subsidy when the qualifying acreage of oats or barley exceeds the standard acreage in the three Kingdoms by a certain fraction. It is hard that we in Scotland should have the assistance given to our farmers reduced because English farmers have increased their acreage. In the case of the potato crop, I think I am right in saying that each farmer is allotted by the Potato Board a certain acreage on which he can grow potatoes, and if he wishes to exceed that acreage he has to pay for the privilege. It would have been fairer if the Government had adopted a similar policy with regard to oats and barley, and said "We will allow each farmer so much acreage under oats or barley, and that shall be the amount of his standard acreage, and if he goes above it he must pay."

As regards the other points in the Bill, I should like to say that we welcome very much the land drainage proposals, and we welcome also the provisions for extending the means of dealing with diseases of animals. There was a feeling in Scotland that under the centralisation of the veterinary services many of the veterinary surgeons who are now working with the local authorities in different parts of the country would be thrown out of work, and I thank the Minister for the assurance he gave us on that point the other night. There is also a feeling among my farmers that it is a great pity that the Minister did not go further in dealing with the diseases of animals and include grass sickness among horses. I gather that the Minister has power to bring other cattle or animals under the provisions of the Bill and I trust that he will do so, because the losses through horse sickness are in certain cases very serious, and it is a disease in which research has apparently not yet been carried very far.

I have raised a number of minor points, but I can assure the Minister that in the North of Scotland we welcome this Bill, because it does mean a great deal to the farming community there, although in some respects we still think we shall not get as much benefit out of it as we are entitled to. If he can see his way in Committee to secure some greater equity between the two countries then we shall be extremely grateful.

6.29 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Eresby

I rise to support this Bill. I must admit that I find myself in a slight difficulty, as I expect other Members do, in understanding the attitude towards the Measure taken up by hon. Members opposite. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) seemed, on the whole, to give the Bill his support, with certain qualifications. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) appeared to think there was nothing at all good in it. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who spoke on the Financial Resolution the other day, seemed to think the Bill is rather like the curate's egg, good in parts; but apparently he could not commend it as a whole to the House. I think that, on the whole, the Bill is good as far as it goes.

As one representing an agricultural constituency I must say that I should have liked to have seen in the Bill certain things which have not been included. We see that it has rather a hybrid composition, including something of the short-term policy about which we have all heard, and something of the rather more spectacular long-term policy of my right hon. Friend. I say that in no derogatory spirit, for I have always been a staunch supporter of the short-term policy. I think it is the primary duty of the Government, before we can hope to maintain wages, not to mention raising them or bringing about any degree of prosperity, to put a bottom into the home agricultural market, and I think we can say that although this is not the case in every branch, the Government have met with some measure of success in their policy in this direction, and I welcome those parts of the Bill which go to reinforce that policy on those sectors of the agricultural front where unremunerative prices still prevail. We have the assurance of the hon. Member for Wentworth that very soon we are to have something dealing with poultry and pigs. That is most reassuring, and I will say nothing further about it until the occasion arises.

To deal first with the short-term policy, I think that the raising of the quantity of wheat that is to receive the guaranteed price from 6,000,000 to 8,000,000 quarters is a wise course, and one which must commend itself to all who are anxious about the defence of our country at this moment. I think, too, that the establishment of a minimum price for oats is also a wise and far-seeing course. There are many districts, especially in Scotland, which have not benefited to anything like the same extent as other districts from the policy of the Government up to the present time. For those districts where wheat cannot be grown and oats are a cash crop, I think the assurance of a guaranteed minimum price is both timely and far-sighted. I must admit, however, that I am rather less enthusiastic about the provisions dealing with barley. The traditional cash crop for the lighter lands has at all times been malting barley, and I rather agree with the hon. Member for Brigg that some scheme which would have given an assurance that the brewers would hold to their agreement, or that corn merchants did not buy feeding barley and sell it as malting barley, would have been more valuable to the barley growers of this country than a subsidy for feeding barley, and would have gone a great deal further to help the lighter lands which I think it is the genuine desire of my right hon. Friend to help. I am afraid that these proposals for subsidising feeding barley will be of no real assistance on the lighter lands, and that they may, indeed, do what is even more dangerous —they may encourage false farming methods. There are a thousand and one practical reasons why it is inadvisable to grow wheat on these lands, but I am afraid that the increased return from the Wheat Act may encourage people to grow wheat where they should be growing malting barley.

With regard to the long-term policy as we see it in this Bill, I think we should be grateful that we are in a position, as a result of the short-term policy, to go forward on the foundations which have now been laid and consider a long-term policy. I think that my right hon. Friend's proposals with regard to the supply of lime and basic slag, the eradication of disease, and drainage, are sound, and that they will, if successful, be a real contribution to agriculture in this country. The "bull" point in their favour is their fairness; they will benefit all kinds of land alike, and they will benefit both small and big farmers alike. But, while this policy for increasing the fertility of the land appeals to us all, we should remember that a complement of this new policy is well stocked and well manured fields, and another complement is a regular use of the hoe and the shovel. Anyone who motors about—and both the hon. Member for Brigg and myself motor about in the same part of England—cannot but be struck by the fact that our fields to-day are not carrying their full head of stock, and also by the very large number of docks and thistles and rubbish which are all too prevalent in our fields; and one cannot help feeling that, if their fertility is increased, there will be an even greater crop of thistles and docks unless something is done about it.

It is very difficult to counter the defects, but I feel that, if some scheme could be introduced as a component part of this long-term policy for providing easier long-term credit for the agricultural community, it would be of very real assistance. Owing to the shortage of labour, the use of the tiller and the cultivator is now a real necessity for the progressive farmer, and a larger head of livestock on our land is also essential if we are to get full value from the basic slag and lime that are to be applied. The present practice of buying cultivators and other machinery on the hire-purchase system, and the present short-term credit system of buying livestock, are not in the best interests of agriculture as a whole. They diminish freedom of marketing, lead to forced sales, and are fundamentally unsound. I venture to suggest that the need for machines is an unmistakable sign of the commercialisation of agriculture, and that agriculture can claim to have a right to enter into the capital market of the country. One often hears farmers saying that, if they could lay their hands on a bit of capital, they could go right ahead. I know that that sentiment is also expressed in other branches of life, but I feel that as regards agriculture the time is ripe for a stimulus in this direction, and that, unless that stimulus is forthcoming, we shall not get the best value from these proposals for increasing the fertility of the land.

Another reason why the industry is entitled to claim capital assistance is the extreme desirability to-day of encouraging men of ambition and enterprise, who are working on the land, to go ahead and start a small mixed farm themselves. I would stress the word "mixed," because I think we can all see to-day how painfully true is the old maxim about putting all your eggs in one basket. I believe that at all times there is a life and a prospect for the man who is prepared to work with his family on a small mixed holding, and he should have greater opportunities than he has to-day to find the necessary money to start in this way. The part of the Bill which deals with the eradication of disease will have the good will of everyone, but when I was reading the other day an article which stated that the road to health is to be found rather in the art of living than in the science of avoiding death, I could not help thinking that a well balanced and really prosperous agriculture would do more to eradicate disease than these proposals, welcome though they are. A certain amount has already been said about drainage, and, as there are many others who want to speak, I will only conclude by saying that I am certain that my right hon. Friend and his predecessor have been right to concentrate first of all on getting a balanced agriculture, helping every branch, and I hope, now that a long-term policy is being started which is full of promise, my right lion. Friend will see his way to add to it those proper credit facilities which will be needed if it is to work out to the best possible advantage.

6.40 p.m.

Mr. Ridley

I have listened with careful attention to the Debate to-day, as I did to that of last week, and I have reached the conclusion that my general view is confirmed that in this, as in other matters, truth is to be found in simplicity, and not in complexity. The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) seemed to have stumbled on a simple truth without recognising it when he said that, unless the consumer is there, it is no use producing, while the Noble Lord who has just spoken says that we must put a bottom into the agricultural market. I would like to draw attention to some rather interesting features of this Bill. It seems to me to incorporate all those curious characteristics which I believe are peculiar to British policy, and which entirely baffle the understanding of the foreigner.

The party opposite arrived on the benches where they now sit temporarily by offering the electorate a number of assurances. One was that they would be very careful guardians and custodians of the public purse, that if there was anything they would be really zealous about, it was public economy and public finance; but, immediately an opportunity occurs, not only is the mouth of the money-bag widely opened, but the bottom is actually knocked out, and no regard is had to the means or needs of the recipients. The Bill includes provisions which, if they had come from this party when they were on the other side of the House, would unquestionably have met with the hostility of the party who now sit there. Further, the fact that it is now considered desirable to take steps to proceed with research work, both in agriculture and in industry, and to establish, among other things, a national veterinary service, confirms the view that in these matters private enterprise is not nearly so enterprising as it pretends to be, for otherwise it would have done the job itself. It also confirms the view that public ownership is being applied in practice by those who affect not to believe in it in principle, because it is the only solution for the problem that immediately confronts us.

In the Debate on the Money Resolution the Minister used what I thought was a very significant phrase, of which I would like to remind him. He said that the first purpose of the Bill was to have regard to the object of putting the land into such a condition that if an emergency should occur, the land will be able to play its part in a worthy manner to provide food for our own people."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1937; col. 1817, Vol. 325.] That seems to me to be an excellent statement of the real purpose of agriculture, except that the tense is wrong. The right hon. Gentleman said: if an emergency should occur"; but I would draw attention to the fact that several millions of our people are not being worthily provided with food, and that an emergency exists in millions of homes in this country. It should be the purpose of our agricultural policy here and now to meet the existing emergency, and not to wait for an emergency to arise. What is an emergency? Is it a set of circumstances created, say, by a sudden outbreak of war; or is not just as great an emergency created in the homes of large numbers of our people by the creeping paralysis of poverty? The right hon. Gentleman also said that this Bill would restore to the soil the mineral constituents whose absence leads to feebleness and decay in plant life; but it should be the purpose of our agricultural policy to restore to the physical constituents, the vitamin contents whose absence creates feebleness and decay in human life.

We have before us an extremely grave problem, with which this Bill proposes to deal only in a very limited sense—the problem of the condition as regards food of a large section of our population; the consumer, in the right hon. Gentleman's own words, so far as large masses of our people are concerned, does not exist. The bottom has fallen out of the market which the hon. Member who preceded me desires to replace. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) last Tuesday said that the agricultural labourer should be able to buy at least what he produced and my right hon. Friend was, I thought, rather rudely interrupted by Members on the other side of the House who hastened to assert that at least he could buy more now than he could when the Labour Government were in office. There are some things about which a dignified reticence is best observed, and reticence in this matter by the party opposite would be the best policy. Followers of the party opposite have done their best or worst to victimise trade union organisation in the countryside, and to oppose the Agricultural Wages Board and to frustrate their purposes. They have opposed every application for wage increases. There is not a single instance known of the employers' side of the Agricultural Wages Board ever voluntarily offering an increase of wages. It is not true to say that a dirge should be the appropriate theme song of agriculture in every area in this country. There are very considerable areas of prosperous agriculture where much more considerable wage increases should have been conceded than has been the case in the last few years.

A nodding assent was given by the Minister last Tuesday in reply to the question whether there was co-ordination between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. I suggest that on economic grounds, and not on social grounds alone, there should be the closest coordination between the Minister of Agriculture, on the one hand, and the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour, on the other. The Minister of Health surely could not be satisfied with the condition of the underfed population which the House should face much more seriously. Emergency exists in millions of homes in this country. In thousands of homes in my constituency, and in other constituencies largely represented by hon. Members on the benches on this side of the House, there are underfed people yearning for food. I strongly urge that there should be that sort of coordination between the Minister of Agriculture on the one hand, and the Minister of Health, on the other, which would result, (a) in raising the effective demands of large sections of unemployed people, (b) in lifting, in consequence, their physical and health standards, and (c) in contributing, because of an expanding consumption demand, much more effectively than expanding production would do, to the restoration of prosperity to the farming industry and the countryside.

6.50 p.m.

Mr. Pickthorn

I wish, as shortly as I can, to draw attention to two aspects of this Bill, to one of which no attention has previously been drawn. The one which has been mentioned by previous speakers is Part IV—the veterinary part. It is too late in the Debate to argue at all elaborately the general case for the Bill, but I should like to add my voice in approval particularly of that part of the Bill. I feel sure that it is in that sort of direction, and in the improving of the status of the veterinary profession and of their education that the greatest hope lies. The other matter which I wish to mention, because it has not yet been mentioned, might have perhaps come more appropriately from the Official Opposition, or from the guardians of constitutional purity below the Gangway. However, without any wish to be embarrassing or hypercritical, because they have not taken up this point I desire to draw attention to it. It is the great elaboration in this Bill of all the safeguards or the absence of safeguards for House of Commons control over administration and indirect legislation.

I do not wish to go into the matter at length because there is not time, and to go into it at length would mean very great length, because it varies very much in different parts of the Bill. But I wish to ask one or two questions. In Clauses 1 and 14 it is necessary, if the Minister wants to lengthen the period for which the Bill is to be effective, that he must get an affirmative Resolution from this House. That is clearly proper, and these are the only purposes for which he needs an affirmative Resolution. If you look at Clause 12 you will see that the Bill contracts out of the Rules Publication Act, 1893. I do not want to argue that Section 1 of that Act, which insists on a long period of publicity before rules are effective, really ought to apply to this Bill, but I want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that it has become the almost invariable practice of the draftsman, that where a Bill or part of a Bill is of any importance, that you should contract out of Section 1 of the Rules Publication Act. We are long overdue for some sort of reform of the Rules Publication Act. Either there should be another Act or the Act should sometimes be made effective. It is little short of preposterous that such a Section should be on the Statute Book, and that habitually, as a matter of course, the Departments and draftsmen should contract out of it whenever they think the matter of importance, and leave it in only if they think that it does not matter in the least.

There are one or two other Clauses to which I would wish to draw attention in this connection, but in the interest of brevity I pass to that which I think of most real importance, the second Subsection of Clause 3, dealing with the Land Fertility Scheme. There the Parliamentary control is merely by way of negative Resolution. The Minister makes his orders and arrangements, and unless this House or another place, within 28 days, votes against it, it remains effective. That check in practice is bound to be almost wholly illusory. Vested interests and legitimate expectations, as soon as an Order is issued, of traders and producers and so on, and the perfectly legitimate desires of the Whips, and so on, seem to make that check almost entirely illusory. It is at least not unreasonable to suggest—I have not gone into this so fully as to be able to speak with complete confidence—but I think it reasonable to suggest that there was a clear analogy in the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931. There, there are all sorts of safeguards, and in particular the necessity for an affirmative Resolution.

With that analogy it appears reasonable to suppose that we should have had an affirmative Resolution on Clause 3 of the Bill. If the answer be that by insisting on safeguards and affirmative Resolutions you would, in effect, put this off for a year, because you could not get the thing working before the new cleaning season starts, preparing the fields for the next sowing, it would be well if that answer could be officially given. I do not want to be excessively pedantic and constitutionist about this, but if it can officially be said that this was an exceptional emergency with an exceptional necessity to get the thing through quickly, then it will be easier to pass these parts of the Bill, about rules, orders and regulations, with a better heart than can be done without some such assurance.

6.55 p.m.

Mr. Christie

So many speeches have dealt with the fertilising part of this Measure that I propose to say very little about it, except to reinforce what has been said, and to ask the Minister to see whether he cannot fairly soon encourage people to take advantage of the facilities for obtaining lime and slag at a cheap rate by telling them that they can reasonably hope for a proper price for the bullocks or milk they produce as a result of the extra fertility. That would go further than anything else to encourage the farmer to take advantage of this offer. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of a question that was asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir R. Dorman-Smith) last Tuesday as regards cereals, when he asked him to consider the calling together of the Standard Price Committee with a view to trying to relate the costs of the amount which will be received in order to meet the present day needs? It is common knowledge that the costs have risen, and it is very problematical whether 45s. is now sufficient to meet the cost of growing wheat. May I reinforce that question and ask the Minister whether he will be good enough to answer it later on?

Ever since about the year 1921 there have been promises from Governments to do something for the barley grower, and with the exception of the 10 per cent. duty, which has not made the slightest difference one way or the other, and of the the "gentleman's agreement," it is fair to say that these promises have never been fulfilled. The "gentleman's agreement," as far as the brewers are concerned, has worked very well—certainly in my part of the world they have kept their promise very well—but I do not think that the same applies to the maltsters. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will in due course consider carrying out something a little more spectacular than his present proposal, which I do not suppose he really regards as a very serious contribution towards helping the barley grower. I would remind him that he is at present considering a very ingenious Measure which has been concocted by the hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) which might have a very great effect in assisting the barley grower, but if he does not agree about that, I would remind him of the fact that we are now importing into this country maize from Argentina perfectly free which is taking the place of much of the barley which we used to grow before the War. Surely, a small tax on that maize would have the effect of putting the bottom into the price of barley at a considerably higher figure than the right hon. Gentleman now proposes.

I noticed that when the Minister of Pensions was speaking at the beginning of the Debate, he said that there was not very much point in encouraging the growing of barley and oats because there was not now the demand for either of these cereals. We are growing very much less barley, and we are making up for it by increasing the importations of maize. In the year 1913, when we were growing, I think, our maximum quantity of barley, or near it, we were importing only 49,000,000 quarters of maize, and last year we imported 73,000,000 quarters of maize, and, with the exception of 5,000,000 quarters, all of it came from the Argentine. It is obvious that a great deal more maize, which is interchangeable with barley for feeding, can be grown in this country than is grown at the present time, and it would provide farmers with a very useful alternative for other materials.

I suppose as a general proposition it is difficult to say anything against the veterinary proposal. I very much regret the fact that the old Diseases of Animals Committees have to go out of existence. The work the committee has done in my own county has been admirable, and it is a great mistake and a great pity to dispense with public work done by busy people who are prepared to give up their time in order to serve their fellow-citizens. I cannot help thinking that if somehow the Minister could still keep them in being and make use of them, even if only in an advisory capacity, it would be very wise, and would make his machinery work very much more smoothly. These men are well known in the agricultural industry, their opinions are accepted as being accurate and they have the confidence of their fellow-farmers, and it would be a great mistake to dispense with their services.

In conclusion, I would like to say a word about wages. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) said that it was such a shame that although the farmer was continually receiving all these benefits, he never handed any of them on to the agricultural labourer. I do not think that he appreciates two things: First, that if it were not for these benefits agricultural wages could not have been maintained at their present figure; second, he does not appreciate that the minimum wage is only a minimum wage, and that the vast majority of agricultural workers are being paid a much greater sum. [Interruption.] Oh, yes they are.

Mr. E. Dunn

What are the wages?

Mr. Christie

Further, I would like to impress on the hon. Member that in my own county, at any rate, the work of the Wages Committee is admirably done. The case for the workers is conducted by the Agricultural Labourers' Union.

Mr. T. Smith

What are the wages?

Mr. Christie

I think that they are 33s. 6d. The workers' representative is a very able advocate. He lets nothing slip. The final amount is not decided by the farmers but by the impartial members of the committee, and if they do not grant a larger wage, that to me is satisfactory evidence that the wage is as much as the industry can offer. Hon. Members opposite are taking the wrong line. It is their Act. Their people are the advocates, and if they do not do better at it, they should get somebody else.

Mr. Dunn

Does the hon. Member regard 33s. 6d. a week as being a satisfactory wage upon which even an agricultural labourer and his wife and family can live?

Mr. Christie

That is not the point at all. In the first place the agricultural labourer in my county gets a great deal more than that. Secondly, the question is how much the industry can afford to pay. That is what the Agricultural Wages Committees are set up to find out, and in my own county they do it very well indeed. I think that this Bill is very good as far as it goes, and I hope that it will not be long before the Minister goes a great deal further.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. T. Williams

The House is full of Oliver Twists. They seem to grow with what they feed on. The Minister of Pensions, who is quite appropriately in charge of agriculture for the moment—he is doing his best to pension agriculture off—suggested that my attitude to this Measure was calculated to bring about the political death of many of my colleagues in the country. If their political death is to be assured by my attitude to this Measure, I should not regard that as the greatest compliment to agricultural intelligence that one could think of, because I think that I gave last week justifiable reasons for the attitude we take, particularly in regard to the question of cereals. Whether those of us on these benches are considering agriculture from the point of view of cereals, grassland, beef, dairy produce or the number of men on the land, we not only think in terms of a particular commodity but of national economy. Considerations of health, physique and social well-being have weight with us.

When we are invited to reply to the question, Do we think that we have reached the optimum with regard to cereal production? I should not think that we have reached the maximum to which we could go in grave times of national emergency, but I am not at all sure that we have not reached the economic optimum. Indeed, if we knew the facts in regard to wheat alone and the quantity of wheat regarded as millable, receiving a deficency payment, that went into the production of bread, we should all feel that we had reached the economic optimum. Farmers have taken their wheat to the appropriate depot to receive their deficiency certificate, and it has been returned to the farm from which it was taken or some other farm to be consumed on the farm. The question I raised in regard to wheat sickness was a term fully justified in these circumstances when it is known that many farmers have grown wheat much more frequently that the land itself could bear, and to increase the quantity for which the deficiency payment can be made from 6,000,000 to 8,000,000 quarters is not to do the best thing we could do for agriculture whether one thinks in terms of peace time or war time.

The Minister of Pensions told us what the acreage was in 1911. Since 1911 quite a few acres of good wheat land have been taken over for housing, industrial and other purposes. One of my complaints against the Government is that they have no control over the land of this country. The Beta shoe works go to one of the best portions of agricultural land in a county, buy a square mile of land in that county and set down a boot and shoe factory. Quite a large area of land on which wheat was previously produced is now no longer available for agricultural produce. If one studies a document issued by the Ministry on agricultural statistics, noting the average production per acre, one will see that whereas the production is 17.9 cwt. per acre in parts, there are parts where the average is only 12½ cwts. Wheat has been grown—it certainly will be grown when this Measure gets on to the Statute Book—on land wholly unfitted for the production of wheat unless other agricultural commodities are going to provide them with better prices. From 1923 to 1932 the average output of wheat was 26,500,000 cwts., so that we were not altogether without wheat even in a period when no deficiency payments were made. When the right hon. Gentleman suggests that we ought to grow cereals because they provide more employment, I am not at all sure that the figures he gave are conclusive. Examinations have taken place in certain counties, and on a series of mixed dairy farms it has been proved that they employ more agricultural labour that does Norfolk, taking the same acreage, and more than the average arable farm.

A fortnight ago there was a case in my own division where two agricultural labourers had been paid less than their wages for a considerable period. A complaint was lodged with the right hon. Gentleman's Department, an inquiry was established and the men's case was proved. There was £63 owing to these two employés. It was obtained, but instantly these two labourers were dismissed and instantly they went into the town or out to a new aerodrome which the nation is building and got a job at once. Four or five other labourers have left in similar circumstances during the past five or six weeks. The reasons are that the labourer's wage, when he has obtained it, is not what it ought to be; that many are not getting what the agricultural wages committees determine; and that when the farmer realises that he has got to pay the bill, he is not willing to pay for the labour required for good husbandry and the wellbeing of his farm. The hon. Member for Wentworth {Mr. Paling) referred to the fact that for the past 10 or 15 years there have been increased production with a reduced number of agricultural labourers. Mr. R. McG. Carslaw and Mr. A. P. Graves, of the Farm Economics Branch of Cambridge University, referred to records of 170 farms in the eastern counties and give a comparison between 1931 and 1935—a very short interval indeed. They say that in money values the output per worker in 1935 was 40 per cent. more than in 1931 and in actual volume the increase was 25 per cent. Therefore, it is true that the number of employés is fewer. Mechanisation has found its way on to the farms. I hope, however, that that will not be used as an argument in favour of continuing a cereal policy which we think entirely wrong.

In regard to oats, the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Sir R. W. Smith) made a very earnest plea for Scotland in particular, and said that, because the price in England may be slightly higher than in Scotland, that is going to react to the disadvantage of the Scottish producer. The highest price paid for beef is paid to Aberdeenshire producers, but they walk off with the same subsidy as the fellow who gets much less for his beef. I am sure the hon. Member would not agree to a reduced subsidy for his beef though he wants a higher subsidy for his oats. I do not see any need for this subsidy. After all, of the small imports to-day compared with but a short time ago, 99.8 per cent. come from the Empire and only 2 per cent. from foreign countries. The reason is very simple. There is a duty of three shillings per cwt. on imported oats, and 7s. 6d. on oatmeal, so that foreign competition has been completely cut out. We are now importing only 3,500,000 cwts., and they are not really in competition with home-grown oats at all. Eighty per cent. or so of the oats produced in this country are consumed on the farms and, while in certain parts of Scotland it may be true that on some farms 40 per cent. is sold to other farms, on the whole this cereal crop is grown by the farmer not necessarily for the cash price that he obtains for it. He grows it because it is necessary as a rotation crop.

You cannot divorce oats from all the other agricultural products on a particular farm and demand that for every article produced there shall be a specified guaranteed price. What industry is there where the owner would not like to know that, when the going is good, he can walk off with the maximum price that he can obtain and, when it falls below a certain point, the Government make up the difference to him? At the moment barley is selling for 10s. per cwt. and the right hon. Gentleman is guaranteeing 8s. I wonder if the hon. Member will approach the Scottish farmers, tell them they are getting 2s. too much and ask them if they will hand over the 2s. to the Treasury to be saved up for the time when the price falls below 8s.

Sir R. W. Smith

They have lost in the past, and have something to make up for.

Mr. Williams

I really do not think it is fair. Men who go into speculative, highly competitive business are prepared to take big profits when they are available but, when the price falls, come creeping on their hands and knees to the Government to have it made up to a certain specified figure. The hon. Gentleman said this was not a subsidy but a deficiency for a loss. A loss upon what? Has he any costs of production of barley or oats and, if so, has he handed them to the right hon. Gentleman? Because all that we ask for on this side is that some Minister of Agriculture will tell us how much it costs to produce anything. We have never had any costs submitted to us either in regard to beef, wheat, barley, oats or anything else. We are told from time to time that this particular commodity is essential to good husbandry. The hon. Gentleman said we must have a wide crop in Scotland. They had a wide crop in Scotland before the 1932 Wheat Act was passed. There was no complaint. They had a wide crop in England before the Wheat Act. They have always produced either wheat, barley or oats, because it has been consistent with the best use of their particular land. But no Government in the past has deemed it advisable to separate beef from dairy farming, milk from oats, wheat from barley or potatoes from turnips, and guarantee a price for a number of years for every single separate thing produced on a farm. If that is the new agricultural policy of the National Government, there will not be any farms to let and agriculture will be the most static, stabilised, happy industry in this country. My hon. Friend said you are turning fanners into clerks. Who would not be turned into a clerk if his income was guaranteed in perpetuity by one form of subvention or another?

I entirely agree with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills). We want to see agriculture really prosperous. The urban population is about 92 per cent. We want, therefore, an agricultural policy which will carry the urban population along with us. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows how often the National Government have placed the Opposition on the horns of a political dilemma. In this Measure, for instance, they bring in three proposals, not of their own volition, and not that they have at long last converted me or my colleagues, because in 1934 we had an Amendment on the Order Paper which concluded in these words: fails to make adequate provision for the eradication of disease from cattle. That was our Amendment to the Government's negative proposal. Now that they have accepted our policy, let them not suggest that they have converted us. They are just three years too late. We want to see agriculture prosper but we want to see it on a solid foundation, and not a sort of flotsam and jetsam, here to-day and gone to-morrow, which is not going to be stabilised at all. We think the Minister might very well have come forward with a Measure dealing with drainage, the eradication of disease and his fertilising plans, and he could have had a united House of Commons. The next Motion on the Order Paper is another piece of business to place the Opposition on the horns of a dilemma. They want to continue to provide cheaper milk for the schools and, at the same time, to subsidise milk that goes into manufactures. If we vote against one, every hon. Member opposite will go to the country and say that we voted against their Bill. If we want to be decent to agriculture and fair to ourselves, we shall have to wait for a day when there is no longer a Scotsman at the Ministry of Agriculture and one who has been reared in the law. Only then will there be a chance of saving our political skins when we think we are doing what is reasonable justice to these proposals. We shall persist in our opposition to these cereal proposals while continuing to support the other three items embodied in the Measure.

7.26 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. W. S. Morrison):

I hope the House will allow me to preface my reply by a reference to the great loss which the agricultural community has suffered in the death of the late Lord Ernle. The Noble Lord was President of the Board of Agriculture from 1916 to 1919 and on him fell the heavy burden of the War at the time of the food production campaign. He was closely associated with many other aspects of the problem. After his elevation to another place he was regarded as the elder statesman of agriculture. He has written authoritatively, on agricultural questions, works which have become classics of their kind, but his interest in agriculture was by no means exclusively academic or theoretical. For years he managed the large estates of the Duke of Bedford and he had a wide practical experience of agricultural problems. He was a true friend of the land and a wise helper of the farmer. We shall he much the poorer for the loss of his valuable and kindly counsel.

Mr. Denman

The right hon. Gentleman must not forget that he was the architect of the Corn Production Act, his greatest contribution to agriculture.

Mr. Morrison

The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) admitted that great efforts had been made to help the state of agriculture, but I think he was also conscious of the fact that we have by no means reached a position where there is nothing more to be done. Indeed, he himself referred to various outstanding problems, and I welcome that approach to the Bill, because it is merely one instalment, though I think a very important one, and does not pretend to cover the whole ground of agricultural policy. He first of all asked me about lime prices and seemed to think that it was some laxity or negligence on the part of the Government that they were not able to answer the question at once. There are so many different commodities comprised under the term "lime" that, unless a description of the commodity is given, it is not easy to answer the question. Lime includes ground lime, quick lime, ground limestone and many other commodities, their characteristic being that they contain the element calcium. From figures that we have received from farmers, prices range from 11s. to as much as 40s. a ton. In order to compare costs you must have schedules describing each quality or grade according to some fixed chemical constituent in it.

The hon. Member seemed to be of the opinion that we had not done enough to prevent the cost of lime rising. I pointed out in Committee of Ways and Means that the matter was in many hands. Lime is not a product like slag, which is in relatively few hands. Although we have certain assurances from large suppliers, a further check against an undue rise in price exists in the presence all over the country of numerous lime kilns which are now idle but which, if prices were to advance, would come profitably into work again. That results in a real check against any general rise or exploitation on this ground. As to the price of slag, as I say, that is a more concentrated material, and though the hon. Member may have his opinion that we did not get as good terms as we ought to have got about it, I would point out that it is a symptom of industrial production which is general, that prices are rising. Take lime, for example. The raw material exists in inexhaustible quantities in the country. The raw material exists and is readily available, but the whole cost of the production is very largely composed of two constituents, of which one is the fuel used in burning and the other is the labour used in manufacture and transportation. It is common knowledge that both coal and labour costs have risen, and consequently we should not forget that in assessing what has happened with regard to lime.

Labour costs have had a similar incidence in the case of slag. It is true, as the hon. Member said, that slag is a by-product of the steel industry, and that an expanded production of steel means a greater production of slag. But slag as used in agriculture is not just the byproduct unmanufactured. It has to be milled, treated, placed into containers and transported, and all that involves labour costs. I make these general observations for the purpose of showing that there is something to be said for the attitude which I adopted before with regard to the manufacturers of slag. I made no comment on the figures when I mentioned them, but I did want to say that the manufacturers had been reasonable.

With regard to the other matters, the hon. Member said that the general opinion was that prices should fall because there would be a larger turnover, but so far as I can see there will be just the same inducement for prices to fall on that account as there would otherwise be. Remember that a farmer still has to pay half the cost of lime and three-quarters of the cost of slag, and if he expends so much more on these two materials as to lead to a largely increased turnover, in the competition for his favours, I should think there is further scope for a reduction of price.

The hon. Member—and here he was followed by most hon. Members on that side of the House, including the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) —took most exception to the provisions with regard to cereals contained in the Bill. It is not an unfair summing up of the attitude of those hon. Members to say that, though they had their criticisms on the other part and reserved their criticisms on that, it is the cereal matter which strikes them as most objectionable. There are one or two things I should like to say, and the first point is this: The House will remember that in introducing these proposals originally, I had to keep in mind and call the attention of the House to the Defence aspect, and that aspect remains. We all hope that we shall not be asked to go to war, or again be subjected to pressure on our food supplies; but it is our duty in time of peace to bring proposals which are good in time of peace and which will be of assistance to the nation should emergency come. It was characteristic of the effort made in the last War, and would be characteristic of the effort of any Government in any similar emergency in the future, to try to increase the production of food for human consumption, not to make the nation self-supporting, but to diminish the strain upon shipping and on His Majesty's ships which are convoys to carriers of food over long distances.

That means ploughing up, and you cannot plough unless you have the land in the condition for ploughing, and, secondly, the men and tackle with which to do it. The ploughs, the gear, the animals, and the men cannot be conjured into existence in a moment of emergency. We must have arable cultivation maintained in the country quite apart from the great part it plays in the ordinary course of agriculture, because it is a thing we shall all ask for in time of war and expect to see in its place. So much for the emergency side of the proposal. But the proposals can be abundantly justified for the place they take in the practice of agriculture.

We have heard a great deal, with which I agree, from the hon. Member for Don Valley and others, on the importance of grassland and the natural advantages of soil and climate in which we are preeminent in this regard. But it is impossible to have good grass over the whole country without the plough being used, and it is my belief that unless assistance is given to cereal agriculture we shall all suffer not only a loss of cereals, but a loss in the quality and fertility of our grassland. The importance of that side of it fully justifies us, in my opinion, from the point of view of agriculture in peace time. The hon. Member for Don Valley made an acute observation when he said that people would, in any case, grow these arable crops because they are a necessary part of the rotation. But one should not close one's eyes to the fact that if a crop like oats, wheat or barley is constantly unprofitable when produced, there is a tendency for agriculture to avoid that fruitless expenditure, and to neglect the rotations which are essential for the proper cultivation of the soil, and whilst I agree that every farmer, so long as he could, would maintain arable cultivation for the sake of its effect on rotation, I think any general assistance to agriculture over the country must include some provision for arable cultivation.

Other questions were asked me and, as was fully expected, a great deal was said about wages, and the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) made a comparison between the rise in wages and the profits in the Eastern counties. I think the basis of his remarks was the same document as that quoted by the hon. Member for Don Valley, the Bulletin issued by the Farm Economics Branch of the Cambridge University Department of Agriculture published last month. But what do the figures show? They show profits based on the returns from 150 farms. I should probably not be prepared to say that 150 farms are necessarily a sufficiently broad base on which to form conclusions of any accurate character, but they are interesting so far as they go. What they show Is that the average profit per 100 acres of those 150 farms was £1 in 1931, and in 1936 that average profit had risen to £139 per 100 acres. That seems a very great rise, but I would ask the House to remember that an average-sized farm would be something in the nature of 200 acres. In spite of the fact that you have the rise from £1 to £139 per 100 acres, it would mean that you were remunerating a man with £280 for his own labour, for interest on his capital, for the great risks attendant upon agricultural operations in general, and for all the work and maintenance and anxiety he puts in.

I think it is right of me to say that, because, although the hon. Member for Wentworth did quite properly draw attention to these figures, he rather left the House with the opinion that there had been an advance in agricultural prosperity of a startling character. It is only an advance of that character if you compare it with the very low level of 1931. Still I do not think anyone would say that such a remuneration for a man with 200 acres was excessive in the circumstances. Of course the attainment even of that measure of profitability depends on a lot of things, adventitious things that may happen, weather conditions which make it posssible for him to put in his seed at seeding time and other such things.

The hon. Member asked me about drainage and he asked me—and the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) also asked me—which authority would be administering these grants? You will find the answer in the White Paper, and it is that these particular grants are intended for internal drainage boards. They are all grants to be administered by public authorities—internal drainage boards in districts where such boards exist and, where they do not exist, the county council is the proper drainage authority. If the hon. Member has any further difficulty I will be glad to explain further. I know he is interested in matters of drainage in his constituency.

The other points that were raised were as follows: Many hon. Members expressed approval of the provision to deal with animal diseases. The hon. Member for Central Aberdeenshire (Sir R. W. Smith) asked me about grass sickness, and it is true that the proposals which are now embodied in the Bill would enable the central veterinary service to take powers to deal with that disease. But an essential preliminary to the administration of an Act against disease is an understanding of that disease, and at present this disease is in the realm of research. We are conducting researches into it at the Moredun Institute, which is very well suited for this particular research. That is being done by grants which are made available by the Agricultural Research Council. When the results of these researches become available, that will be the time for a campaign against the disease to be initiated. But while it is true that the central veterinary proposals in this Bill will enable us to suggest remedies for any disease in any animal, the first preliminary is to have an understanding, and for that purpose to have research conducted.

I come to the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. R. Acland), and I want to do justice to his speech. I understand he was generally denunciatory of the attitude of His Majesty's Government in this matter, but he made reference to various problems of agriculture in which I hope, when he reconsiders the matter, he will see that we are doing something to assist him. For example, drainage. That is one of the points dealt with in the Bill. He may say that these proposals are inadequate, but I would ask him to reflect that to assist the internal drainage boards is an essential step if you are to prepare the way for better drainage of the soil of the fields.

Many other points were raised by him, including a proposal that the soil should be broken up by some authority other than the farmer. I do not think that that proposal would be very welcome to the farming community. I have seldom come across a topic which caused so much disagreement as the breaking up of soil during the War, under the authority and orders of certain committees. It was almost like a civil war at home. I would not venture to make a general criticism of what was done at home at that time, through ignorance, but I am convinced that in many cases land was broken up that should never have been broken up. It is the farmer himself who really knows what land should be broken up. It is true that sometimes he is dissuaded from breaking up land which ought to be broken up, by reason of expense and other considerations, but I do not think that the position would be assisted by placing the decision of such an intimate domestic matter as the breaking up of the soil into the hands of a public authority.

The hon. Member for Barnstaple asked me about fertilisers. I agree with him that it would be altogether wrong to say that by specifying lime and slag we have exhausted the list of substances whose application is of benefit to the soil; but there is this to be said, that both of these are long-term fertilisers. Many other substances are of great value if applied with intelligence at the right time, but they are of value for a relatively short time. On the ground of comparative permanence we should be justified in confining ourselves to these two substances. Another point is that these two substances which are selected for consideration in this Bill are both entirely of home origin. While we have been able to make arrangements to prevent the prices rising in the case of lime and slag, it would be impossible to arrive at any satisfactory solution of the problem of preventing the foreign exporter of raw materials, such as superphosphates and others, from reaping part of the benefit.

The hon. Member also asked me about grass drying. I should like to make clear the attitude of the Government on this matter. We feel that there are still great problems to be solved before we can be certain as to the success of this operation, but we are doing what we can in the Ministry of Agriculture and in the Agricultural Research Council to carry out investigations with a view of solving the problems which remain. There are problems of three categories. There is the problem of the nutritional value of the product, and, although there is a great body of evidence which shows that the product is an extremely valuable one, there are problems of a scientific, almost a dietetic character, to be solved. The product varies according to the condition of the grass itself and other matters which are attendant upon it. There are also problems of an engineering character —the design of apparatus which is sufficiently powerful to effect its purpose in the necessary space of time and yet which is not too expensive for the pocket of the ordinary agriculturist. There are also other problems, most difficult and stubborn problems, such as farm technique in regard to the proper management of grassland, if you are to subject it to this process. We are investigating the matter and hope that at the end of this season we shall be in possession of more information and knowledge about it.

The House will forgive me if I do not deal with all the points raised. The hon. Member for Brigg made one of his very interesting speeches. He does not believe in subsidies, and dissociates himself from this practice, and gave it as his idea that there ought to be a guaranteed price for all agricultural products. As he rejected the subsidy, I wonder what other method he has in view? Perhaps he and his hon. Friends opposite may explain that to us at some other time.

Mr. T. Williams

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to say a few words on Clause 10, with regard to the administration of the deficiency payments, if any.

Mr. Morrison

I think the administration of the deficiency payments was adequately explained in the White Paper, but there are other points which arise and which we might discuss in Committee. The broad idea with regard to oats and barley is to fix a standard price and a standard acreage and then to assure to the grower your standard price related to acreage in the manner described in the White Paper by means of an acreage subsidy. The administration of the subsidy is naturally a problem which has many facets. It is an acreage subsidy, and therefore one has not, as in the case of a subsidy like the wheat subsidy, the check upon farming procedure which is implied by the grain itself being the judge and criterion of how much has to be paid. In the case of the acreage subsidy you have not that check. Therefore, there are provisions for administrative regulations to ensure that negligent farming, mixed crops and other problems are dealt with.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what are the functions under Clause 10 which are to be given to the Wheat Commission?

Mr. Morrison

I think they are sufficiently detailed. The actual payments out of public funds will rest with the Ministry of Agriculture in England and the Department of Agriculture in Scotland, but the Wheat Commission is in possession of a great deal of information which would be useful to us, and if the hon. Member looks at the Clause he will see that Sub-section (1) authorises the Commission to perform on behalf of the appropriate Minister any functions connected with the administration, as may be approved. Then follows the point which I have just made, that the actual subsidy is to be paid out by the public Department and not by the Commission.

Mr. Alexander

Will that mean that no farmer will have a claim in law against the Government?

Mr. Morrison

In regard to the provision for the oats and barley acreage subsidy, no.

Mr. Hopkin

Is it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to say how the subsidy will work in the case where there is mixed corn, that is, mixed oats and barley? That is a crop which is largely grown in Wales and the West of England, and it would be of service to the agricultural community to know how the subsidy will be paid for mixed corn.

Mr. Morrison

Sub-section (2) gives power to the appropriate Minister, with the approval of the Treasury, to make payments to the Wheat Commission to defray expenses incurred by the Commission in the performance of functions entrusted to them under the Clause. That is for the obvious reason that if you allowed the cost of the oats and barley administration to fall upon them, you would be taking the course of asking them to pay something that the Government should pay. In Sub-section (3) there is provision in regard to administration expenses of the Wheat Commission. It is not the intention that the Wheat Commission should have to undertake the task of sending out the forms or receiving them back again. That will be done by the Ministry of Agriculture and by the Department of Agriculture in Scotland, and the expense will be borne on the Votes of the Department, but the clerical staff of the Wheat Commission may be of use to us as they have the register of wheat growers, and they may also perform certain inspectorial functions in regard to the matter.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) asked me about a crop which is very common not only in Wales but in other parts of the Kingdom, and that is where you get a mixed crop, say, of oats and barley. Under Clause 8 (1) regulations have to be made to deal with that. Where you have oats and barley growing intermixed with grass or clover, and where in consequence the yield of oats and barley is not affected by the mixture, the acreage will not be treated as reduced on that account for subsidy purposes. In an ordinary case where you have a mixture of oats and barley mixed with other crops, the acreage will be treated as reduced acreage in accordance with the proportion of oats and barley which exists combined with the other crops. I hope I have made my meaning clear. That, again, is a matter that we can discuss in detail in Committee. The point has not been lost sight of. The general result of our regulations will be that where a man is growing oats and barley mixed with a crop in such a manner that the yield of these two crops is not reduced by the mixture, then we shall not make any reduction of his acreage for that reason, but where it is grown with other crops which are not the subject-matter of the subsidy, then we shall take into account the proportion of the mixture that takes place.

The hon. Member for the Don Valley was mostly concerned with the question of the cereal provisions of the Bill, and he also made a point about oats, and drew attention to the undoubted fact that oats are for the most part home-produced; that we produce 93 per cent. of our oats and only 7 per cent. are imported. He asks why we should specially assist a crop for which we have already got almost a monopoly. I would say, in reply, that it is very easy to take too isolated a view of this crop. Its fortunes are very largely bound up with those of other cereals used for feeding purposes. It is greatly affected by the price of maize and the price of feeding barley. It is to feeding barley and oats that we are proposing to give some assistance. The House may think, as I do, that it is well worth while to keep alive the cultivation of these homegrown feeding stuffs for the purposes for which the legislation has been drafted. The hon. Member for Central Aberdeen was concerned about the oats provisions and about having an arrangement of prices applied to the circumstances of Scotland. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, on the Financial Resolution, gave a complete answer on that matter. The broad fact is that if we take into account the price of oats from Northern Ireland we get an average for the whole of the United Kingdom which is very nearly identical with the Scottish price.

An hon. Member asked me about the committee whose duty it is to investigate and recommend as to whether or not the standard price of wheat should be raised. In that committee there was an examination in 1935, and they were of opinion that the standard price of 45s. should not be raised. I understand that the hon. Member's complaint was that determination should take place more often than once every five years, and that is a matter which will have to be decided. I should like to thank the Noble Lord the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Lord Willoughby de Eresby) for making an interesting and suggestive speech. He made the point that the health of animals is ensured not only by reason of veterinary services, but is bound up to a large extent with the health of the soil itself, if there are present in it the correct amounts of minerals and other constituents. That is the correct answer to the suggestions of some hon. Members that there are different purposes in different parts of the Bill. Hon. Members may have thought that the proposals for the eradication of animal diseases bear no relation to other proposals for assisting arable cultivation. There is one keynote of all the provisions, and that is health. The health of animals is assisted by healthy soil.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for To-morrow.—[Captain Dugdale.]