§ Again considered in Committee.
§ [Captain BOURNE in the Chair.]
Question again proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £2,043,778, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1939, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants and grants in aid and expenses in respect of agricultural education and research, eradication of diseases of animals, and improvement of breeding etc., of livestock, land settlement, improvement of cultivation, drainage, etc., regulation of agricultural wages, agricultural credits, and marketing, fishery research and development, control of diseases of fish, etc., and sundry other services.
§ Mr. Boothby
When we were interrupted I had been saying that I thought the method of the Government in tackling the agricultural problem commodity by commodity was, on the whole, a sound one; and I ventured to suggest that there should be a certain order of priority among commodities, and that the greatest amount of attention should be given to arable stock farming. Both from the national point of view, in peace and in war, I regard the cultivation of cereals—wheat, oats and barley—and the raising of beef and mutton as very much more important than any other branch of agriculture. It is most necessary to have the maximum amount of those commodities in time of war; and I pointed out that in the matter of pigs, for example, it would be a pity if we now overdid pig production in this country. Not only would that cut off from us valuable customers in international trade, but I believe that in the last War it was found that the amount of food we had to bring in to feed a large pig production was so great as to make it not worth while from a practical point of view. Accordingly, I do not think there is anything to be 1390 said from the national point of view for overdoing pig production, either from the Defence point of view in time of war, or from the trade point of view in time of peace. Each commodity has to be given a certain measure of priority; and, I think, it has been proved that the methods of ensuring a remunerative price to our agricultural producers must vary with each separate commodity. Therefore, while many of us feel that the Government have not gone as fast as we should wish, we do think that they are going slowly in the right direction; whereas I was afraid when listening to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that if he were appointed Minister of Agriculture he would go very fast indeed, but in the wrong direction.
We have found in the case of wheat that a guaranteed price has afforded an adequate solution of the problem, but it has been possible only because of the limited amount we can grow in relation to our total requirements. The beef subsidy has also proved effective up to date, and the guaranteed prices for oats and barley have undoubtedly put a bottom into the prices of these two commodities, although here we live to some extent under the threat of a price drop. It all proves, I think, that we must have a flexible national agricultural policy, that it is not a case for laying down rigid principles; but that, as I have said often in this House and out of it, it is quite right to tackle this problem through individual commodities.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and, indeed, the Minister, referred to the question of the control of imports and of quotas. I frankly regard quotas as a very unpleasant necessity. They do a lot of damage, and they are bad from the point of view of international trade, and I much prefer tariffs, which are much more flexible and can be varied to meet new conditions; but I do not see that we can get away from quotas now or are likely to be able to do so for many years to come. There is a school of thought which is always writing and talking about Empire policy, economic isolation, and all the rest of it, a school of thought which maintains that the wicked foreigner is the only person who is holding up British agriculture, and that if only we could deal solely with our own Empire and Dominions we could evolve a successful and remunera- 1391 tive agricultural policy without any difficulty or trouble, under which everyone would benefit. To write and talk like that is not only sheer humbug but burkes most of the difficulties with which we are confronted; because it is absolute nonsense to say that the Dominions do not present a very considerable problem to British agriculture, and it is well that this fact should be faced by hon. Members on this side of the Committee as well as on the other, whatever the lads of the "Daily Express" may say.
In regard to mutton and lamb, I have some figures which show the imports from Empire and foreign sources in the Ottawa Standard Year, 1932, and in each succeeding calendar year. They show that the supplies come mainly from Empire countries, and have increased from 73 per cent. in the Ottawa Standard Year to 87 per cent. in 1937. Under the Ottawa Agreement foreign supplies are limited to 65 per cent. of those imported in the Ottawa year, and these do not seriously affect the position of the British producer. Dominion supplies come mainly from New Zealand and Australia. Imports from these two countries are regulated on a voluntary basis, and in 1937 they were about 1.6 above the quantity imported in the Ottawa Year; but, as I have pointed out, these imports increased from 73 per cent. in the Ottawa Standard Year to 87 per cent. in 1937. As hon. Members on both sides know, we have been going through a very serious crisis in the sheep industry in this country. I believe we shall get through it, and by emicable agreement with the Dominions, but to say that the Dominions are not the cause of the trouble, to say that we could solve this particular problem quite easily if only we could just eliminate the cursed foreigners, is a piece of sheer humbug which has to be exposed, and the sooner the better. We are going to have a difficult time, for a short period at any rate, in persuading the Dominions to adjust themselves to our requirements in regard to this sheep question which is urgent because prices have been simply catastrophic during the past six months; but we shall not get any nearer to a solution of the problem by pretending that it is not an Empire problem or that it does not exist.
Even in regard to beef, although I agree that the Argentine is by far our largest 1392 supplier of foreign beef, tables which I got the other day show that imports of chilled and frozen beef from the Empire have been steadily going up, and although the Dominions supplies are relatively small, they have increased rapidly, especially the supplies of chilled beef, while foreign supplies have been reduced. For the third quarter of 1938 the allocation of imported chilled beef allows for an increase of 97,000 cwts., or about 4 per cent. above 1937 supplies, but imports from foreign countries, including the Argentine, have been maintained at the 1937 level, that is only 98 per cent. of the supplies of 1935. As regards frozen beef imports from the Dominions, they are estimated to increase by about 25 per cent. in the third quarter of this year. In the long run we shall therefore have a problem to work out with the Dominions in regard to beef as well as mutton. I believe we can do it; but we have to recognise that there is a problem here, and one which may increase; and I think we ought to have more continuous cooperation with the Dominions in regard to our imports of beef and mutton.
In dealing with the question of prices I wish to emphasise an aspect of agricultural policy which has not been mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Minister or by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, but which is of fundamental importance, and that is, of course, the question of monetary policy, which is now largely controlled by the Government. If you examine the trend of agricultural prices in this country over the last 50 years you will find that they have sunk below the remunerative level quicker than any other group of commodity prices during every period of deflation, and even though we appointed the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs himself as Minister of Agriculture and gave him dictatorial powers, with absolute control over all imports into this country, if we were going through a period of deflation he could not possibly maintain a remunerative price level or a successful agricultural industry in this country. That is the reason why agriculture was so depressed during the period from 1921 to 1929. Even though large parts of the world were doing fairly well, agriculture remained more or less depressed, because in this country we were going through a period of continuous, though not very violent, deflation.
1393 Deflation is deadly to agriculture. And I say to my right hon. Friend that he must encourage the Chancellor of the Exchequer to continue the policy of—to say inflation would be putting it too strongly, but at any rate the policy of expansion—which he seems to have adopted at the moment. If he does so, my right hon. Friend will no doubt have a tremendous success as Minister of Agriculture; but if the Chancellor deviates from that policy, if for one cause or another we go back into a deflationary phase during the next 12 months, nothing that my right hon. Friend can do can possibly save him from being a dismal failure as Minister of Agriculture. I mention this because it is a question which does not involve legislation but which does involve the fame and fortunes of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, and with them the agricultural industry. We ought always to remind ourselves that, whatever specific measures or remedies we may apply to individual agricultural commodities, the industry as a whole must stand or fall by whether we are in a period of deflation or in a period of rising commodity prices.
I should like to repeat before I sit down what I said when the Minister was out of the House, that I still feel that the problem of distribution has never been adequately tackled by any Government in this country, and that it is a problem which has to be tackled. There are certain vested interests which are very powerful, but which, if they are allowed to exercise practically monopolistic powers in this country, should be required by the Government to conform to certain standards. My right hon. Friend knows as well as I do the complete stranglehold the Vestey interests have upon the imports of beef into this country; and it extends beyond the bounds of imports. It extends very largely to Smithfield Market as a whole. I could tell my right hon. Friend of occasions when the Vestey man has telephoned from Smithfield to the marts in my constituency in Aberdeenshire to tell them exactly what the local price of beef was going to be. If that interest is to have such a control over beef prices in our markets as well as over the volume of imports into this country I do not say that it should be nationalised, but that my right hon. Friend should see that that control is exercised not only in the Vestey 1394 interests but also in the national interests. I believe that my right hon. Friend could do it.
The same applies, only in a rather more modified way, to milk distribution. I do not feel that the problem of milk distribution has been solved by giving cheap milk to school children. I believe that my right hon. Friend has himself gone some way beyond that point. That is what I meant when I challenged the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs; he seemed to imply that we ought to spend a lot more money on fertilising the land, putting people on the land, and in capital developments of all kinds. My way of spending money, if we are to spend money on agriculture, would be to subsidise the consumer, and the poorest consumer, in this country, in order to stimulate demand—particularly the demand for home-grown food. If there is a gap to be filled between the poorest class of the community and the farmer who produces milk, let the Government concentrate upon how to fill that gap rather than on spending a lot of money upon land development. I believe that nutrition policy will increasingly engage the attention of the House in the years that lie immediately ahead.
If you give the farmer remunerative prices and increase the demand for homegrown food, people will go back to the land of their own accord instead of leaving it of their own accord as they do at the present day. My final word is simply that I hope my right hon. Friend, during the remainder of his tenure of office as Minister of Agriculture, will devote a great deal of time and attention to the question of distribution. The present Minister of Health tackled the question of production, and made some very valuable innovations and experiments; but the problem of distribution has not yet been tackled adequately in this country. It is time that it was.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who preceded me from these benches, must not be taken by hon. Members opposite to represent 100 per cent. of our views. I am not at all sure that I can accept his greatest witness, the Central Landowners' Association, on the subject of 1395 agricultural expansion. We know something about their policy during the War. We know how they scooped the pool when they had the opportunity at that time, how they scooped the pool immediately after the War, and how many farmers in many parts of the country are suffering at this moment as a result of the gross exploitation indulged in by the Central Landowners' Association at that time.
The speech of the Minister was, as we all expected it would be, a very clear-cut review of the major activities of his Department, but as he ploughed his way through an endless mass of commodities and products I thought I detected behind his artificial optimism some despair of the result of the farmers' resentment of the Kettering speech. I am not at all sure, although he did his best, that the explanation by the right hon. Gentleman completely whittled away the apparently deadly effect of that speech. One thing which emerged from the right hon. Gentleman's statement was that, after planning for increased output of agricultural produce, he realised that that increase must come exceedingly slowly, because it was felt that the market would not be able to absorb the increased productivity at a reasonable price. I shall return to that point in a moment.
I would like to say a few words about the historical review given us by the right hon. Gentleman. The Minister hopped from 1913 to 1937; then he went back to 1930; he came forward to 1937; then he went back to 1931 and to the Agricultural Marketing Act passed by the Labour Government; and then he came forward to 1933. So he gave us a real historical review of the events of the past 25 years. In the last seven years no fewer than 33 Acts of Parliament dealing with agriculture have been passed. If it were possible to legislate an industry into prosperity the agricultural industry of this country would be the most prosperous industry in the world, but after 33 Acts of Parliament and endless regulations, commissions, and committees, and if we are to take the National Farmers' Union's own statements, the industry is still slipping backward and making no progress. The industry either cannot or dare not plan ahead and farmers are more uncomfortable than they were when the National Government took office in 1931.
1396 It is true that the Government have dealt with sugar, but I have always been convinced that that was most wasteful and extravagant. While it may have been good for certain parts of the arable area, we must not forget that we have produced about £58,000,000 worth of sugar and have given about £60,000,000 to the industry by way of subsidy. We have actually given to the industry more than the total value of the sugar produced. If we look at this matter exclusively with regard to the labour provided—since the labourers must labour to obtain their wages, or be thrown back upon the Employment Exchanges—it may be that a human case can be made out, but, from the point of view of agriculture and the economy of this country, I am convinced that £60,000,000 could have been expended in many directions with far greater results for the agriculture of the country.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to wheat. If you guarantee for any commodity a price drawn from the pockets of the consumer of that commodity, you stabilise the price for a long time, and that course is bound to produce an element of stability with regard to that commodity; but when I recall that the poorest families in the country, typified by the man and wife with the largest number of children and the smallest income, cannot afford to buy meat and other luxuries and have to buy large quantities of bread, it is clear that they are the biggest contributors to that subsidy. I am then not sure that I could not have found some much more equitable way than that of a direct subsidy. The right hon. Gentleman referred also to beef. To give £5,000,000 subsidy for the production of any commodity is bound to have a stabilising influence upon that commodity, and no one denies that that particular subsidy has had a stabilising influence upon beef. When one thinks in terms of bacon and remembers that we are now paying Denmark more for 6,250,000 cwts. than we previously paid for 11,000,000 cwts., it is clear that while you may do something to increase the output on bacon in this country the consumer of bacon pays a very heavy price for that advantage.
In any case, I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that, despite everything which has been done to deal with sugar, wheat, beef, bacon, 1397 milk, oats, barley, fruit, vegetables, fertilisers and "Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all," the land is still going down to grass, there is a smaller acreage for most root crops and there are fewer labourers on the land. We may argue as to the extent to which machinery is responsible for the smaller number of labourers, but it is a fact that there are fewer workers on the land by some 65,000 than there were in 1931. Everybody knows that we have one of the finest climates in the world for certain commodities, and that we have the biggest and best potential market right on our doorstep, yet, judged on existing results, we cannot write down the National Government as having been an unqualified success from 1931, because from every conceivable point of view there is less rather than more security in agriculture to-day.
I saw in a newspaper—yesterday I think it was—the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister represented as flying away into eternity in a gliding machine, and the caption to the picture was: "In the clouds." It seemed to typify admirably the present Government. They have been in the clouds for too long, and sooner or later they will be made to face this agricultural problem and come back to earth. It is true that tariffs provide economic help here and there, that subsidies also are a temporary help, and that you may do something also by restrictions or quotas, but those easy methods of solving the problem are too easy and they are ineffective when they are taken over a period. I want this Committee to face right up to the problem this afternoon in the light of the speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, by the Prime Minister at Kettering, and the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon. What is the problem confronting us? Stated simply it is: We have the finest climate in the world and we have a massive market right on our doorstep, and yet farmers tell us that on the whole they cannot make agriculture pay. Small output with high returns is to them the best of all possible business, but small output and high profit is not the best business from the national standpoint. It is obvious that we could grow more food if we desired to do so. The right hon. Gentleman said last year that if our grass lands were properly cared for we could bring 3,000,000 acres into productivity, 1398 and that those 3,000,000 acres could feed 1,000,000 head of cattle. There is no doubt about our ability to produce more food if all the other conditions are favourable.
Before the farmer will grow more food he wants a guaranteed market and an economic price. I do not think that those two requests are altogether unreasonable, but they prompt other questions. The first is: Who is to determine or fix an economic price and, the economic price having been fixed, who is to determine what is efficient production? So far the Government have refused to look at those two problems. They have been wholly uninterested in them, but if they are prepared to fix an economic price based upon the data at their disposal and are prepared to determine what is efficient production, I would ask the further question: Who will buy the increased production at ordinary English prices? At the moment the average working-class consumer cannot buy the best British beef. As an acknowledgment of the truth of that statement the Government are paying £5,000,000 per annum to subsidise those who consume the best British beef. Assume that we tried to increase our beef output by 25 per cent., 50 per cent., or l00 per cent., who would buy the extra beef when produced? I believe we ought to produce more beef, mutton, lamb, milk, bacon, and all the rest of it, wherever we can, without adversely affecting the general standard of life of the people.
Suppose we produced more mutton and lamb than we are producing at the moment. We have already heard it said that sheep farmers are having a very terrible time this year. I would point out, by the way, that we are always aware when they are having a very bad season, but they never say anything to us when they have had four or five good seasons together. If we produce more of these commodities, who is going to buy them unless they are produced much more efficiently, the general all-round cost is reduced, and the prices are within the means of the ordinary working-class household? The right hon. Gentleman knows full well, and so does every Member of the House, that there is a wonderful potential market for liquid milk in this country, but we are sending to the factories 350,000,000 gallons that the people cannot afford to buy; and to 1399 the extent that you increase output of milk you decrease the price paid to the farmer. In the Milk Board's review of its general operations at its annual meeting we are told that the slogan is, "Less milk, more money." Therefore, if we persuade the farmers to increase their output of milk, and that milk is not taken off the market by the liquid milk consumers, it must go to the factories at 6d. or 7d. a gallon instead of 7d. a quart in the form of liquid milk. Then what is the producer of that milk going to say? The simple fact is that if we do increase the output of agricultural commodities without making very definite arrangements to see that that increased output will be absorbed, at prices not uneconomic to the farmer, then automatically the price level is going to fall. There will be a demand for bigger subsidies or heavier restrictions of imports to maintain the price level. If that happens, you will only cut off the cheapest layer of consumers. You will not help the British producer, and the second stage may be actually worse than the first.
Now what is the explanation for this set of circumstances? It is exactly what the Minister had in his mind when he spoke this afternoon, what the Prime Minister had in his mind when he spoke at Kettering last Saturday week. They know that the spending power is not there, and that the workers cannot buy fresh British agricultural produce unless their spending power is increased. Therefore, any Conservative, Liberal, National Liberal or National Government agricultural policy must, in the nature of things, have a clear, definite relation to the known spending power of the workers in this country. And that is the true explanation of the Prime Minister's speech at Kettering. He knows that to increase our agricultural productivity is to knock the bottom out of the price level and to leave agriculture in a worse state than it was in before. I leave out of account altogether in my review the Dominions, the foreign importers and industrial exporters, and I am quite satisfied that the Government, knowing that agriculture very largely depends upon the spending power of the industrial population, have got to become much more active in future in increasing the wage level of industrial workers than they have been in the past. 1400 Whether that is by the agency of directly increasing wages, reducing hours and absorbing more employés, and providing them with wages to spend on agricultural produce, I really do not mind. But I do know that the Government all the time are on the horns of the dilemma of spending power and agricultural productivity.
I agree that there is no simple solution of that problem, and to the extent that 380,000 farmers want to produce more agricultural produce and to make far better use of the land at their disposal, if they were to conduct a raging, tearing campaign throughout this country for higher wages for industrial workers, it would be the best thing the farmers could do. I would not say that they are the greatest enthusiasts for higher wages, but if they really understood the near relationship of their prosperity to the wages of industrial workers they might, with advantage to themselves, conduct such a campaign to get an all-round increase of industrial workers' wages. In the absence of that, we are driven back on to humdrum expedients, emergency and temporary policies, with no finality at all anywhere to be seen. Last year the Minister during his annual review made this statement:A fair price for efficient production is an essential, and should be our goal. Secondly, we ought to direct our efforts to reducing costs—both very desirable things.He might have added, also reducing the spread between consumer and producer. I want to know what the right hon. Gentleman is doing about those two important things?
Take, first of all, the question of reducing costs, or coupling that with efficient production. Now what can the right hon. Gentleman or the Government do in the way of reducing the cost of production or improving the efficiency of agriculture? They do not own the land. They have no control over the use of the land, and they have no power to insist upon good cultivation in any part of the country, not even when they have been paying subsidies for one commodity or another. They have no large or small demonstration farms in various parts of the country to set the tone and pace for efficient production and to provide themselves with a costing system. I hope the right hon. Gentleman when he comes 1401 to reply later on to-night will tell us just what his Department have done, apart from their research and educational work, to reduce the cost of production and to determine what is efficient production in this country. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that there is a general lack of equipment and machinery, and that farm buildings throughout the country are hopelessly out of date. What have the Government done to improve efficiency in that direction? So far as we can see no steps have been taken during the past 12 months. Those platitudes of the right hon. Gentleman are useless unless some action follows them immediately.
Then about the spread between producer and consumer. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) said we have not touched the fringe of the marketing problem, and he is perfectly correct. It is true we have marketing boards for potatoes, milk, hops, bacon—or we shall have one for bacon sooner or later—but so far as the real success of marketing is concerned, they have not touched the fringe of the problem. As far as I know, there are as many potato merchants to-day as there were when the Potato Marketing Board came into existence. The Potato Marketing Board is continuing to negotiate with the merchants for a set price for the producers and a set price for the merchants, and the consumer is paying more. The Milk Marketing Board agree as to what the price for the distributor and the price for the producer shall be, but we know there are just as many retailers in the milk industry to-day as there were when the board came into existence. The consumer is no nearer to the producer than he was five or six years since. Still there are six, eight or ten milkmen marching down one street, missing a door and hitting a door. So that the real problem of marketing in its best sense has not been touched at all. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman looks at United Dairies' profits, £600,000; Tate and Lyle's profits, —1,300,000; and Meadow Dairies' profits, £450,000; and the profits of scores of other firms who stand between the producer and the consumer, and when he thinks of the profits of the middleman and the depression among the producers, he will agree that there is still a good deal to do with regard to marketing if we are going to provide a bigger market for agricultural produce in this country.
1402 Something was said in the Debate last year about credit facilities. I have a couple of cases here which indicate that something ought to be initiated by the Government if the farmer is ever going to escape from the auctioneers and the middlemen, the merchants and the hire-purchase schemers. Here is a case where a farmer—whether he is a good, bad, or indifferent farmer I cannot say—finds himself with an overdraft of £1,900 at the bank. They did not send him into the bankruptcy court immediately: they were too wise for that. They allowed him to work and slave for the next four or five years until he had paid into the bank £ 1,730, and then, the moment he had got within £170 of wiping off his adverse balance, the bank foreclosed and sent him into the bankruptcy court, and now that farmer is down and out.
§ Mr. Williams
I will give the hon. Member the name. It is a bank that operates in a part of Nottinghamshire that is not very far from Nottingham itself. Here is a case of a hire-purchase bargain in which a dealer paid £24 10s. each for certain cattle. He sold them to a farmer for £34 on hire-purchase—20 per cent. down, 20 per cent. for accommodation and so on, and when insurance and other items had been added the farmer actually had to pay £40 each for cattle which had been bought for £24 10s, a head. That sort of thing, I understand, is taking place in all parts of the country, and nothing short of a complete survey of farmers' indebtedness will tell us the whole truth about the problem. If the right hon. Gentleman would go into that question, get for us the information we need, let us see exactly to what extent farmers are indebted to the banks, to auctioneers, middlemen, merchants, hire-purchase schemers and the rest, then perhaps a credit scheme could be drafted that might be of real value to agriculturists.
Finally, I want to say one or two words about those whom I regard as being most important in the agricultural industry. I refer, of course, to the workers and their wages. We have the richest country in the world—so we are frequently told—and yet the average wage for agricultural workers still is 34s. 6½d. a week—not enough to maintain bare physical efficiency. I have here one or two house- 1403 wives' budgets, made out by themselves and sent along here. In each case the man had a wife and three children, and when their budgets are worked out they show that 20s. per week is spent on food—4s. per person, or 7d. per day for three good meals and a respectable supper. That is not really playing the game with the man who actually produces the food. In all these cases, with one exception, they buy tinned milk, because, apparently, although they are agricultural labourers, they cannot afford to buy fresh milk. In all these cases they buy margarine, because they cannot afford to buy best butter; in all these cases they buy the cheapest possible kind of food that is obtainable, because they cannot afford to buy anything better. I think it is a scandal that the very men who spend their lives on the farm, who tend the cattle and carry out every operation, should come out the worst in the scheme of things so far as wages are concerned.
An agricultural labourer who can lay a hedge and make it stock-proof, who can build a hayrick and make it rain-proof, who can help to manage the stock on the farm, who has a passing acquaintance with agricultural machinery, and who knows all the other odds and ends of agricultural work, is as useful and as valuable as any labourer in this country, and the House ought not to be content that he should receive a miserable 34s. 6½d. per week, which is his average wage. Nothing can replace a skilled labourer once we lose him, and it is the absence of rural amenities, the absence of decent housing conditions, the absence of decent homes for their wives, apart from the wages, that are driving the skilled agricultural labourers off the farms every day of the week.
As to the question of wage evasion, on Monday of this week I put down a question to the Minister of Agriculture calling his attention to a case where a wages inspector went down to a farm where three labourers were employed. Neither of those labourers had invited the inspector to come; he went there to do his duty by the Government; but almost immediately the farmer sacks every one of those three agricultural labourers. Each of them had a family, two of them fought in the last War, and yet, because a Ministry of Agriculture's inspector went to the farm, not at the invitation of the employés, all 1404 these three men were sacked within a week. I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to tell farmers of that kind that, if he has not the power at the moment to deal with them as they ought to be dealt with, he will not hesitate to take the necessary power and to make it a criminal offence to victimise men because his own Department insists upon the law in that particular being carried out.
There are 380,000 farmers in this country, 631,000 labourers, and 46,000,000 consumers, and I do not know that any of them are satisfied with the present position. Personally, I feel that we ought to be producing a far greater volume of English agricultural produce than we are producing at the moment, but I want to see the wages of the workpeople in the country large enough to enable them to buy that produce when it has been produced. It is the job of the Government, not always to have their minds in the City of London, but sometimes to allow their minds to flutter into the industrial avenues. I know of no English artisan, miner, mechanic, engineer or whatever he may be, who buys frozen mutton, frozen lamb, frozen beef, or frozen anything, if he can afford to buy the best British produce. They buy this cheap imported produce because they cannot afford to buy best British produce. Therefore, this Government, or some Government, at some time, sooner or later, will have to face up to this problem in a big, bold way, and I hope that the statesmanship called for for this purpose may even yet be discovered in the National Government, although I have seen no sign of it up to the present.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Viscount Wolmer
We have listened to a very interesting speech, such as we always expect from the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) whenever he addresses us, and I think that the House of Commons, in the Debate, has shown that it realises the seriousness of the agricultural situation. I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and found myself in very hearty agreement with nearly all of it, but I should like to say right at the beginning, because I think it is necessary for all of us who speak this afternoon to make suggestions to the Government and criticisms of the Government, 1405 that I admit straight away that the National Government has done far more for British agriculture than any of its predecessors; and I think that any hon. Member who speaks from this side of the Committee will do so with that premise always in mind.
We cannot, however, get away from the fact that the problem is very far from being solved. The figures quoted by the Minister in his interesting speech this afternoon are, after all, profoundly unsatisfactory. The population of this country has increased by over 5,000,000 since 1913; there are 5,000,000 more mouths to feed; and, as has been pointed out, the war risks to-day are infinitely greater than they were in 1914. And yet we are producing, practically speaking, very little more than we were producing in 1913. That is a situation to which we cannot be indifferent from the point of view of national safety. But to my mind the point of view of national physique and national health is just as important as that of national safety. The drift from the land continues. I was sorry to hear the Minister make light of that feature of the situation this afternoon; he dismissed it with some such phrase as "It is not the only criterion." Surely, it is one of the most important factors in the whole situation. How can we continue to be a healthy nation, a properly balanced nation, or a nation in a sound condition, when less than 5 per cent. of our population earn their livelihood by the land? Really, that is a sort of figure that ought to keep my right hon. Friend awake at night, instead of his dismissing it with an epigram, as he did.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
My Noble Friend has misinterpreted what I said. I was dealing with the figures of production, and I said that in my judgment it was a fallacy to relate the number of men employed on the land to the volume of food produced, the fact being that, although there were fewer men employed on the land, production has actually gone up. I regret as much as my Noble Friend or anyone else does the fact that there are not more men employed on the land. Our policy is designed to try to get them back by increasing the prosperity of the industry. I was merely speaking in a statistical sense when I pointed out that to say that fewer men employed on the 1406 land means a decline in production is a fallacy.
§ Viscount Wolmer
I agree with that statement, and I am very glad to have my right hon. Friend's assurance that that is all he meant by that remark. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that mechanisation of farms ought not to mean any reduction in employment. Of course, one of the greatest examples of that is to be found in the Ford farms near Dagenham, which are very highly mechanised and which employ far more men per acre than any ordinary farm. I know, too, that on my own farm, where I have, as far as my capital resources allowed, carried out a very considerable degree of mechanisation, it certainly has not meant any reduction in my labour bill. Therefore, mechanisation ought to mean increased production, but not decreased employment. It is because the increase in production as compared with 1913 is so small, and because the decrease in employment is so great, that I think we must describe the situation as very serious.
Therefore, although I acknowledge to the full all that the Government have done, it is clear that they have not done enough. I would put it to my right hon. Friend in this way, that they have really tried to bridge a 12-foot stream with a 10-foot plank. It is no answer to those who criticise that policy to say that all who went before have had planks only seven feet long. The remedies brought forward, although in the right direction, are not sufficient to solve the problem, and the questions that the House of Commons has to answer in all seriousness are whether we want a prosperous agriculture; whether we want to develop agriculture in this country; whether we want to put more people on the land, or to keep on the land those who are already there? Listening to the speeches made in these Debates, one would say at once that all these questions were answered in the affirmative; they always are; but we all know perfectly well that none of these results can be achieved unless farmers are given a price for their produce which will enable them to farm at a profit. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) put the whole matter in a nutshell. It is no use shirking that issue; it all comes down to the question of price. If you can give a fair 1407 price, you will get the food produced in this country, you will get a prosperous agriculture, more employment, and a drift back from the towns to the country.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that there ought to be no antagonism between the towns and the country in this respect; we are all in the same boat. I would say to those hon. Members opposite who cheered the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that, if they cheer him to-day, I very much hope that to-morrow, when the Government bring forward their next plan of giving the farmer a better price, they will not try to make political capital out of it. We have seen a great deal too much of that in the past.
With regard to what the hon. Member for Don Valley said about our spending power, I agree with him to a very large extent, but I would like to put to him this question: Does he suggest that our spending power in this country is inferior to the spending power of the German working man, or of the French working man? We all know that it is greatly superior. And yet Germany and France, and, in fact, all civilised countries in the world, have a far higher proportion of their populations working on the land than we have. Therefore, it is not merely a question of spending power.
As regards what the hon. Member said about marketing schemes, again I agree to a very large extent. Marketing schemes are excellent, and I have always been a strong supporter of them. But they will not solve the difficulty without the right price. I should very much like to hear an answer to this question from some hon. Member of the Socialist party during the Debate. I hope that some hon. Member representing the co-operative movement will speak, because the co-operatives are among the biggest farmers in the whole country. I do not know how many acres they are farming at present, but a few years ago they were farming over 60,000 acres; and they were making, and are continuing to make, colossal losses out of their farming activities. They are doing that with all the advantages of cheap buying, and selling in large quantities. There is no marketing scheme which could give to any body of 1408 farmers such good marketing facilities as are enjoyed by the farms owned by the co-operative societies, yet they are running their farms year by year at a heavy loss. If that is so, how can marketing schemes by themselves solve the agricultural problem?
Two most successful pieces of legislation by the National Government in regard to agriculture—although they are different in their importance—to my mind are the Wheat Act and the hops scheme. The wheat policy has achieved its declared object with an absolute minimum of friction. We owe the adoption of that policy to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise). I would remind the Committee that when the policy was framed in its details, it was carefully framed so as to provide a certain average wheat acreage, and no more. I make this suggestion to the Government, because I do not want to criticise without offering suggestions. It would be easy to alter the balance arranged under the Wheat Act scheme so that in fact a very much greater acreage could be brought under wheat. That could be done with the existing machinery. Possibly it might require further legislation—I do not know—but it could be done with very little friction, and it would at once bring more employment on the land and be a very great help to agriculture. I believe the wheat acreage of this country could be doubled, with great advantage to the safety and the welfare of the country, and at a cost which would not be felt more than the cost of the present system.
Another question I would like to ask. Why cannot the principle of the Wheat Act be increasingly extended to meat? I think the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs in that connection were very significant. Why should not we increasingly make foreign meat pay a levy to assist in the production of meat in this country? It is only by similar methods that you are going to increase production, increase employment on the land, and bring about agricultural prosperity. The hops scheme is a very small example, but a very successful scheme. That has been conducted on the principle of having an agreed price between the consumer and the producer. It has been easy in this case, because the consumers are organised. You have there an agreed 1409 price and an agreed quantity. It has been proved possible to fix that every year, with the result that you have eliminated the whole of the glut waste and you have been able to pay the growers a fair price, which has been remunerative to the efficient farmer, and to supply hops to the brewers at a price that is fair. That policy also is capable of development. It could be developed and extended in a good many branches of the fruit industry, but not without energetic Government action. I do not believe you will get the farmers themselves putting up another marketing board at the present moment, because they consider they have been let down over the Milk Board and the Pigs Board. I do not know anything about the Pigs Board, because I am not a pig producer myself, but I am a milk producer, and I say definitely that the Milk Board have never had a fair deal. They have never had the same protection as is given to the Potato Board or the Hops Board.
In that connection, I would like to take up a point made by other hon. Members in regard to the Dominions. I cannot see why there should be any friction with the Dominions on this matter. The Dominions have never contested the rightness or the propriety of our giving a preference to our own producers first, before we think of the Empire. That is what they do themselves. They give us preference over the foreigner, but they give their own producers preference over us. That is the principle of Imperial Preference. All that we are asking is that you apply the same principle to agriculture here. If you did, it would make milk production profitable. You will never solve the agricultural problem until you have done for poultry, meat, milk and fruit, what is done for potatoes and hops—that is, to give them a fair price, at which they can produce at a reasonable profit and employ their labour to the full. If you do that you will get all the agricultural produce in this country that the land is capable of producing, and you will be taking one of the most effective measures that can be taken to safeguard this country. It is merely a question of whether you are prepared to pay the price.
I would like to draw attention to what the Labour Government of New Zealand have done for their farmers. The New Zealand farmers are dependent on an ex- 1410 port trade. The Government of New Zealand have guaranteed them a price which makes it possible for them to carry on. It is only by that method that the industry can be supported here. Every other country in Europe has guaranteed prices in one form or another for its agriculture. I think that no other country in the world has neglected its agriculture in the way we have in the last few years, and although I know the Government have done a great deal, they have not done enough. If they would only do what is necessary, and produce the 12-foot plank to bridge the 12-foot stream, they would find public opinion in their favour.
While I am surveying agricultural problems as a whole, there is another matter which I must mention. There is no more effective assistance that the Government could give to agriculture than the redressing of the present inequitable and unscientific manner in which Death Duties are raised on agricultural land. You are spending large sums in subsidies, and doing what you can in this direction and another, and at the same time you are allowing the capital resources of agriculture in England to be eaten away by a system which is unscientific and unjust. It is unscientific and unjust because landowners are taxed on a theoretical value of the land which they can never realise as long as it is devoted to agriculture It seems insane that, for £2,000,000 a year, you are allowing the capital to be drained out of agriculture. It is simply a question of the Government having the courage to do what it must realise is the right thing to remedy the evil. I think the Government have been too timid in this matter. They must, and do, know what is required to put agriculture on its feet and to restore prosperity to the land. I ask them to take their courage in both hands, and bring forward a policy which they believe to be adequate for the purpose. If they did, public opinion would rally to their side.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. de Rothschild
We have listened to a very interesting speech, in which the Noble Lord has praised the Government for their enterprise and diligence in looking after agriculture and, in the same breath, criticised them for their lack of courage in carrying out their policy. I do not propose to follow him on that 1411 line. I would like to restrict myself to one aspect of the agricultural problem, which I consider at the present time to be of the utmost importance. Many hon. Members will remember a very interesting letter which appeared in the "Times" a few weeks ago, from Sir Daniel Hall, in which he pointed out some of the things that have been pointed out in this Debate by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), and which have been conceded by the Minister, namely, the number of acres that have gone out of cultivation and the sore straits which much of the agricultural grass land of this country is in. Sir Daniel Hall puts forward a large and embracing scheme, which can be summed up as nationalisation under a Government corporation of a large part of our agricultural reserves. This was turned down by the Government, in answer to a question put a few days ago in the House of Commons.
I notice that Sir Daniel Hall, amongst other reasons which he adduced for this means of improving our grass land, and also our arable land, adduced the lack of capital of the farmers of this country. It is mainly on that point that I wish to dwell on this occasion. Sir Daniel Hall emphasised the handicap which was imposed on so many of the efficient farmers because of their lack of capital, and especially as this affected the younger people who went into farming without any capital at all. Many other agricultural authorities support this point of view. Many members of the National Farmers' Union have often written on the subject. They all agree that a sound credit scheme is necessary, in order to increase the efficiency of the industry and enable it to take advantage of the results of science and education. Since the War two credit Acts have been passed in order to encourage investments in the agricultural industry. The first is the Act of 1922. That Act, as the Committee will remember, was a dead letter from the outset. It was based on co-operation, and, although co-operation is beginning to take hold of the agricultural community now, in those days co-operation was anathema, and the Act failed. In 1928 another Agricultural Credits Act was brought in. Its purpose 1412 was to enable agriculture to obtain long-and short-term credits on a sound basis. I will deal first with the provision for long-term credits. These, according to the Act, were to be obtained by the mortgage of land and fixed assets with the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation which was founded at that time. In this corporation the Government participated to the extent of £650,000, which was lent free of interest for 60 years.
These provisions for long-term credit have met with some success. We all appreciate the difficulties which may have faced the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, and I do not in any way wish to criticise its general administration and policy. In view of the financial interests which have been taken in it by the Government, I feel that a discussion of its achievements is well within the purview of this discussion. If one looks at the accounts of the Corporation, one finds that at the end of 1937 there had been advanced to farmers and agriculturists a sum of £12,500,000, and this was secured on land valued at £19,500,000 and extending over, roughly, 850,000 acres. That is a moderately successful record, and when I say "moderately," it is for two reasons. First, if we look at the total value of British agricultural production we find that, according to the statement which the Minister made to-day, it amounts to £250,000,000, and £12,500,000 compared with that is but a small sum. The second reason is that the Ministerial inquiry—and here I want to go back to 1926—into agricultural credits showed that at that time the joint stock companies had made advances in the form of mortgages on land and fixed assets totalling £26,000,000. Again, 412,500,000 is not a very remarkable figure in comparison with what the banks themselves lent, whether this be new money which has been advanced, or whether it is in substitution for bank advances.
There is another feature of the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation which has struck me as rather peculiar and worthy of notice. The company still holds to-day £2,000,000 of available lending money, money which it cannot lend, and yet we all know that the industry is badly in need of capital. Will the Minister, or whoever replies to-night, explain this anomaly? Is it that the farmer is not attracted by the terms of the Agricultural 1413 Mortgage Corporation, the interest which it requires of 4½ per cent., which is fixed over a period for repayment? Does the farmer still prefer the terms offered by the joint stock banks? I wonder whether the Corporation could not charge a lower rate of interest. It is a question which I have often been asked by many of my constituents, both farmers and fruit growers. The security that is offered is large. The Corporation advances £,15 per acre, and that is, taking into account all buildings as well, surely a very remarkable security. In order to show that this is so, let us look at the very high value that the ordinary money market puts on the security. The recent Stock Exchange quotation for the Corporation stock shows a yield of 3¾per cent.—only s per cent. more than on Government stock of the same period of life.
Taking the date of 23rd June last, I find that the 4 per cent. Funding Loan, which has the same life within a year, was quoted at an average of £113, with a yield of £3 3s. 3d., the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation debentures were quoted at £,118, with a yield of £,3 13s. 9d., and the 4½ per cent. debentures were quoted at £111, with a yield of £3 14s. 6d. It is probable, therefore, that the Corporation as it now stands, could borrow to-day at 3¾ per cent. It is well known that the Corporation carries a burden, and that burden is the long-term stocks which have been issued by the Corporation at 5 per cent. and 4½ per cent. But could not the finances of the Corporation also be revised in that respect, and would it not be possible to give the farmer the benefit of the easier money conditions which prevail to-day? When the Corporation was first set up it borrowed at 5 per cent. and lent at 5¼ per cent. It could borrow to-day, I believe, at 31£34 per cent., and could it not lend at 4 per cent.? Thus we would find that not only would the advances be increased, but the profits of the Corporation as well, and this might set off the loss which is involved at present in the 5 per cent. and the 4½ per cent, stock. It is easy to appreciate the difficulties which are involved, and I appreciate and realise that the Corporation has made some concessions to farmers who borrowed at 5 per cent. in the past and permitted a conversion lately to 4¼ per cent. So much for the long-term loans.
1414 The farmers feel that with regard to the short-term credits the provisions of the 1928 Act have been a complete failure. The purpose of these provisions, the Committee will remember, was to enable farmers to obtain credit from joint stock banks and to mortgage stock and crops, whereas the long-term credit was placed upon land and buildings. The position previous to the Act was that there was only one way by which an effective charge could be created on the stock, and that was by a bill-of-sale. The bill-of-sale would then have to be registered, but it could be advertised, and thus the position of the borrower become known at large. The result was that the finger of his competitor was pointed at him and he therefore avoided this source of credit. The 1928 Act, when promulgated, tried to remedy the difficulty which was created by the publicity of the bill-of-sale. It provided that these mortgages of stock could be entered into only by the joint stock banks themselves, and, further, the Act provided that the mortgages were not to be entered in public registers. It provided for a special register to be set up at the Land Registry, and that could be inspected only on payment of a fee. Furthermore, there were to be no advertisements or publication of any documents.
Professor Orwin, who has studied this matter very deeply, has related the result of these provisions. He stated that in many cases what happened was that the banks took mortgages on farmers' chattels as security for money already advanced, and not as security for new money, and the result immediately was that the merchants who provided the farmer with seed or his implements employed their protection societies to inspect the register of mortgages, and they withdrew their credit from farmers and executed mortgages in favour of the banks. Professor Orwin concluded that the 1928 Act had made the farmers' short-term credit position not better, but worse, and he was supported in this by many agricultural authorities, such as Sir Christopher Tumor. To-day, the position of the industry is the same as it was before. It is largely dependent for its trading capital on the banks, and more especially on the merchants and dealers who allow credit. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley has painted a gloomy picture of the farmer harassed by the banks and by 1415 the dealers. I will not dispute with him that there are many cases of hardship, but, on the whole, I believe, that the farmers will say that the majority of the banks and the merchants are sympathetic, but the position is unsatisfactory.
Let us look at the position where credit is obtained from merchants. There the farmer does not know how much the credit costs him altogether. He does not know how much he has paid for the credit, and often in this way obtains credit on very costly terms by paying much more for his goods. We all appreciate that the merchant himself has no security, whereas the bank has, but the merchant is quite likely to recall the money which is owing to him at any time, and this limits the freedom of the farmer to trade with whom he likes, to sell his stock when, where and at what price he chooses. As the result of all these disadvantages there is a widespread shortage of working capital, and this most seriously affects the efficiency of production throughout agriculture. It militates against good husbandry all round, especially on small farms and small holdings. The smallholder and the small farmer arc often unable to feed their stock properly and to keep it until maturity or until a good market is available. They must sell when they need cash, and this need is one of the root causes of the seasonal price fluctuations. Just as the shortage of capital plays a considerable part in the disorder of agricultural marketing, it also influences the production side of the industry. The farmer is often unable to buy adequate supplies of fertilisers, and the beneficent gift of basic slag made by the Government is not enough at the present time.
The shortage of capital further influences the choice of crops. The farmer is obliged to grow cash crops when good husbandry demands non-cash crops which would be consumed by stock on the farm to the advantage of the land. Sugar beet is a well-known example of this. This is a crop which is popular among small farmers and smallholders, but often it is not suitable. It requires very heavy work and depends in a great measure upon favourable weather conditions. The finances of the crop are attractive. The farmer gets the seed for the crop on credit from the factory. The price is fixed 1416 beforehand and the farmer knows when he will be paid. This sometimes outweighs considerations of good farming, and the land is often impoverished by too frequent sugar-beet crops. The Ministry's Survey of 1927, the very useful Orange Book, disclosed this unsatisfactory condition and recognised it. The Act of 1928 was passed as a result of that survey. We find that the conditions which the Act was introduced to remedy still exist to-day. The Minister has been asked by other hon. Members of this House as well as by myself to institute a new inquiry. I have urged this matter of a Departmental Committee inquiry. The Minister has answered that he is discussing the matter with the National Farmers' Union and the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. It is a very complicated and difficult matter. The Minister can see that it is a difficult task, and if it is a complicated matter, surely, there is all the more reason for a full inquiry. It would enable him to canvass all possible methods for erecting a sound credit structure for agriculture in order that capital may be utilised as it is in all other industries.
What is chiefly needed is some agricultural equivalent of the joint stock bank financing in industry. Other countries have such machinery. Why cannot we do the same? If the land of this country is to be used to its best advantage we must give credit facilities, and those effective measures may well require some Government assistance, whether in the form of loan or Treasury guarantee. I suggest that this might well be justified, because the charge on the State would be small compared with the assistance which is being given to agriculture in many other ways. I also submit that it would be fundamentally sound to do this in agriculture, and certainly much sounder than in many other ways in which it has been put into practice. It would improve the efficiency of the industry all round and the productivity of the land would benefit. It would be widespread and equitable, much more so than the piecemeal methods adopted from time to time. It would help to a more profitable return for the farmer, not by increasing prices to the consumer but by reducing the cost of production.
May I say a few words on the speech of the Prime Minister at Kettering, which has been so much discussed to-day? 1417 am not going into the question whether the Prime Minister has become a Free Trader. He conveyed the impression that home production can be expanded only by forcing up prices and by a policy of further restrictions on foreign trade. This he deprecates. But there is a vast potential market in this country for those things which our soil is well fitted to grow, and which our climate is pre-eminently fitted to produce. We know that this has been strikingly revealed of late by recent investigations into the standard of nourishment of the poor sections of the community. This market, however, cannot be made available to British agriculture by a policy of higher prices as advocated by the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer). A more effective policy would be the expansion of the market and more profitable cultivation by the reduction of the costs of production and distribution. Towards such a policy the creation of a sound credit system for agriculture could make a substantial contribution.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Major Sir Ralph Glyn
As many hon. Members desire to take part in the Debate, I will confine my remarks to as brief a compass as possible. The interesting part of the Debate has been the clear evidence from all parts of the House that at last every party realises the plight of agriculture and wishes to do something to help it. I was rather disappointed with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, because although it was a good review of the past it did not give those of us who are interested and whose constituents are interested in agriculture, much immediate hope. I would ask my right hon. Friend when he replies whether he could not say some words of comfort in regard to the sheep trade. Those who know Scotland, the West of Scotland, and the sheep districts in England realise that the position is extremely serious, because not only has the price fallen for the meat but the wool situation is really desperate.
One aspect of the matter which is not indirectly connected with the defence schemes might be considered by the Minister as one of immediate policy, and that is whether something could be done to increase the amount of food storage available for home-produced mutton and lamb. There can be no doubt about it 1418 that a great many men who call themselves butchers to-day are really fleshers. They do not do any butchering. They get their supplies from cold storage depots, and it is very handy for them to distribute. Moreover, they do not run the risk of large losses and, owing to the fact that we have now cheap refrigerators, which are excellent things in the butcher's shop, the urge is not to buy home-produced meat but definitely to get meat from overseas.
It is astonishing that the Ministry of Agriculture have never made any suggestion about doing something to tide over the difficulty in regard to the glut which is inevitable in certain districts at certain times of the year by providing cold storage for a far better product as chilled meat than is now obtainable. We are told that Canterbury lamb is the best in the world. That is because in New Zealand they have adopted a system of advertising and the use of a slogan. British agriculture has been sadly backward in realising the advantage of advertisement. If we advertised our products a little bit more we should find that when we went to the market to sell our products in competition with others we should get along a great deal better.
There are only 34,000,000 cubic feet of cold storage in this country, and a very large proportion of it is owned by the great combines, who are interested in importing into this country meat of every description from overseas. The meat goes into these big depots, it is transferred by motor lorry or by refrigerator cars on the railway to other centres and it is putting the ordinary butcher out of business to a great extent in the rural districts. The Government might consider how important it is to have a superfluity of cold storage; because if it is the case that some of the defence schemes include what is called the slaughter policy in order to save tonnage by not having to convey to these islands feedingstuff for cattle, which in the aggregate amount to a greater weight than the actual amount of meat that is eventually going to be eaten by human beings, that slaughter policy in an emergency would be grossly wasteful, because you would have nowhere to put the meat that you had accumulated through that slaughter policy. It is essential to have a survey of the existing cold storage and its location, and we ought to try to have it sited in such places as will 1419 enable the glut to be spread out, and to give us what we want, not a high price but a guaranteed price, which would be of such a character as to enable the market to be extended so that more and more people in this country would be able to include British-produced meat in their daily diet.
We have to read the Riot Act, perhaps, rather severely to some of the importers of meat, because it is certain that the recent policy of the Government of New Zealand in giving the New Zealand farmer a guaranteed price has made for the far greater prosperity of the New Zealand producer than of the wretched producer in this country. If the motto of Ottawa was that the British farmer should come first, the Dominion farmer second and the foreigner third, there is a good chance for the Government to show that they believe in that doctrine and that they will do something to stop this great inflow which is ruining the British sheep districts. It has produced a situation, which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) can corroborate, of such a serious character that it is very difficult to know what the next step can be to save these hard working men from extinction.
I hope the Minister of Agriculture will carry out the advice offered to him by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) and have an immediate survey made of the mortgage system and agricultural credits. I can substantiate nearly everything he said from my personal experience and that of my friends in Berkshire. Unless something of that sort is done soon we may have such a condition of things, such as land going to waste from lack of capital, that it will be almost impossible to pull it round. That is why I find myself in very cordial agreement with the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who always makes a good speech on this subject. Without wishing to throw any bouquets to the other side of the House, I know of no hon. Member who seems to take so much trouble to ascertain facts and to put them over clearly as does my hon. Friend the Member for the Don Valley.
This is a matter so serious that it should not be one of party politics. It is so urgent and so vital for our future pros- 1420 perity that the time has surely come when all of us should co-operate and do our best towards effecting a solution of the problem, We all of us wish well to that highly skilled man, the British agricultural labourer. We want to see him well paid and we want to see him better housed, and I have yet to meet the farmer who has not the same idea. With regard to the fanner who was quoted by an hon. Member, all I can say is that such a farmer ought to be hounded out of the Farmers' Union and out of the industry. I believe that it is the earnest desire of the farmers that we should not only retain the good men we have in agriculture but that we should make it attractive to others.
I do not know whether the Minister is aware of the serious difficulties that are now encountered by the flock masters in obtaining shepherds. On my own farm I have a man who is of the fourth generation of shepherds. He is the most highly skilled man I ever came across, and is greatly interested in his work. He has an inherited interest, which has come down to him from 1720, and he would be a fool who could not gain knowledge by talking to such a man and learning from him. What we want is to give a chance to these agricultural workers and those who employ them. It is no use making speeches, which sound either optimistic or pessimistic. We must have action and we must have it quick.
I was very disappointed with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, because as I have said it was an excellent review but it did not deal with those sides of agriculture which are so vital and which are so interbound with defence. The matter of food storage is surely something that is fairly simple. When I asked a question about it the other day, I was told that no information was available. The information had to be obtained eventually from outside sources. I should have thought that it was about time that the Government should know exactly, if they do not know it already, what is the available space in these frozen depots, and that they should see that some outside organisation, if it cannot be done direct, should be established so that we may obtain what we desire, and that is the best British food market, handled in as easy a way as it is to handle imported meat, and to ad- 1421 vertise it, and see that it is sold as far as possible direct between the producer and the consumer, cutting out as far as we can a good many of those who want to make intervening profit.
Many a small farmer in many towns in England would have gone under long ago had there not been a butcher in the local village who knew his circumstances and would buy a beast now and again to help him but, and it will be a sad day if the association between the country butcher and those who occupy the land is swept away by great corporations that come down into those districts. That association is something for which we must work if we are to maintain British agriculture at a high level. There is not much time. We must not lose this opportunity of helping men who are the backbone of the greatest industry in this country.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin
I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) on the latter part of his speech. The impression which the Minister made on me was that he was quite satisfied with the position and with what he has done. That is quite contrary to the impression which I receive from time to time when I meet my farmer friends. It seemed to me that the Minister was not only satisfied with what he had himself done, but was also highly satisfied with the speech which the Prime Minister made at Kettering last week. I heard from a farmer friend of mine that the weather was bad enough at the Royal Show at Cardiff last week, but that the Prime Minister's speech completely damped the ardour of everyone who had anything to do with the Royal Show. The best contribution which the Government could make towards solving the problems which confront agriculture is to increase the purchasing power of the workers. It is common knowledge that large masses of our people have to exist on low wages or low incomes, particularly is that the case when men have to live on their unemployment pay or on the means test.
I have been reading recently two pamphlets which have been produced by the university at Aberystwyth. They have been very carefully written after a close examination of the conditions in the Rhondda Valley. The first is headed 1422 "Household Budgets in the Rhondda Valley," and the second "The Consumption of milk stuffs and meat stuffs in the Rhondda Valley." Just a reading of these two pamphlets is sufficient proof to show that where people have additional money to spend they spend a greater part of it on food. Many of my hon. Friends will agree with me that West Wales farmers were never better off than when the tinplate workers and the steel workers and the colliers of Glamorgan-shire were working full time. These workers are good buyers; they buy the best; they buy fresh meat and eggs; and if prosperity were to return to industry the farmers, too, would be prosperous. It seems to me the great difficulty is that no Government has settled exactly what part British agriculture shall play in the national economy, whether agriculture is to look after itself or whether they should really make it prosper. The National Government have come down between these two extremes and they have supported British agriculture just sufficiently to keep it alive.
I always watch the Minister of Agriculture when he uses the phrase "a balanced agriculture." With very great respect it seems to me to be complete nonsense. No one knows better than the Minister of Agriculture that what he calls a balanced agriculture is simply the result of a series of crises. Every time the Minister comes up against some difficult problem he rushes to deal with it. In the first place it was milk, then it was livestock, next potatoes, and yesterday it was poultry. It seems to me that a balanced agriculture is nothing but a series of jerks and spasms. In my opinion the farmers of this country should be left in no doubt at all that the industry is considered of great national importance and cannot under any circumstances be allowed to go into decay.
There is no royal road to bring prosperity to the industry. You will have to attack it from four or five different angles. For instance, a most important part could be played by the Board of Education in providing the right type of education for the countryside, in not reducing the level of the standard of education to the rural child. It seems to me also that the Minister of Health must play his part in providing the right type of good homes for the workers. Then also the Minister of 1423 Labour has his part to play. To-morrow we are dealing with the question of holidays with pay. How ridiculous it would be to fix three consecutive days for agricultural workers while all other workers will be settled with seven. The War Office has its part to play in seeing that the land it takes for military purposes is not, as in the past, the best agricultural land. One man and one man alone is capable of giving direction and purpose to the activities of all these Ministers, and that is the Prime Minister. With great respect I do not think the present Prime Minister is the man for this job, neither from his background, his upbringing, or his outlook. He is a townsman. Let me read one sentence from his speech at Kettering:If we were to grow at home all the food we need the first thing would be that we should ruin Empire and foreign countries who are dependent on our markets.The logical consequence of that sentence is that it would be better for British agriculture to die because the less food we produce in this country the more certain it is that we shall not bring ruin to the Empire or to foreign countries. I would ask the Committee to consider how agriculture stands to-day. In spite of the review which the Minister gave us, no one in agriculture is satisfied with its present condition. We have heard a speech from the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) and from the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who sit on different sides of the House, showing how utterly futile is the present policy of the Government in view of the possibility of war. The present policy of the Government is restriction of output. Let us consider three commodities—milk, potatoes and wheat. According to the White Paper, after a certain gallonage, the farmer produces milk at his own peril, and practically at his own cost. In the case of potatoes, clearly there is restriction. The acreage for wheat is clearly restricted.
I suggest to the Minister that, instead of this policy of restriction, there should be immediately a policy of expansion. In the case of potatoes, for example, last Sunday I was told by one of the greatest authorities on potatoes in this country that it is possible to produce a sort of potato which will give 14 tons to the acre. 1424 In view of the great success of the experiment at Wisbech, why not come out with a policy of "Grow as many potatoes as you can" and repeat the experiment of Wisbech all over the country? The Government could not possibly lose money on potatoes. Similarly, in the case of milk, Mr. Foster, speaking at Nottingham on 21st May, said:There should be a policy of increasing the production of food at home. It is the only safe way. The Government should co-operate with the producers of this country immediately to lay the foundations for increasing the cow population by another 1,000,000. It would provide a great deal of extra employment, enable our farms to be used to a point nearer to their maximum capacity, and would go a long way towards giving a sense of greater security.There we have the head of the Milk Marketing Board urging the Government to see whether they cannot find some way of increasing the amount of milk that is produced. No hon. Member would suggest that if more milk were produced, and could be marketed properly, there would not be a market for it. I wish to support the appeal made to the Minister that there should be an increase in grassland. Is it not a shame that out of 4,500,000 acres of agricultural land in Wales, there are only 16,000 acres which are first class? The farmers know that if they were to produce potatoes, milk, wheat and other commodities to capacity, it would mean that they would all be heading for the bankruptcy court. Not long ago, the Glamorgan farmers met and discussed this question, and in sheer desperation it was suggested that the right arid proper policy for farmers to pursue was to decrease production by 10 per cent. That was a policy of sheer desperation. It seems to me that along with greater expansion, the necessary corollary is a guaranteed price.
Price is the centre and core of this problem. A guaranteed price was described in a pre-election pamphlet entitled "Guaranteed Prices: Why and How," by Mr. Walter Nash, M.P., now the Minister of Finance in New Zealand, in the following terms:To stabilise the minimum income of the farmer so that he can get his working expenses and enjoy a standard of life related to the time, energy, skill and experience used by him in producing the commodity necessary for the balanced progress of the Dominion.If that is possible—and it is, for it is an accomplished fact—in New Zealand under 1425 a Labour Government, why cannot the Government come out with a broad, comprehensive policy? My criticism of the Minister of Agriculture is that he is too full of fear. He is not prepared to chance anything; he is not prepared to come out with something that will appeal to the imagination as well as to the pockets of the farmers. Now he has the chance. Let him say to the dairy farmers, "Produce as much milk as you can and we will see that you will not lose by it." Let him say to the people who grow potatoes, "Produce as many potatoes as you can and we will see that you will not lose by doing so." If the Government went in for a national policy of cheap food, the producers of that cheap food ought not to suffer. If the Government will give guaranteed prices for farm produce, then what happens to the food afterwards is a matter of complete indifference to the producers. If the Government were then to go in for a large experiment in the distressed areas, the farmers would be the first people to be delighted; but they cannot produce food and go on producing it at prices which are below the costs of production. For that reason, I hope that the Government will tell the farmers, and tell them straight, what they expect from them. Once they do that, I am certain they will have an answer to that call which will not only be useful in times of peace, but also in times of distress.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Drewe
I think the Debate has shown one thing, and that is that on all sides of the Committee there is a feeling that the time has come when British agriculture should be put on such a footing that the land can be used to its maximum capacity, that we should get back some of the men who have left the land, and that the industry should be put in a position in which it can pay those men the sort of wage which they are entitled to expect for their skill. I think that, generally, that has been shown to be the wish of the Committee. I particularly welcomed the statement in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture in which he referred to the Empire Conference of Primary Producers which was recently held in Sydney. I had the privilege of being one of the members of the United Kingdom delegation, which was so brilliantly led by my hon. and gal- 1426 lant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir R. Dorman-Smith). I am sure hon. Members regret that, owing to indisposition, my hon. and gallant Friend is unable to be here this evening to give an account of what happened at the conference; but I think that all those who were present will admit freely that it was due to his great ability and personality that we were able to achieve some measure of success at the conference.
I wish at the outset to put a question to 'my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. When he was referring to the conference, he used one word which caused me some anxiety. He said that in cases where action is desirable to secure stable conditions in the United Kingdom market, the Government would prefer that the responsibility for such action should be assumed by the producers. I was very anxious when I heard that word "prefer" because we feel that there is a real policy in the Sydney resolutions and I hope that my right hon. Friend when he replies will tell us that it is the intention of the Government to use this policy to the fullest extent and put it into operation at the earliest possible moment. The initiative for this Empire Conference came from the New South Wales Government. They invited Canada, all the Australian States, New Zealand, South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, and the United Kingdom to take part. All those countries accepted the invitation with the exception of South Africa which was not in a position to send a delegation at that particular time.
The invitation to the United Kingdom came to the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales. It was felt by the Union that this was an opportunity which might never recur, of getting farmers in the Dominions to understand the importance of British agriculture and the fact that British agriculture was still this country's greatest industry and largest employer of labour. It was also felt that this was an opportunity to lay the foundations of a real Empire agricultural policy. I believe that the value of the purchasing power of primary producers is being more and more recognised in this country. The 1931 census here showed 1,353,000 persons engaged in agriculture. That figure unfortunately is falling each year. But if one considers the primary producers in this country, and in all the 1427 Empire countries and in foreign countries like the Argentine and the Scandinavian countries, one must appreciate the fact that if something could be done to put that great mass of primary producers on a profit-making basis it would lay the foundations of a steady world trade. This was the objective we had in mind when we went to Sydney.
The Conference was certainly unique, and I believe will prove to be historic. It was the first Empire Conference of primary producers ever held. It came as a considerable shock to the Dominions producers to learn that we in this country employed more people in agriculture than were employed in agriculture in Canada and New Zealand put together, or indeed in Australia and New Zealand put together. I do not wish to go in great detail into the proceedings of the Conference. But I wish to say that as a result of our deliberations the Empire delegates were absolutely willing to give us an unqualified first place in our home market. That had been talked about for some time. It was first brought out at Ottawa and the delegates at Sydney believed that we already enjoyed first place in the home market. I think they honestly believed that because we had proximity to the market, with the advantage of being able to place fresh food on the market, that, in itself, gave us first place. We had to disabuse their minds of that idea. They now understand what we mean by first place and, as I say, are perfectly willing to give us that unqualified right.
Secondly, they agreed unanimously on the principle of setting up commodity councils, producer-controlled and producer-financed, to deal with various commodities such as mutton and lamb, dairy produce, pigs, apples and pears. As the conference went on it was realised by the delegates that in many commodities saturation point was being reached in this country if it had not already been reached. Further it was realised that there was a growing volume of public opinion in this country which wished for some expansion of British agriculture as a contribution to national Defence. I would emphasise that point. We put it to the accredited representatives of the Dominions at Sydney that in view of our immense expenditure on Defence, we felt that British agriculture 1428 must play its part. Every one of the delegates agreed with us that that was our right, and indeed our duty. They were prepared to agree that we must expand in this country for Defence purposes even though it might mean some regulation of imports. It was further brought home to them that owing to the Government's fertility campaign, now in full swing, there must be some increase in the production of food in this country and that the grasslands campaign in particular must result in an increase of our cattle and sheep. They recognised the existence of these facts and they were willing to meet us. I think I can best give a picture of public opinion in Australia at the end of the conference by two extracts from the Press of that country. On the day after the conference had unanimously approved of the resolution, the following statement from Canberra was published in the "Sydney Morning Herald":The Prime Minister, Mr. Lyons, commenting to-day on the decisions of the Empire Producers' Conference emphasised the importance of expanding foreign markets. 'If Australian primary industries are to expand,' he said, 'a wider and firmer footing must be attained in foreign markets.' He added that this was bound up with the forthcoming trade talks and he commended the conference for its appreciation of the importance of the question. Mr. Lyons promised that the recommendations of the conference would be carefully considered by the Commonwealth Government. Australia as a large producing country, he said, had to face the fact that the United Kingdom market had its limits and if there must be regulation of supplies, it was obviously better that the regulation should be voluntarily accomplished by the producers than that it should he established by official action in Great Britain. The Government therefore regarded the proposal to establish commodity councils as extremely important.That was the view of the Prime Minister of Australia. More remarkable than that, however, was the expression of public opinion contained in a leading article in the "Sydney Daily Telegraph" on 6th March:The British Empire Producers' Conference has made an important contribution towards the problem of marketing Empire primary products. It has unanimously agreed that a regulated market is essential and that regulation should be in the hands of expert councils, controlled and financed by producers. Only in that way can disastrous gluts be avoided, new markets opened up, and a balance struck between the buying and selling capacities of each of the Dominions. For the first time Empire producers have been able to come together to evolve a balanced marketing 1429 policy. We have so long regarded the United Kingdom as the natural market for our primary products that we have tended to overlook two vital facts. One is that the British market is not capable of unlimited expansion. The other is that Britain herself is a large agricultural producer. She has £1,180,000,000 invested in home agriculture almost as much as her total investments in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Her primary industries are as important in her economy as our secondary industries are in ours. She can no more afford to import unlimited quantities of primary products than we can afford to buy her manufactures without restriction. And from the defence aspect, every ounce of food produced in Britain means so much less burden on wartime communications."That is a leading article, not from an English paper, but from an Australian paper, which I think reflected public opinion in Australia when that conference came to an end. I can claim that they thoroughly realise the position that we are faced with in this country. An impression that I think anybody who knows something of Australia and New Zealand is bound to form is that it is impossible for the United Kingdom market alone to absorb the whole of the surplus primary products of these great Dominion countries. Their main hope for expansion must lie, I think, in opening up foreign markets, but when we realise that these great countries lie in the Southern hemisphere, I believe that, taking into consideration the difference of climate here and there, it will be possible to regulate imports, having regard to our peak seasons. In that way we shall he able to get our markets protected in a reasonable way and, at the same time, to take the maximum amount of agricultural produce from the Dominions, which obviously is a thing that we all desire to do.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will give the most careful and earnest consideration to the suggestion, which we put to the Dominion delegates out there, that when commercial agreements are being negotiated with foreign countries, this country and the Empire countries as a whole might be used as one unit for bargaining purposes. That, we found, was a view to which they themselves thoroughly subscribed, and I believe that if you could establish that principle of using this country and the Dominions as one unit for commercial purposes, you would have such a powerful weapon that you would be able to force a way into foreign markets which are at present closed to us and the Dominions.
1430 The main recommendation of the Conference was to set up an Empire Council, producer - controlled and producer -financed, free from political interference, to follow the line of the Empire Beef Council, which works in connection with the International Beef Conference. The suggestion that we made was that any decisions, to be effective, must be unanimous; and, of course, there will be representatives of this country as well as of the Dominion countries on the council. We further put it to them that if we cannot get a unanimous decision, power must be left in the hands of the President of the Board of Trade to impose restrictions. That, of course, follows the present line of the Empire Beef Council, but in the statement which my right hon. Friend read out in his speech I did not hear any reference to that power being kept in the background in the hands of the President of the Board of Trade. I personally hope that it would not have to be used. I believe that if you were ready to get these commodity councils set up, when they had the whole position before them and the facts at their disposal, and when the necessary organisation had been set up in the Empire countries, it would probably work quite smoothly; but I maintain that you must have that power in reserve, and I would ask my right hon. Friend, when he comes to reply, to say whether he is willing to agree to that proposal as well. It had been my intention to say something about the way in which we considered that those commodity councils would actually be set up and function, but many other hon. Members want to speak, and so I will not refer to that now.
I believe there is a very keen desire in this country for some moderate expansion of British agriculture. There is certainly a desire that our land should be used to its fullest capacity and brought up to the highest pitch of production. I do not believe, from the experience that we had at this conference—at which there were no fewer than 30 different delegations representing Australian agriculture, two delegations representing New Zealand, two from Canada, one from Southern Rhodesia, and the one from this country—that there would be the slightest difficulty in this scheme working, even if it meant some fairly severe regulation when it is known that regulation is either for Defence purposes or for restoring the 1431 fertility of our land and using it to its maximum capacity. We found out there that they appreciated the fact that it was our duty to see that our land is in a high state of fertility.
As I see the position, I believe there are only four possible courses open to Parliament in this connection. One is to do nothing at all, in which case the industry would die pretty rapidly; the second is to use the weapon of tariffs or import levies; and the third is some arbitrary restriction by the Government. I want to say, quite definitely, from my experience with Dominion farmers, that I do not believe that, whoever went out to the Dominions, you could ever get an agreement from them with regard to a tariff, an import levy, or an arbitrary restriction by the Board of Trade. I am sure you could not get their unanimous co-operation in either of those two lines of action. I do not believe that any British Government would force a tariff or an arbitrary restriction against our Dominion countries unless there was some co-operation with them, and I believe we should not get that co-operation. There is the fourth course, and that is in accord with the resolutions which were adopted unanimously at that conference. I believe that that is the course which is open to the Government and to this House to adopt, and I hope they will adopt it, because I believe that there we can get, quite willingly, a system of regulation of our market from Empire sources which will give the maximum amount of exports from the Dominion countries that is possible for this market, and will allow our industry to expand in its natural way and enable us to use our land to the utmost capacity.
That is why I was so very glad to hear my right hon. Friend make his announcement this afternoon. I want to ask him particularly to reply to those two questions, about the word "prefer," which caused some doubt in my mind whether he is going wholeheartedly ahead with this scheme, and the other is that it appears to us to be essential that there should be this reserve power in his hands or in the hands of the Board of Trade to impose regulations or restrictions in the event of there not being unanimous agreement from the other Empire countries. This is rather a fresh policy, which has not been brought before the 1432 Committee or the House of Commons before, and I sincerely hope that hon. Members will take the opportunity of reading the report on this conference which has been issued by the National Farmers' Union, so that they can understand the whole of the business that we were trying to do out there. I believe that that puts in the hands of the Government an opportunity which they have never had before of doing something to regulate supplies from the Dominions, and when that is done, as it can be done if they are willing to do it, then, superimposed upon that, we can get, no doubt, arrangements with foreign countries by an international conference in the same way. I therefore appeal to my right hon. Friend to persuade the Government to take up this policy at the earliest possible moment, while the Dominion Governments are strongly in favour if it.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Price
I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Drewe) on his interesting speech, As one who, I understand, attended the conference in Sydney, he evidently speaks with considerable authority. The most valuable suggestion that came out of that conference was that which dealt with the creation of commodity boards. I thought I heard the hon. Member talk of them as producers' boards, on which only producers would be represented. That would be a weakness if that were the case. No doubt they will be modelled along the lines of the existing International Beef Conference which has been advising the Ministry in regard to the imports of beef. If we are to have commodity boards, and I think we should, they should be conceived on an altogether wider basis and should not include only producers. If they are to get that confidence which alone can make them a success, they must include representatives of the State and of the consumers in the countries where the products are to be sold. That is the weakness of any plan along the lines suggested by the Sydney Conference. We want something wider and something which would create greater confidence, because the success of a commodity board which would advise the Minister along the lines of controlling imports must depend on the confidence of all sections of the community.
I am not going to join with other Members in advising the Government to raise 1433 agricultural production, not because I do not agree with what has been said, but because I feel that if I were to follow that line to its logical conclusion I should fall under the ban of the Chair by referring to legislation. I would like to say a word about the sheep position, because undoubtedly it is very serious. I would like the Committee to remember that the total imports of sheep products in the first six months have not increased over the first six months of last year. Therefore, I suggest that we shall not solve the difficulty which has arisen in the sheep industry by reducing our imports on a large scale. The more one looks into it, the more one is convinced that this is a more complicated question than that. The wool position has something to do with it. There has been a collapse in the wool market, partly owing to the war in the Far East, which has affected the sheep position as it has others. Last week-end I worked out a graph of the sheep which I had sold on Gloucester market during the last five years for each season from the autumn teg prices to the fat lamb prices in the spring. It seems that we have now gone back to the position in which we were in 1933–34. There has been a steady rise in sheep prices over recent years, but I fear that under present conditions of limited consuming power the number of sheep in the country has caused the crisis. We have reached the peak of the sheep curve and we have now lapsed to the previous position. The process is very uncomfortable and there will be serious losses among sheep farmers.
We are not going to solve this question by dealing with imports. I believe that the 4th June returns will show that the number of sheep in the country has gone up considerably. We do not want to see these serious fluctuations. I am afraid that one of the causes of this fall is the fact that the retail price of mutton has been higher in the last 12 months than was the case before, and that the consumer has not been buying mutton, or rather has not bought the increase which has come on the market, owing to the rise in the number of sheep in the country. If that is the case, it again proves, what I have always maintained, that the consumer in the last resort determines the success or otherwise of this section, as of any other section, of the agricultural industry. I cannot go into any details because it would involve legisla- 1434 tion, but I maintain that the Government must look into this position still further and see what they can do to encourage the purchase of sheep products by increasing the buying power of the consumers, and what they can do also to regulate prices by commodity boards or whatever corporations can be formed for the purpose of stabilising prices and preventing these fluctuations. They are damaging to the farmers on the one hand and disconcerting to the consumers on the other.
I want to refer to the grants for land drainage which affect a portion of my constituency. I am glad to see that the grants have increased from £200,000 to £304,000. Like Oliver Twist, I am going to ask for more. Internal drainage boards in my constituency and in other parts of Gloucestershire have been in serious difficulties in the last six months. It has been found that the rateable values of their areas are not sufficient to enable them to carry out the work they need to do without a very heavy rate levied upon the occupiers. The land drainage rate has fallen as a serious hardship on the small occupiers in my constituency. The matter can be dealt with by the Minister in the shape of grants under the Agriculture Act, 1937, but, unfortunately, there is one serious difficulty.
In some of these districts in Gloucestershire, in the parts lying by the Severn, proper drainage operations cannot be carried out except in the summer. The Minister refused to give grants except during the winter, on the ground that that might lead to drawing agricultural labour away from the farms at a time when labour was wanted in the hay-making and harvesting. That means, in effect, that nothing can be done, because it is useless to attempt draining operations during the winter on the lands lying near the Severn. The matter has been considered by the National Farmers' Union and other bodies in Gloucestershire, and it is generally felt that it ought to be capable of an arrangement. Is it not possible for labour to be obtained from the Special Areas or distressed areas, or even to get local labour prior to the hay-making, say in May? By a little adjustment these difficulties could be met and a lot could be done.
I will pass now to Section H.I, dealing with the Diseases of Animals grant. I 1435 am glad to see that the grant has risen from over £600,000 to over £800,000. We all know of the serious losses due to cattle diseases, and I am convinced that as a result of these losses the cost of milk and beef production, especially milk, has been considerably raised. The bulk of the increase in the grant is applied to work in the eradication of tuberculosis, but there are other serious diseases, like mastitis and Johne's disease, which take a terrible toll of the dairy herds and, indirectly, raise the cost of production. If those diseases could be successfully dealt with, I am convinced that the costs of production could be brought down. I doubt, however, whether we are working quite on the right lines for the eradication of tuberculosis, which presents a very complex problem. The Ministry's scheme is to eliminate affected herds and to avoid contacts, but I am not sure whether action on those lines alone will solve the difficulty. In the "Farmer and Stock Breeder" a week or two ago a correspondent wrote:One of my friends with a bit of spare cash on hand cleaned up his dairy herds to earn the extra pennies. His reward was of the kind that comes to the virtuous. Prior to this his losses resulting from tuberculin examination were never great. Now, after a clear year or two, there has been a breakdown, and nearly half the milking herd has been got rid of inside 12 months.Unfortunately that is a common experience of those who are trying to eradicate tuberculosis from their herds. I think the reason for it is that we have been trying to raise the milk yield of our dairy herds, and I am very much afraid that owing to the fact that we have not considered health and stamina we have made our herds more liable to attacks of tuberculosis. After all, it is very difficult completely to eradicate contacts. It is amazing how disease seems to break out, without any contacts at all, in a self-contained herd. I believe that other animals are the cause.
§ Mr. Price
Rabbits, rats and birds; rabbits particularly—birds are not altogether free from suspicion—and certainly rats. It is very difficult to keep herds altogether free from contacts, and we have to consider other factors. In scientific investigations we always find that as soon as one problem is solved another problem comes 1436 along. The real question which the Ministry have not yet faced is the problem of trying to create a strain of cattle which will be constitutionally resistant to tuberculosis. I am very much afraid that a nemesis has overtaken our farming community by reason of the fact that for many years we have been trying to breed high milk-yielding cattle and have neglected stamina and health. The poultry breeder has done the same thing in the poultry industry, helping to bring about the present state of affairs in that industry—only breeding for high egg yields and not considering health and stamina, and we see disease rampant.
I am interested personally in this matter, and only the other day I worked out the curve of the milk yield of my dairy herd over the last 10 years. The yield went up from a figure of 400 gallons of milk per cow in a full yielding year, 1933, to 700 gallons in 1937. I also looked up the losses from Johne's disease and reactions to the tuberculin test over the same period, and they have gone up from 7 per cent. to 28 per cent., so that I have suddenly realised that I have engaged in the work of Sisyphus and that my last position is no better than my first. In the eradication campaign we must consider something else besides the elimination of contacts. The report of the Agricultural Research Council which was issued a few days ago had an interesting section, on page 221, with reference to the eradication of tuberculosis:Research work may be considered under two heads, the eradication of tuberculosis by tuberculin testing and the rearing of healthy stock, and then, thirdly, the producing of immunity by vaccination.It seems to me that the rearing of healthy stock is the most important object of all, and I want to ask whether anything is being done by the Ministry on the estate which I understand they have in Berkshire, the Compton Estate, in the investigation of animal diseases. A good opportunity is presented there of laying the foundations of stock which will resist the tuberculosis germ. There is no doubt that animal breeders and biologists discover that there are certain strains in a species which resist certain diseases. That is even true of the human species, and it is certainly true of animals. We are confronted with one of the great problems of biologists, to find out how far the in- 1437 herent characteristics of animals are dependent upon heredity and how far they are dependent upon environment.
We cannot eliminate tubercular trouble by considering environment alone, least of all by considering only one aspect of the environment problem, namely the abolition of contacts. There is another aspect which we must consider, and here I think the Government's programme of liming and slagging the land has made a certain contribution. I feel that we are producing milk on certain portions of our land in such a way as to impoverish the land in consequence, and that in that way we have been assisting the spread of certain diseases among our dairy herds. I noticed the "Times" Agricultural Correspondent said not so long ago, referring to the Leicestershire pastures, which are among the most famous of the fattening pastures of this country:Local opinion is agreed that the fattening pastures deteriorate when required to carry milking cattle. For the good of Leicestershire grass land there are too many milk churns to be seen on the roadside.I am glad to see that the land fertility programme has contributed, in the estimates which we are now considering, an increase of £1,250,000. But I am afraid of another aspect of the matter. Are the slag and the lime being well distributed over the face of the country? I am very much afraid that farmers are putting them on only their best land. They are no doubt right from their point of view, because only the best quality land will respond at first. The second-rate land does not respond nearly as well, and the law of diminishing returns comes into operation very quickly. The Government should endeavour to get a better distribution, even over the second-rate land. Where are we to be in time- of emergency if we are dependent only upon our first-quality land, and our second-rate land has deteriorated still further? The restoration of fertility to our pastures would be the best possible policy for the defence of the country in a time of emergency. It is unwise to imagine that it is a good thing to try to increase production of cereals for emergency. What we require in a time of emergency is livestock.
We shall, presumably, be able to keep the big seas, such as the Atlantic Ocean, open by our Navy, so that we can get our main cereals from America and Australia. What we shall require to build up here 1438 for a time of emergency is a large livestock industry so that it can be used when that emergency comes as a reserve of food, and, if necessary, for meat. I am certain that that is a much better policy. Our livestock, which in time of peace is dependent up to one-quarter of its total requirements upon foreign feeding stuffs, would, in time of war, manage, if we had rejuvenated our pastures and improved them, with even less imported food. As a last resort we could begin to feed on them. I am sure that that is the wisest Defence plan and I am certain that the farming community, both farmers and agricultural labourers, would cooperate on those lines if the Government would make a serious attack upon the problem.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Russell
This House and the country generally have been indebted for many years to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for his frequent incursions into the realm of agriculture. To-day he has rendered a definite service to the community by delivering a speech with which he has helped this, Committee. He has pointed out some difficulties and some defects that exist, but he did not go so far as to say that the Government had done nothing for agriculture. As a matter of fact, anyone making such an assertion would have been far from the truth; but one of the most depressing things for a Minister of Agriculture, especially at this time, is to look over the wide area of effort made by the Government and to see how little is the effect it has bad and how many difficulties have still to be overcome. It is interesting to notice that many of the things which have been done by the National Government were suggested, in part at all events, by the right hon. Gentleman himself, in those old and happy far-off days, and that by taking action along the lines which he suggested the Government have shown themselves truly national. They have been collecting thoughts from every part of the House and using them for the benefit of the country as a whole.
In many directions the work of the Government in regard to agriculture has been successful. It would be folly to say otherwise. It is surely the business of the Government and of this House to examine very carefully those aspects of 1439 agriculture with which we are individually cognisant, and to find out, if we can, why the principles and the practice which the Government have initiated have failed. For a few moments I would like to look at one part of the field with which I am particularly familiar, and that is the vexed question of milk.
It would be infinitely wrong to say that during the last year or two the dairy farmer has not received more for his milk than he did five years ago. I could not have said that three years or even four years ago, but during the last two years there has been a definite improvement in the gross price which he has got for his milk. In spite of that, there are difficulties and substantial discontent to-day in the dairy industry. Why is there that discontent? The first cause is very simple. It is that every improvement in the gross price of milk has been offset by a substantial, and probably in most cases, a larger increase in the cost of production. Consider the case of feeding stuffs. The offals problem on a dairy farm and a pig and poultry farm are not as well understood by hon. Members as they should be. During the last fortnight I have been on two farms. On one farm were 250 cows in milk. On the same farm the annual output of pigs was between 2,000 and 3,000. The annual cost of offal was in the neighbourhood of f£6,000. Take another farm, with a milking stock of 120, a pig output of 600, and an offal consumption of £4,000. Now if you have an increase, as you have had, in offal prices over the last year or two of something in the neighbourhood of 30 per cent., you see at once that the increased cost of offals in the production of that milk or of that pig-meat is equivalent to about double the annual rent of the farm. That is a very serious condition on any farm. That is our first difficulty, and if I wanted to pick a hole in the Government policy as regards its effect on dairying I should point first to the cost of offals.
Now the question is, Could anything be done as to the cost of offals and also as to the difference between the cost of the offals and the price of the whole wheat as it goes from the farm? I want to say quite definitely that it has been within the power of the Government to give a very considerable relief to the dairy farmer, the pig farmer, and the poultry farmer on the 1440 question of feeding stuffs. Had that been done the price he has got for his milk would have been of material advantage, instead of which things have been up to now practically left just where they were. Then, again, with every increase in gross price there has been a serious increase in administrative expenditure. At a farm where I was a few days ago the milk cheque came in. The gross amount of the milk was £85, but from that there was deducted a sum of £40 for expenses. The farmer, looking at it, got a shock; he gets a shock every month. What is the cause of that?
§ Mr. Hopkin
May I ask the hon. Member if he is aware that that £40 was not a deduction to the board in any sense of the word, but that the global sum was reduced because of the amount of money received by the board for manufactured milk, for which they are paid 5d. a gallon?
§ Mr. Russell
Well, it is a fact that the farmer gets only £45 when the gross amount stood at £80. I know that part of it is due to some of the milk going for manufacturing purposes. The thing is, how are you going to change that position? You have not only expenses, you have substantial costs for distribution, which at the other end make it so difficult for a consumer to get the amount of milk he ought to have because of its high price. The Milk Marketing Board advertises, "Drink more milk." I have heard the statement made from the Front Bench that we ought to be drinking a pint of milk a day. But how can that be done at the price which milk is at present? How can the working man and his family consider spending over 10s. a week on milk? That is a point which has yet to be dealt with. If you alter the proportion between the price of offals and the price of wheat, and if you substantially reduce the deductions from one cause or another from the gross price of milk, you will largely solve the problem of the dairy farmer at the present time.
Take another project—the standard of produce. The Government have done much to help. We have had the National Mark, we have had the weeding out of inefficient bulls, we have had research into diseases, and the accredited milk scheme has worked wonders in cowhouses. The industry has responded splendidly to 1441 the appeal for clean milk, but there still remains in the country a very large number of cowhouses where clean milk is practically an impossibility. What is going to be done about that? My contention right through is for higher efficiency, and for such action as will lead to that higher efficiency. I went the other day into a shippen, and before going into it I noticed that the roof was not in good condition. When I got in it was raining, the rain was coming down through the roof and dripping down on to the beasts below. Does anybody suppose that efficient milk production can be brought about by those conditions? What is to be done to remedy them? The duty lies upon the rural district council, but the rural district council cannot operate because it often knows that it is quite impossible for either the owner of the house or the tenant to tackle this, but I do not believe it is beyond the wit of this House and of the Government to produce such a scheme as would enable those buildings to be put into an efficient and healthy condition.
There are some other things that need attending to. Perhaps one or two of them are rather outside the powers of the Ministry of Agriculture, but they are not outside the administrative powers of the Government. Members will realise that for half the year cows are milked practically in the dark. You have many a time seen in a shippen men having to milk 10 or 20 cows by the light of a storm lamp. You cannot expect clean milk under those conditions. You can only get those conditions right if you have on every dairy farm a full and efficient electricity supply. But, owing to the fact that in many cases the charges for electricity are high, it is not used, and the milk continues to be produced under inefficient conditions. Many of these matters, which may seem small in themselves, are vital to the industry. If we can produce confidence in the quality of the milk, we can increase the demand for milk. By increasing the demand, we shall also increase the supply, and that means that the dairy farmer will be given, not necessarily higher prices, but the opportunity of earning his profit from his increased production. I am sure that my hon. Friends opposite will agree with that contention.
We are often told that the farmer is continually grumbling, but he always has 1442 something to grumble about. As has been stated here to-day, agriculture is our greatest industry. How do we treat it? We import about £50,000,000 worth of dairy produce every year. We import, roughly speaking, £3,000,000 worth of cotton goods, £50,000,000 worth of iron and steel, and £3,000,000 of woollen goods. I do not know what would happen in the way of grumbling at Bradford if that £3,000,000 were raised to £50,000,000. Surely the farmer has something to grumble about when he has to face these conditions. I submit that, when subsidies are given, they are not given actually to agriculture, but agriculture is used merely as the collector of the subsidies, which go to the industrial worker, who gets cheap food as a consequence. These subsidies are really given for the benefit of the industrial worker, who gets far higher wages and better conditions than the agricultural worker on the farm. Why should the agricultural worker have 35s. a week and bad conditions—
§ Mr. Russell
Why should the agricultural worker have 35s. a week and worse conditions of life than the industrial worker, or the worker on the roads, who gets, perhaps, £3 a week? We have to deal with this problem, and we can only deal with it by getting together and cooperating to face the difficulties, and so lift agriculture on to a better and more healthy plane.
§ 9.40 P.m.
§ Mr. Riley
I am sure that the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. R. J. Russell) will excuse me if I do not follow him into his dissertations about the agricultural industry. I want to address myself to two points, in the hope that I may receive some reply upon them. I noticed that the Minister, in his opening statement, emphasised that the agricultural policy of the Government is to improve the position of the farmer and of the worker. I think he repeated that statement at least twice, and I waited to hear what he would say with regard to the agricultural worker. Many speeches have been made dealing with the in- 1443 dustry from the farmer's point of view, but I think I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman made no reference whatever to what the Ministry has in view with regard to a concrete and real improvement in the conditions of the agricultural worker.
The first point that I want to put is with regard to a class of agricultural workers who come under the jurisdiction of the agricultural wages committees, but who are engaged in a rather special branch of the industry. I refer to the workers employed in the Lea Valley, on the outskirts of London, in the highly intensive horticultural industry. In the Lea Valley there are several hundred workers in that industry, and they come, I believe, under three separate county agricultural committees. They are partly in Middlesex, partly in Hertfordshire, and partly in Essex. Their work is highly skilled; it consists in the intensive production of cucumbers, tomatoes and so on in hothouses. They live, not in agricultural villages, but in areas like Waltham Cross, Edmonton and so on, where the cost of living is very high, but their wages are governed by the ordinary agricultural wages committees' regulations.
For some considerable time they have been making applications to their respective county committees to try to induce the committees to regard their position as a special one. From the nature of the district in which they live, their house rent is very high, and many of them have to travel considerable distances by train, involving weekly costs of 5s. and 7s. 6d. So far, they have failed to get satisfaction from the agricultural committees. It is true that the employers are paying somewhat higher wages than are paid on the average to agricultural labourers in those counties, but their contention is that the industry in which they are engaged has been given very high protection by the Government, and that, therefore, they are entitled, apart from their expenses of living, to a different class of wage from that which obtains in an ordinary average agricultural area.
So far, they have failed; and I understand the reason is that they come within these three county areas, and the county committees have failed to agree on a policy, on the assumption that if they treat these workers on a different basis 1444 from the ordinary agricultural workers those agricultural workers will have a grievance and claim the same rates of wages. Appeals have been made over and over again to the employers to receive a delegation from the trade union organisation to discuss the special position of these men, and these appeals have been turned down every time. I ask the Minister whether, in view of the fact that the employers in this particular form of agriculture are enjoying from the Government very special advantages in the way of high protection against imported produce, the Government will not say to these employers that they must meet the reasonable demands of the men? I ask the Minister to take note of this, and, in view of the fact that the keynote of the Government's policy is to improve the position of the farmer and the worker, I suggest that that policy should be carried out.
My other point is as to what the Government are doing with regard to affording reasonable opportunities for displaced agricultural workers, and also unemployed workers from other industries, to settle down, in accordance with their capacities and their circumstances, on adequate small holdings, so that they may pursue a life of self-respect and usefulness, instead of idleness and hopelessness. As far as I can make out the smalholders' policy which was pursued years ago by the Government of that time seems to have gone into disuse altogether, and nothing is being done. We were told by Lord Addison, speaking in another place, yesterday—
Hon. Members must not quote speeches made in another place unless they deal with Government policy.
§ Mr. Riley
Then I may remind hon. Members of what is perfectly well known, that, in spite of the many agricultural Acts which have been passed in recent years, agriculture is still in a somewhat stagnant condition, and the simple record shows that since 1921 about 200,000 agricultural workers have left the land, left the occupation in which they were born and brought up, because they could not get a living there. Besides that, we have a chronic state of unemployment among manual workers accustomed to work which has more or less a relationship to agriculture, who are year after 1445 year going on without anything being done for them. It would be useful to give these agricultural workers who have left the land and the other unemployed workers a prospect of work. Why do the Government not come forward with some definite and useful policy? I recall that from 1908 to 1926, under two successive Acts of Parliament, something like 30,000 people were settled on smallholdings in this country, but since then very little has been done. Chronic unemployment has been with us, and land has gone out of cultivation. We have been told that land is less productive, it is going to grass instead of being arable and having its maximum production, yet the Government, apparently, are leaving it to a voluntary association to meet this problem of spreading useful labour throughout the country, to work on land, producing useful commodities.
This voluntary association in the course of four years has settled on holdings of an average of eight acres, 1,440 persons; and each holding has an adequate house, well built and well arranged. These are full-time holdings, employing a man and his family. The association has also settled on part-time holdings, 2,074 people. It is quite true that the Government are making a contribution to that work, through the Special Areas Commissioners, on a basis of £1 for each £1 provided by the association. But why do the Government not take the responsibility, and do it on a national scale? One does not suggest that millions can be settled, but there are thousands of men, between 40 and 45 years of age, who for four or five years have been idle and have been maintained through the national insurance system, who could have been employed in this way. The association has proved that it can spend £1,800 on fixing a family on eight acres with a good house, and that the only actual liability is something like £300. Have the Government given up the idea of extending this policy and giving these people a chance of settling down and being useful citizens?
§ 9.55 P.m.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas
The Debate is nearing its end and we on these benches are grateful to the Liberal party for giving us an opportunity of discussing the agricultural position to-day. It is high time that such a general Debate took place. During this last year we have 1446 discussed on more than one occasion our policy of rearmament, but we have not discussed nearly freely enough, until the Debate to-day, the position of agriculture either as a vital factor in our national life or as part of our national programme of Defence. Such a silence has been dangerous because it has given rise to the idea that all is well in agricultural circles. I gladly recognise, as I believe do the majority of reasonable farmers, the work and the help given by this Government and by the present Minister of Agriculture to tide British farming over a period of years when disaster might well have overwhelmed it. Yet it would be foolish to ignore that there is a general sense of uneasiness now making itself evident not only on the land but also in the minds of all those who are concerned with home Defence. We are not asking, and nobody has asked during the Debate, that farming in this country should be put upon a permanent war-time basis, but we are asking that our farms should be put into such a position that emergency production can be achieved with the least possible delay. That has been the object of much of the Government legislation during this last year, but the fact remains that the decline continues and that something more must be done if we are to put a stop to this deplorable state of affairs.
I hope that the Minister himself realises that we on these benches do not belittle the work which he and his predecessor have clone in past years. But the fault seems to be that agricultural legislation to-day is far too fragmentary. It is rather as if we were supplying odd sections in a jig-saw puzzle without having any clear vision or regard for the ultimate picture. To take only one example: There is the land fertility scheme, which is admirable as far as it goes, but it is in danger of not being used to the full by farmers so long as they have fear in their minds that if they produce more they may well defeat their own ends and knock the bottom out of their market. What is the basis of this fear? It has been mentioned by more than one speaker to-night. It is surely the ups and downs in producer's prices which are really keeping a stranglehold on both the Government's and the farmers' efforts. The one need in the countryside and in the towns to-day is for smoothness of supply and demand not so much drastic restriction but common- 1447 sense regulation of imports from overseas, so that we may have no more of these sudden shipments which upset our markets and undermine confidence. We need a time-table, and unless a timetable can be agreed upon the present haphazard system of shipments will more than counter-balance the help that the Minister of Agriculture has already given.
But fortunately there is a new hope to-day, and that is why I for one attach so much importance to the results of the British Empire Producers' Conference at Sydney and why I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has given so warm a welcome to that report. I do not for a moment under-estimate what has been done by the Minister and by his predecessor in setting up machinery for the regulation of the beef industry, for example. But here is a united Empire report which is bound to strengthen the hand of the Government, if they accept the recommendations, not only in regard to beef, but to mutton and lamb, to poultry and eggs and all other commodities which are causing trouble and financial loss in our agricultural constituencies to-day. If the main object of the Sydney Conference—"to ensure maximum supplies to the consumer at the lowest possible prices consistent with a fair remuneration to the producer"—can be achieved, what does that mean to our agricultural industry at home as we see it to-day?
In June this year the index number of market prices stood at 124; last year it was 131. Even if we include the wheat and cattle subsidies the figure is only 129 this year, which is less than last year without subsidies. And what effect has this upon the number of agricultural workers for whom many hon. Members, and especially the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), spoke so eloquently quently to-day? Given a return for his produce which will cover his costs of production and leave a reasonable margin of profit, there is no right-thinking farmer I can assure the hon. Member for Don Valley, who does not wish to pay his workers a rate of wages equal in value to those paid to skilled workers in other trades and callings. He is as keen as anybody to recognise the proved skill of his workers, and to play his part to stop the drift from the land which is going on to-day.
1448 I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I talk for a moment about my own constituency, because I think it is a fair example of what is happening in other parts of the country to-day. At the present time there is being brought into full working capacity near Hereford one of the biggest munition factories in the country, and here for the first time for a long period—for new factories have not come our way for many years—the people in the country villages have an opportunity of earning wages far in excess of those which are being paid on the farms. Can you blame them if they turn their backs, as they are doing to-day, on the life for which they have been bred and are seeking employment at that factory? But you have the unhappy position that while they seek employment in this one section of our rearmament programme, they are leaving a vital gap in the very industry which should be—and must be made to be—equally vital to our national Defence.
That is the tragedy of such a position. Here we are spending—and spending, alas, rightly under present international conditions—millions of pounds in the manufacture of weapons of destruction which are actually being made in my part of the world by men who should be developing our home resources to feed the people in the event of such an emergency. And why? Because we come back to the same fundamental trouble; the uncertainty in the minds of the farmers about their markets and a natural hesitancy to embark on a rate of wages which can, and will, keep men in agricultural occupations for which they and their families have been trained for generations. "What is the good," as that great Norfolk farmer the late Dr. Cloudesley-Brereton used to ask, "of being armed to the teeth if your molars have nothing to chew?"
Investment in agriculture to-day is a fundamental matter for the nation. The Government have it in their power to add to their already great record of help to the agricultural industry if they will only rise above this fragmentary legislation and make it clear to the agricultural community that they have in mind one vast plan into which all legislation is being co-ordinated to make the whole. That knowledge alone will banish uneasiness from the farmers' minds about their 1449 markets, anxiety from the agricultural labourers' minds about their wages, and unrest from the mind of the nation itself about its preparedness to meet any emergency that may come.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hereford (Mr. Thomas) used the phrase that there was a general sense of uneasiness with regard to agriculture at the present time. I beg of the Minister, in so far as that uneasiness is expressed by farmers and farmers' organisations, not to suppose that it is the British farmer merely grumbling again. There is very widespread concern, and I think it has been reflected in the tone of the Debate by the raher remarkable absence of party feeling and the notable agreement on policy which has been pressed on the Minister from all sides of the Committee.
If I may refer again to the Prime Minister's Kettering speech, I would suggest that the widespread dismay which that speech caused was not so much over what the Prime Minister said as for the fact that it came at the end of a long series of disappointments for the agricultural community, and because of the negative attitude which it seemed to adopt. It came as the last straw to the agricultural community, which might have hoped from the activity of the Government to have derived some measure of prosperity; but I think I can show it is not in a better position than it was a few years ago. We are experiencing a period of considerable prosperity for many industries, boom conditions for some, but I do not think anybody would suggest that those conditions are reflected in the agricultural industry to-day. I do not think the agricultural industry is in a fit condition to stand the possibility of another recession of trade, as it is called. If a recession were to set in, the industry has not been able to build up strength or reserves to meet such a situation.
It is perfectly true that production has increased and that wholesale prices have risen in the last few years. Retail prices of foodstuffs have also risen, but the farmer is not better off as a result of that rise of wholesale prices. If I might quote some figures published in the National Farmers' Union news sheet recently, it is true that in 1936–37 the wholesale output 1450 of agriculture appears to have been some £15,000,000 higher than in the preceding year. Judging from that fact one might assume that the farming community ought to be more satisfied, but in fact costs have gone up fully as much as that particular rise. I am glad to say that wages have risen a little, although they are miserably low even with that small rise. That accounts for £1,500,000. The largest part of the rise in costs is accounted for by feeding stuffs, which are 38 per cent. higher, and by the rise in fertilisers and equipment generally. It is estimated by the National Farmers' Union that the farmers paid about £10,000,000 more for imported feeding stuffs in 1937 than in 1936, and £16,000,000 more than in 1935. All these rises have wiped out any benefit which the farming community might have derived from the rise in wholesale prices.
Because of the negative attitude of the Prime Minister's speech farmers are beginning to realise that while they have been led to believe by leaders of the Government that their real hope of prosperity was in Protection, they have now been informed that they are to get no more. My own view, and I have expressed it before, is that the farming community of this country would be very unwise if they pinned their faith to Protection, and Protection alone, as the solution of their troubles. What is happening to-day is that the farming community is discovering that it has been deceived. While it would be unfair for the farming community to remain completely unprotected in a general protective system, tariffs, quotas and other restrictions are by no means the royal road or the easy road to prosperity.
The Government have been somewhat caught out in their own argument. They believed that Protection was the only way to help the agricultural industry, but they themselves have lost confidence in their ability to bring a certain stability and prosperity to the industry. The farmers themselves have not lost that confidence, but I believe there are other means by which the position of agriculture could be very greatly improved. The delay in introducing some of the legislation which has been promised has been a great disappointment to the farmers. I should like to quote from the "Farmer and Stockbreeder" in a recent issue:Thus in a Session which promised to be of considerable importance to farmers, the 1451 agricultural side is rapidly being faded out. The Essential Commodities and the Holidays Bill remain, but major agricultural problems take a back seat. Farmers are becoming increasingly restive under the delay in dealing with things.The delay in introducing the Milk Bill has been a real discouragement. We have been promised a long-term milk policy not months but years, and it has been delayed again. This is a real discouragement to the agricultural industry. One sometinmes wonders whether the defeatism which is displayed by the Government in foreign affairs does not also find expression in their lack of confidence in their own agricultural policy. Restriction of imports in one form or another is not a satisfactory and sole basis for agricultural prosperity, because of the competition from the British Empire and the Dominions. I was very much interested in the Minister's reference to the conference which took place at Sydney recently, and to the statement by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Drewe) with regard to that conference. I think it was the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) who pointed out that the present very serious position of the sheep industry is partly due, at any rate, to competition from the Dominions. For a long time past some of us have pointed out that the competition from the Empire was one of the reasons why the policy which relied mainly on restrictions could not be altogether effective. The Dominions have increased their share of the home market very considerably since Ottawa. Comparing 1936 with 1930 the share of the Dominions in beef has risen from 1o per cent. to 23 per cent., in lamb and mutton from 64 to 80 per cent., in butter from 45 to 53 per cent., in cheese from 87 to 90 per cent., and in bacon from 5 to 54 per cent. These are very substantial increases in the share of the Dominions in imports coming into this country.
Moreover, what is interesting is that if you examine the import situation the fact is revealed that as between 1933 and 1937 there has been a very considerable increase in the total quantities of foodstuffs imported into this country, and also the value of these imports per unit is proportionately higher. That I think is important, because it demonstrates the point which many of us have tried to impress 1452 upon hon. Members opposite, that the agricultural depression of 1931–2–3 was due as much if not more to the reduced purchasing power which followed upon the increase of unemployment and the reduction in wages which then took place than to any increase in imports. In spite of the fact that imports have increased from the Empire and from foreign countries, speaking broadly, the wholesale prices of agricultural products are higher to-day than they were during that period. Consumption has increased, the demand has increased, so much as to increase the prices of these commodities. That is important to bear in mind.
May I return to the very interesting and valuable conference which took place at Sydney? If I may say so, I think the British members learned something interesting from our fellow farmers in the Empire. I believe that the British delegates went out to the conference with the idea that the sole solution of the problem was along the lines of reducing imports from the Empire and that some of the representatives of New Zealand and Australia suggested that that was a somewhat despairing attitude to adopt. May I quote one or two sentences which are reproduced in the interesting report made by the National Farmers' Union? It seems to be clear that some of the representatives believe there is another way out of the agricultural problem both for their farmers and for ours. For instance, Mr. T. H. Bath, of the Western Australian Wheat Pool, said:If the conference takes the road of greater restrictions and a policy towards greater trade isolation of the British Empire, many of us here will live to rue our decision in bitter repentance.Again, Mr. T. C. Brash, of the New Zealand Fruit Export Control Board, stated that a policy of restriction of foodstuffs was a policy of despair while there was still an unsatisfied demand for foodstuffs.
§ Mr. Roberts
I am not suggesting that there was a deep division of opinion at 1453 the Conference, but that in the early stage there was a considerable difference of emphasis as to the way in which the common problems of the agriculturists of the Empire could be met, and that perhaps some of the Dominions representatives laid more stress on the possibility of increasing consumption than the British representatives did. As to the resolutions, I have studied the original resolution which was submitted by the British delegation and the final one which was carried, and it seems to me that there are some differences between the two which are interesting and important. I do not wish to deal with that question further than to say that the policy which was adopted there seems to be an important new development. If it is entirely directed to a new form of voluntary control and restriction, I think it may be a very dangerous development for the consumers in this country and for the people of the Empire generally, but if the quotation which I have read to the Committee really represents an effective feeling among the producers that there is a vast market in this country which is not yet being met and which can be met by more efficient methods of distribution and marketing, by a more level supply of essential commodities, and perhaps by co-ordination in various ways, then that new development may be of real value. If, however, it is only a backdoor form of restriction, I am afraid it may lead to considerable difficulties.
I am glad that the initiative for that conference appears to have come from the British National Farmers' Union. I happen to be a member of the National Farmers' Union, and although I am not always entirely in agreement with everything that the Union say or with the whole of their policy, I believe it is desirable that all farmers should support their organisation. I am glad that the National Farmers' Union have taken the initiative in exploring this very important problem both here and in the Empire.
I would like to pursue this question of whether there is room in this country for an increased supply of British or Dominion products. Although the figures have often been quoted, I would again remind the Committee of the enormously increased consumption which would result if the working-class population of this country were able to afford the diet 1454 recommended by experts who have studied the subject. If the population were drinking the optimum quantity of milk, there would require to be an increased production of 80 per cent. The corresponding figure in the case of butter is 41 per cent. and in the case of meat 21.9 per cent. It is not only the town population which is suffering from this lack of essential foodstuffs. Probably the deficiency is greatest in the rural communities in England. The Women's Institutes recently conducted a widespread inquiry into the activities of the Milk Board. From my experience, the restricted tendencies of the Milk Board and the artificial raising of prices, are more unpopular in the country districts than in any other part of England. In passing, I suggest that there is no real justification for maintaining an artificial price of milk in the villages of England, to the people who live on the very doorsteps, as it were, of the places where milk is produced.
I quote one example to show that deficiency in nutrition is greatest in the country districts. Of course, wages are lowest there, but to put it the other way round, I draw the attention of the Minister to an analysis which was reported upon in the "Cambridge Journal of Hygiene." According to this report, the diets of 51 per cent. of the urban population examined were found to be deficient, but the diets of 72 per cent. of the population in the neighbouring rural districts were found to be deficient. If I am right in thinking that the New Zealanders and Australians lay great emphasis on the fact that there is a vast unsupplied demand—unsupplied because the people concerned cannot afford to buy the product at the present level of prices—then I very much welcome their cooperation in trying to meet that very difficult problem. If it is to be met, let us face the issue which was put by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and realise that it can be met only by producing more cheaply. The Minister in his opening speech repeated the statement that the agricultural problem is a problem of price. It is not only a problem of price. It is also a problem of cost of production. We welcome the lime and basic slag policy because that increases fertility and reduces the cost of production and I deny that the cost of production need be 1455 higher in this country than it is in the Dominions generally.
We are told that land is cheaper in the Dominions. Well, if it is too dear here, the landlord is getting too much, and something ought to be done about it. If transport is cheaper over the thousands of miles from the Empire, I ask the Government why they put every impediment in the way of the development of local transport and haulage within the country districts. I know of a man who sent a motor lorry 100 miles out of an agricultural district carrying wool to Bradford, and another motor lorry empty to Selby to bring back agricultural feeding stuffs. The two did the job which one could do if it were not for regulations under the Road Transport Act. There is no fundamental reason, I believe, why the British farmer cannot produce as cheaply as his Dominion competitor. There are reasons, but they are reasons which are capable of being removed. It is true that the Dominions subsidise their farmers, and in so far as they are subsidised, there is no reason why we should not meet those subsidies by subsidies ourselves or by other means, but I believe that if an energetic policy were adopted by the British Government for equipping British farms as well as they are equipped in many countries abroad—four-fifths of the farms in Germany are electrified, and in New Zealand and Denmark it is the exception to find a farm which is not electrified—much good would follow.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild), speaking from these benches, referred to the matter of credit, and I would suggest that the condition of the farm buildings and equipment of the agricultural community does not compare with that of many of our competitors on the Continent and elsewhere. Until these problems really are attacked, I shall not be content that the price level which the Government's policy attempts, somewhat unsuccessfully, to maintain is really attacking the main difference for the British farmer. It is not merely a problem of price; it is also a problem of the cost of production, and I am convinced that, given the same opportunities, the British farmer is capable of producing as cheaply as any other farmer with whom he may come into competition. I think the agricultural community—and when I say that I am referring to both 1456 farm workers and farmers—are very ready at the present time for real leadership. They are prepared to look upon themselves as providing vital services, services not only vital in war time, but vital too in peace time. They are prepared, if they see that the Government are going to assist them in some of the ways that I have suggested very roughly, to recognise that they are providing an absolutely vital service. There is nothing that a good farmer detests to see more than land badly farmed. He is anxious to do his job well, and I believe that if some of the artificial and antiquated obstacles which stand in his way were removed, the British farmer and the British farm worker would get down to it and would be able to produce a larger quantity of foodstuffs and to provide Britain with what it needs fundamentally for a fit nation.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
We have had a very interesting discussion on an important topic, and for my part I welcome it because it is always interesting for a Minister to hear the advice of his friends in the House of Commons as to what should be done in given circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) seemed to think that there was some undue complacency on the part of the Government in their approach to this problem. I can assure him that there is nothing of the kind because we realise perfectly well how great a task has been laid upon us in our efforts to revive and restore this ancient industry. If we were complacent about it we should have done what was done by the pre-War Governments—nothing at all. The fact that we have seen that our duty lies in asking the House of Commons for an unprecedented amount of assistance for agriculture shows that we are not complacent; but anyone can see that our task is by no means accomplished and that it is a task which has to be followed with resolution until a much greater success than we have yet has been achieved.
At the same time, I should like to express my own opinion that while a great task of this character should never be approached in a spirit of complacency, it should not be approached in a spirit of panic and despair. You never get good work done under the influence of these 1457 two mentally disturbing factors. There is great ground for encouragement in what has been achieved in a short time, and if we are to take it as an earnest of what can be done if we all work solidly together it should, I think, give us the encouragement which is creative of good efforts. I know of no subject of which it is more pleasant to speak than agriculture. It offers itself as a theme for some of the best speeches we have ever heard. The Committee would like me to express our congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs for the speech which he delivered this afternoon. Although I disagree with a great deal of it, I feel that as fellow Members of this House, we should like to congratulate him for its vigour. The right hon. Gentleman is an adept at speeches of that character. He has made a number of them. There was an admirable one, which I remember reading shortly after I was demobilised, delivered in Caxton Hall in October, 1919, in which the right hon. Gentleman drew attention to the necessity for a permanent policy for agriculture and said how vital the industry was. A year later, December, 1920, the Agriculture Act of that year was passed. It continued the Corn Production Acts with certain modifications. It provided that in order to give security the Corn Production Acts should not be repealed without four years' notice. Within eight months of the passing of that Act the Corn Production Acts were repealed owing to the excessive cost to the Exchequer of guaranteeing prices.
I am not proposing to pass judgment on the circumstances which compelled that decision at that time. I only use it as an illustration of one of the great dangers which I see in agricultural affairs. One's natural instinct is to do something in the big style. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) said that I was afraid of doing something of a striking character for the farmer.
Mr. Lloyd George
With regard to the repeal of the Corn Production Act, I accept full responsibility for that. I was Prime Minister at the time, and I cannot repudiate it. I think it was right at the time. It was proposed by two Conservative Ministers, the strongest speech for it was made by a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in a House in 1458 winch there were 357 Conservative Members only five voted against it. There were seven Members of the party on these benches and only five Conservatives.
§ Mr. Morrison
As I said, I was not presuming to pass judgment on the motives which may or may not have rendered that action necessary, but I do point it out as an instance of the danger of going into an ambitious scheme like that and leading farmers to believe that their security was assured without having counted the cost in advance and being certain that it could be borne. I was speaking of it in its aspect of a warning. I do not say whether the right hon. Gentleman was right or wrong in what he did, but it is a warning to everyone against embarking on policies unless you are certain of being able to carry them through, because the long range of agricultural operations makes switches of that kind most harmful. I would sooner bear the appellation which the hon. Member for Carmarthen affixed to me of being afraid to do something of a striking character than have the reputation of seeking a little cheap popularity by proposing a policy which I was not convinced could be carried through steadily for the benefit of agriculture.
I think the right hon. Gentleman agreed with a good deal of our policy with respect to grass lands, but he said that a great deal of the grass was infertile and had been let down. Owing to the depression in agriculture no doubt that is true, but we are the first Government who have taken steps to correct the position. We have provided lime and slag for the campaign for the improvement of grassland in general, part of which is sustained by arable crops, for a rotation of arable crops is often the only way of getting really derelict grass land into cultivation again. It does not lie in the mouths of the party opposite below the Gangway, which has done nothing for our grass land, to attack us because we are taking steps to improve it. The neglect was theirs, the effort to improve it is ours, and I am well satisfied with that division of responsibility. The grass lands of this country are being improved.
The right hon. Gentleman read an extract from the "Times" newspaper. I was very much interested to see shortly afterwards a letter from another man, equally eminent in agricultural circles. 1459 who said that in the course of his long experience he had never seen the pastures of this country better managed than during the last 12 months. That is a sign; and if I may express an opinion, I cannot believe that nearly £1,000,000 spent on lime and slag going on to the pastures of this country will not effect a permanent improvement to them.
§ Mr. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman proposed it in 1935; we have put it into effect in 1937. It is a case again of proposing on the one hand and of carrying into effect on the other hand, and again I am well satisfied with our part in that division. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's analysis of our position with regard to beef production in this country. He has given the Committee to believe that, owing to the amount of feeding stuffs now imported, beef production was really a sort of processing industry, but in truth the most important food for animals is grass, and that is not imported from abroad. He drew attention, as I did myself, to the decline in roots, which are low starch equivalent crops, but the actual fact is that the increase in animal feeding stuffs since before the War, measured on a starch-equivalent basis—because on any other basis you cannot compare roots with meal—is about 10 per cent., and it is my desire, and the desire of the Government, that our country should take advantage of the inducements to make itself more self-supporting in the matter of feeding stuffs for animals.
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have drawn attention to the decline in arable acreage. I attempted to analyse some of the causes underlying that. My attention has been called to a speech given in the House of Commons in June, 1907, by the then hon. Member for Windsor, in which he drew attention to very much the same phenomenon as that to which the right hon. Gentleman referred to-day. He was reported as follows:During the last 25 years these had been a reduction of some 30 per cent. or about 300,000 men employed in agricultural pursuits.He went on to ascribe the depopulation to two causes, the introduction of agri- 1460 cultural machinery and the change over from arable land to grassland and he asked the Government of the day to note that during the same years arable land had diminished by 3,000,000 acres. That might have been exactly the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made to-day, only the difference is that there was a Liberal Government in power with a very large majority.
§ Mr. Morrison
The difference between the two Governments is that this matter was drawn to the attention of the Government in 1907 and that that Government did absolutely nothing for agriculture, whereas it is our policy—I do not claim that that policy is perfection, but at any rate it is a policy—to make an honest attempt to solve the problems of agriculture one by one. In the matter of markets there is certainly room for great improvement, but we have done something. We have made a start. Here again we have made efforts to tackle the problem whereas the chaos, in so far as it exists, arises from the neglect in the past. The right hon. Gentleman drew attention to the question of the reclamation of land. I agree with him that that is a very important matter. I saw an example of it recently. I went on a visit to inspect some of the works of a large character which are being undertaken by the Trent River Catchment Board inland in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. There I saw acre upon acre of black waterlogged land with the water table lying in the ditches about two or three inches below the surface of the soil, and that in a time of drought. I saw, after the works had been commenced, and where the water table had been sunk, that farmers were going on to that wilderness with their ploughs and were reclaiming that land. A little further on, where the process was a little more mature, I saw that land bearing rich crops of peas, beans and things of that sort. That work alone will reclaim some 40,000 acres of first-rate arable land. I would not like the Committee to be under the impression that we are not alive to what can be done in that direction or that we do not intend to pursue it.
Several hon. Members referred to the sheep situation, which is causing a very great deal of apprehension to everyone engaged in the industry. The factors are 1461 many, but one is undoubtedly a fall in wool prices which is beyond the control of any Government. There was also the heavy lamb crop, coupled with the unseasonable drought this year, which has meant that farmers have put their sheep on to the markets because they could not see how to keep them. These are among the factors in the greatly increased marketings this season, which also affected the price. There are also many other factors in that. We are paying particular attention to the imports situation. The position is that the total imports in the first six months of the present year were over 100,000 cwts. less than in the corresponding period of 1937, and the prices of the imported product were good. Nevertheless, we must not neglect the influence which imports may have upon the situation. As I said before, discussions have been proceeding with the representatives of the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, and it is anticipated that the imports from those two Dominions during the current year will not exceed 5,500,000 cwts., which is some 400,000 cwts. below last year's allocation. We shall keep in close touch with this matter and see what we can do to prevent anything in the import field from jeopardising the situation.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) drew attention to several aspects of our agricultural policy, and to the effect which the increased spending power of our industrial population would have upon agricultural prosperity. With that sentiment I cordially agree, but I do claim that since 1931 there has been an increase in the purchasing power of our industrial population. Unemployment has diminished, employment has increased, and wages have on the whole shown an upward tendency; and in so far as measures for the general prosperity of the industrial community are concerned, the Government regard that not only as valuable in itself for the workers concerned in industry, but also as being valuable from the point of view of agriculture.
§ Mr. T. Williams
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that rearmament is taking place for a temporary period, but what is going to happen afterwards?
§ Mr. Morrison
The hon. Gentleman had better wait to a later stage; I am dealing now with agriculture, and he would not 1462 expect me to launch into a wide subject like that at the present time. He also referred to the necessity of steps towards reducing the cost of production. I would draw his attention to two or three very important steps that have been taken, and in the first place to the campaign for the eradication of disease in our flocks and herds. By that we hope to reduce very considerably, if not entirely to eliminate, a loss of £14,000,000 a year from disease, which is a very high item in the cost of production. In the field of research and education we are pursuing actively every means of ascertaining processes which will assist in reducing the cost of production. As regards actual investigation into the matter, I can only say that work is now being done at Oxford on that matter—a very laborious task, but one that I hope will prove to be of interest when it is completed.
With regard to efficiency, every Measure that the Government has passed has laid stress upon efficiency, and that is a matter to which we pay a great deal of attention. The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Drewe) asked for an elucidation of what I had said about the Empire Producers' Conference. In the first place he asked me to elucidate my statement that the Government preferred that the responsibility for such action should be in the hands of the producers. The meaning of that is explained in the first part of the paragraph, in which I stated that the Government are in general agreement with the view that the orderly marketing of primary commodities is necessary and that we are prepared to use the method, when it can be achieved, of agreement by these commodity councils rather than to use the method of regulation ourselves. But his second point was as to whether we would take powers to deal with the matter ourselves, failing unanimity in the councils. The answer is that in any appropriate commodity in which we had an interest as producers in this country if we do not already possess the powers we should ask the House for them, because we intend to proceed on the basis of the livestock precedent, which has been successful, and because in the Livestock Industry Act powers are taken by the Government for that purpose.
The other matters raised were very numerous, but I should like to say, in conclusion, that the real object of the Government's policy is, as my right hon. 1463 Friend the Prime Minister said the other day, to try to improve the state of agricultural prosperity, and by that means to bring relief to those who are in the industry and some prospect of a settled advance and expansion upon economic and permanent lines, rather than to seek some artificial inflation at the moment, which might have to be let down in the future with great loss. He went on to say:The proper course, and the only permanent course, was to assist home agriculture by all possible means to develop along its own natural lines. This had been and would continue to be the agricultural policy of the Government, designed to restore prosperity to farmers and workers alike.We believe that a prosperous agriculture is necessary if the land is to provide the livelihood that it should provide in time of peace for those engaged on it, and if it is to make the proper contribution that it may be called upon to make in time of emergency.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs asked me about emergency plans. I am not going to describe them in detail, because, as the Committee will appreciate, they have to be formed upon a number of hypotheses. The season of the year at which a war broke out would affect the plans, according to whether it were, say, the spring or the autumn; and the plans have to be framed for a number of other contingencies. But I would call the attention of the Committee to the fact that, whereas during the Great War it was not until 1917 that the Government of that day thought that British agriculture ought to make a proper contribution and
§ then initiated plans for it, our plans have already been worked out. At the present time we have to do what we can to see that agriculture is made prosperous, to see that our fields are fertile and able to respond should an emergency come upon us. I believe that such a policy is sound in peace and the best possible preparation for war, should that happen, and I hope that the expansion of our agriculture will be of a permanent character, and not a mere flash in the pan in some particular emergency.
§ I understand that it will be convenient if I now give my hon. Friends below the Gangway opposite the opportunity of moving an Amendment if they desire to do so, and, therefore, I will conclude my remarks.
§ 10.59 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Seely
I beg to move, to reduce the vote by £100.
I do not think that anyone will be satisfied with the Minister's speech, especially in view of the fact that most of it has been directed to saying what was done in 1906 and what is being done by the Government now. It must be remembered that we had an entirely different system in those days. Now we have tariffs and all that sort of thing. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman only shows the paucity of the programme and policy of His Majesty's Government.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £2,043,678, be granted for the said Service.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 137; Noes, 24o.1467
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Cocks, F. S.||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Collindridge, F.||Gibson, R. (Greenock)|
|Adamson, W. M.||Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Daggar, G.||Green, W. H. (Deptford)|
|Ammon, C. G.||Dalton, H.||Grenfell, D. R.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)|
|Barr, J.||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)|
|Batey, J.||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Day, H.||Groves, T. E.|
|Benson, G.||Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)|
|Bevan, A.||Ede, J. C.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)|
|Broad, F. A.||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)|
|Bromfield, W.||Evans, D.O. (Cardigan)||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||Foot, D. M.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)|
|Buehanan, G.||Frankel, D.||Hepworth, J.|
|Burke, W. A.||Gallacher, W.||Hicks, E. G.|
|Cape, T.||Gardner, B. W.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Garro Jones, G. M.||Holdsworth, H.|
|Chater, D.||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Carn'v'n)||Hopkin, D.|
|Cluse, W. S.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Jagger, J.|
|Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Montague, F.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|John, W.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Muff, G.||Stephen, C.|
|Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Oliver, G. H.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Owen, Major G.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||paling, W.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Kelly, W. T.||Parker, J.||Thurtie, E.|
|Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Pearson, A.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Kirkwood, D.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Poole, C. C.||Viant, S. P.|
|Lathan, G.||Price, M. P.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Lawson, J. J.||Quibell, D. J. K.||Watkins, F.C.|
|Leach, W.||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)||Watson, W. McL.|
|Leslie, J. R.||Richards, R. (Wrexham)||Welsh, J. C.|
|Logan, D. G.||Ridley, G.||Westwood, J.|
|Lunn, W.||Riley, B.||White, H. Graham|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Ritson, J.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|McGhee, H. G.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|McGovern, J.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|MacLaren, A.||Rothschild, J. A. de||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Maclean, N.||Salter, Sir J. Arthur (Oxford U.)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Mander, G. le M.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Marshall, F.||Silverman, S. S||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mathers, G.||Simpson, F. B.||Sir Hugh Seely and Sir Percy|
|Messer, F.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)||Harris.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.'Col. G. J.||Cross, R. H.||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Crowder, J. F. E.||Hunloke, H. P.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Cruddas, Col. B.||Hunter, T.|
|Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)||Culverwell, C.T||Hutchinson, G. C.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Sc'h Univ's)||Davidson, Viscountess||Joel, D. J. B.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Keeling, E. H.|
|Apsley, Lord||De Chair, S. S.||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||De la Bère, R.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Kimball, L.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Donner, P. W.||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Dower, Major A. V. G.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Drewe, C.||Latham, Sir P.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Law, R. K. (Hull S.W.)|
|Beechman, N. A.||Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Leech, Sir J. W.|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Duggan, H. J.||Lees-Jones, J.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Liddall, W. S.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Ellis, Sir G.||Lipson, D. L.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Emery, J. F.||Little, Sir E. Graham-|
|Boulton, W. W.||Emmotl, C. E. G. C.||Loftus. P. C.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Lyons, A. M.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Errington, E.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Erskine-Hill, A. G.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Findlay, Sir E.||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Fleming, E. L.||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Furness, S. N.||Maedonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Fyfe, D. P. M.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||McKie, J. H.|
|Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Maomillan, H. (Stookton-on-Tees)|
|Bull, B. B.||Goldie, N. B.||Magnay, T.|
|Burghley Lord||Gower, Sir R. V.||Makins, Brigadler-General Sir Ernest|
|Burton Col. H. W.||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Grant-Ferris, R.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Butler R A.||Granville, E. L.||Markham, S. F,|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Marsden, Commander A.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Maxwell, Hon. S. A.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitoham)|
|Cazalet Thelma (Islington, E.)||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)||Mitcheson, Sir G, G.|
|Christie, J. A.||Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Hambro, A. V.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Hannah, I. C.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Haslam, Henry (Horneastle)||Munro, P.|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Nall, Sir J.|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Heneage, Lieut.-Coloncl A. P.||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)|
|Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.|
|Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfoik, N.)||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||O'Connor, Sir Terenee J.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Holmes, J. S.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Hopkinson, A.||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Horsbrugh, Florence||Peake, O.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Hulbert, N. J.||Potherilk, M.|
|Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Scott, Lord William||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Selley, H. R.||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Procter, Major H. A.||Shakespeare, G. H.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Thorneycroft, G. E. P.|
|Ramsbotham, H.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Ramsden, Sir E.||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.||Touche, G. C.|
|Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Rayner, Major R. H.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.||Turton, R. H.|
|Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwish)||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Smith, Sir Louis (Hallam)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Remer, J. R.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)||Spean, Brigadier-General E. L.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Ropner, Colonel L.||Spens. W. P.||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Rowlands, G.||Storey, S.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Russell, Sir Alexander||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Wise, A. R.|
|Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Salmon, Sir I.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Samuel, M. R. A.||Tate, Mavis C.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)||Captain Hope and Mr. Grimston.|
§ Original Question, again proposed.
§ Several hon. Members rose—
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.
§ 11.10 pm.