§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Colonel Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I think the House will agree that the Bill covers so wide and so varied a field that it may well give Members an opportunity to-day of examining our agricultural policy as a whole. If possible I would be glad if the House had that opportunity, and for my own part I welcome the chance of hearing the different points of view expressed by Members on both sides of the House. I would like to make a small wager, it it is appropriate to do so to-day, that those views will be as variegated as are the contents of the Bill itself. When I first had the honour to address the House as Minister of Agriculture I suggested that, while it was not difficult to-day to get agreement as to the desirability, nay the necessity, of maintaining our agriculture in a state of prosperity, it is not quite so easy to get that same measure of agreement as to the right methods to apply in order to create conditions which will make possible the desired agricultural prosperity —which will make it possible for it to be attained and for it to be maintained. I confess that four months of office has not led me to alter that opinion.
There is, I think, also another thing on which there is universal agreement now, and that is that the prosperity of the agricultural industry is just as much the concern of those engaged in urban industries, in trade and commerce, as it is the concern of the fanner himself, and that when farming is in a state of depression it reacts adversely on the economic life of the nation as a whole. I think we can also get agreement on what constitutes or what should constitute a prosperous agriculture: First of all that the farmer should receive a fair remuneration for the produce which he sells, such fair remuneration as will enable the farm worker to receive wages and enjoy living and working conditions as favourable as those enjoyed by similar workers in urban industries; 1556 and, thirdly, that the land should be properly used, should be used to produce the maximum quantity of food without detriment to the health and the fertility of the soil. It is only too clear that these conditions are by no means entirely fulfilled to-day. Since coming to office I have had the benefit of reading quite a lot of books which have recently been written on agricultural policy, and of the authors, in making out a case for agriculture, in showing the symptoms of agricultural depression, all or nearly all point to the same thing—they point to the reduction of our arable acreage and the decline in the numbers engaged in agriculture, the disparity in wages and conditions of life in town and country, and the deterioration of much of our land and many of our farm buildings in certain districts.
The diagnosis of the ills of agriculture is generally upon the same lines, and up to this point we are all in more or less complete agreement. It is when we come to the question of how to cure the disease that the differences arise. As I have said, dozens of books have recently been written on the subject. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) himself has written a most arresting book on this very subject. I am not sure that the views which he holds, or those which he held in 1935, are altogether consistent with the views which have been set out by another member of his party, Lord Addison, or indeed are absolutely on all fours with the official policy of" Your Britain No. 3." But if that were not so, it would show not necessarily that the hon. Member for Don Valley was wrong, but only the complexities that face anyone dealing with agriculture.
But, of course, these books are not my only means of getting advice. There is another very fruitful source, and that is our national newspapers. They are very generous in their advice to me, not to say in their exhortations, and I think it is of more than passing interest that the people of this country should be so concerned with agriculture and its problems that all the great dailies do in fact maintain agricultural correspondents, very active correspondents, very diligent correspondents, as I have every reason to know. The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. ]. Morgan) is a very good example of one of those correspondents. So while, if I want to refresh my memory of the views of the 1557 hon. Member for Don Valley I must turn to his book, I get sage advice every week from his near neighbour the hon. Member for Doncaster in the pages of the" Daily Herald." I am not absolutely certain whether the sentiments which are current in Doncaster actually find a true echo throughout the whole valley of the Don. The Press is no more unanimous in its views than are the authors of these varied books which I have mentioned, because not only does one differ from another in his approach to the problem, but on occasion I have found very marked discrepancies in the same newspaper, often on the same day, between the views of the agricultural correspondent and the advice which is offered by the leader writer and by that formidable gentleman the city editor.
There is, in fact, any amount of argument. But, of course, argument alone is not going to solve our problem. While our pundits battle over their rival theories, agriculture cries out for immediate help. It was some 50 years ago that Lord Salisbury met a deputation of agriculturalists, and that deputation put up exactly the same sort of story as was put up to me the other day by a deputation of those engaged in agriculture; and Lord Salisbury gave it as his opinion that what was needed was not professions but acts. No one is going to complain that the National Government have not given to agriculture a certain number of Acts.
Here we have a Bill which, I hope, will very shortly become an Act, and a useful Act in both senses of the word. In essence the problem can be easily stated. It is how to secure for home producers a reasonable return for the goods which they produce. It is impossible to deny that everything depends upon that, and when the farmers press that claim, it is with no selfish and no narrow aim. I know from personal experience that the vast majority of farmers desire pasionately to do their duty by their land and by their employés, but until they get a reasonable return for their produce and a measure of security against violent fluctuations in that return, they can neither improve the workers' conditions, as we would like to see them improved, nor can they treat the land in the way in which it should be treated.
If it were only in this country that that condition of things existed, then the 1558 public might be justified in thinking that there was- some lack of ability on the part of our farmers to adapt themselves to meet present conditions which was contributing to their downfall; but it is a fact that it is not only in this country, but in nearly every country in the world, that primary producers are faced with much the same difficulties as face our agriculture to-day. I think it is a strange commentary and a sad commentary on the present state of our civilisation that, in the vast majority of countries, there is evidence of rural depression and rural depopulation; so much so that in nearly every country Governments have felt obliged to intervene on behalf of their farmers in some way or other, by giving subsidies, by raising tariffs, by controlling imports, by maintaining internal prices above the level of world market prices, or by some combination of these methods. The result has been a serious contraction of world trade in foodstuffs, and this has meant a formidable concentration of exports on the United Kingdom, which is the one remaining relatively free market.
I will give one or two examples of this, because it is important to my argument. Let me take, first, the imports of wheat and flour. Imports of wheat and flour into European importing countries, other than the United Kingdom, fell by two-thirds between 1928–29 and 1935–36, and they remained in 1938–39 less than half what they were ten years before. The export of butter to the same range of countries fell by nearly one-half between 1929 and 1933, and in 1937 was still more than one-third below the level of 1929. Imports of veal and beef have fallen almost continuously since 1925. At the lowest point, in 1935, they showed a reduction of nearly 90 per cent. Let me deal with two countries which should be great potential consuming countries, Germany and Italy. Imports of all classes of foodstuffs into Germany declined by 36 per cent, between 1929 and 1936, and Italian imports fell by 60 per cent. between 1925 and 1936.
All this has had grave consequences for the primary producers in the exporting countries, and produced equally grave difficulties for our own farmers, inasmuch as there has been a growing dependency by those countries on the British market, and consequently there has been an unbearable strain upon the existing absorptive capacity of this country. In face of 1559 these difficulties, it is abundantly clear to me that the United Kingdom fanners cannot carry on without adequate assistance from the State, just as other great industries have required and received that assistance necessary to enable them to carry on. The Government cannot be, and indeed have not been, indifferent to the plight of those engaged in agriculture. We have a real sense of our duty to maintain our land in good heart and our country people in a state of well being, and to bring about a better, and lasting balance between our urban and rural activities. That duty we intend to carry out.
Unhappily for any Minister of Agriculture, there is no single panacea for our agricultural problems, although, of course, many have been propounded. Surely, if it were possible to find some single magical formula which would put everything right, any Minister of Agriculture and any Government would be only too ready to grasp that opportunity. But I myself have been looking for a panacea in another capacity for a long time, and I am perfectly convinced that our agricultural enterprise is such a complex thing, and its conditions are so diversified, that under existing conditions no single specific is capable of solving the problems of all the different branches of the industry. We must seek to apply to each branch the kind of assistance best suited to its particular needs. This is what the Government have been trying to do for the past seven years, since the onset of that great depression which led to the abandonment of our Free Trade system and our first efforts to protect agriculture from the shock of world conditions.
It is true that the various kinds of assistance have met with various degrees of success, but there can be no doubt whatever that, taking a broad view up to 1937, they had been of material assistance not only to agriculture but to the whole country. During that time, up to 1937, the index prices for producers had risen by some 17 per cent., and wages had risen by 13 per cent. in the same period. But in 1938, the industry suffered a new setback, and although wage rates actually continued to rise, branches of the industry, such as sheep, oats and barley, which had managed, however battered they might be, to sur- 1560 vive the storms of the previous six years, did find themselves in very dire straits.
It was to deal with this new crisis that the Government undertook a review in December last, first through an Inter-Departmental Committee, and later in consultation with the National Farmers' Unions and bodies representative both of the workers and the landowners. I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the spirit in which those discussions were carried out and the helpful co-operation which all the bodies that took part in them gave to me. The Bill to which I am asking the House to give a Second Reading today is, in the main, the first fruits of that review. It does not represent a new departure of policy, but rather a development and fulfilment of the policy which was started by my predecessors. Its aim is to close the gaps in the existing series of Measures and to complete the structure of organised protection of the British agricultural producer which we have been gradually building up.
The case for State assistance to agriculture rests, I think, on the fact that, unlike other industries, the agricultural industry, when it is faced with a serious and unexpected fall in the price of one of its vital products, cannot quickly adjust itself to meet new conditions. The farmer cannot suddenly stop producing a particular commodity until the price returns to a remunerative level. In the interest of his land, his operations have got to go on; his fixed charges continue, and he must still pay the wages of his workers. Unlike those in other industries, he cannot reduce his output and cut down the costs by standing off his employés. The farmer himself, in fact, bears nearly the whole burden of a sudden fall in prices; and if we do conceive it to be, as I believe we do, a national duty to maintain the efficiency of our land, in the same way as we conceive it to be our duty to maintain the efficiency of other lines of defence, then surely the House must agree that the peculiar position of agriculture in this respect does justify a measure of assistance being given to the farmer in order to enable him to fulfil his duty to the land and to insure him against losses on any single one of his vital commodities so serious as to jeopardise his economic: position and the fertility of his land.
Our policy, as I think is clear to the House, depends upon three constitu- 1561 ents; first of all, the regulation of the supplies of imports from overseas; seconly, price insurance; and thirdly, the encouragement of efficiency measures. I will deal with them in that order, taking first of all the regulation of supplies. As I have indicated, that has become essential not only for the protection of our own farmers from the effects of unequal competition from overseas, but as I believe, and as I think the House will agree, in the interests of the whole world. For many years we have enjoyed an abundance of cheap food brought to this country from all the ends of the earth, and there is no question that that has been an important factor in the development of our great industrial and commercial system, and undoubtedly also it has been a means of. improving the standard of living of our people. I can assure the House that in all that the Government seek to do, it will be, as it always has been, our policy that the market should be fully supplied and that its consumers should have all that they desire.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
That is another question. One point about this—and it applies also to bacon—is that it will be at the lowest possible price consistent with ensuring a fair return to the producer, a fair return which the producer of bacon, even in Denmark, was not getting. But we have to recognise that this cheap food has really been bought at a very heavy cost. To my mind, there is all the difference in the world between satisfying the needs of our people and flooding the market with unregulated supplies which, in fact, over-strain its absorptive capacity and inevitably bring about a collapse of prices. That is what has happened in the past.
I have already argued that uneconomic prices for primary commodities are detrimental to trade and commerce generally and react adversely on the whole condition of our people. I think that hon. Members opposite do agree with me in that, and are not inclined to insist on providing cheap food no matter what the consequences may be. It is true that the methods of supply regulation which they advocate differ from ours, but on the need for regulation I do not think there is any difference. But I quite recognise that any one who talks in terms of the regulation 1562 of imports is immediately open to the accusation that he is going to produce an artificial shortage with the desire to force up prices. I have no doubt that hon. Gentlemen opposite had to meet that criticism when they were advocating their own policy of import boards.
There is one point about which I think the House would like me to speak for a moment or two, for it has a direct bearing on the whole of the philosophy behind our approach to the subject. That is the fear which we have lest there may be some great difficulty in the future unless there is a regulation of supplies to this country. I do not think I could put the matter better than it was put recently at a meeting of the National Nutrition Conference which was organised by the British Medical Association. There they had a very eminent authority on soil science, and he used these important words:There are forces at work which will compel a restriction of output, at least for export, from those countries which now supply us with most of our food, however perfectly we may devise an economic and distributing system. For the soil has been overworked, and is now demanding a rest with an insistance that overrides all economic and nutritional theories. The forces at work can be seen in erosion and exhaustion of the land which are now becoming national menaces in the United States, Canada, South Africa and Australia, all countries that can boast of having attained very high standards of living at the expense of the soil.This view is supported by no less an authority than Professor Scott Watson, who says:There is widespread deterioration of the world's soils especially during the last 60 or 70 years. During the last 60 years the consumer has enjoyed the benefit of relatively abundant food at low prices. In part this cheap food has been achieved as a result of the progress of farming, but in considerable part it has been obtained at the cost of depleting the fertility of the world soils.In those circumstances it seems clear to me that supply regulation is not a matter of scarcity economics and the forcing up of prices in order to put money into the farmers' pockets, but it is a question of rational control and the avoidance of waste and reckless exploitation. I believe that that is a point which deserves the most serious consideration from all parties, and it is certainly one which reinforces our desire to maintain the fertility of our own soil. That being so, it seems to me to be clear that it is in the interests of consumers and producers in all countries that a coordinated effort 1563 should be made to employ our joint resources wisely. For this reason the Government have expressed their preference for co-operation among producers in this respect instead of compulsory regulation by Governments, and they hope and believe that the Governments of all countries which are concerned with supplying food to this market will accept this point of view. This form of cooperation is at present taking shape through commodity councils which are composed of representative producers of all the most important nations which supply our markets with the various products. That is a plan which has been endorsed by the farmers of the Empire themselves, and it is one which has received also the blessing of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and His Majesty's Government in Australia. The type of machinery envisaged has already been put into operation for beef and veal, and for apples; it was recently applied to mutton and lamb, and we hope very soon that it will be working in connection with processed milk.
Our measures in this Bill to assist the sheep industry certainly provide only for price insurance, but it must be remembered that it is introduced as a complement to the system of supply regulation which is now in force. Hon. Members will recall the fact that recently, in order to steady the market, a reduction of 10 per cent. was made in imports of mutton and lamb from foreign countries and a cut of 3 per cent. in the shipments from Australia and New Zealand this year. It is true that that adjustment was not brought about through the operation of the commodity council concerned, and that the Government had to intervene in that respect, but we hope that for the future it will be unnecessary for the Government to intervene and that the Empire Meat Council will continue to regulate supplies and to secure that stability of prices which is essential to the producers who supply our needs. I myself do not believe there is the slightest fear of undue restriction under a system such as this, seeing that it will be in the interests of each and every county to sell as much of its produce as it possibly can, but it will be the function of the councils as a whole to see that undue fluctuations of supplies and consequently of prices are as far as 1564 possible eliminated, and in effect that the resources of the supplying countries are economically employed, having due regard to the needs of our home market and also to our own national requirements from our own soil. So much for the type of supply regulation which the Government hope to develop.
Now I come to the question of price insurance. While we hope that the existence of commodity councils will be effective in securing to producers in our own country, and indeed to all those concerned with supplying our markets, a reasonable return for their produce, nevertheless, if we are to ensure stability of prices for all the staple commodities of our farms, it may well be that a second line of defence will be needed, and it is our intention to supply this by means of what is known as price insurance. I realise that the expression" price insurance" means different things to different people, and I do not propose to take up the time of the House in discussing the various interpretations which have been put upon it, but I think I owe it to hon. Members to explain exactly what the Government intend by price insurance and to remove any possible grounds of misunderstanding. The most common and certainly the most important difference in the interpretation of this phrase" price insurance" is the suggestion that it should mean guaranteeing profitable prices for all farm produce. Certain agricultural bodies have put that interpretation upon it, and I think the party opposite hold out the promise that when they are returned to office, they will guarantee profitable prices to producers based on the costs of production. I shall be very interested to see what will happen if ever they are called upon to fulfil that promise, because I think they will find that there are almost insuperable practical difficulties in the way of relating price insurance to farmers' profits.
It is true that our existing information about costs of production is rather sketchy, although we are constantly getting more and more information on this subject. I am sure hon. Members will agree with me that reliable conclusions can only be obtained over a long period of years to cover all the different seasonal variations, and over a large number of farms, in order to be reasonably representative of the different conditions up and down the country. This 1565 is a costly and a laborious business, and if it is made a condition precedent to the granting of assistance, then I think there will be a very great delay in the provision of the assistance which is needed now. Moreover, as this is in the Opposition Amendment, I think I might deal with it so far as to say that even if the necessary information were readily available, I think it would be almost impossible to use it as a basis to determine a standard level of remuneration which would be fairly applicable to the country as a whole.
§ Mr. Alexander
Why does not the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry go at least as far as the Scottish Department and have a regular inquiry into the profits of agriculture in his area, with details?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
Let me deal with it in my own way. There has been a thorough investigation into the cost of milk, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and that is the only product in which costing investigations have gone very far. That investigation has shown that the cost of production varies to an astonishing extent. The extreme figures are 4.3d. and 15.7d. per gallon, and how you are going to get a common figure there, honestly, I do not know. We have not set out to guarantee to all farmers, with the assistance of State funds, a profit on all they produce at all times and under all circumstances. Indeed, farmers themselves recognise that such a request would not be reasonable and that even if under certain circumstances that position could be established, it would be a unique position among all industries and one which they could hardly expect to last. What everyone is seeking is to achieve a permanent policy and not one that is in constant danger of being reversed. In their official statement the farmers themselves go no further than to ask that they should be insured against unduly low price levels, on the assumption, and I think the very proper assumption, that concurrently with the policy of price insurance the Government will take such steps as lie in their power to create a system of supply regulation capable of preventing sudden and abnormal falls in prices. It is not our intention therefore, to take each and every commodity separately and to say," We will guarantee you a profit on that commodity," because, after all, British farming is pre-eminently mixed farming, and 1566 the average farmer judges his results, not on whether he has gained or lost on any particular commodity over the year, but on how his farm has done as a whole. What we want to do is to safeguard the farmer from losses on any of his staple commodities such as would upset the balance of his enterprise and endanger the maintenance of an adequate standard of fertility.
As far as price insurance is concerned, this Bill deals with three commodities which are vital elements in our farming economy, commodities which recent experience has shown do require immediate assistance. During our conversations with the representative bodies, other commodities naturally came under review, but it was generally agreed that it was right and proper, having regard to the Parliamentary time at our disposal, that we should concentrate our efforts this Session on oats, barley, and sheep. I believe that if through this Bill we can bring stability to these three commodities, and when the legislation dealing with milk and poultry has been considered by Parliament, then we shall have rounded off our scheme for ensuring stability for all the principal farm products. If any hon. Member questions that assertion, I would like to remind him that the National Farmers Union of England and Wales have expressed the opinion recently that if this Bill becomes law, no staple farm product will remain without some effecttive form of safeguard, and that is, I am sure, what hon. Members would desire.
The object of the whole of our policy is to maintain sound farming practice and to preserve the fertility of the land, and Members in all parts of the House would expect to find that the Measure before us is coupled with measures designed to encourage efficiency in farming. I am far from subscribing to a view which is prevalent in some quarters, namely, that the British farmer is inefficient and unprogressive. On the contrary, I think he has made superhuman efforts to adapt himself to new conditions during recent years. Great progress has been made, but there is still much to be done. While we are thinking of how to get, through State assistance, a reasonable financial return, it is easy to overlook the fact that the greater part of the work of my Department is directed towards the elimination of waste and the improvement of the efficiency of the agricultural industry. I 1567 need mention, by way of example, only a few things—the colossal system of organised marketing which has grown up in the space of six or seven years, the National Mark movement, the -£800,000 which we spend on research and education, our livestock improvement scheme, and the campaign which has been inaugurated for the eradication of animal diseases, which are estimated at the present time to be responsible for annual losses amounting to some £14,000,000.
In accordance with our well established policy, the measures of assistance provided by the present Bill are linked with provisions for securing a continuous growth of efficiency. I do not want to give details at this stage, but there are two matters to which I would like to draw the attention of the House. First of all, provision is made for withholding or reducing the proposed assistance to oats and barley where there is evidence that the land has been negligently cultivated or is being used in a way that is likely to impair its fertility; secondly, the provisions for deficiency payments for sheep are deliberately framed in such a way as to encourage the production of a type of carcase such as the consumer now demands and so to strengthen the competitive position of our home producers. These two examples will, I hope, be sufficient to convince hon. Members that we have no intention of bolstering up inefficiency or compensating farmers out of the taxpayer's pocket for their failure to make a success of their own business. On the contrary, the very keynote of our policy is to create a condition of things which will enable the fanner himself to make his farming pay.
It is not for nothing that this Bill has been called the Agricultural Development Bill. Its aim is to encourage the rational development of British agriculture along its own natural lines. That, however, is not the same as uncontrolled expansion, which could, in my view, produce no permanent benefits for the industry. Limits have been placed upon the output of each commodity in respect of which the full rate of subsidy can be paid, not merely because the taxpayer naturally wants to know what will be the maximum extent of his liability but also because it is in the interests of the industry itself that development should be orderly. Farmers' memories are long enough to need no 1568 reminding of the disastrous results of spectacularly increased production, which was almost inevitably followed by ruthless retrenchment. Notwithstanding, in this Bill room is left for expansion. The ceilings prescribed by the Bill do represent in each case an advance on existing production.
I have so far not referred to what may be described as the emergency provisions of the Bill. They are of a somewhat different character from the long-term measures, and are intended mainly as a precaution in case of war. That part of the Bill which provides for assistance for ploughing up old grassland is, however, thoroughly in keeping with the general character of the Bill. Not only will it place the land in a better condition to meet any increased demand which a national emergency may make upon it, but if we should happily be spared the disaster of war the reseeding of the pastures which have been ploughed up will increase their fertility and we shall have made a good investment in the end. Thus, there is no conflict between our permanent aims and those measures that may usefully be taken in peace time to provide for the contingency of war. The policy that we are pursuing is justified alike on the ground of National Defence and as a means of maintaining economic and social stability in times of peace. I hope sincerely that for these reasons the proposals will commend themselves to the House and the country at large.
I have tried to explain our approach to agricultural problems and the object which this Bill seeks to attain. Now I will try to go into some of the details and to explain as briefly as possible; the various provisions in this complicated Measure. Part I deals with oats and provides for an improvement and an absolutely necessary improvement in the scale of assistance that is already given to oats under Part II of the Agriculture Act, 1937, most of which it is now proposed to repeal. It is well known that there are certain areas in Scotland, the North of England, Wales and Northern Ireland where the growing of oats is necessary for the proper rotation of crops, and the assistance given under the Agriculture Act, 1937, cannot be regarded as adequate for this purpose nor sufficient to ensure that the farmers maintain their proper efficiency.
1569 The Agriculture Act provides for the payment to growers of oats an Exchequer subsidy on an acreage basis related to the difference between the average market price and the standard price of 8s. per cwt. The rate of assistance was based on the estimated portion of the oats crop sold off the farm, namely, six cwts. out of the average yield of 16 cwts. per acre. The assistance was confined to those growers who either did not grow wheat or who did not claim wheat deficiency payments. It is proposed to remove this disability and to provide for payments at the existing rate up to a maximum of £1an acre to oat growers who are also growers of wheat. The farmer who grows wheat will have complete freedom to choose whether he will receive the maximum assistance for his oats and be debarred from assistance for his wheat, or whether he will receive assistance on a modest scale for his oats and full assistance to which he is entitled for his wheat. At the same time it is recognised that there is a substantial number of farmers whose land cannot grow wheat and for whom the oats crop forms an essential part of their farming system. For these growers it is proposed to provide assistance based upon an estimated yield of 14 cwt. per acre up to a maximum payment of £2 6s. 8d. per acre. They will thus be entitled to assistance on practically the whole of their crop when allowance has been made for seed and waste, as under the Wheat Act. ,
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what is the reason for paying on r4 cwt. out of a yield of 16 cwt.?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
There is an allowance made for seed and waste in the same way as under the Wheat Act. The standard price of 8s. per cwt. is retained, but we have to provide for contingencies, and if there is any material change in the situation there will be power under the Bill to review and to vary the standard price by order of the Minister concerned, with the consent of the Treasury and with the subsequent approval of Parliament.
Again, in accordance with the well-established principle that there must be some limit to the Treasury's liability, provision is made for a maximum acreage on which payments will be made in full on the higher or lower scale respectively. It would, obviously, be unfair that those 1570 farmers who depend upon oats as their main cash crop should suffer a reduction in the rate of deficiency payments because growers of wheat who are also growers of oats have substantially increased their acreage under oats. The Bill, therefore, provides for two separate" ceilings" appropriate to the higher and lower rates of subsidy. Our experience in regard to oats is limited to the experience which has been gained during the operation of the 1937 Act, and therefore it is provided that there shall be no reduction in the rate of deficiency payments unless the combined total of 2,500,000 acres is exceeded, even though the standard acreage appropriate to one of the two scales has been overtopped.
I have referred to the provision against negligent cultivation. The Government attach importance to this provision, but in fairness to the farmers it should be said that I do not expect that there will be many cases of negligent or improper cultivation. It has been surprising how few cases of this kind have been found in the past. The provisions which I have described are also meant to apply retrospectively to land under oats and also to land under barley in 1938. Part II contemplates treatment for barley in future of an entirely different"kind from that accorded to oats, and it would be impossible to make retrospective for barley harvested in 1938 any scheme which would involve the co-operation of the industries which use barley for malting purposes. For 1938, therefore, barley will be treated as though it were oats. As far as the payments for 1938 are concerned the average price has been calculated and it is possible to state exactly what will be the revised rates of payment. They work out at 31s. 6d. per acre for growers who will become eligible for the higher rate of assistance under the Bill and 13s. 6d. an acre for those who become eligible for the lower rate.
Some growers have already received subsidy payments under the Agriculture Act, and such payments will be treated as advances of the new rates under the present Bill. Growers of oats have already received payment at the rate of 13s. 2d. per acre in respect of nearly 1,300,000 acres, while growers of barley have received advance payments of 10s. 10d. per acre. It will be seen therefore, that the new rate of 31s. 6d. for those growers 1571 who are eligible for the full rate will represent a very substantial, but nevertheless a very necessary improvement. So far as the cost to the Exchequer is concerned the retrospective payments are estimated to cost about £2,120,000 for oats and £800,000 for barley over and above the sums of £850,000 and £110,000 already paid or payable under the provisions of the Agriculture Act.
So far as barley is concerned, it has proved during the past two decades one of the most intractable of agricultural problems, largely because barley has two distinct uses, for malting and for grinding, and there is no clear line of division between the portions of the crop which are used respectively for the two purposes. It depends entirely upon the quality and quantity of the crop in any given year. Although it must be admitted that barley is not one of the chief sources of the farmer's revenue it is nevertheless a very vital crop in certain parts of the country. It is true that the value of the quantity of barley sold off the farm in England and Wales represents only £4,000,000 out of a total of £200,000,000 for all agricultural products; but I do not think these figures give anything like a true picture of the importance of barley in the fanning economy in certain parts of the country.
Sixty per cent. of the total acreage of barley in the United Kingdom is contained in 10 predominantly arable counties of Eastern England. In four of those counties barley represents over20 per cent. of the arable acreage. In these counties, moreover, farmers depend very largely upon the sale of barley for malting purposes, for the production of which their land is specially suitable, and when a slump occurs, as in this present season, it bears very hardly upon growers of barley in that part of the country. Not only do they have to accept unremunerative prices for that part of their crop which they can sell for malting but a substantial part of the crop is likely to be unsaleable for anything but grinding purposes at the much lower grinding prices which are governed by world prices. Much the same may be said of those fertile areas in the North-East of Scotland, round the Moray Firth, where barley is grown for sale to local distilleries and where an adequate market at a satisfactory price is all-important to the economy of 1572 farmers. The measures adopted in the past to deal with the question of barley have proved quite inadequate to save the growers from very severe losses in a season like the present when there is a considerable surplus of barley in relation to the normal consumption by users of malt.
The House will recollect that in December last my predecessor called a conference of growers, buyers and users of barley to see what steps could be taken to prevent a recurrence of this disastrous situation. A number of proposals were considered and it is very gratifying to find that the two industries chiefly concerned, the brewers and the distillers, both expressed their anxiety to play their part in any practicable and equitable scheme that could be devised to meet the situation. This anxiety has been shared by all the interests concerned in the handling and processing of barley. In the last few months there has been continuous discussion and various schemes have been drawn up and examined. From those discussions it would appear that if we are to get a practicable scheme to deal with malting barley it must be founded one one of two principles —either a principle which involves a levy on the users of malt, the proceeds of which, coupled with the price which is paid to the grower for his barley, will be enough to raise a prescribed aggregate quantity of home-grown barley to a prescribed standard price.
Under this type of scheme, if users of malt absorbed less than a predetermined reasonable quantity of home-grown barley, they would in the aggregate have to make up through a levy the price of the deficit, which would have gone for feeding, to the statutory figure, whatever that may be, and the proceeds of that levy, with the addition of a contribution from the Exchequer, would be distributed amongst growers of barley. The alternative scheme which has been under consideration is based on the principle of having a statutory requirement that individual users of malt should pay not less than a prescribed minimum average price for the home-grown barley or malt that they purchase and at the same time be required to use not less than a prescribed minimum quantity in relation to their production of the final product —whisky, beer or malt extract. The industries which account for the greatest part of the barley consumed for malting purposes, 1573 namely, the brewers and distillers, and the farmers themselves, have expressed a preference for a scheme of the latter kind in spite of the fact that it involves a measure of restriction upon the operation of individual firms. At present attention is being concentrated upon devising a satisfactory scheme, a practical long-term scheme, of this nature. In the Bill provision is made for a scheme on either basis to be introduced subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament.
§ Mr. John Morgan
Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to make such a scheme retrospective as to last year's crops?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
I said as clearly as I could that it will be quite impossible to do that. We have to bear in mind that we are trying to solve a problem which has hitherto been thought to be insoluble and, although there is a strong preference for a minimum-price minimum-quantity scheme, we have to provide for all contingencies and to try to avoid the necessity of having to bring in amending legislation should we finally fail, to evolve a satisfactory minimum price plan or should such a method prove unsatisfactory after trial. It is, however, our definite intention, if Parliament entrusts us with the necessary powers, to proceed with the elaboration of a long-term scheme based on the minimum-price minimum-quantity principle and I hope, if we can keep the goodwill which is already apparent, such a scheme will be eventually submitted for the approval of the House. The Bill lays down a number of provisions which may be included in a scheme of that kind. Any scheme would need to have the affirmative approval of both Houses of Parliament before being brought into operation.
§ Mr. Alexander
Has the Minister discussed the basis of the management of the scheme? Is it to be a producer scheme?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
I am coming to that. As with oats there is provision for a ceiling, in this case a maximum quantity of 18,000,000 cwts., in relation to which the full rate of assistance from the Exchequer will be determined. Power is proposed to be taken to vary the standard price of feeding barley if there is a material change in the price level or other conditions, and there are similar provisions to those applying to oats for meeting the danger of negligent cultiva- 1574 tion. Under a minimum price scheme farmers who sell barley for malting purposes would receive no additional financial assistance in respect of that part of their crop, whereas those who sold all or part of their barley for feeding purposes, or retained it for feeding stock, would receive a subidy sufficient to make the average price up to 8s. per cwt., subject to a maximum payment of £2 13s. 4d. an acre. There is provision for the constitution of a Barley Advisory Committee representative of growers, merchants and users of barley, with an independent chairman. That committee will advise the Minister on any scheme introduced and on its effect on the trade and other interests concerned. In the case of a levy scheme, the levy fund would be administered by the Government itself. In the case of a minimum-price minimum-quantity scheme, the details have not yet been worked out.
Even though the Bill should pass through its various stages fairly quickly, and even though substantial progress has been made along the lines of working out a minimum-price minimum-quantity scheme, it is evident that there would not be time to put such a scheme into operation before the beginning of the next barley season in August, and it is essential that a scheme of such a permanent and comprehensive character should be very carefully considered in all its details and. not hastily introduced. Provision is therefore made for the introduction of a special scheme of a simplified character to relate to the 1939 crop only. It is of the levy subsidy type, and it is expected that it will involve a levy on all brewers on the basis of their output of beer, and possibly a corresponding levy upon distillers based upon their output of spirits. We have had discussions with the brewers and I do not think it will be possible to bring in all users of malt. It may, indeed, be desirable to exempt the distillers from this levy scheme in view of the special circumstances that obtain in Scotland and to deal with barley of the 1939 crop used for distilling by another method which would attain the same object. There is always a part of the barley crop which is not used for brewing or distilling, and the House would be asked to sanction an appropriate Exchequer contribution, to be added to the levy mentioned above, for distribution amongst barley growers on an acreage 1575 basis. Both the levies and the Exchequer moneys would be on a sliding scale depending on the average market price of barley over a suitable period. The details would be incorporated in a scheme which would be submitted for the approval of both Houses of Parliament. This appears to us to be the simplest form of scheme which could be introduced in the short time now available and, although I do not think it would be appropriate as a long-term measure, I believe that we shall be able to operate it successfully for one year.
I have discussed it with the brewing industry and I have very good reason to expect their co-operation on these lines. Indeed, I must express my gratitude and appreciation to the brewing industry and the distillers for all the willing help they have given us in coping with this very difficult problem and the evidence that they have shown of a genuine desire to help producers of barley to obtain a fair return for their produce. These temporary arrangements have one incidental advantage which is of some importance. They will help to overcome the difficulty of the heavy carry-over of barley from the 1938 harvest which would constitute a serious handicap in working a scheme, either minimum price or levy subsidy, of a more elaborate character. I again emphasise the fact that the measures contemplated for dealing with the 1939 crop are intended to be confined to this year only. As I have explained, it is considered desirable, in view of the difficulty of the problem, to frame the provisions of the more permanent scheme in such a way as to permit the continued use of the levy subsidy principle if that principle is the only practical solution, but I should regard a permanent scheme of that sort as a last resort. It is our intention that every effort should be concentrated on the preparation of the alternative form of scheme, namely one based on the principle ęof the purchase by the malt using industries of not less than a minimum quantity of barley at not less than a minimum price.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
I should like notice of that question. With regard to the question of fat sheep, these provisions 1576 also are extremely complicated. I should like to explain them simply and briefly but I doubt whether it is possible to do so. I do not know whether I shall get away with this sentence, but it is a brief explanation. The Bill provides for the fixing of monthly standard prices and the calculation of average monthly market prices for fat sheep, and for the making of deficiency payments in each month when the market price falls short of the standard price by one farthing or more at a rate equal, for each sheep, to the price deficiency multiplied by the standard weight. That is a brief and simple explanation of the scheme.
§ Mr. Alexander
Are there no boys from the elementary schools in the Civil Service who could use simpler language?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
We have excellent boys from the elementary schools in the Civil Service. The proposed method of assistance to sheep differs very radically from that at present in operation for cattle. In the first place, hon. Members who know the trade will agree that prices of fat sheep follow not only a marked seasonal trend over the year but also a cyclical trend extending over six or seven years, which leads to wide fluctuations in prices. In these circumstances a deficiency payment based on the results of a year's working or a flat rate subsidy would not be satisfactory for the sheep industry. On the other hand, if we treated each month separately by making deficiency payments in accordance with the relationship between the market price in that month and the standard price for that month, assistance would be given to the extent needed. Under the Bill the monthly standard prices are to be fixed in relation to a basic annual standard price of 10d. per 1b. The standard price is to be the price of live sheep per lb. estimated dressed carcase weight, and the average market prices will be prescribed on the same basis. There has been some confusion as to what dressed carcase weight means and I should like to give some explanation of that, although it is rather an unpleasant subject. The interpretation varies slightly from one part of the country to another but, generally speaking, it is the weight of the carcase when the head, the tongue, the skin., the guts, the liver, the heart and certain other internal organs have been removed.
1577 Clause 23 (c) enables the Ministers to make regulations defining dressed carcase weight for the purpose of the Bill. Perhaps the simplest way of making the matter plain is to show what a standard price of 10d. per lb. dressed carcase weight means in comparison with the prices realised last year, to which reference has often beep made by hon. Members in this House. Those who are familiar with fat stock prices know that the price of first and second quality fat sheep averaged over last year 8 ⅞d. per lb. This was the price of live sheep, per lb. of estimated dressed carcase weight. Under these proposals, the farmer will, in future, be assured of an average price over the year of not less than 10d. per lb., on exactly the same basis. It is estimated that if this scheme had been in operation during 1938, the subsidy, on certain broad assumptions, would have amounted to approximately £2,500,000 on exactly the same determination. There are provisions for the automatic reduction of the basic annual standard price of 10d. per lb. in certain circumstances and it is important that this also should be made clear. In the first place, if the sheep population of the United Kingdom in any year exceeds 27,000,000, the annual standard price is to be reduced by ⅛d. for each complete 250,000 of the excess, and by ¼d. for each complete 250,000 by which it exceeds 28,000,000.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
The latest figure is 26,800,000. It is not the intention of the Government that these price insurance proposals should lead to an expansion of United Kingdom production of mutton and lamb, beyond the capacity of the market to absorb home-killed sheep, and this provision for a reduction in the standard price when the sheep population increases, is in line with similar provisions regarding standard quantities in the Wheat Act and in the proposals for assistance to growers of oats and barley. I may mention that since the War the sheep population has only been in excess of 27,000,000 in one year, namely, 1932, and in that year the excess was less than a complete 250,000, so that no reduction in the basic standard price would have been necessary even in 1932. We have not the figures of the sheep population in 1939, but last year it was 26,800,000. 1578 Provision is also made for reducing the standard population of 27,000,000 when, for each of two successive years, the average annual market price has been below the annual standard price and for reinstating the 27,000,000 basic population, when subsequent to a reduction, average market prices are above the standard price.
In explaining this provision I must repeat that the purpose of these price insurance proposals is to insure producers against unduly low price levels, and it is not the intention of the Government that the standard prices on which payments to sheep producers are to be based, should be maintained at a level permanently above market prices. If, therefore, market prices were for two years below the standard price, that probably would be an indication that the standard price fixed under this Bill had ceased to be in accordance with the general level of commodity prices, or that the standard population of 27,000,000, fixed in the Bill, had ceased to represent a sheep population which gave a production of mutton and lamb that the market could absorb at economic prices. Other influences, however, may be at work. If. in the view of the Government, low prices are due to the pressure of imported supplies, or other adventitious causes, there is a provision to enable Ministers, by Order, to suspend in any year the operation of the requirement for the reduction of the basic sheep population.
We have also to take into account the possibility of a contraction in demand, but it is my hope that with the increased attention that should be given to quality production and the marketing of light sheep and light joints, the demand for the home product will expand. Some fundamental change in general price levels or a material change in the conditions of the industry, might also make that figure of 10d. inappropriate to the circumstances prevailing in a few years time. Therefore, the provisions in the Bill relating to the basic standard price and the standard population may be varied by Orders, made by the Ministers after consultation with the Livestock Commission, and with the consent of the Treasury and subject to the affirmative approval of Parliament. Obviously, the power to modify these two related basic features of the sheep policy will not be 1579 lightly used. The Government would need to be satisfied that there had been a material change in conditions before these powers of variation were invoked, particularly that relating to modification of the standard population. I would like to go into the whole question of standard weights and standard sheep, but in view of the time which I have already occupied I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman opposite might put any questions in his own speech, and it will be answered later.
Part IV of the Bill deals with what is essentially an emergency Measure. Its main object is to increase our preparedness to expand food production in this country in time of war. With this object, the Bill authorises the Ministers to give grants of £1 per half-acre, with a minimum of two acres, towards the cost of ploughing up, between 4th May and 31st October, 1939, land which has been under grass for not less than seven years and bringing such land into a condition capable of growing satisfactory crops in 1940. The House will appreciate that however much we might like to make this provision retrospective for farmers who had the foresight to plough up before that date, it would be impossible to devise equitable and administratively sound arrangements for the payment of grant in those cases. I would like to pay a tribute to the county agricultural organisers and their staffs for the great work which they have done in helping farmers to take advantage of this scheme. It is anticipated that we shall get at least 250,000 acres by this scheme. Already we have got half way. We have received notifications in respect of about 125,000 acres, which is, I think, most encouraging.
Part V deals with reserves of agricultural machinery and other matters, and I think only two features need special mention. The first is the reserve of agricultural tractors and machinery. The House has already had an opportunity of debating this subject and will not, I think, want me to say much more about it. We are now seeking authority to create the necessary reserve. I would repeat that these tractors cannot be used in the ploughing-up scheme for this year. They are only for use in the event of an outbreak of war. There has been some anxiety as to whether there will be the 1580 necessary supplies of fuel and labour to enable us to work these tractors to the full extent if an emergency should arise. I think I can reassure the House on that point. Adequate provision has been made to cover petrol requirements. It has also been suggested that use might be made of producer gas. That is still in its experimental stage, but its possibilities are being thoroughly explored. As far as the supply of labour is concerned, the House will realise that agricultural tractor drivers over the age of 21, have now been included in the Schedule of Reserved Occupations, thus ensuring that they will not be enlisted in any form of National Service which would require their whole-time service in the event of war. As a second string, we are bringing in a scheme for training members of the Women's Land Army. We hope that these measures will ensue that the tractors can be used in the fullest possible way. As far as machinery is concerned, a representative of my Department yesterday attended a meeting of the Agricultural Engineers' Association in London, and this association has set up a committee of six members to work out a detailed plan in conjunction with the Ministry.
The second question to which I would refer in connection with this part of the Bill is that of credit. The Clause in question does not involve any extension of agricultural credit facilities. I should make that clear. It is intended to enable the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, which is the principal organ of long-term agicultural credit in England and Wales, to overcome certain difficulties which have hampered its activities in recent years. Owing to the fall in rates of interest, the corporation has found itself unable to lend money at corresponding rates without incurring losses. This Bill provides for Exchequer assistance by way of grant or loan, up to £60,000 a year for 20 years, to cover the losses during that period, so that the corporation will again be in a position to fulfil those functions for which it is designed.
I have, I know, wearied the House in explaining the provisions of the Bill, but my excuse is that the Bill is a very complex one and of very great importance to the agricultural industry. I would like to express the hope —it is not a hope, I think, which is impossible of realisation —that the House will show its sense of the significance of the Measure by giving it 1581 an unopposed Second Reading. I assure hon. Members opposite that such a gesture would give the greatest possible encouragement to all who work on the land, and would be the best possible earnest of the concern of Parliament in their work. The Amendment which appears on the Order Paper states that it ignores the necessity of improving the lot of the agricultural worker. I claim with confidence that, on the contrary, the improvement of the conditions of the agricultural worker and the maintenance of the rural population on the land, cannot be hoped for, let alone secured, unless provisions such as those embodied in the Bill, are carried into effect and maintained as a permanent feature of our national policy. It is a paradox and, I venture to say, a most frightening paradox that although agriculture is the most vital of all human occupations and is at this moment the main preoccupation of mankind, nevertheless in nearly every country in the world we find that the return which it gives to those engaged in it, to farmers, to smallholders, to peasants, to wage-earners, is less than the returns given by manufacturing industry, or trade, or commerce, or almost any other occupation.
For this reason, and, no doubt, also because of the urban bias of modern civilisation, we find that in practically every country there is a drift away from the land to the towns. Every Government to-day views this development with anxiety. Every Government is beginning to realise the necessity of dealing with one of the fundamental causes of the troubles of those who are engaged in agriculture, the wage-earners just as much as the farmers, and that cause surely is the unstable and unremunerative prices obtained for the products of agriculture. Uncertainty and low prices prevent that measure of prosperity which is essential to the maintenance and improvement of the conditions of those engaged in agriculture. That is what we are trying to deal with in this Bill. I claim, therefore, that, so far from ignoring the agricultural worker, we are by this Bill taking measures, which are of vital necessity to his welfare. In so far as we are able, stage by stage, to restore the position of agriculture in this country, we already have the machinery of the Agricultural Wages Act, on which, I think, all parties in the House are agreed, for securing that the agricultural worker receives full consideration.
1582 It is my view, and I thought it was the view of the Labour party, that, given the difficulties with which agriculture has to contend, and in particular given the disparity which does exist between the returns from agriculture and from other industries and occupations, the machinery of the Agricultural Wages Act is the most practical and the most effective means that can be devised for safeguarding and improving the position of the workers. But when all is said and done, neither that machinery nor any other can help the agricultural worker if prosperity cannot be restored to the industry itself. On the other hand, if we do restore that prosperity then we have the necessary means of ensuring that the agricultural worker does secure his fair share of it. That the present Wages Act does achieve its object is shown, I think, by the experience of the last six or seven years. During that period there has been a rise of nearly 14 per cent. in minimum agricultural wage rates, and that improvement has been maintained in spite of the set-back which agriculture suffered in 1937 –38.
I fully recognise that wages and the machinery for safeguarding and improving wages are by no means the whole story, and that there is an urgent need to improve the amenities of life for the agricultural worker. We have tried to do that. By the Unemployment Insurance (Agriculture) Act, 1936, we have given him a measure of security against unemployment. By the Rural Housing Act we are seeking to improve housing conditions in country districts, which I know is a matter of vast importance if we are to get people to stay on the land. Again, by the Holidays with Pay Act we have enabled agricultural wages committees to fix holidays with pay for agricultural workers, with a statutory backing.
Although this Agricultural Development Bill is, I admit, something of an omnibus Bill, and contains a number of different proposals, I do not suggest for a moment that it deals with all the problems of agriculture. It will never be practicable to legislate in one comprehensive all-embracing Bill for all the aspects of such a complex industry. In any case the Government's policy has got to be taken as a whole. It has been embodied in a great number of Acts, and I think the hon. Member opposite will agree that the fact that unemployment insurance in 1583 agriculture, rural housing and holidays with pay have already been dealt with by other legislation is not a valid ground for criticism that they are not included in the present Bill.
I claim that we are not legislating for any sectional interest but for the benefit of all who work on the land. Our policy aims at restoring agriculture to a state of permanent stability and well being, which will enable it to fulfil its proper part in our national life. It is abundantly clear, and it is plain common sense, that that aim will never be realised unless we have an adequate supply not only of skilled farmers but of skilled workers content and happy in their work and mode of life. I should be the last to claim that this Bill alone will solve all the problems, but I do claim that, taken in conjunction with the other Measures of the Government, it will materially assist in enabling all those engaged in agriculture to face the future with confidence, and confidence is still the best energiser of men and the best fertiliser of the land.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I beg to move, to leave out from the word" That," to the end of the question, and to add instead thereof:whilst anxious to establish the agricultural industry upon a sure foundation and thus enable it to play its part in a national emergency, this House cannot assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which ignores the necessity for improving the lot of the agricultural worker and arresting the depopulation of the countryside, and grants further substantial subsidies under conditions which will not encourage good farming, fail to provide for an effective price insurance scheme or a costings and price system, and are not calculated to ensure stability in the industry.If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's preamble and peroration were embodied in one pamphlet I am sure that it would be extremely useful in rural districts during the election campaign, but I am not sure that either preamble or peroration has much relation to the Bill before the House. This is one addition to a long trail of agricultural Bills which we have had since 1931. In the earlier part of his speech the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said something to the effect that Acts alone would not solve the agricultural or any other problem. If Acts of Parliament could have solved the agricultural problem it would have been 1584 solved several years ago, and there: would have been no necessity for a further agricultural Measure for the next 50 years. In the last seven or eight years we have passed no fewer than 36 or 37 Bills dealing with some phase or other of agriculture. I invite hon. Members to note that by 1939 we have reached this stage: We are subsidising sugar, indirectly subsidising wheat, directly subsidising beef, directly subsidising milk, providing a price insurance scheme for bacon, subsidising oats, subsidising barley, subsidising fertility, subsidising drainage; and we have imposed heavy duties upon imports of fruits, vegetables and flowers, and to that extent provided an indirect subsidy to the producers of those commodities. So we are in this happy position: We are paying a subsidy to farmers who turn over grassland for the purpose of growing future cereal crops, we are subsidising the land when it has been turned over by helping the farmer to buy lime and basic slag, we are subsidising the farmer's raw materials in the shape of feeding stuffs —oats and barley —and then we are subsidising the beef, the finished product, which is the sum of the raw materials out of the fertilised land which we originally subsidised. That is an extraordinary state of affairs, and the" Times" might well say the other day:The Measures promised for this Session of Parliament need to be given a wider purpose than merely to hand out subsidies to barley growers, oat growers, milk producers and sheep farmers to keep them out of the bankruptcy court.That observation in the" Times" was well deserved. The right hon. Gentleman called this an agricultural development Bill. I should term it a" subsidy continuation and extension Bill," because I have looked in vain through all the 40 Clauses to see the development side of it. There is a maximum acreage for oats, a maximum tonnage for barley, a maximum number for sheep —indeed, when I examine the Bill and all that it contains I can only regard it as being the Kettering policy sugar-coated. It is far removed from an agricultural development Bill. On 6th February, 1936, when the right hon. Gentleman had been in the House only a few months, he said with youthful enthusiasm:The whole of the fanning community is waiting with some anxiety for the Government's long-term agricultural policy, and I am confident that when that policy is unfolded, as unfolded it must be very soon. 1585 it will envisage such a degree of expansion that it will make it quite impossible for the industry to think in terms of unemployment.After three years we are still waiting. He told us there was no one specific for all the ills of agriculture, although his Government have since 1931 applied only one specific, the financial specific. In that same speech in February, 1936, the right hon. Gentleman said:We have lost 200,000 workers since 1931. We can get them back, along those departments of agriculture which mechanisation cannot touch."— OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1936; cols. 419 –20, Vol. 308.]We have lost 50,000 more workers since then, yet the right hon. Gentleman is proceeding to buy £1,250,000 worth of mechanised appliances without having restored one agricultural labourer to the land. How many agricultural labourer have been restored to the land since that speech was made? Instead of getting more back to the land we have lost another 50,000. After February, 1936, and before 8th July, 1936, the ex-Minister of Agriculture had in all probability whispered into the ear of the right hon. Gentleman," As president of the National Farmers Union you ought to be more discreet in this House, and your demands ought not to be so great." At any rate, on 8th July the right hon. Gentleman had toned down to saying this:There has been great development since the Government came in. …1 hope that we shall not be expected to do anything in five or ten minutes and so ruin the whole business by doing it hastily. —[Official Report, 8th July, 1936; cols. 1296 –7, Vol. 314.]Could anyone imagine this Government doing anything hastily? Could anyone imagine this Government doing anything which was going to stabilise any situation? In the course of his speech the right hon. Gentleman said that what agriculture wants more than all else is stability. In 1937 the right hon. Gentleman's Government passed an Act to subsidise oats and barley. The Bill before us will repeal parts of that Act. They are stabilising the industry in such a way that in 1939 we are to repeal parts of an Act of 1937. If that does not create instability I do not know what instability means. It is true that since the right hon. Gentleman spoke in July, 1936, we have subsidised beef —or increased the subsidy —we have increased the subsidy for milk, we have provided a subsidy for oats and for barley, and a price insurance scheme for bacon. This 1586 Bill is simply a continuation of that slow, painful, financial march, but except for the sums of money allocated for fertilising grassland, and perhaps the sums set apart for turning over sour grass land, nothing is being done to promote the development of agriculture in any sense. This Bill does not develop agriculture: it merely continues and extends subsidies.
I do not want to befuddle the House with figures, but the Bill means that the Government are providing for oat growers an annual subsidy of some £2,230,000, and in a very bad season the Treasury may be called upon to find 4,500,000, plus £60,000 administrative expenses. For barley the annual payment may be £1,250,000, with £65,000 for administrative expenses. We also have to make a retrospective payment of 2,920,000 for the 1928 crop —a sort of pre-election gift to the right hon. Gentleman's political friends. We have to set aside £900,000 per annum for sheep producers, plus £2 per acre for ploughing up grass lands, say, £1,200,000 for the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman calls that an agricultural development Bill. I repeat here what we say in our Amendment. This is not an agricultural development Bill; and it totally ignores the needs of the skilled labourers on the land of this country.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman talked about what the Government have done for agricultural labourers. The Conservative Government had been in office for many generations before the right hon. and gallant Gentleman became a Member of this House, or even a Minister, and they never thought of an agricultural wages regulation Bill. They just ignored the labourers then as they do now. If the labourers are securing any benefit as a result of the long series of subsidies which have been provided for agriculture, it is wholly due to the Agricultural Wages Regulation Act which was passed by the Government in 1924 and not to any positive step taken by the National Government or the Conservative Government at any time in the past. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred also to the unemployment scheme for agriculture; agriculturists and others sitting on these benches were pleading for that kind of Bill for many years. We know that the Government have extended that Bill to the reconditioning of houses, but that is 1587 the Government and local authorities subsidising private property-owners who will not keep their houses in a decent condition. The Act passed in 1931 by the Labour Government making provision for the erection of 40,000 rural houses was sterilised by the National Government, and instead of the 40,000 new houses that might have been built and that might ' have retained skilled agricultural workers upon the land, about 2,000 houses, I believe, have been built during about nine years. That is all that the National Government have done for agricultural labourers. If the National Government's financial aid to agriculture is large enough, some of it may filter through to the labourers in the form of wages. That is all that this Bill can do for the agricultural workers.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested that the Bill was designed to encourage efficient production, but he did not refer to the Clauses in detail. I had better refer hon. Members to what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had in mind. Clauses 4, 15 and 34 appear to give the right hon. and gallant Gentleman power either to pay or to withhold a subsidy where it is felt that oats and barley have been grown in an area wholly unsuited for those crops or the farmer has not done his work efficiently. Those Clauses are merely eyewash. They do not mean a thing; or, if they do, why did the right hon. and gallant Gentleman not tell us, and the tens of thousands of oats and barley producers in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, who is to determine whether an area has been farmed efficiently or not? Is it his intention to have a whole host of inspectors who will have power to enter upon land and to ascertain whether the land has been farmed efficiently? It might be that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has that in mind, but he made no observation concerning it in the course of his speech. Until we know from the Government that something positive is to be done with regard to ensuring efficiency on the part of the subsidy receiver, and to ensure that the subsidy receiver will not try to produce his commodity on land wholly unsuited for it, we are entitled to tell the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that we think these provisions are merely eyewash and are not calculated to improve the farming of this country.
1588 The Bill repeals part of the 1937 Act. It is important to notice that of the oats consumed in this country approximately 93 per cent. is home grown; therefore, there can be no foreign competition with regard to that commodity. I am sure that the right hon., and gallant Gentleman would not suggest that foreign competition has been a disturbing factor in the price for oats. Secondly, it ought to be clearly understood that in England and Wales and part of Scotland almost the whole of the oats grown upon the farm are consumed upon the farm. Only in some parts of Scotland are oats regarded as a cash crop. In other words, the oats produced in the country are very largely used on farms or are sold by one farmer to another. With this subsidy in operation it simply means that in a very bad season when prices are awfully low the Treasury steps in to fill the gap, but if there is a very good season with a small yield and high prices, some farmers will be exacting from other farmers high prices for that quantity of oats that they sell to each other. It is a sort of heads the Treasury loses and tails the Treasury has not got a chance. The Treasury step in where the price is low, but if the price happens to be high the farmer walks away with it and says nothing. That is why we declare that this Bill is not to be a price insurance. Our impression of insurance is that somebody must pay a premium. There is nobody here to pay a premium. The Treasury has to find the losses while those who get the profits simply walk away with them.
I remember that on the day when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman made his announcement concerning oats a Scottish farmer who. had sat in the Gallery walked out into the Members' Lobby and said: "At long last the Scottish farmer has got his snout in the pail." There is no doubt at all that he has his snout in the pail to some considerable extent in regard to oats.
§ Mr. Williams
In any case, why is it that this oats subsidy is based upon acreage and not upon yield? The answer is very simple. I presume it is known to all agriculturists in the House, but as there may be some who are not 1589 agriculturists, perhaps some slight explanation is necessary. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman provides a subsidy where the yield is 11 cwts. per acre in Wales or Oxfordshire or 20 cwts. per acre in Scotland, but that is not the way to encourage good farming. To grant a subsidy on the basis of yield or sales would be administratively impossible, because oats in the large proportion of cases are not sold at all, and nobody could determine who had bought and who had sold oats if they were administering on a basis of yield. We are entitled to say that whatever the yield the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not helping to encourage good farming. It is a case of this sort, that at the lower price the farmer sells it to the farmer and the higher the subsidy, while the Ministry and the Treasury are helpless. They have no control over the method of selling. They must accept some statement made through certain market agents, and that is the only guiding influence they have to determine what the subsidy in this case should be.
I have one other observation to make in regard to oats. The average price for the past nine years has been 6s. 10d. per cwt. The guaranteed price under the terms of the Bill is approximately 7s. 9d. per cwt., even if the price fell to 4s. 8d. per cwt. That is in cases where no wheat subsidy is claimed by that grower. In the lower cases, where wheat subsidy is also paid, the guaranteed price is approximately 6s. Id. Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman ask his colleague when he replies to-night to give the House some information as to the calculations of the guaranteed 7s. 9d. per cwt. for oats? We want to know, and so do the House and the country, something about the cost of production of oats. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman fixes the price at a shilling per cwt. more than the average for the past nine years we ought to know the basis of his calculation. I should have thought that instead of talking glibly about costs covering long periods the right hon. and gallant Gentleman might have given us the benefit of the costing accounts which he has at his disposal. It takes a long series of years before you get the average of one commodity in its relationship to other commodities. These subsidies have been going on since 1932, and throughout that period we have never had a word of 1590 what it costs to produce either wheat, barley, oats, beef or anything else. We are entitled before this House agrees to a subsidy in this form to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the basis of his calculation.
I know certain areas of land where one cwt. of oats can be produced for 4s. On wholly unsuitable land in other parts of the country, it may be that a cwt. of oats may cost from 12s. to 16s. per cwt. We ought to know something about these figures. We ought to know that oats or barley will not be produced on land totally unsuited to these two crops. In 1937 the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's predecessor, when guaranteeing 8s. per cwt. for oats, provided for a 5d. margin between 8s. and 7s. 7d., and his explanation for the 5d. margin, when challenged by hon. Members opposite him, was administrative finance. He said that we might find ourselves paying out a large number of extremely small payments at great administrative expense, whereas the sums to be paid out would be of no real value to the farmer. Well, why change from the 5d. margin between 8s. and 7s. 7d. to a 3d. margin between 8s. and 7s. 9d.? Perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will tell us the reason later.
Clause 9 deals with retrospective payments for 1938 crops of barley and oats. This is purely a gift of £2,930,000 to oats and barley growers because of the revolt in various counties on the part of the farmers during that year. Hon. Members will know that Jimmy Wright, the farmers' secretary, threatened to oppose the Conservative candidate in East Norfolk, and that there was a farmers' candidate opposing the Conservative candidate in Holderness. There was the threatened march of the Suffolk farmers. The Government, like so many white mice or timid rabbits, made promises which were readily accepted, and the House is now called upon to foot the Bill of £2,930,000. That is a free election gift to their Tory friends merely because, in 1937, they had no knowledge of the problem with which they were dealing. In 1938 there was a scare on the part of the farmers, and Clause 9 is the result. Part II of the Bill deals with barley schemes but these are still in the bosoms of the Ministers, and we shall hear more about them after the Ministerial hibernation. We do know that, on the basis of the right hon. Gentleman's 1591 own figures in the Financial Memorandum, the actual average subsidy that we may be called upon to pay is approximately £1,250,000. I do not need to deal with the fixed price scheme or the levy subsidy scheme; I am only concerned about what this House is being called upon to meet this afternoon.
The Government have to guarantee, for non-malting barley, 8s. a cwt. As far as I have been able to examine the figures, I can only find a general average price for all barley sold. We know that in February the price is much higher than in other months, presumably because it is the period when malting and distilling barley is being purchased, but the average for the last nine years has been 8s. 7d. a cwt. for all barley. This Bill guarantees a price of 8s. a cwt. for all non-malting barley. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman who is going to reply will tell us why malting barley and non-malting barley have been separated, and what is the basis of the figure of 8s. a cwt. for barley that will not go into manufacture. Barley, as is generally known, is a commodity that is sold by farmers to farmers through merchants, as regards that portion which does not go to the distillers or brewers. In other words, it is a feeding stuff. Here, again, we have no statement of the cost of production, and we have no control over the methods of selling. The producers, the merchants and the rest will sell and buy just as they like, and the right hon. Gentleman, like the good servant that he is of the agricultural merchant, the middleman and the rest, will accept their figures and tell the Treasury that it has to pay. That, as far as I can read the barley Clauses, is exactly the position in which we shall be.
It is a very curious situation. In England and Wales, in 1937, the average price for barley was 12s. 9d. a cwt. There was no complaint from barley growers during that period, when there was a very small crop and the price was very high. But during the following year Nature was extremely kind, there was a record yield, and the price fell to 8s. 4d. a cwt. for all barley, malting and non-malting. Then they came to the right hon. Gentleman, and he has responded and provided them with this subsidy. But we want to know if it is fair that the Treasury, when, through no fault of the farmer, the bottom of the price is knocked 1592 out, should step in and fill the breach. If Nature is very unkind, if the yield is extremely small and the price goes up to very high levels, clearly the Treasury ought to be entitled to recoup themselves for what they have paid in the previous year of very low prices.
§ Mr. Williams
Clearly that is the ideal and the limit of the hon. Member's thought —that if the farmer can make a good profit he ought to be able to get away with it.
§ Mr. Williams
Can the hon. Member say that the farmer did not make a decent profit in 1937, when the price was 12s. 9d.?
§ Sir J. Lamb
It does not depend on the price only, but on the quantity he has to sell, and to sell more at a high price is sometimes not so beneficial as to sell a greater quantity at a smaller price.
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Member has not the figures in his mind —he ought to have them, as a representative of agriculture —I can tell him what they are. In 1937, the total output 0: barley was 655,000 tons, and the average price was 12s. 9d. a cwt. I never heard any farmer complain during that year. In 1938 the output was over 001,000 tons, and the average price was 8s. 4d. If the hon. Member will work out the figures, he will find that, on the high record output of over 200,000 tons more in than in 1937, the farmers actually received £800,000 less for their 1938 crop than for the 1937 crop. They came to the House of Commons in 1938 to demand the £800,000 that they were short in 1938 as compared with 1:937, but if in there is a very small yield and a very high price, we shall not hear a word about it from the farmers. They cannot have their cake and eat it, and they ought to accept either the one figure or the other.
§ Mr. Turton
Is that what the hon. Gentleman's party advocates under the policy of guaranteed prices?
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Member must know the facts if he has done us the 1593 honour of reading our literature. For a long time we have stood for stabilisation of prices and power to regulate imports of agricultural commodities, and we have never tried to recede from that position for one moment. I stand for the same policy this afternoon, and object to the policy of the Minister, which is all give and no take. No hon. Member in this House who really has the interests of agriculture at heart can support that policy for one moment. I repeat that, as regards barley, the right hon. Gentleman has no knowledge of costs and no control over prices. He accepts what private enterprise does, and pays up without complaint. That will not do for hon. Members on these benches. If we are willing to pay, we at least ought to be able to exercise some control over selling methods, so that we might be able to see to it that the farmer himself is not exploited by the keen business men who come between him and the consumer, as has been the case for a very long time. Now brewers, distillers, farmers and the Minister are coming together and are going to lay down what quantity of barley maltsters and distillers shall use. They ought to be able to provide a decent scheme between them. But I am pretty sure that, once the price is fixed by these three agencies, knowing that the Treasury are behind the non-malting barley price and will have to foot the bill, we shall find a new unholy alliance of brewers, distillers and farmers operating against the Treasury once they are given the chance.
Part III of the Bill deals with fat sheep, and, again, taking the right hon. Gentleman's Memorandum, over a period of six years the annual charge on the Treasury will be round about £900,000. We are guaranteeing 10d. a lb. of dressed carcase weight according to the description given by the Minister. This is a curious piece of all put and no take. For four of the last six years the average price has been in excess of 10d. a lb., but for two of those years the average price has been slightly less than 10d. The Clause dealing with this fat sheep subsidy only provides the margin when the price falls below 10d., and, if the price goes up to 1s. 2d., 3s. 1d. or Is., the fat sheep producer just walks off with it and has nothing to say. For six years the prices have been, according to figures obtained from the Minister 9d., 10¼d., 1594 10½d., 10¼d., 11½and, last year, 8¾d. For my part, I have no objection to paying the farmer an average of 10d. a lb. for his sheep, if they are of the right quality and if we can be satisfied that it is a fair and reasonable price. But, if we guarantee 10d. when the price falls below 10d., at least we ought to have something to say when the price is in excess of 10d. The scheme is so one sided as to be barely worth looking at; it is another example of" Heads I win, tails you lose." It has no real relation to a proper price insurance plan.
The breeders of sheep on the hills in Wales and high up in Scotland had a very bad time last year, but I know of many cases where the actual feeders, as distinct from the breeders, made a lot of money out of fat sheep even last year. It is obvious that, if the price of lambs is exceedingly low and the feeder can buy them at very small prices and give them a few weeks' heavy feeding on good pasture, he can double the price and make a very good profit. I am not sure, when we provide a subsidy for either cattle or sheep, that the breeder ought not to have the first call, because the feeder, who has the least trouble, very often makes the maximum profit. I would not say that this guarantee of 10d. is excessively generous, but it is based upon entirely wrong principles. Again the right hon. Gentleman gives us no idea of the cost of production, he has no control over prices or selling methods, and there is no guarantee that this subsidy is going to provide tranquillity or stability.
As far as I remember, not one word was said by the Minister this afternoon on the question of the quality of the commodity. He must know, as a practical farmer, that the time is past and gone when 60 —lb. or 80 —lb. sheep are saleable in this country. New Zealand has set us the example of small carcases, and, unless sheep producers in this country are going to try to produce something comparable with Canterbury lamb, they will be everlastingly coming to this House to seek bigger and bigger subsidies, because they refuse to see what the market demands. Denmark took our bacon market, and New Zealand set out to capture our lamb market. In both cases they scored, and our own producers are doing nothing about it. A maximum is laid down of 27,000,000 sheep, from which point the 1595 subsidy commences to decline, but the right hon. Gentleman did not fully explain the reason for this maximum. He might have told us that, if the fattening producers were granted a subsidy, the number of sheep in this country would be very rapidly increased, and they would be landed on a market which could not absorb them at the price, and the subsidy called for from the Treasury would be terrific. That argument would have been perfectly true, because what can be taken off the market in this country has a very close relationship to the spending power of the peopled But he had better not talk about this Bill being a Development Bill when there are skies for various kinds of produce.
We welcome the reserve of tractors provided for in Part V. As an emergency measure the objects are probably good, but if the right hon. Gentleman has made a good bargain in spending £1,250,000 of the taxpayers' money to buy tractors, why should they remain in storage and be allowed to deteriorate? Why not appoint drivers for them at once, and rent them out to farmers who cannot afford to buy them; or, if the right hon. Gentleman does not want to rent them, why not sell them to farmers on easy terms? I believe he could make a good bargain both for himself and for the farmers. If farms are inefficient owing to lack of equipment, here is an opportunity to help farmers to help themselves. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman, or his Government, is so afraid of the commercial interests between the people who buy and sell motor tractors that he will not think of entering on their domain. Clause 32 deals with that very modest item of £60,000 for 20 years—another gift of £1,200,000 to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. I recall that when the 1928 Bill was before the House, my right hon. Friend characterised that Measure as the Bankers' Subsidy Bill; and I am certain that that title was correct.
We set up a machine at that time and provided those who were to run the machine with £650,000 free of interest for 60 years; we gave them £10,000 for 10 years towards administrative expenses, and we took power to invest in debentures not less than £1,250,000 if need be. We understand that Whitehall Trust, Limited, are standing more or less as guarantors behind this Agricultural 1596 Mortgage Corporation. Their debentures, as far as we can gather—and if I am wrong I hope the Minister will correct me, because we are entitled to information on this—of £8,500,000 were borrowed at 5 per cent. for 60 years. They were issued at par. There were £2,000,000 shares at 4½per cent., issued at 95. For the £8,500,000 at 5 per cent. the prices over 1938 ranged between 103 and 122½for the £2,000,000 at 4½per cent., the prices last year ranged between no and 114½That being the case, it does not seem that this concern so urgently needs more financial help. Why, therefore, is Parliament guaranteeing £60,000 for 20 years—a total of £1,200,000—unless it is satisfied that agriculture is going to get some real benefit out of it? I know that the Minister said that if the Corporation are going to continue lending money at 4½per cent. they must get some assistance, but are not these people making agriculture an excuse for getting their guarantee at 5 per cent. when otherwise they would not be able to get it so easily? This looks much like a debenture protection society than an agricultural credit society. I think we are entitled to know much more about this subject.
This is another Measure which completely ignores all the needs of agricultural labour in this country. It contains not a word about housing, about wages or about social amenities in any of the 40 Clauses and two Schedules The Minister and hon. Members opposite are always telling us how kindly disposed they are towards agricultural labourers, but they never come forward in this House with a Bill which is going to be of assistance to agricultural labourers. We can see the drain on the countryside continuing. This Bill, while guaranteeing minimum prices, fails to provide stabilised economic prices on a real understandable insurable basis. We have no costs to guide us, no control over selling methods or price-fixing agencies; and we are leaving, as the right hop. Gentleman discovered in Suffolk last week, thousands of acres of land derelict and thousands of farm buildings out of date; we leave the uneconomic unit in agriculture where it is; and all the Government do is to come to this House for more and more financial assistance.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there is no one specific for all the ills of agriculture. We concede him that. Our 1597 complaint is that the Government have applied only one specific during the past eight years. That has been financial assistance. There has been no real reorganisation of agriculture as such; no attempt has been made to send Government agents through the country to ascertain where farming is good, where it is bad, and where it is indifferent. We know that we have some of the best farmers in the world, but there are many who cannot do themselves justice because of lack of equipment, because of lack of water supplies, buildings, electricity and all the rest. It is because this one specific, financial assistance, has left the industry in 1939 where it was in 1931 that we cannot support the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden
In rising to address the House, I feel sure that I shall receive that indulgence which is so generously accorded to new Members. There are many economic problems awaiting solution to-day, but it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find one more worthy of the attention of His Majesty's Government or the earnest consideration of this House than that of agricultural policy. I represent a very large agricultural constituency, typical of our country north of the Border and vitally affected by the Bill which has been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman. It is a Bill which we in Scotland particularly perhaps have been awaiting long and anxiously, and I hope patiently, and I welcome this opportunity of making a few observations in general support of it. I remember reading many years ago about a parson who inquired of a farmer how he was managing to get on in those hard times. The answer seems to me to be appropriate to these times. The farmer said:" Last year, I lived on faith; this year, I live on hope; next year, it may be that I shall have to live on charity." I think it is perfectly true to say that during these years of depression the fanner's faith in his land has been his greatest standby. The hope that the decay going on around him will one day be arrested has persisted in his heart; and the realisation of that hope can come about, as far as I can see, only through a measure of compensation, but not charity—compensation because of the necessity of maintaining a low cost of living in industrial Britain.
1598 I shall not weary the House by going into a long list of figures showing the falls in prices, the millions of acres that have gone out of production, or the thousands of workers who have left the land; but one does not need to be an economist, or even a practical farmer, to realise why farmers cannot make a living, or why, if our bankers and auctioneers closed their books to-morrow, probably 50 per cent. of our farmers in Scotland would be found to be insolvent. I can only say, from my own experience, that farmers have had a lean time. They have had to face ruinous prices and intense competition from overseas. We have also had rising costs, and the result is that the state of the industry has become a national danger. In considering the collapse of prices, it seems to me, as a farmer, quite natural that when you turn to the cost-of-living index figures you find a very wide disparity between the figures for" all items including food" and the figures for food alone. Taking the average for the past 10 years, the cost-of-living index for all items, including food, is 16.2 per cent. above the cost-of-living index figure for food only. That is a strange price disparity, and it would be even greater if taken at the farm, so that I conclude that the cost of living is comparatively low to-day simply because of the extremely low food prices. I realise the importance of the cost of living, and I Have no wish at all to belittle that fact, but if, on the one hand, the cost of living must be kept low, on the other hand the agricultural industry must survive, and if it is to survive, as it must from the national point of view, I can see no alternative but to give the farmer some measure of protection when prices fall to uneconomic levels. Unlike the manufacturer, the farmers' principal competitors are our Dominions, and we know that the tariff has been rejected so far as they are concerned.
This Bill will mean that subsidy will be payable only to the extent that the consumer is enjoying food below the cost of producing that food. This Bill will give the farmer a measure of assurance if he is faced with a slump in prices. We know that agricultural produce suffers more in that respect than manufactured goods. What can the farmer do when he is faced with a collapse in prices? The farming industry is governed by the forces of nature, but the manufacturer can close down or can go on to short 1599 time when prices collapse. The farmer must carry on even in the face of subsidised exports. His whole market may be flooded by subsidised exports, and still he must carry on. The manufacturer produces to a definite contract for which he has quoted, but the farmer cannot do that; he must take what he can get when his produce comes to market. Civilisation itself may collapse in ruins about him, but not even that can alter the forces of nature. His crop can only come to harvest at the Almighty's appointed time. Nor has all the genius of man yet succeeded in persuading a cow to produce her offspring one day before she feels inclined to do so. The manufacturer can definitely plan for his contract, but the farmer must plan ahead of any possible contract of sale.
This Bill, I believe, opens up the way for a return to some extent to the policy of the plough, the policy which I believe is in the best interests of this country. Because of the poor prices for arable produce that we have had in the past I believe we have exaggerated the value of permanent pasture. Much more is to be gained from a system of rotational grasses. The Wheat Act was designed as a plough policy since we know that very little home-grown wheat finds its way into the loaf. Scottish farmers want and need a similar plough policy, but they grow oats instead of wheat. It seems to have been forgotten in the past, that the growing of oats is not only an essential part of Scottish arable farming, but is the largest crop grown in the United Kingdom. When we hear the familiar argument that there are fewer horses on the land and less porridge being consumed, we forget that we have an enormous and expanding livestock population, and that is where oats come in. The reason why we grow oats in this country is that it is contained in nearly every feeding ration, and that is because it is the best balanced of all the cereals. Moreover the straw is indispensable as a fodder, and I am not exaggerating when I say that oat growing is the mainspring of Scottish arable farming, and that if you were to take it away the whole of our agriculture in Scotland would collapse.
I consider that the most important concession contained in this section of the Bill is the unlinking of the cereal crops. I have always felt in the past that the 1600 old method led to bad farming. Now we can hope for a definite system of balanced arable farming. The breaking up of the standard acreage is already appreciated by Scottish farmers, as is also the new method of weighting the average prices. I would like to ask whether, and to be assured that the Scottish market price will be taken and weighted according to the acreage qualifying on the higher basis in Scotland. I should like to congratulate not only the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, but also the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland on the cereal section of this Bill and, while I realise the great difficulties, I think it is going to mean a square deal for our Scottish farmers. It may be some satisfaction to them to know that the effect of this Bill will be felt in the most remote corners of Scotland, including our glens and uplands and even in the Western Islands. I would be failing in my duty to those whom I represent if I did not say" Thank you," because the Bill will put new hope into the heart of the Scottish farmer, whom I know so well.
That part of the Bill dealing with sheep is just as important to us in Scotland as that part dealing with oats. One-third of the total sheep population of these islands is to be found in Scotland, and the value of mutton and lamb produced is astonishingly high, being approximately 17½per cent. of the total agricultural output of Scotland. If we add to that the value of wool, it will be found that Scotland's sheep flocks contribute one-fifth of the total agricultural wealth of the country. Therefore, it will be seen that Scotland has a very great interest at stake, the whole country stretching from the Cheviot Hills to the Shetland Isles being affected by the Bill. I had hoped that the Government would have seen their way to deal with the question of assisting sheep farmers through the medium of wool rather than mutton. My reason for stating that is that from the national point of view our hill farmers require the most encouragement. Our hill sheep stocks for purposes of grazing utilise enormous tracts of country, those vast hill areas of Scotland, quite un-suited to any other industrial purpose and incapable of contributing in any other way to the prosperity of the nation. I hope that the Government will take every step possible to encourage the use of 1601 home-produced wool in the manufacture of cloth for military purposes. That would help the wool farmers a great deal.
Perhaps I may be forgiven if I approach the measures regarding sheep with more than the ordinary caution generally attributed to the Scot, but I would like to say a word on the question of the standard price. The basic standard price of 10d. per lb. on dressed carcase weight has been defined to-day, and it rather removes my fear. But I am still in some doubt because there is a difference between estimated dressed carcase weight and the actual carcase weight, the one being estimated and the other actual. I wonder whether it is equitable and sound that we should base the subsidy payable on an estimated carcase weight. fn regard to the" ceiling" restriction imposed in the Bill is it not running counter to what must be the general ultimate objective of agricultural policy? That is not only to put a bottom on the market, but to ensure a gradual expansion of home production. A margin of expansion is allowed for in the case of oats and barley under the Bill, but in the case of sheep, the" ceiling" may come down, not necessarily because of over-production of sheep, but because of the two successive years' restriction following, which might be due to imports. I would ask the Minister to reconsider that section of the Bill. It seems to be rather in the same category as assisting a boxer to his feet only to knock him out altogether in the next second. I would appeal to the Minister to reconsider that part of the Bill.
In conclusion I feel that the agricultural problem really goes far deeper than merely attempting to make fanning pay. From the national point of view, we have a very much bigger problem to decide. We have, on the one hand, an enormous army of unemployed, and, on the other hand, a depopulated countryside with a great deal of work waiting to be done, It is wrong that that should be the case. Our problem really is to turn out more John Bulls and fewer John Citizens by effecting a readjustment or redistribution of work throughout this country. I believe this Bill will bring about a real reawakening of our countryside, and that our oldest industry, given a fair chance, which it is now going to be given, can, and will, play a very definite part in our national life.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Snadden) upon his maiden speech, and I am sure that the House has shown, by the attention with which it listened to him, that it appreciated his explanation of Scottish agriculture. I would also like to join with him in congratulating the Minister upon his speech in introducing his first big Agricultural Bill. It is an advantage to us to have a Minister of Agriculture who has not only such a wide knowledge of English farming, but who has also studied farming abroad. There was a time in this country when the ills of farmers and farming were considered to be peculiar to British farmers. We were always told in the countryside that farmers in almost every other part of the world enjoyed most delightful conditions and were able to make a very much better living than the farmers in Great Britain. At that time our Free Trade system was blamed for all the ills which befell agriculture. Since then we have had a Government which does not hesitate to introduce protection and that excuse for the fact that farming is not in a very prosperous condition to day can no longer be applied.
I thought the Minister tried at one: point-to find an explanation when he referred to the diversion to Great Britain of imports which might have gone to other countries. I do not think that, on examination, that explanation will account for the troubles of the particular sections of agricultural produce which are dealt with in the Bill. In 1938 the additional imports of mutton and lamb, according to the figures provided by Oxford University, were one point higher than in 1937; and 1937 was not such a bad year. Certainly the low price of oats is not due to imports. We are all but self-supporting and produce all but 3 per cent. of the oats which are consumed in the country. In fact, the argument that it is foreign competition from which we are suffering is wearing rather thin in these days, and, at any rate, the fact that the imports from the Empire have increased while those from foreign countries have diminished, is a hard fact which makes it very difficult to apply the solution of a restriction on imports effectively to the agricultural problems of to-day. We on these benches have always warned the farming community that the simple and 1603 easy way of salvation, of protection and ever more protection offered to them from the benches opposite, was a delusion, and that what protection there was would be protection for the industrialists and not for the agricultural community.
I was looking the other day at a survey made by Cambridge University of the conditions in East Anglia, and, shortly, their conclusion was that 1938 was the worst year that East Anglian farmers had suffered since the slump in 1932. Therefore we on this side of the House are entitled to ask plainly and simply how the Government account for that fact? Of course, as the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross has hinted, the North of England and Scotland have been waiting for many years for some recognition that there was a problem. After many years of a low price for oats, during which Government assistance has mainly been directed to agricultural products of the South of England, it is rather remarkable that there should be such a hurry at this particular moment to help northern agriculturists. Without dwelling on that point, I agreed with the Minister when he said that there was an agricultural problem all over the world. It is equally acute in some ways in the totalitarian countries where imports have been severely cut down. There is a problem of agricultural labour in Germany, and to-day the farmers of Germany are far from content with the conditions under which they have to work, in spite of the enormous cutting down of imports. In addition to that, in Germany, and in Italy to a lesser extent, there has been a very considerable development of their own natural resources. Probably millions of acres have been reclaimed, but still the farming community are not content, are not prosperous. I am not sure that any country has yet completely solved the very difficult problems to which the Minister referred. For the reason that the Minister seems to realise that this is one of the problems, I welcome those parts of his speech, but, as the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said, the differences between his general remarks and the actual Bill before us are very striking indeed.
The Minister hoped that the Bill would be regarded as a permanent policy and not one which may be revised—a comprehensive policy. After all, this is 1604 perhaps the most typical of the hotchpotch, patchwork measures of the Government. The only cement in it, if I may change my metaphor, is the financial assistance which each section of the Bill gives. In view of the very difficult position in which farmers find themselves I think there is a strong case for assisting farmers by subsidies. It is undoubtedly the fact that the farming community have not gained the protection which industry has gained, and if they did it would raise the cost of living at a time when there are still millions of people in this country on a standard diet far below that which they should have to produce maximum health and efficiency. I think there is a strong case for the farming community being assisted by subsidies, to be borne not by the consumers as a whole, as protection is always borne, but by the taxpayer who is most able to bear it. Generally speaking, I say that there are two conditions which should be applied to such a system, one is that the agricultural community as a whole should benefit, and the other that the landlord does not get the advantage.
I believe it is possible to prevent direct Government assistance being transferred to the owner's pocket by increased rents. At least the attempt might be made to do so, and that attempt could be made by providing for more extensive schemes of arbitration. One of the facts which I think is not sufficiently realised is that there is a higher percentage of agricultural workers to farmers in this country than in any other country in Europe or in the world. The percentage is two agricultural workers to one farmer. Hon. Members above the Gangway are, I am sure, very well aware that nobody can be satisfied with an agricultural wage which may average 34s. a week, and if forms of assistance could be devised by which the agricultural worker does receive better remuneration, then I am sure the agricultural community as a whole is entitled to have that assistance. The problem is forcing itself upon the agricultural community, because farm workers are leaving the land. Since 1921 about 220,000 workers have left the land, and the most serious feature is that it is the young men over the age of 18 who are leaving in such large numbers. That is understandable when agricultural workers get 8d. an hour and these young men can get Is. or Is. 3d. per hour as 1605 general labourers. I ask the Government whether the other conditions of living on the land can be improved. We have passed an Act to make it possible to build agricultural cottages for agricultural workers, but I cannot hear of any action on any substantial scale having been taken under that Act. In my own district I believe only one house has so far been improved. I think the agricultural community as a whole must face the problem of leisure for agricultural workers. I welcome very heartily one part of the Bill, and that is the arrangements for ploughing up old grassland.
I was sorry to hear the Minister say that this was an emergency Measure. I realise that it can be regarded as an emergency Measure, but I had rather hoped that the emergency had persuaded the Government to take action which might also develop into a rather new approach, on the long-term basis, to the agricultural problem. I am one of those who believe that wheat is not the basis of British agriculture but that grass is, and that it is vitally important that that grass should be as fertile and as well managed as possible. I believe that it would pay the agricultural community and this country more than anything else to spend money on improving the fertility of our grassland. Many farmers, long ago, before they got £2 an acre, had ploughed up their grassland. I know of a small farm of 80 acres where every bit of it has been ploughed up since the War, and it has paid them to do it. One rather regrets that this policy was not announced at least three months sooner, and then it might have been effective. About 700,000 arable acres have gone out of cultivation in the last seven years—about 100,000 acres a year—and one is glad to hear that the farmers have responded so well already to this proposal, even if it was announced very late for this year.
I hope also that once having set his hand to the plough the Minister will not look back, and that he will continue this policy by providing the other thing which is essential—and that is the means of draining waterlogged land. I was sorry to hear him repeat that the tractors were to be put into reserve and not to be used until the outbreak of war. That seems an extraordinary and short-sighted policy. There is in many districts a shortage of tractors, and if grassland is to be ploughed up surely it would be right to make the 1606 fullest use of all the resources available. I wonder whether the Minister could find time to consider again whether a survey of our grassland could not be made at the same time as this policy is being applied, that it should not be left to chance what grassland is ploughed up and what is not, and that some suggestion should be made to farmers about the ploughing out of so much of the grassland which is an eyesore to this country.
This Bill will affect Scotland and the North and West of England particularly. I would like to make a few remarks about the arrangements for sheep. It is wrong to look a gift horse in the mouth, and I do not know whether I have done this sum correctly, but if there are 27,000,000 sheep in the country and they all find their way eventually to be slaughtered, that, I assume, means that if the ceiling is 27,000,000, that is the number which will find their way to be slaughtered. That would assume, of course, that they were all only a year old. The figure I would like whoever is replying to give is what is the total number of sheep which will rank for subsidy. For instance, we were told that the subsidy, if paid last year, would have been about £2,000,000. One can only comment again that the fall in sheep prices was as much as 10s. or 15s. per head, and I cannot see that even the large sum spread over the number of sheep involved can amount to any more than a small proportion of that.
While subsidies may be justified as a way of helping farmers in an emergency, they are no substitute for a flourishing agricultural community based upon a consistent and energetic demand from consumers who can afford to pay and to buy. The story of the fall in sheep prices is an interesting one and I do not think the Minister dealt with it at all when he was speaking. It was not due largely to imports. That was a contributory factor but not the main factor. The main factor was a glut of English-produced mutton, seriously aggravated by weather conditions and by the fall in the price of wool, and also by the fact that glutted markets were further glutted by the refusal of retailers to reduce their price and thus get the mutton into the consumers' hands. Since I made this statement in the House I have the authority for making it of no less a body than the Food Council. They say: 1607They — meaning the retailers— appear to have maintained an exceptionally high margin of retail over wholesale prices for mutton from October, 1937, until the end of 1938. We hope that butchers will reduce the margin substantially at an early date.What I am trying to suggest is that that excessive profit had the worst possible effect on the sheep producer because it dammed up his supply, with the result that the fall in the price to the farmer was quite unreasonable in comparison with the increase of available supplies. That increased margin of the retailer applied equally, if not more so, to imported as well as home-produced sheep. I do not believe you are going to solve the sheep problem in this country by merely handing out doles or subsidies. You have to tackle the problem fundamentally as a problem of distribution, and until you do that you will not solve the sheep farmer's problem.
I am glad that the Government have to some extent adopted a barley scheme, by which the growers and distillers will pay a guaranteed price for the barley that they buy. I believe their profits in a recent year were round about £30,000,000. Therefore it is quite understandable that the announcement of the Government's scheme has not affected the value of their shares in any way. They will be quite capable of paying a reasonable price for barley. They ought to pay a price which would make it possible to pay the agricultural worker producing the barley for the beer which the people of this" country drink, a real wage and not what he gets at the present time. I would also like to ask whether it is not possible to devise some system by which the advantages, which the agricultural community gets from subsidies will not be passed on to the landowner. At the present time the landowner gets all the advantages arising from improvements which the farmer makes to his permanent pasture, because the farmer cannot claim compensation for such improvements. I think that is one thing which might have been rectified in the present legislation.
It would seem possible to devise legislation that would prevent the advantages of subsidies, at any rate, being passed on to the landowner. If the oats subsidy is paid at its maximum rate under the Bill, taking the ordinary north country six-course rotation over the six years, the subsidy paid at the maximum rate to oats 1608 crops would mean that the farmer was receiving per acre as much as 15s. 6d. every year over the six years. We hope that the subsidy will not have to be paid at the maximum rate. If it were, it would be a very considerable item; and there is no doubt whatever that subsidies are, and will be, passed on to the landowner unless some precautions are taken to prevent it.
I wish I had confidence that this Bill would put agriculture on to a permanently satisfactory basis, but I do not believe it will. I believe that the farmer is entitled to some assistance at the present time, but I have no confidence that this Bill will give him any permanent relief from the difficulties under which he is suffering. I believe that until you have altered the present land system and have introduced a far more efficient system of marketing agricultural produce, though the fanner may be temporarily helped by these subsidies, in a year or two his position will again become critical.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Colonel Gretton
The concluding remarks of the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) sounded like a strange echo from a past age. He brought into his speech criticisms of the landlords and the landowner who lets his land for farming purposes. The hon. Member seems to have forgotten that a very great deal of the land has been sold to occupiers in recent years and that the landowner belongs to a declining class. On all sides one hears the regret at this break-up of estates and the sale of land. In most cases, the occupiers, when they purchase, have to borrow largely, and they still pay rent in the form of interest on the borrowed money; but now they do not get the form of assistance which in the past the landlord was able to give in order to tide the tenants over bad times. I will not pursue that matter further, except to say that if one goes a little further back into the case, one finds that it is drastic taxation which has led to the breaking up of estates, and one hears on all sides regret that the old system of agriculture, which consisted in having a good landlord who would stand by his tenants in bad times, has broken down.
With regard to this Bill, I cannot think that subsidies are sound as a permanent measure, although there is a great deal to be said for them to tide over a temporary emergency. Every hon. Mem- 1609 ber will agree that during the past two years agriculture has been passing through very trying and difficult times. Subsidies are very costly to the State, and except to support and tide over an industry that is very hard hit, they do not seem to be a long-term policy that is sound or likely to succeed in the long run. That part of the Bill which deals with increased fertility of the land is wholly good, in my opinion. I have been a farmer all my life, and my father and grandfather were farmers, as also were my ancestors as far back as I can trace. One gets an insight into some of these things by owning land and farming it oneself. The provisions in another Act for subsidising fertilisers are wholly useful. The ploughing up of deteriorated grassland is sound as far as it goes, but a great deal of this land has deteriorated owing to the bad times and the inability of the tenants or owners farming it to stock it adequately and keep it in good condition. Grassland needs manure and sustenance, and no manure is as good as that which is provided by the stock feeding on the grassland. This is indeed essential for healthy pasture.
I rose principally to make a few observations on the subject of barley. Provision is made in this Bill for a barley subsidy. The main provision in the Clauses dealing with barley is that for a subsidised price for malting barley, whether used by brewers or distillers. This is an old matter. For some years past the farmers have been complaining, not so much of the price, but of the quantity and volume of barley which they have been able to sell for malting purposes. In regard to the brewers, the reason is very simple, but it is not often mentioned in the House. In 1914, 35,000,000 standard barrels of beer were brewed in this country. I take the standard barrels because they are a better indication of the quantities of material used in brewing than the liquid barrels, which may be of high gravity containing much material, or of low gravity containing comparatively small quantities. In the year before the War, 35,000,000 standard barrels were brewed, and in the last year for which returns are available, 1938, the amount was only 17,500,000 standard barrels—one-half. This is chiefly due to the drastic taxation imposed during the War and since the War, which has reduced the consumption of beer to these 1610 proportions. Of course, the figures for liquid barrels have not fallen to such a great extent as those for standard barrels, which are a rough measure of the contents of the beer.
The Brewers' Society has always expressed anxiety to help the farmers to grow good malting barley and to pay fair prices for the barley which they purchase for brewing. They first made a suggestion that an import duty of considerable dimensions should be chargeable on all imported barley, with a suitable preference for Empire barley, and a drawback on barley bought for feeding purposes. That appeared to be impossible and could not be carried out at the time owing to trade agreements, commercial treaties, quotas and so forth. International reasons made it impossible. It is only during the past year that there has been any considerable complaint by barley growers of low prices for malting barley. Hitherto there has been great anxiety among all barley growers to get into the malting category and not to be left in the feeding class, where prices are definitely and substantially less. This year there has been the complaint that much barley sold for malting was sold at too low a price. That, of course, was the fact. The brewers cannot give fancy prices. They can give the full market prices, but they are business men, and cannot give prices above the market prices of the barley which they buy. All was well until this year when owing to the abundance of grain crops, whether wheat, barley, oats or otherwise, there was a general fall in world prices.
The brewers then proposed that there should be a scheme based on a minimum quantity of barley purchased for malting and brewing and a fair minimum price. Objections were raised to that, not by the Ministry, but by the barley merchants and maltsters. The Brewers' Society prefer a scheme of that kind, because they consider, and press urgently for consideration by the House and the Government, that any guaranteed prices which the brewers pay should actually reach the grower of barley and not be subject to any rake off in the form of hidden profits by the middle man or by anybody else.
The scheme in the Bill is admittedly only a temporary scheme. My right hon. Friend said that the Ministry is going to work out a scheme based on a minimum price and a minimum quantity. The Brewers' Society, with some misgivings 1611 and a little unwillingly, have accepted the scheme in the Bill. It is a scheme in the form of a levy on standard barrels on all brewers. Obviously, there are great objections to this scheme, which does not get. over the difficulty about the levy not reaching the grower of the barley. The grower of the barley will get a subsidy on acreage and not on the amount produced, and the farmer, who gets a lesser price, will get no more from the subsidy than the farmer who gets a higher price. So much for the matter from that point of view. From the point of view of the brewers, the levy is unsatisfactory and unsound because it is made equally on all brewers, those who pay higher prices for barley that is British grown and those who pay comparatively low prices. There are many who pay good prices and use large quantities. The scheme is manifestly unfair as between brewers and brewers. But as it is for one year only, and the Brewers' Society and the brewers generally recognise that something must be done to get over the present difficulties, they consent to it, and will help in working the scheme for one year.
In conclusion, I am very glad that the Minister is dealing with sheep. There is no doubt whatever that the assistance given to the sheep industry will be of more widespread and greater benefit to agriculture generally than any other subsidy given under the Bill. All farmers who have farms of any size keep sheep, whether they be fanners in the hills and mountains of Scotland and Wales, or whether they be farmers in the Lowlands, pastures and arable land. In past years, sheep have been the backbone of British agriculture. When prices fell, as they did two years ago, the position of agriculture became most serious, and in some districts that fall, combined with the failure of the beet sugar this season, has put the finishing touch on the farmers. If the sheep industry can be put on a sound and paying basis, it will do a great deal to revive agriculture. The hon. Member for North Cumberland referred to pastureland. If the farmers cannot afford to breed or buy stock in order to stock the pastureland adequately, it will go into a bad condition. I and many others have been shocked and pained to see good pastureland over wide areas in different parts of the country steadily 1612 deteriorate owing to bad stocking. There must be adequate stocking if the grass is to be kept in a good condition. The majority of fanners have just enough stock to graze the land and keep it going, but not enough to keep it properly grazed. This Bill is a temporary Measure, and I only regret that it is so costly to the taxpayer, but I venture to submit to hon. Members that it is worthy of support and that we ought to give it a Second Reading.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin
I believe there is general agreement in all parts of the House on the fact that agriculture to-day is of greater national importance than ever, and I believe it is true to say that there is the same general agreement on the fact that this national asset itself is to-day in a bad way. It does not take a great deal of observation, in going through our countryside, to agree with the opening remarks of the Minister and of my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) that what farming needs more than anything to-day is more capital. I think it is equally clear—and it is a vital fact—that the countryside is being depleted of labour, and that that depletion has led to one of the greatest problems that farmers have to face today, namely, the problem of labour. I believe that in the future all parties will have to put their heads together to see how this problem can be solved. I speak for the county which I represent, and their experience is that farmers to-day, for one reason or another, are totally unable to get the labour that is necessary for the running of their farms. The test of this Bill is this: Will these proposals help to put more men on the land? The answer to that question we shall not be able to know, perhaps for one year, perhaps for more than one year, but if this Bill is to help agriculture itself, or indeed is to help the wider national interest, it must mean that through these proposals more men will be engaged on the land. The Minister has said that he believes—and I respectfully agree with him—that more than 1,000,000 men could be put on the land, and I hope that this Bill will be the means of putting, not 1,000,000 men on the land, but at least more men on the land.
I desire to deal mainly with Part III of the Bill, which deals with fat sheep. This affects vitally the farmers of West 1613 and Central Wales. There can be no shadow of doubt at all that last year the prices of sheep throughout the whole land, but particularly in Wales, were disastrous, and I entirely agree with what the Minister said when he argued that in the national interest we cannot allow again such prices to prevail. On the whole, the farmers to whom I have spoken are satisfied with the 10d., but they do not expect to get a great deal from the price insurance of the sheep, because, taking out the two bad years 1932 and 1938, the general average price for the remaining years was over 10d. I desire to ask the Minister three questions. First, is it now perfectly clear that edible offals are not included in the dressed carcase weight? Secondly, have the standard prices for the different months been worked out? If so, is it possible for the Minister to tell us what the standard prices for the latest months are? When the Minister does come, in reorganising the stock conditions, to fix these standard prices, I hope he will remember the Welsh farmer. He knows very well that for one reason or another the Welsh farmer has to sell his flock in August and September, in order to get his rent and because he has not the necessary feed. I would ask the Minister to see that for these two months, for the reasons that I have given, the figure will be kept as near 10d. as possible. Thirdly, have the weights of the two classes into which the sheep have to be divided been fixed? If not, may I respectfully suggest that the weights of the lower class should be from 22 to 32 lbs. and for the higher class from 33 to 56 lbs.? I dare say the right hon. Gentleman has considered and rejected the proposition that it might be just to have three grades. I do not know, but if he does fix three grades, he may think that from 24 to 32 lbs., from 33to 40 lbs., and from 41 to 56 lbs. would be grades which would give sheep-owners in the different classes fair play. He will recognise that if there are two grades, there must of necessity be certain cases which will work very hardly against the man who has small sheep.
I desire next to put one point to the Minister that will be of very great importance to the fanner in working this scheme, and that it is the settlement of the market price. I hope the Minister will see that the market prices are obtained in a fair and a just manner, and not, as they 1614 are at present, in the slap-dash way of asking the auctioneers quite casually what his prices were. Auctioneers are human, and, of course, they put up the very best prices. They boost their own prices in order to attract attention to their particular market, and I am told by farmers that they are astonished sometimes to hear over the wireless certain prices which are given from the very market where they have sold their beasts that day. On these prices will depend the amount which will have to be paid to the farmers under this insurance scheme. I do not know whether the Minister will consider the question of an independent tribunal to administer this price insurance scheme. I must say that there are many farmers, particularly in Wales, who regret that the Minister has put the ceiling of 27,000,000 sheep in the Bill. In this they acquit the Minister of any wrong; they say, rightly or wrongly, that it is not his fault at all, but rather the dead hand of the Treasury which has fallen on the Minister and for this purpose, anyhow, has strangled him. I do not know whether he will be able to alter this. I doubt it, but anyhow he should know that farmers will suffer in two ways from putting the sheep population so low. First of all, when the numbers are increased, prices naturally will fall, and then when they have already fallen they will be hit a second time by the 10d. being reduced.
This part of the Bill is quite inconsistent with the Government's fertility policy. The Government are giving cheap lime and slag, and they are now giving an additional £2 per acre for ploughing up grass land, and I would have thought the whole of their policy was directed to more production. I hope, if it is possible, that this ceiling of 27,000,000 will be altered, because in the hilly parts of Wales, the high and the poor ground is the most costly to make fertile, and I am told that the only animals they can keep at such a high altitude are sheep. This scheme is to be worked by the Livestock Commission, a commission composed, I think the Minister will agree, very largely of beef men. Will the Minister consider putting more sheep experts on to the Livestock Advisory Committee; and may I further press on him that the most expert sheep men in the South come from West and Central Wales? I hope that he will not forget that while other farmers in other parts have help for beef and for wheat. 1615 these farmers in Central Wales have no help at all, and they depend entirely on sheep.
Just a word or two on the proposals for ploughing up grass land. Those of us who come from West Wales note with very great pride that two great men, Sir George Stephenson and a Welshman, Mr. William Davies, are now coming into their own. Nothing but praise, in my judgment, can be given to the proposals for ploughing up grass land, but here again may I ask the Minister to consider this suggestion, which the farmers are urging sincerely upon him, and that it is extend the date to 31st December? He is a practical farmer, and he knows what the difficulties are. From now until 31st October he knows that there is the hay harvest, then there is the corn harvest, then you have to see about your sheep and the ewe trade, and by that time you have got well into October and there is no time at all for ploughing. Besides that these are the summer months, when the ground is too hard to put the plough into it at all.
May I stress the appeals which have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley regarding tractors? I believe the scheme is an excellent one. I have in a small way advocated the adoption of a tractor scheme in the counties. Here is the scheme coming into actual operation, and I would beg of the Minister to put it into operation at once in skeleton. There are tremendous difficulties and the greatest he will have to face will be the getting of suitable mechanics to drive the tractors. You cannot find them in the streets. The most careful selection will be required. When the emergency comes the right hon. Gentleman will have other things to think about, and I would ask him to carry out this scheme at once. It is now being done in my county. I have a friend who is using a tractor for himself and for the farmers round about, to the great advantage of the land. I understand that you can get a good tractor for £149. On that basis it would be easy to put a number of tractors in a county and to work the scheme in skeleton form.
It is useless for the Minister to give £2 an acre for ploughing up land and to assist the farmer with lime and slag, and for the farmer to put in expensive grass 1616 seed, if in the end we are simply going to provide food for rabbits. Along with this scheme there must be a Bill for putting down the rabbits. To-day they are a greater pest than ever, after this dry weather. We are suffering in West Wales very much from the rabbit pest. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will help in every way to deal with this pest. I have seen a beautiful field just outside the town of Carmarthen, which has been cultivated under instructions from the people at Aberystwyth, a beautiful field of fine grass, and half of it has been eaten by rabbits, which had come from one or even two miles away. When once they start to eat a good thing, they go on with it. I hope the Minister will build up the whole thing by seeing that everything he can do will be done to pass a rabbit Bill into law.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Edward Ruggles-Brise
The agricultural community as a whole will welcome the introduction of this Bill, and when they read the remarks made by my right hon. and gallant Friend in introducing the Bill, they will appreciate the fact that in the Minister of Agriculture we have one who has perhaps a closer understanding of the agricultural point of point than any of his predecessors who have stood at that Box. So far as the House is concerned, I am sure that hon. Members in all quarters, whether they agree with all the particulars of the Bill or not, will agree that in introducing a long, difficult and complicated Measure he did it with the greatest clarity, and his speech was of the utmost assistance to hon. Members.
The speech fell into two main parts. The first dealt with the broad grounds of justification for the introduction of the Bill, and the second was explanatory of its details. In view of the fact that we shall be discussing at some length the details of the Bill in Committee, I do not propose to say anything about them, but I should like to enlarge on the broad grounds of justification for the introduction of the Bill. Before doing so, I should like to refer to the attitude taken up by the Labour Opposition in moving the Amendment. Their own Amendment admits that the industry requires some measure of assistance, and goes on to emphasise the necessity to: 1617establish the agricultural industry upon a sure foundation and thus enable it to play its part in a national emergency.The very terms of the Amendment concede the case that in the opinion of the Labour party the agricultural industry is not yet on such a sure foundation as to enable it to play its full part in time of war. It is precisely for that reason that His Majesty's Government have for the past seven years been pursuing the policy of building up the industry step by step. An industry consisting of so many branches cannot be dealt with in one comprehensive Measure, and when the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) gave a catalogue of the various Acts of Parliament which had been passed during the life of the present Government he was only testifying to the patience and the persistence with which the -National Government have shown their determination to build up the great industry of agriculture—the food-producing industry of our island. Surely, the method which is before the House to-day is another step in the building up of a completely reorganised structure.
I share the surprise of my right hon. Friend at the reason given in the Labour Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. It says that they wish to reject the Bill because it:ignores the necessity for improving the lot of the agricultural worker.My right hon. Friend showed quite clearly that many measures have been specifically taken to that end. Surely, amongst the main things which affect the lot of the agricultural worker is the question whether the industry in which he works can survive and continue to give him his employment and' his wages. If the industry is condemned to continue at a price level below the cost of production, where is the agricultural worker to find either his work or his wages? Therefore, it is a curious reason that the Labour party have put forward for the rejection of the Bill. Seven years ago when the Wheat Bill was before the House the Labour party voted against it on the Second Reading, but when we look back to the years since that Act became law, can anyone deny that over the whole of the arable area of this country that Act has proved of inestimable value, not only to the farmer, but to the agricultural worker?
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
The hon. Member says that 70,000 have gone. Seven hundred thousand would have gone if it had not been for the assistance that particular Measure brought to the arable counties. I believe that but for that fact the arable districts would have become largely derelict. The present Measure is designed to fortify by artificial means, that is, subsidies, the price levels of certain products which are liable to violent and frequent fluctuations, which cause the price level to fall below the cost of production. We all know that subsidies are never popular, but it is well to remember that the great majority of other industries in the country enjoy the general advantage of the tariff which is denied, except in a very small degree, to the industry of agriculture.
It is also well to remember when we are discussing the question of subsidies that great sheltered industries like the building trade or the coal trade have all at one time or another had to receive considerable subsidies from the State. They are sheltered industries, whereas agriculture is the most unsheltered of all industries, exposed, as my right hon. and gallant Friend said, to the continuous blasts of imports brought from the ends of the earth. In spite of what was said by the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts), for years past the imported foodstuffs which have come into this country have dominated our food market. The world has sent its surplus foodstuffs into this country. The food problem is not a new one, but to-day it is taking a new phase and we shall have to give more attention to it. Why have the difficulties which face agriculture been so stubborn of solution? I believe it is because the problem of our home food supply has never yet been faced as a whole. There are two halves of it, the home-produced half and the imported half. I believe the National Government is the first Government in this country that has begun to tackle this problem as a whole, on the one hand by regulating the imported half and by fortifying the price levels of the other half, the home-produced part.
I am glad that in this Debate there have not been so many accusations hurled against the British farmer as we 1619 have had in our previous agricultural Debates. There is a clearer recognition of the fact that it has not been through his backward methods or his dilatoriness that he has been undercut by his competitors in other countries, who have been able to produce and send their food supplies here at lower cost than the home producer can produce them. We all know that foodstuffs which come to this country at this moment are in many instances assisted by various devices, subsidies or otherwise, and that many factors which enter into the cost of production in this country do not enter into the cost of production in overseas countries. There is another point which has not been sufficiently recognised in this connection, and that is that one of the chief things responsible for the underselling of the home producer of food in this country has been the exploitation of the soil by his competitors in other countries.
It is notorious that virgin soils have been ruthlessly violated to supply this country with food—my right hon. Friend mentioned the prairie lands of Canada and the United States—and we know that the result is appalling erosion of large parts of the face of the earth. Millions of acres are derelict, and will remain so for ever, in various parts of the world. The crops wrested by this system of exploitation may have been produced cheaply for the time being, and so cheaply were they produced that they undercut the producer in the home market here. I wonder whether hon. Members above the Gangway have ever considered the point that these exploited eroded acres in many foreign lands are directly responsible for the derelict acres that we have in this land. They have put our acres out of commission. The ultimate cost to the countries where this exploitation has taken place is, of course, incalculable, but the loss is not confined to those countries. It is a loss to the whole world. In fact, erosion going on in so many parts of the world is presenting a serious world problem as regards the future world supply.
Meanwhile it is clear that we must utilise every acre that remains to the full if we are to maintain a food supply at all. I believe that the farmer here who has struggled on through long periods of adversity has always possessed the ambition to increase and maintain the fertility 1620 of his own farm. It is true that there have been instances where he has failed through force of circumstances, otherwise there would be no need for that part of the Bill which affords assistance for a ploughing-up campaign. In a policy directing the future of the food supply of the country the whole picture should be envisaged as one. I believe the home grown and the imported parts of our food supply should be treated as complementary rather than as competitive. I believe that a policy should be worked out on these broad lines and I think the Bill, coupled with the measures already taken by the Government, shows that they have recognition of this fact. I should like to see a full statement of agricultural policy made on these lines, because I feel that the future of the food supply of the country is not really secure, whether in peace or in war, unless we take a very broad view indeed of this all-important factor.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and, 40 Members being present—
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
Hitherto there is no doubt that the country has been lulled into a false sense of security with the whole world ready to fling food into it at almost any price from any quarter. I believe the day may well be at hand, and perhaps sooner than we think, when we may be thrown back much more on our own resources for our necessary food, and it will not necessarily only be in the event of war. It may occur even in time of peace. We have already lost for ever hundreds of thousands of acres of our agricultural land. It is of vital importance that we should lose no more, and that every single acre capable of being cultivated and producing food shall be brought under a proper system of cultivation. As I understand it, that is the purpose of the Bill, and surely it must be a purpose which should commend it to the House. We have a vast multitude of mouths to feed in these small islands, and our acres are already far too few for the purpose. I believe the Bill is designed to see that we at least allow no further deterioration in the amount of food that we may be capable of producing. The cost in money may be high, but surely it is nothing else than the payment of a national insurance premium to safeguard the food supply of our people. The great food producing 1621 industry must be kept on its feet and those engaged in it, whether employers or employed, are doing work of vital national importance and they must be assured of a chance of existence at least equal to that enjoyed in any other industry.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
The hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Snadden), in an unusually able maiden speech, likened the economic life of the farmer before the introduction of the Bill to faith one year, hope the next and charity thereafter. I cannot help thinking that the present Bill ably represents those three admirable qualities—faith, that the Government can overthrow the laws of nature and economics; hope, that the beneficiaries will vote straight; and, finally, that the charity of the towns to the country will bless both those who give and those who receive. Last night I listened for an hour and a half to a speech by the Finance Minister of New Zealand, very much the same as the speech the right hon. Gentleman has made. He showed how in New Zealand they had fixed wages and stabilised prices at a level which allowed a reasonable profit, how they had controlled imports, how they had, in fact, dealt with every side of industrial and agricultural life. One of the results was that the production of butter had nearly doubled in two or three years, and it was rather upsetting the position because the price had come down. I cannot help thinking that the Government to-day are embarking on very much the same course as the Labour Government in New Zealand. I hope it will be equally successful in raising the standard of comfort, and that it will even survive what I consider the inevitable fate of all such schemes, of producing inflation and losing on the swings what we gain on the roundabouts.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman's scheme follows on many similar ones. We had the Corn Production Act, and we had the establishment in this country of beet sugar production. We have had every interest established and every established interest pressing for more, and I do not think this is by any means the last of the Measures that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will introduce to assist agriculture. So far as the rest of the country is concerned, those who are not interested in agriculture, I think they may well begin 1622 to press for similar treatment, and perhaps on better grounds. One of the curious things about the Government's desperate efforts to raise prices and restrict production has been that, while they are spending money on keeping up the price of foodstuffs, they are at the same time spending money in the universities to increase the productivity of each ear of grain. They are using science and expensive research in order gradually to produce from an ear of corn a fully-baked loaf. The Mendelian theory is being worked out, While with one hand the Government are restricting production in order to keep up prices, with the other, with equal generosity, they are endowing research so as to increase production and lower the price. It is all part of this great game of fooling the constable and trying to achieve by dictatorial, authoritarian and bureaucratic methods results which are directly contrary to the law of nature. The worst of all these experiments is that, to make them work, you have to keep on year after year bringing in Act after Act to remedy those opportunities which nature always secures of getting back to sound economics, and to deal with the power which nature possesses of overcoming the most skilled bureaucracy.
Before I pass from his question of faith in the power of Governments to override nature, may I refer to what everybody must realise is the inevitable result of trying to benefit the landed interests? We have wiped out rates on agricultural land. We have endowed agricultural land by fixing prices. We have introduced restrictions on imports into this country. We go on doing these things and everybody knows that in the long run those benefits, given at the expense of the rest of the community to one industry which uses as its primary raw-material the land itself, must, in the long run, mean more rent to the landlord while leaving the tenant farmer in exactly the same position as before. The process does not take place at once. The landlord is not going to put up the rent of the farm now, but when the time comes for a change in tenancy, inevitably the landlord gets the best rent he can for the land.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
The landlord makes the best bargain. His agent takes the best offer he can get, and the rent rises, 1623 and everything that is done in this way for the so-called agricultural interest is really in the long run for the benefit of the landlord. It is intended to be for the benefit of the landlord, and the people who howl most for these concessions are the landlords. I said that the second reason for the introduction of this Bill was the hope that the beneficiaries would vote straight. I can only express the hope that they will vote straight for those Members of the Labour party who support this Bill. I am a voice crying in the wilderness, but the shades of Gladstone and Cobden look down on me. I have no wish to interfere with any of my hon. Friends getting the votes of the farmers, if they really think that they will get those votes. But I do appeal to those seats of learning and of sound economics and sound sense, the universities. I appeal to the representatives of the universities, who have not any farmers among their constituents, at least to remember that if endowment is going at all, they have first call on it. They have always had first call on endowments and the endowment of knowledge, and learning is probably of more benefit to the community at large than even the endowment of landlords.
Then what about the third point—the charity given by the towns to the country? Speaking as a townsman, I resent the continued attempt to induce us to pay out money for the benefit of the landed interests. We have had this all through history. For a time the Anti-Corn Law League checked the tendency. For a short time the interests of the towns carried some weight. They did break the Corn Laws; they did break Protection; they did secure a fair field and no favour for our export trades and for our manufacturers, which resulted in the glorious Victorian age. Nowadays when each year sees new and successful attempts to rob all those who are producers by hand and brain, for the benefit of the squires and of the people who ruled this country to ruin for many hundreds of years, I think it right that at least one voice should be raised to demand for the whole of this country a fair field and no favour, to protest against the robbery of the towns for the benefit of the country and to say that neither this Government nor any other Government, will ever be able to strait-waistcoat humanity, or direct the production of wealth in this country.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Sir J. Lamb
I am glad that the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) is again in his place, because I wish to compliment him on the manner in which he moved the Opposition Amendment. We have grown to expect from the hon. Member a good speech when he deals with any agricultural question, but I do not agree with what he said, however much I may have admired the way in which he said it. I sympathised with the hon. Member in the fact that he was making the best of a rather difficult case. I know that in his heart he approves of the objects of this Bill, though he does not approve of the methods by which it is proposed to achieve those objects. They are not his methods, but if the hon. Member produced his own Bill, perhaps we might find it as easy to criticise his methods as he has found it to criticise the proposals of my right hon. Friend. I apologise again for having interrupted him, but I did so for the sake of clarity on the subject of prices. The hon. Member said he agreed with stabilisation of prices. So do I, but I want him to remember that the stabilisation of prices is not, in itself, sufficient. The price must have relation to the amount of production and the market for the production.
I wish to join my voice to those of hon. Members who have praised the way in which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister introduced this very complicated Bill. The clarity of his explanation was appreciated by all who heard it, as it will be, I am sure, by those who will have the pleasure of reading it. I welcome the Bill as an agricultural Measure, but I do not welcome it on that ground alone. I look upon it as a national benefit and a national insurance. In those two respects the Bill is very much overdue. I thank my right hon. and gallant Friend for having, after a very short period in office, by dint of very hard work, produced this Bill to-day, although it is overdue. There has been, as hon. Members have pointed out, a great deal of legislation in the past for agriculture. The trouble has been that, while the intentions of such legislation were good, the legislation did not produce the hoped-for results. The reason for that is to be found very largely in the fact that it was piecemeal and sectional legislation. When an attempt was made to improve one section of the industry, those 1625 who have been engaged in other sections immediately rushed into that section, with the result that it became overcrowded.
Now this Bill comes to round off the legislation previously brought in. It has been said before, and I repeat it, that for a long time agriculture has been fighting a very unequal battle. In comparison with other industries the battle of agriculture has been a very unequal one. When legislation for the safeguarding of industries was introduced agriculture was left out, while all other industries had the advantage of it. Reference has been made to countries abroad which produce more food than is necessary for their own requirements. That surplus has been dumped here, into a free market, at prices which not only did not pay the producers of it—or if it did pay them it was only at the expense of the fertility of their own soil—and which it was impossible for producers here to compete with. Under the Ottawa Agreements, again, we were not given the same advantage as other industries, because the Dominions were given a free market. Many of the foodstuffs which come from abroad come from the Dominions, and we have to receive that cheap food.
§ Sir J. Lamb
I agree with the hon. Member that it is a shame, though I do not know what he means by" shame."
§ Sir J. Lamb
I did not mean that it was a shame that they should send up cheap food, but that, it was a shame that while that food was coming here growers of food in this country should not have the opportunity of disposing of their produce at a fair price. Later there was the Import Duties Act, and we were excluded from that. Therefore, I think I was right in my assertion that agriculture has for a long time been fighting under unequal conditions as compared with other industries. Rural workers have been referred to. Those connected with agriculture are, in the mass, the biggest consumers of the manufactured articles which are produced in this country—they are the biggest section of consumers. If manufacturers are to have the advantage of that big market those who make up that market must 1626 receive sufficiently remunerative prices for their produce to enable them to buy. All industries are connected in this sense, that the interests of one are the interests of the other. One industry is the consumer of the products of another industry. Agriculture as a whole is the biggest consumer of manufactured articles in this country.
§ Mr. Alexander
I hope that somebody who can speak with authority, like the hon. Member, will produce figures on that point. We have heard it repeated so often that everybody in agriculture has come to believe it.
§ Sir J. Lamb
I am not prepared to give the figures now. I did not assume that the statement would be questioned. It. has been repeated so often and never denied that I did not take the precaution of bringing the figures.
§ Sir J. Lamb
It is the fact. There never was a time when the home market was so important to the manufacturing interests of this country as it is to-day, and whatever may be agriculture's proportion of purchases in that market no section of home buyers can be neglected if the home market is to be maintained.
§ Sir J. Lamb
I will deal with subsidies in a moment. If hon. Members will let me make my speech in my own way I think it will be better. One of our great difficulties to-day is concerned with the balance of trade, but there is another balance which is equally important, and that is the balance between the primary and the secondary industries. Throughout the world we have not got the balance that is desired, because the primary industries have increased to such an extent that they have over-balanced the secondary industries. That produces one of our difficulties. It is a truism, and it is almost unnecessary that I should have to say it, that any country which neglects its agriculture is bound to suffer. That is not only the case here. All countries in the world are finding it out and are bending all their energies to seeing that their agriculture is put upon a sound financial basis. Production from the soil 1627 is a wealth the value of which no country can deny.
I said that this Bill was in some respects a measure of insurance, because food produced at home is an insurance against famine. Those of us who remember the last War will know that there was an occasion when we in this country were very near to starvation. Therefore, the food we produce here, in the quantities we can produce it, is an insurance against possible—I hope never probable—starvation in time of war. The Bill also provides another form of insurance, because whatever food is produced in this country serves to a certain extent to control the price of the food which comes in from abroad. Suppose we produced no foodstuffs in this country. Does anyone think that in that case the foreigner would send his foodstuffs here at the price he does? Naturally, no. He would have complete control of the market, and his prices would go up, because the foreigners could then" rig the market" in their own favour. Therefore, the food we produce here has a stabilising influence on the price of the food we import.
I am sorry that the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) is going out, because there was something I wanted to say to him. I have never contended that a subsidy went to the farmer. I know he will listen to me after that, because he and his friends have all said that that was so. It does not go to the fanner; it goes through the farmer to the consumer. [Hon. Members:" No!"]. I am glad if hon. Members do not appreciate that point, because it gives me the opportunity of showing that it is correct. The consumer continues to get the benefit of food at prices at which it can be brought into this country simply and solely because the subsidy is given to the farmer to make up the difference as regards what they would otherwise have to pay. Then the right hon. and gallant Member spoke about" those interested in agriculture." I should like to know who is not interested in agriculture. Some people do not recognise that they are interested in agriculture, but everybody here who is a consumer is interested in agriculture, and his interest should be primarily concerned with agriculture in this country, for the reasons I have previously given. The right hon. and gallant Member asked 1628 for the same treatment for all in the matter of subsidies. Other industries have had the same treatment.
§ Sir J. Lamb
They have had the advantage of tariffs. Agriculture has not had the benefit of tariffs. That advantage—a subsidy, assistance—call it whatever you like—has been received by every other industry, and it is only in the form of subsidies that agriculture has been given the advantages which other industries have been enjoying for so long. Then there was a reference to rents. All who have anything to do with agriculture know that there is a control of rents in this sense, that if a man is asked a rent which he thinks is unfair he has a right to go to arbitration. Then the right hon. and gallant Member said the subsidy was an endowment, and spoke about the endowment of knowledge. I am not going to say that I object to endowments being given to knowledge, but food is quite as important as certain classes of knowledge.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
You are not endowing food, you are not making food cheap; you are endowing landlordism.
§ Sir J. Lamb
I still contend that we are endowing the consumer, because the subsidy enables him to get food at lower prices.
§ Sir J. Lamb
The farmer should get it more directly, but you will not let him have prices which are economic. The condition of the industry, which is acknowledged by all, is a proof that the Bill is very much overdue. The difficulties of those who are working on the land, the farmer and more particularly the worker, who is the first to go, are a serious matter for this or any other country. Numbers which have been stated here before, and which 1 will not repeat now, indicate how many workers have left the land. It is imperative that something should be done to enable such people to remain there. Complaint has been made that nothing has been done for the agricultural workers. Hon. Members opposite claim that the Agricultural Wages Act was passed by them, and it is a claim which is justified, but if hon. Members opposite read the Bill they will see that it gives the right to pay wag 1629 such as the industry can afford. Those words are in the Bill. I look upon this as a Bill containing machinery by which wages can be distributed, but we are giving the materials for distribution, and that is a very different thing. Consequently the Bill has great possibilities for the workers on the land.
I do not want to criticise the Bill. The time for doing so will be when the Bill is in Committee, and it would take too long to go into details now, but there is a considerable amount of criticism, particularly in regard to the figure of 10d. in relation to sheep. I regret very much that the Bill is rather complicated. It has become the fashion perhaps inevitably, for a great deal of our legislation to be by way of committees and commissions, and a great deal of the machinery for the manipulation of the Bill is done through committees. Consequently there is a certain amount of in-definiteness about the actual procedure. If the Bill were clear with regard to the conditions as to the weights of the sheep it would probably have a considerable bearing upon the price that is paid. I regret that the Bill is somewhat invidious in some of the details as to the weights of the various carcases that are to be subsidised.
We are doing all we can to fertilise the ground. Those who know agriculture know that sheep have always been referred to as" those of the golden hoof," because sheep will fertilise the land very much better than any kind of manure, particularly that type of land which it is difficult to fertilise in any other way. It is very much improved after the grazing of sheep. The number 27,000,000, which has been put as a ceiling, might very well have been left out. It is claimed, and with justification, that agriculture, like every other industry, must provide that which the public is demanding; undoubtedly the public are now demanding smaller joints, not only of beef, but of mutton. It has been difficult to bring some of the larger Downs sheep to the weight which the community are demanding, but a great deal is being done in this matter and farmers are doing all they can to accommodate the public by providing a smaller joint. I hope that the Minister will notice that a reduction in the size of sheep is a question of weight and has a direct reference to the 27,000,000 which is put down here. If 1630 you reduce the weight of the carcase of the sheep by 2 lbs., aggregately it will come to a very considerable weight. The imports are all given in cwts. Consequently you may break the proportion which the home market is now giving and that which the foreigner and the Dominions are receiving, because in one place you are taking the basis of weight for imports and in this place you are putting a ceiling of numbers, which may be varied considerably. It will take more in numbers for the less weight of sheep. I do not know whether I have made that quite clear to hon. Members, but when the Minister works it out he will no doubt see that it is a matter which should receive attention when he is considering whether he should alter this ceiling of 27,000,000 sheep.
With regard to the ploughing of grassland, hon. Members who had experience during the War will remember the difficulty of getting rough old grassland into proper cultivation, and will see the wisdom of this being done before the necessity actually arises. Thousands of acres, with which I had to deal in an official capacity at that time, did not produce anything in the first year because of the difficulty of getting that type of grass into proper cultivation. That might not have been very serious last time, but it will be more serious next time, because if there is unfortunately another war it will come very suddenly and may carry on for a considerable time. I therefore approve very much of the ploughing-up programme included in the Bill, and I give it all the encouragement I possibly can.
It is said that we now have 26,800,000 sheep in the country. That may be an accurate figure, and I do not know whether the Minister and the Government think that it is indicative of the prosperity of the sheep industry. It may be just the opposite. If you are living in an area where sheep fetch a bad price a very considerable number of sheep, particularly ewes, may be carried over to another year. That position would not be indicative of prosperity, but of the fact that it did not pay to sell sheep and that the people concerned had had to retain them, and for that reason they would have a larger number of sheep. Therefore, we have to be very careful in regard to that ceiling of 27,000,000. We have waited a very long while for this Bill. It co-ordi- 1631 nates to a large extent all the other Bills which have been passed, and consequently I will not do anything to delay it getting a Second Reading and a successful passage through its other stages. I wish it prosperity, and I congratulate the Minister on having brought it forward to-day.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Price
I have listened with much interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb). Perhaps he will forgive me if I do not follow him into the economic labyrinth into which he went at the beginning, as to whether the subsidy went to the consumer or, as was contended by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), to the landowners. I would rather deal with the concrete proposals of the Bill. On one point, however, that he raised, with regard to the ceiling for sheep, I do not share his view that that is undesirable. I know that my Welsh friends do not agree with me, because they are so dependent on the sheep industry in Wales, but even there I think it is proper that there should be a limit to sheep production. Hon. Members who know districts like the Highlands of Scotland and the Welsh hills will realise that a great deal of harm can be done by over-sheeping. There is no doubt that the spread of bracken, which is one of the greatest menaces to agriculture in this country, is largely due to the present number of sheep, and that a greater degree of mixed farming would be advantageous in those areas.
The Bill embodies the principle of standard prices for a certain number of commodities. That principle was laid down originally at the Empire Conference at Sydney. It was accepted by the National Farmers" Union in their very important statement of policy, and standard prices have also been accepted by Labour party conferences at various times in the past; so I think it may be said that this principle has found general acceptance throughout the House. The present Bill, in making this the sheet anchor of its policy, is, I think, a great improvement on other Bills that we have had from the Government in this Parliament. There has been far too much inclination to stress the reduction of imports and the restric- 1632 tion of consumption as a means of raising prices, and in that respect this Bill is much better than others that have gone before it. When, however, one comes to the application of the principle, one may have one's doubts in certain particulars. My doubts are very great in connection with Part I of the Bill, which deals with oats.
We all know the reason why oats have been brought in in this way. The Scottish farmers have felt that they should have a show here comparable with that accorded to the English farmers in regard to wheat. I think, however, that it is a very dangerous method. What this House has to consider is not what crops certain farmers would like to grow, but whether the particular crop that is going to be assisted is in the interests of the general national economy—whether it is desirable that it should be increased beyond its present production, and, if so, by how much. If standard prices are applied, it should be done, not for particular localities and certain farmers, bat in relation to the interests of national production as a whole. Oats are an animal food. The greater part of the oat crop is produced" in this country for consumption on the farm. That is not the case with wheat. Wheat is a cereal which the farmer cannot consume on the farm without a considerable measure of processing and extraction. It cannot be fed raw to livestock without serious digestive difficulties. Wheat, therefore, is much more dependent on the general market and on world market conditions than oats, and it cannot be argued that, because this much has been done for wheat farmers, oats farmers should be treated in exactly the same way. There was a case for assisting the farmers of East Anglia, where wheat is very largely grown and is an important crop without which the rotation of crops would be very much upset. But the same argument cannot be applied to Scotland, where the fanners would grow oats in any case, whatever happened, whether there was a subsidy or not, because oats are an important and valuable feeding stuff for their cattle.
I should have thought it would have been better to have sought some other means of assisting the Scottish farmers. I should have suggested increasing the subsidy for the ploughing up of land, and giving consideration to keeping land under the plough, rather than this 1633 method, which may seriously upset the market. The danger that I see in standard prices so fixed is that Scottish farmers will start putting oats on the market, thereby increasing the production and sale of oats, reducing the price, and leaving the position as bad as it was before. Surely some other method could have been found for assisting cereal farmers in Scotland than by applying to Scotland conditions taken straight from English wheat growing. What I am afraid of is that we may have a revolt of the taxpayers and the industrial population when they see large sums paid out to cereal farmers, so that we shall not have that good feeling towards agriculture which is essential in an industrial country like this, if agriculture is to receive proper consideration. We have to remember that cereal cultivation is not really the basis of our agriculture here. Livestock is and must be the basis of our agriculture, both in peace and in war, and cereal cultivation is only a part of the means by which we grow feeding stuffs for our livestock.
At the same time, as the Minister has fixed a standard price for oats, and has decided on Part I of the Bill, I am inclined to think that 8s. a cwt. is not an unreasonable figure. I should, however, like to see, and perhaps this point can be raised in Committee, means set up for obtaining far more information about the cost of production of oats in this country. A certain amount of information has been obtained, but it has not been collected or collated in a proper way. I myself have grown oats for many years on the heavy clay soil of the Severn Valley, and I know that they have never cost me as low a figure as 8s. a cwt. But I have figures produced by certain universities which show that there are farms on certain light lands where the cost of production of oats has been as low as 4s. a cwt. There is, therefore, a very wide margin. In a bad season, with a dry spring, the yield may be very poor, and in such a case the cost may go up to as much as 20s. a cwt. Much depends on rainfall and the state of the soil. On the whole, I am inclined to think 8s. a cwt. not an unreasonable figure, but I would stress that we ought to have, what my hon. Friends on this side moved to obtain the other day in Committee on the Wheat Amendment Bill—and what we should again move to obtain—that there should be means whereby we could 1634 have more information about the cost of production of oats, and whereby we could be sure that what oats are marketed are marketed in a proper way, so that the producer gets a fair share of the deal.
For my part, I think Part IV, which gives the subsidy for ploughing up land, the most valuable part of the Bill; for, as I said before, here we have the basis of our agriculture. Professor Stapledon, of Aberystwith University, has shown that, by ploughing up and reseeding, we can get a far better yield from our grassland, worked on a temporary rather than a permanent grass basis, than ever before. The greater part of our pasture is old, and this rejuvenation is one of the means by which agriculture can be immensely improved. My hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) is not here, but, as I know he is very nervous about these subsidies going into private people's pockets, I can inform him that I am not going to get any of the subsidies. After seeing experiments at Aberystwith last year, I ploughed up some land; and unfortunately I was far too early to get subsidy. But I can now foresee a very great change coming over our grassland management as a result of Part IV.
In regard to Part III, I think the Minister is right to fix the standard price for dressed carcase of sheep at 10d. a pound, and I hope he will resist any attempts to raise that level. The recent price of lamb on the West country markets is 35s. each on the hoof; that is equal to 13d. dressed-carcase weight. I have worked out my prices and costs for sheep production over the last eight years, and I find that only on three occasions—in 1933, in the Autumn of 1937, and, of course, last year, when prices were lowest of all—did prices fall below what corresponds to 10d. a pound dressed-carcase weight. I think that for all the other periods prices were well above this rock-bottom price in the Bill. I think the Minister, in the interests of the taxpayer and the industrial population, should not fix a price higher than that. The policy should be to fix the price at rock-bottom below which it is impossible to produce sheep except at a loss.
I hope, however, that the Minister will do something in regard to encouraging quality sheep. I put a question to him when he made his statement in the House three weeks ago as to whether anything 1635 would be done in this direction, and, in reply, he indicated that it would. I know it is much more difficult, in the case of sheep than of beef cattle; with a small animal like a sheep it is much more difficult to tell how it is going to cut up when it is on the hoof than with a big animal like a bullock; but I hope the Minister will tell us what the method of encouraging quality mutton is to be. Is it to be the method of prescribing standards of dressed carcase, and thereby giving an indirect premium to the best carcases, or is it to be the method laid down in Clause 13, (3, a and b)? It seems to me that it is just possible, by setting these standards for dressed carcases and the relation between them and the animal on the hoof, to get some kind of proportion which may be useful.
The real trouble with the sheep industry is marketing, which is still in an unsatisfactory state. During the last 50 years the consumption of mutton and lamb in this country has increased by 4,785,000 cwts. All of that has been imported. The production of mutton in this country is the same as it was 50 years ago. All we do is to produce mutton, in the main, for the rural areas and small towns. The big cities take theirs almost entirely from abroad. The reason is that we have no proper selling organisations for pushing the home market. The Livestock Industry Act has been on the Statute Book for two years, but nothing has been done in this direction. The real competitor of the English sheep is not the foreign sheep, but another English sheep. Every time there is a little over-production in this country the price collapses, as it did last year. Until that problem is dealt with by the Government, the position in the sheep trade will not be satisfactory. I welcome many of the provisions of the Bill; but, in my opinion, my hon. Friends are abundantly justified in moving this reasoned Amendment, in order to call attention to the dangerous principle, particularly in regard to Part I of the Bill, of handing out public money without effective control.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
In rising for the first time to address this House, I would ask the indulgence which is customarily granted on these occasions, which has already been granted once to-day, and which hon. Members, mindful perhaps of their oven humble beginnings, are always 1636 glad to accord. I do not desire to be unduly controversial on this occasion, therefore the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) will perhaps forgive me if I do not follow him directly in his statements, with which I and very few Scotsmen would agree, regarding oats, but I will refer to that question in due course.
The Bill which we are discussing seeks to make provision in certain circumstances for the payment of considerable sums of money to the agricultural industry, and the first point I want to make is that we are not seeking to vote money to individuals as such, but to make provision for the future of a basic industry. I have heard the term" subsidies to farmers" used upon many occasions, and used in such a way as to suggest that what we wanted to do was to give this money to farmers, and that was our primary concern, whereas, in fact, our primary concern is with the land of Britain and with the whole future of our countryside. That point was well brought out in the Debate which we had here on Friday last upon the Board of Trade Estimates, when the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), speaking from the benches opposite, and in reply to an interjection.. said:If a subsidy is used for the purpose of enabling landlords to profit, I am opposed to it, but if it is used with the avowed object, and succeeds in that object, of increasing production, improving fertility, making for efficiency and raising th:; standard of living, I am all in favour of it"—! Official Report, 9th June, 1939, col. 813 Vol 348To which I would only add: '' And so say all of us." I do not stand here as a lover of subsidies. I share the: wish, which more than one hon. Member has expressed already this evening, that we could do without them. I find that every scheme which the ingenuity of Whitehall Place can devise makes fresh inroads upon the liberty of the individual producer, until one is almost tempted to ask," Is the game worth the candle?" I think it is. I am certain that without subsidies and Governmental assistance we would have to resign ourselves to a further decline in our agricultural production, to an accelerated drift to the towns, most sadly marked in the case of the younger men, and to the continued reversion of arable land to scrub and bracken. If that process continues unchecked life in the countryside will resemble life in a mining 1637 village long after the pits around which that village sprung have ceased to be worked; a place of idle hopelessness, dreaming of its past and fearful of its future. No place that for raising that healthy human stock which always in our history has replaced the wastage of our towns. No place that for raising from fertile fields that honest meat and fresh food which gives health in times of peace and a vital measure of security if war should come. No place this to impart to our national life that stability and balance which is learnt of the good earth and deeply engrained in country folk.
No one who knows the countryside can be in any doubt as to the extent of the depression. My right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland have both paid personal visits to the stricken countryside. Perambulations of this kind are of double benefit. They must, I am quite certain, imprint upon the minds of the Ministers themselves a vivid picture of the kind of conditions that they are trying to alleviate, while on the other hand they encourage farmers in the belief—quite rightly in the case of this administration—that they are not forgotten. Those of us who represent agricultural constituencies in this House can testify to the need of a real revival of farming. There is no doubt at all about the need for this revival in Scotland. There is in the constituency which I have the honour to represent a large farm, some 750 or 800 acres in extent, which is famous in the annals of the Aberdeen-Angus herd. In the old days that farm required seven pairs of horses; to-day such cultivation as is required for its tumbledown acres is done by a single pair, and there is no tractor. The same is true of many farms in Aberdeenshire, where once flourishing arable farms are now little better than poor sheep runs.
I make no apology for bringing to the notice of this House some rather remarkable facts concerning the history during the past 15 years of eight farms in a single parish in the Howe of the Mearns in Kincardineshire where the land, as everyone who knows it will testify, is as good as any in these islands, a district which has been famous for centuries as a centre of enterprise in agriculture. These cases have not been specially selected to prove a case. They have been chosen because they are all farms which happen to adjoin the property of a friend of mine 1638 who, being interested in matters of this kind, has been good enough to place this information at my disposal to-day. It is obvious that one does not want to divulge the names of farms or to give the name of the parish concerned, so I will give to each farm—and there are eight of them— a figure.
Farm No.1 is a farm of about 180 acres. After 40 years' effort, one tenant retired penniless, and he is now employed as a greenkeeper on a golf course. His successor has also lost everything and is now a farm hand in the neighbourhood. Farm No. 2 is a larger farm of about 280 acres. The owner entered with the help of a legacy of £4,000 inherited from an uncle; he lost everything in the 10 years, before his death, and his widow is now keeping a small shop. He was succeeded by a cattle dealer who was compelled to-sign a trust deed after three years. Case No. 3 is a croft, and the occupier of that croft went out, it is believed, penniless; in any case, he is now working as a farm labourer. Farm No. 4 is about 160 acres. It was kept going in very good condition until fowl paralysis caused great loss and the farm had to be given up. Farm No. 5 is one of 100 acres. The tenant gave up after heavy losses and is now managing a country inn. Farm No. 6 is about 400 acres. The tenant entered with £4,000 advanced by his father, a Leith stevedore, and after 10 years he was declared bankrupt, the creditors receiving 5s. in the £Farm No 7 is about 250 acres. The tenant, after farming successfully for over 50 years, bought his farm, but from 1924 onwards he was faced with severe losses and upon his death the farm was wound up with no loss to the creditors, but with practically nothing for the family. Farm No. 8 is about 700 acres; and it is the exception which proves the rule. Success here has been due to a fortunate, if somewhat rare, combination of abundant capital, hard work, thrift and astute cattle dealing. Even so, had the £20,000 sunk in this enterprise been invested in Government securities it would have earned a comfortable income without any effort at all and with very little risk. But in this case the abilities of a sound, practical farmer and a singularly successful cattle dealer appear to have gained very little.
I make no apology for bringing these examples to the notice of the House, because I think they will give to those 1639 with understanding minds some idea of the anxieties and struggles, indeed the very human tragedies, which often lie behind our farming history. I am sure that these facts do not apply only to the counties I have mentioned. I have heard of many similar cases elsewhere in Scotland, and in England and in Wales. The farming depression has caused very great misfortune all over the land, and I say that no one can be complacent about this kind of thing. When arable land reverts to grass, or when farming proves unprofitable, two things are reduced, firstly, the production of food and, secondly, rural employment. We must somehow secure the prosperity of mixed farming which has been the traditional strength of our farming practice. Every schoolboy knows that the basis of mixed farming is the rotation of crops, and if this system is to pay the farmer must be sure of receiving an economic price for his basic cereal crop. The reason for the depression in the agricultural industry in Scotland lies very largely, and has lain, in the low price of oats. If the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T Williams) is really anxious, as the Amendment which stands in his name suggests, to establish the agricultural industry upon a sure foundation throughout the land, then he must do something to give an economic price for oats. For years my colleagues on these benches have pleaded for a proper recognition of this Cinderella of the cereals. They have done so for two reasons, first because of its importance as the pivotal crop of the rotation—for everybody knows that for climatic reasons it is not possible for farmers in Scotland to be certain of harvesting satisfactorily a good crop of wheat—and, secondly, the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Snadden), the importance of the oat crop as animal" feed," and it is upon that point I want to say one or two words.
The decline of arable farming, which has amounted in the United Kingdom to something over 30 per cent, in the last 60 years, has seriously affected the supply of home-produced roots, straw and cereals for the winter feeding of stock, and of all cereals the oat crop is by far the most important for stock feeding. We import between one-quarter and one-fifth of our present requirements of animal feeding stuffs and pay no less a sum than 1640 between £30,000,000 and £40,000,000 a year for this importation. I suggest that it will be good business if we could divert some of this large sum of money to the production of more feeding stuffs from our own soil; it would be good business in time of peace, but an imperative necessity in time of war. War, and the threat of war, alters many values, and the dual importance of the oat crop as an animal food and as the basis of a rotation establishes its claim to the substantial assistance which is now proposed for it. Some of us who represent Scottish constituencies had hoped for what we call cereal parity. By that I mean to say, that because the market has consistently throughout the century assessed the oat crop at a not lower value than that of wheat, and because the English farmer is obtaining a guaranteed price based on 10s. a cwt. for his wheat, that the oat producers should receive similar assistance. We have not got that, but I think we need not complain. I am sure that we are thankful for that which we are about to receive, and we are grateful, too, for the welcome indication that we are not forgotten. The battle of the oats has been won, and a Militiaman among the veterans would like to give his humble thanks.
Sir George Stapledon has said," If you want to grow the best grass you must plough it." What he described in the" Times" yesterday as" this, innocent little announcement of the £2 subsidy," is not only wise from the point of view of improving the fertility of poor land, it is wise also from the point of view of increasing our self-sufficiency in home-produced fodder. I have no doubt that there is a considerable acreage of permanent grassland and hill and other rough grazings capable of improvement, and the sooner we realise this and act upon this realisation by a proper use of the plough, by a right selection of seed mixtures, and by a skilled application of controlled grazing, the better it: will be from the national point of view.
The Minister of Agriculture has estimated that there will be, at any rate, 250,000 acres ploughed up by means of this assistance before the end of October. I wonder what his estimate is of Scotland's contribution to this total? I would like, if I may, to put that as a question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who, I believe, is to 1641 reply to this Debate this evening. It is often loosely assumed that Scotland has very little permanent grass, whereas in point of fact we have over 1,500,000 acres, and a great deal of that acreage would benefit from the plough. The Scotsman's cattle—than which there are none finer in the world—feed behind the plough, and the Scotsman would be very ready to take advantage of this subsidy were he able to do so. But he is going to be debarred in a great many cases by the practice we have of letting grassland upon seasonal grazings until 31st October, and if we cannot get possession of our grassland until 1st November we cannot plough it up in time to get the benefit of the subsidy. I hope very much that upon consideration the Secretary of State will be able to persuade the Treasury to make a concession to meet cases such as this by extending the date for ploughing to the end of the year, if it is possible, but at any rate, to the end of November.
Just one word more, and I have finished. To what extent are these proposals going to make for the expansion of our home production and of our agricultural employment which I know the Minister desires? What about these Treasury brakes, these limitations, these" ceilings"? Of course it is true that the proposals do not in themselves provide for any spectacular expansion, but they are not a final instalment. It was a happy inspiration to call this a Development Bill. My Oxford Dictionary gives the meaning of development as a" gradual unfolding." No title could be more appropriate. This charter of mixed farming is but one more milestone on the road to a complete agricultural policy.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards
It falls to my lot to congratulate the hon. Member on his maiden speech, and I do it very wholeheartedly. It is not often in the experience of this House, except after a General Election, that we have an opportunity of congratulating two hon. Members on their maiden speeches on the same day, and it is very interesting in this case, as well as in the former case, to reflect that both of them come from agricultural constituencies and are obviously connected with the industry
it is inevitable in a Debate of this kind that we should wander somewhat from 1642 the Bill. I think we were given a good precedent for doing that in the speech of the Minister upon which so many Members have congratulated him, and I should like to add my humble congratulations. I think he set the precedent of taking a very wide view, particularly in the early part of his speech, of the problem facing us. It is an extraordinarily difficult problem, because it seems to me that agriculture is faced with two very serious difficulties. First there is a difficulty which we have heard emphasised to-day of foreign competition. That is very often put across from the wrong point of view. It is not that the foreign farmer can produce more grain per acre than we can in this country—I think we hold the record of production peracre— but he is able to distribute his costs over a much larger number of acres and is able to put on the market at a comparatively cheap price a large quantity of cereals with which we in this country cannot compete. That is a fundamental factor in the consideration of this problem, and I do not see that this Bill is going to do anything—I do not know that we can expect it—to remove that difficulty.
That difficulty is bound up with another. Agriculture in this country is in competition with other industries. If you look at the various censuses of production in this country you will see that the production in industry—I use the term generally, apart from agriculture—is, as a rule, much more remunerative than in agriculture. So agriculture is faced with a double competition, the competition for capital and labour in this country and the competition against the foreign countries that are more fortunately situated for production than we are here. If we are going to have an agricultural policy—I am neglecting the foreign situation for the moment—we have to face this question of competition, and the relative importance of agriculture as compared with industry in this country.
There is a great deal of loose talking about the fundamental importance of agriculture. I am not prepared to deny that this is an old industry and a most important industry, but it is very difficult to decide between agriculture and, for example, coal, as to the relative importance of the two industries in the life of the country at the present time. We owe our pre-eminence as an industrial 1643 nation, the fact that we have 45,000,000 people instead of 5,000,000 which we had at the time of the Norman conquest, entirely to industrialisation. There is no more land in this country. I admit that production has improved very considerably, but we have to remember that by no stretch of the imagination could we really keep 45,000,000 people in this country at the standard of life they enjoy at present were it not for industry. Industry in the sense of producing for foreign markets has made our country the great country it is. We have to remember another thing. Our position in that field appears to be very seriously on the decline. We are not the pre-eminent industrial nation that we were 20, 40 or 50 years ago. One sometimes has the unhappy feeling that we are losing our pre-eminence in that respect permanently. Consequently there is a call for a revaluation of the life of this country. Are we going to continue as a great industrial nation? We have been the greatest industrial nation in the world. We are not that any longer. It seems to me that we are going gradually to decline in many respects as an industrial nation. Consequently the question ought to be posed: Are we going to do something to revive agriculture and not to forget agriculture as we were inclined to do in the nineteenth century? Are we going to do something really to establish agriculture and to make it more attractive than it is at the present time?
My criticism of the Bill is that it does not outline an agricultural policy, except the policy of subsidies. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) put the case very well when he said that there are two objections to subsidies, the first being that they are not a policy. I cannot see that in any part of this Bill the subsidy is correlated with any policy. I may be referred to Clause 4, by which an attempt is to be made to exercise some kind of control over agriculture. I put this seriously to the Minister. On 4th June, he will get a list of the people who are growing oats on their farms and who will be competent to make a claim for the subsidy in respect of those oats. In August or September, that crop will be harvested. I suggest that the Minister and his Department, efficient as they are, and the number of agricultural organisers 1644 we have up and down the country, doing excellent work, cannot possibly in that time exercise any effective control over the growing of those cereal crops. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who opened the Debate from the Opposition Benches, was fully entitled to say that this provision is a mere pretence, and, as I think he called it, eyewash. I do not think that there is in the Bill any attempt to correlate the subsidies, which may be right or wrong, with a definite attempt to control the type of agriculture that we are to have in this country. There ought in every case to be such correlation.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Burton said that the second objection to subsidies is that they are expensive and there is no end to them. I do not know whether the House realises the difference between its general attitude towards agriculture and its general attitude towards insurance, for example. In the first sentences of the Bill, it is stated that it is an attempt to give effect to the intentions of the Government regarding price insurance for sheep, oats, barley, etc. With great respect, I suggest that this is not a price insurance Bill. The hon. Member for Kincardine (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) attempted to justify it by saying that it is insurance in the case of war. That is a great fallacy. If there is a war, which we all hope there will not be, starvation will face this country. Whatever we do in the matter of ploughing, raising crops, keeping sheep, and all the rest of it, we shall be faced with starvation in this country in the first two months of a war. Consequently, the Bill is not insurance in that sense.
Nor is it insurance in the other sense, for there is no payment. Let me compare the position with insurance for sickness and unemployment, with which we are very conversant. There is an insurance scheme against unemployment, and the basis of it is a contribution that is made by the person insured against the contingency of his being unemployed. When he is unemployed, he is paid out of the fund that is built up in that way. There is nothing of that kind in this case. Some years ago, when the insurance scheme looked as though it would break down, Parliament took over part of the liability and said that it was too heavy a burden 1645 for the insurance system, and that, therefore, the State would bear the burden. Every year Parliament makes a contribution. I find that last year the contribution was about £40,000,000. Dr. Venn, speaking at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1935, calculated that the benefits which agriculture had received from these successive subsidies amounted to £40,000,000 a year. I venture to suggest that Dr. Venn knew something about the subject on which he was speaking. My point is that there has been no attempt to control the spending of the subsidies, but that Parliament has made a vigorous attempt to control the £40,000,000 which it gives every year towards unemployment insurance. It has set up a Board, it has drawn up regulations, and it has applied the means test, to which hon. Members on this side are so much opposed—all because we are spending £40,000,000 a year on unemployment. In 1935, we were spending £35,000,000 a year on agriculture, without there being any vestige of control. If the Minister adds the subsidies that are now suggested, which may amount this year, roughly speaking, to over £11,000,000, it brings the total mentioned by Dr. Venn up to about £50,000,000. I am all in favour of subsidies if they are correlated with some real system for the development of agriculture.
I want to refer to one other point that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin). The objection to subsidies is that they are distributed arbitrarily. For many years now, there have been subsidies for beef, beet and wheat; that is to say, the richer parts of the country have been enjoying subsidies for a number of years now. The small Welsh farmer, of whom my hon. Friend spoke, the hard-working, poor, it may be parsimonious fanner, has not enjoyed any of these subsidies. That is another of the weaknesses of subsidies— they do not meet the evil universally, as it were, but give a subsidy to this part of the industry and then to that part of the industry. As far as the Bill is an attempt, for the first time, to do something like justice to the Welsh farmers, I welcome it, although I am very critical indeed of the whole conception of subsidies, which is no substitute for a real agricultural policy.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) is always very interesting and informative, and it is always a pleasure to listen to him; but I thought that in the last sentence of his speech he gave an answer to at any rate three-quarters of the earlier part of it. He was right in saying that in the past those of us who live on the Western side of a line drawn downwards through the Pennines and straight down to the English Channel, have received very few benefits from this House, but I can see in this Bill, as I could see also in the Act which gave us assistance with regard to lime and basic slag—assistance that was badly needed by those farmers who had suffered so very much from depressed prices—a linking up between production and necessary assistance and the improvement of the land. I think that the first step which really turned the mind of the farmer back to the improvement of the land was the Act which gave him assistance in purchasing lime and basic slag.
Those of us who are accustomed to travel up and down the country, and especially on its Western side, are familiar with the very tragic sight that meets our eyes, of land which we know has been under the plough in the past, but which has not known the plough for at least 50, 60, or even 70 years. That land has been going steadily back, and there is the tragic story, which has been mentioned so often in the House to-day, of the people leaving the land. I think I have already told the House of the tragedies in my own county, but they will bear repetition. My county is purely agricultural, with no industry other than agriculture, and its population to-day is less than the population in 1800 and two-thirds of the population that the county held 100 years ago. The land is becoming less and less valuable, and, what is more, smallholdings are getting fewer and fewer. As these holdings die down, they fall into larger farms and become just a sheep walk, and what was once productive soil is now just capable of holding a few sheep.
I know the welcome that this Bill has received in my own county and, in fact, throughout Wales. There is only one criticism that I would make, and it has already been made by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) in the very 1647 excellent and informative speech which he made. It is that the time is much too short. One realises the difficulty of the Minister of Agriculture and that he has to take what is given him, but this is put forward as a Measure for an emergency, and I only wish that this were a Measure for the continued better cultivation of the land and that it extended well beyond this year, until land which used to be productive is land again made productive. But may I beg of the right hon. Gentleman to try once more to get an extension of the time? When he first mentioned this to the House, the time, I think, was limited to 30th September, but he then got an extension to 31st October. That, however, will not help the hill farmer. As the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) has so very well said, his hay harvest is coming, and after that he will have to turn his attention to the crops, and then, of course, he has to deal with his sheep on the hillside. When is he going to get the time to put the plough in the ground, especially when he has not to-day the horse power that is necessary? The horses have gone; they have been sold, and they no longer produce the shire horses in my county that they used to produce, at any rate not in the same quantity, although they produce the same quality. The tractors are not available, so how will the farmer get the plough into the land before October? Moreover, it so often happens in my part of the world that the best ploughing time is towards the end of October and November, and even early December, and then the bad weather comes again. We know from experience that we dare not plough now or, say, in July or August with a hope of seeding it down in the spring. Therefore, I ask the Minister to try and get a further extension of the time.
I also see in this Bill a linking up with the sheep farming. In my own county of Montgomery we have over 500,000 sheep, and just 12 months ago I was pointing out to the House that within a period of a few months, poor as my farmers were, they had lost a capital value of £500,000, that practically they had gone down £1 a head last year. I know what the lambs were fetching. Instead of fetching, as they used to do, something between £2 and £2 10s., they were bringing in only something like 20s., 23s., and 4s. I 1648 sent to the Minister the other day an account that had been received from the abattoirs in Manchester in respect of beasts sent in August and September. This Bill gives them a new hope, and the only thing that I would suggest to the Minister is that it should not be 10d. If he could add another halfpenny, or certainly if it were a penny, it would solve the whole of this situation. But we are grateful for the fact that, at any rate, we can get for a time a steady price. We have always urged that if we could only secure for the farmer a steady price over a period of years, we could leave the rest to him. He would certainly then be able so to conduct his farm that he would assure this country of the best production that the land could give. For these reasons, I welcome this Bill, and I am sure that it will bring a new hope, at any rate, to the Western farmers.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. de Rothschild
We all know the old Virgil tag about the happy cultivator. This also applies to the Minister of Agriculture to-day. The right hon. Gentleman has had an Ossianic paean of praise from the Scottish Members in all quarters of the House, and from Welsh Members he has had almost a second edition of the "Mabinogion."I want to refer as shortly as I can to the Bill and to echo what was said by the hon. Member for one of the Welsh constituencies;, who pointed out that this Bill does not tackle the agricultural problem broadly. It is true that it provides various measures of assistance to agriculture, and also gives special assistance to the sheep-farming industry and to several main crops, but this assistance is piecemeal as ever. When I look at this compendious document, I feel that surely it could have been put into five different Bills just as well. The aim of the Bill seems to be generally to keep the various branches of the industry at their present level of production, and not to bring them up to a higher level, and it is proposed to achieve this by nicely calculated measures. But I submit to the right hon. Gentleman that it will scarcely make for expansion of production, although I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that he has spoken in the past of the vast potentialities of the land.
I am not proposing to go into the question of the adequacy of the various sub- 1649 sidies which it is proposed to give; I shall leave that to the right hon. Gentleman and his assistants, with the calculating machines pat at their disposal. I shall confine myself to a few broad observations, without wishing to be too critical. I note that the right hon. Gentleman has adopted the principle of price insurance, and I should like to congratulate him on the fact that prices are to be insured at direct cost to the Treasury. I am glad that the principle of the Wheat Act has not been adopted in this Bill, since this places the burden on the consumer and levies taxation through an extra-Parliamentary, extra-Governmental body. It is true that the Wheat Act has worked very well, but the particular features in the Wheat Act are unnecessary, and it could have worked just as well without them. It is true that, as regards barley, the Bill makes provision for the subsidy on the same lines as the Wheat Act, that is, financed in part by a levy on the consumer industries. In the case of barley there may be some excuse for this, because the consumers ,are industrialists, but I am glad that it has not been adopted as a general principle in the Bill.
There is one point in regard to price insurance which gives me some concern. In Clause 4 power is given to the Minister to withhold the subsidy in case of negligent cultivation. The Clause states that if it appears to the Minister that the crop is unduly small, or has been prejudicially affected by the unsuitability of the land, or by negligent cultivation, or if it appears that the land is reduced in fertility, he may withhold or reduce the subsidy. I agree that this may not be a point for a Second Reading Debate, but it affects generally the Bill which has been brought forward and therefore it is important that it should be raised. The Minister himself will not decide whether the subsidy should be given, withheld or reduced. It will be in the hands of one of his minions, and there should be some procedure for reviewing any such decision.
With regard to the proposal for breaking up low-grade pasture, Sir George Stapledon gave the Minister a very good lead. Certainly, the proposal is good as far as it goes. I hope that the experience of the present scheme will encourage the Minister to greater efforts towards land reconditioning. The subsidy for the breaking up of old pasture is not enough. No encouragement is given for field drain- 1650 age. Only a few days ago the right hon. Gentleman went down to Suffolk and was shown derelict farms there. There are thousands of acres of potentially valuable land which will never be reconditioned by private enterprise, and he ought to put forward as a complement to this Measure a scheme for the acquisition of land by the State or a public corporation, in order that land might be reconditioned as he proposes to do in this Bill.
I commend the provision for enabling the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation to improve the service. I should like to see a short-term credit service provided by the corporation. Agricultural credit facilities have not been developed in this country for the benefit of the small farmer in the same way as has been done abroad. Many farmers live on credit, but it is not credit given on a scientific basis; it is credit given on overdrafts, or credits from traders. It is a costly system and many people consider it to be distinctly reprehensible. I suggest that if a scientific short-term credit scheme were devised the lack of capital from which the farmer suffers would be made good.
With respect to the proposed reserve of agricultural implements and tractors, is it essential to hold the tractors in reserve? Why not use them now to break up the land? Could they not play their part in a more ambitious scheme of land reclamation? Why not set up a public or regional corporation to acquire land for reconditioning, and let this reserve of tractors do the work that is required? There is one further question on the subject of tractors to which I should like to direct attention. When the right hon. Gentleman announced his policy on tractors, an 3rd May, he stated that he had information of the number of tractors in this country. Before he attained his present high office he was a tribune pleading the cause of the farmer, and I well remember how petition after petition was made from the National Farmers' Union in order that the tax put on the importation of tractors should be reduced or abolished. Now that the right hon. Gentleman has attained the high position of statesman, pontiff, mandarin or however we may describe him, surely he will pay some attention to what he did in those days. I suggest that it is due to that policy adopted by the Government by their tariff that the nation now has to pay so much money for this reserve of tractors.
1651 What are the facts with regard to caterpillar tractors? A tariff was imposed in 1936 in order to encourage agricultural implement makers in this country. What were the results? I put a question on the subject in February, 1938, and asked how many caterpillar tractors had been manufactured in this country since the tariff was imposed. The President of the Board of Trade replied that he had no idea. My information is that there is only one firm that has been producing these tractors, and I understand that the production has been negligible, and that since then the production of this factory has been given up to armaments. Returning to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman on 3rd May that he had taken a census of tractors, I should like to know whether we have enough of these caterpillar tractors. If not, will he urge the Cabinet to abandon the tariff so that the industry can make up the deficiency itself?
I am not prepared to deny the Minister the measures embodied in this Bill, but I am not entirely satisfied with it as an agricultural policy as a whole. It is called the Agricultural Development Bill. If we are to found a stable, prosperous and efficient agricultural industry it cannot be done on the basis of mathematical formulae to determine whether any given commodity shall have 3d. more or less by way of subsidy. Something much broader will have to be devised so that a greater part of State assistance goes to the industry as a whole and not piecemeal to its components.
The ploughing subsidy and the fertiliser subsidy are undoubtedly on the right lines, and I should like to see that principle extended, so that the present method of subsidising commodities may be superseded and assistance given to agriculture as a whole as an industry. In that way we should get a more stable, efficient and flexible agriculture than we have at the present time, with more freedom to the farmer than is possible with the piecemeal help which it is proposed to give to him to-day. The form of this general assistance will need the most careful consideration. A labour subsidy has been advocated in some quarters. After this Bill has been passed, perhaps the Minister will think it wise to set up a committee or a Royal Commission to 1652 consider that proposal as well as others, and to review and revise the position of the great and vital industry of agriculture as a whole.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander
The Debate that we have had has been on a very important Bill, and it seems a very great pity that on a Bill of such importance it was impossible to arrange for more than one day so that many of the representatives of agriculture who desired to speak might have had the opportunity of doing so. I feel exceedingly sorry that one has to rise at this time and supplant some people who have waited quite a long time to join in the Debate. We listened to the Minister with great interest, because, for one thing, we like him as a man. We like him because he was a gallant citizen of the country in the Great War. When we listen to him on agriculture in his new Ministerial office we may still like him, but we do not like his policy. The very manner in which he explained it makes us more than ever suspicious of the conditions under which his appointment commenced. I am very anxious to put it in that way because we like him, but we are gravely suspicious of the time and circumstances of his appointment and of the policy which will thereafter follow. It was a piece of trade union syndicalism—[Interruption]. That is not amusing. I may be smiling, but it was a piece of trade union syndicalism which, if we were to practise it on this side of the House, would be received with horror from the other side. Here is the president of the farmers' trade union, a wealth, powerful trade union able to dictate to the Government, with its reserve political fund of £70,000, which says in the course of an election campaign," You have got to do this or there is going to be trouble. We will put up our independent Farmers' Union candidate."
So the Government climbed down with a promise of immediate action, and also a change in the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Minister now is there seeking to deliver the goods required from his appointment as farmers' trade union representative in charge of the source of supply. It is from that point of view that we have to look at the right hon. Gentleman's policy. What I failed to discover at any time during his long and 1653 able speech was any real reason for the subsidy. I thought we might at some time or other get some evidence why these subsidies are needed. There was a general statement that the question of price insurance was more or less justified, because the farming industry could not adjust itself as quickly as other industries to a fall in price, but we got no real case for subsidies of the range and magnitude that are postulated in the Bill. I submit, first of all, that there is no justification for the proposed subsidies. Is the condition of agriculture such that it needs this additional subsidy to those that are already granted? I hope the Secretary of State will answer for Scotland. It is a little unfortunate that the Debate has not made it possible for a Labour representative from Scotland to speak, but I interjected during the speech to ask why it was that the Department of Agriculture for England and Wales did not produce each year a return of the kind which the Department for Scotland produces, and which gives something like evidence as to the huge profits that are being made. I had the last return which has been furnished to us, in respect of the year 1936-37.This is not a kind of return which can be said to apply to only one or two farms, for the Department in Scotland has been very assiduous in its duties and it has taken 274 farms—a very wide selection. Of the 274 farms on which they give a return of profits, only 17 are shown as making any loss at all. Five made a loss of over £250, and 12 made a loss of less than £250; 67 made profits up to £250; 77 made profits between £250 and £500; 90 made profits of from £500 to £750; 88 made profits of £750 to ££1,000; 18 made profits of £1,000 to £1,249;and 25 made profits over £1,500 for the year, after providing for all the necessary costs and charges that had to be met.
§ Mr. Alexander
I shall be glad to tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The last full return for the year 1937 summarises the whole position. [Interruption.] I would give individual results for 1938, but I have not the complete return. Neither has the Secretary of State for Scotland. The return of profits, before meeting interest and depreciation, is 1654 £36,000 for the year. Some farms did less well than others. I am not at all disconcerted by the hon. and gallant Gentleman's interruption. Taken over all, we did not make a loss, though we have to pay on the average much higher wages, because all our farm workers are trade unionists. We also have to pay a qualified manager, with a house on each farm, which is equal to the income in many cases of the actual tenant farmer. On top of that we made £36,000 on the year, before charging interest on capital. So I do not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman has scored a point there.
I have given the Government evidence of these profits in Scotland, and yet you are going to raise the subsidy for oats-it is only in Scotland that it can be justified on the basis of a cash crop—to 14 times the difference between the market price and the standard price. No case has yet been made out for passing a Bill on that basis. It may be said that, if you look at 1937–38 and the end of 1938, you had a rather different position in prices. Yes, but you also had an increase in subsidies. I serve upon the Advisory Committee of the Livestock Commission. I see the money that is going into Scotland with regard to the subsidy on fat stock. Very canny they are in the whole business. I must take off my hat to them. I like to see a subsidy which produces better farming, but there is no question about the way in which the. farmers in Scotland are reaping the benefit.
Let us take the position with regard to England and Wales. We are not told any real basis on which to judge whether the industry needs a further subsidy. I have waited for it, but we have not had it. I can produce the usual kind of evidence that the Minister of Agriculture himself sees from month to month in the trade union journal, the" Agricultural Worker." I hope he reads it. As one good trade unionist to another, if he is representing the Farmers' Union, with all their wealth, now that he is a Cabinet Minister surely he will have a look at what the representative of the poor agricultural worker says. Let us see some recent returns of what farmers leave behind them when they go beyond the bourne. They are always coming here as if they were on the verge of bankruptcy, but I find here is one who left £67,000, and other amounts are £28,000, £20,000, £16,000, £15,000. And so it 1655 goes on. Strangely enough, they are not all confined to England and Scotland. Wales comes in as well.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how much of this arises from farming, and how much from other industries?
§ Mr. Alexander
Because some of them may have been engaged in other industries, it does not follow that they have not made money out of farming. I have enough experience of hon. Members opposite who have been engaged at one time in productive industry, or in banking and who have made their fortunes to know that they will not argue that all their money was made out of one industry. Here and there on the fringe of London and of other large cities you may find a farmer who is also a corn merchant or who has some other little sideline of that kind, perhaps on a commission basis, but still he finds it very convenient to keep his farm and he is described, even in his will, as a farmer. I listened to a great oration from the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). There was a time when the hon. and learned Member spoke about those who put their hands into the public purse. He used to speak from the same platform as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). We know the kind of orations which they used to deliver, with regard to Conservative landowners about the open hand of the Treasury and the open door of the public house. That was the kind of speech which we used to get from the hon. and learned Member. To-day he is thanking God that he is no longer like those men; he is to-night receiving favours on behalf of his constituents and hoping for further favours to come.
I notice, by the way, that Montgomeryshire is included in this list. There is one case only six months ago of a farmer who left £9,850. That is not so bad for a bankrupt farmer. I also notice that Rhondda, Monmouthshire and Merionethshire also figure in this list. Then we have this talk about new help for sheep-farming being essential, in order to keep Welsh agriculture on its feet. They seem to be doing pretty well out of it as it is, and before we pass the principle of this Bill, apart from what we say in our Amendment—and that is important—we 1656 ought to have a case made by the Government to show why these extra subsidies are needed. No economic case has yet been presented to the House for these subsidies. Let us take the general position in regard to agricultural subsidies. We have paid this year on wheat £9,000,000. We are paying this year in cattle subsidy £4,265,000; on milk, nearly £1,ooo,ooo; land fertilisation, £1,500,000; bacon, £425,000—and a wonderful result we are getting from it—sugar subsidy and Excise repayments, £4,500,000: small holdings, £800,000; afforestation, £500,000; Agricultural Credits Act, £32,000, and if we get to the maximum figure at present postulated in this Bill —I do not say that we shall—we shall be providing another £7,885,000. It may be less than that, but it certainly will not be less than £5,500,000. I am putting it at the minimum.
There are people who would like us to forget what has been done for the farmers, or, rather, for the landlords, in the remission of rates on agricultural land. I have been looking up the figures. We have to make up to local authorities, out of the General Exchequer, nearly £20,000,000 a year for the derating of agricultural land alone. The present cash subsidy to agriculture in this country amounts to a few hundred pounds less than £50,000,000 a year. The Minister is raising his eyebrows. I do not know whether he is pained or is questioning that figure. How many workers arc- there in that industry? It is something over 500,000—about 570,000. If they were paid on an average £2 a week, and I doubt whether the average is as high as that, we are to-day paying out of State funds practically the whole of the wages of the workers in the agricultural industry.
And still agriculturists come along saying" We want more, and more." The Minister himself has indicated that he cannot hope that this will be the: final Bill. He says that it is impossible to deal with all these matters in one Bill, and that he will be coming along with variations. The hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) has suggested that the 10d. per lb. postulated as the sheep subsidy is not sufficient. I see Members on my own benches representing agricultural constituencies who seem to have their caps in their hands in some form or other —
§ Sir J. Lamb
What I said in my speech was that it was said that it was not enough, but I said that I could not say that, because I thought that when the regulations with regard to the weight of the sheep came out we should know better about it.
§ Mr. Alexander
I see. You are putting up the necessary cover to take the right line when the time comes.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have already given away a lot of my time and I must get on. The Minister has complained about the terms of our Amendment, because of its reference to the failure of the Bill to do anything for the workers in the industry. I do not see why he should complain about that. I do not see any guarantee in the Bill that agricultural workers are to get an improvement in their wage rates or will be offered more inducements to remain on the land. Lots of people are pained because workers are leaving the land. I do not see why we should be so pained about it, if we look at it from the point of view of the other man. The worker has a right to the best modern amenities he can afford, and a right to sell his labour in the best markets; and we have long since got over the old problem of famine through being compelled to abide by manual methods in agriculture. We are continuously increasing machine production in agriculture and I do not see why we should be concerned, providing we maintain the output of agricultural produce in this country. Therefore, I feel strongly that the Minister has not dealt with that point. If we see the farmer at the Exchequer with his hands open for money, then we shall say that public money ought not to be ladled out in that way without public control. In fact the very success of the agricultural 1658 importunity to the Government for continuous cash aid to the industry has given to the Socialist his main case for the socialisation of the industry. It has proved to the Socialist that it is impossible, on any capitalist principle, to carry on the industry.
§ Mr. Alexander
It is your policy. The policy of subsidy which now reaches £50,000,000 a year and still shows no finality, seems to give no permanent prospect of proper wages to the worker or of prosperity to the farmers concerned. We say that if you are using public money to this extent you ought to take over the control of the industry as soon as you can.
§ Mr. Alexander
We have always associated with the granting of subsidy from public funds a proper share in the national control of the industry being assisted, and if hon. Members will look at the Debates relating to the various subsidies they will find that we have made such statements. [Interruption.] It is very unfortunate that hon. Members should resent these things being said. I hope that the Minister will consider this question when he replies. If we were to have a proper share in the control of the agricultural industry which we are subsidising we should find no difficulty in arranging a proper basis for the payment of the workers engaged in it. We have at the present moment no guarantee that this continued raising of subsidies will give to the workers a proper remuneration, and that is why we protest, as we have done in the wording of our Amendment.
In the very few minutes that I have left I would have liked to say very much more to prove my case. I should have liked to speak about the financial Clauses of the Bill in relation to penalties. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) pointed out in very short terms the history of the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. I want to know whether we can have from the Secretary of State to-night a firm answer to the question which my hon. Friend put. We fail to understand the trend of the further move for an annual subsidy up to 1659 £60,000. It says, "either by way of grant or loan," but it seems pretty certain that if we do not knock out the word" grant" from the Bill it will be a grant in the end. The position is that you have £10,500,000 of debentures providing credit for the farmers, and up till now there has been no provision for amortisation. From 1st July, 1939, there is an amortisation at the rate of one-half of 1 per cent. You have a whole block of £8,500,000 of debentures at 5 per cent, fetching, according to the latest rumour affecting the market, anything from 103 to 123. You have the other block of £2,000,000 of 4½ per cent., varying from 110 to 114½Are we to understand that the Clause in the Bill is to give another £60,000 a year especially to provide interest upon those debentures which are being trafficked at those high rates?
At the same time we are told that the Minister is quite unable to say that the granting of this extra money will offer the least assistance to the farming industry itself, and that they will not thereby be able to lend at any lower rate than at present. I think I shall be speaking for all my hon. Friends here when I say that we should like to know a great deal more about how these debentures were raised, and why they cannot be converted to lower rates more in accordance with present money rates, and so avoid this continuous drain on the public purse. Five per cent, for debentures worth £120 in the market is not a proper debenture rate. I should also like to know whether they were issued through the Whitehall Trust, and whether the Whitehall Trust had anything out of this except such payment as they collected as trustees of the debenture holders. I want to know, too, why it was, if there was to be such a fine long-term investment at 5 per cent., that the Treasury did not take up the £1,250,000 of debentures at 5 per cent, that they were entitled to take up. They would have been receiving enough interest on the £1,250,000 to provide the £60,000 which they now want to give back to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation.
These are very important matters. The Clause is a finance Clause, and we shall have approved it in principle when we give a Second Reading to the Bill. As it is only right that the Secretary of State 1660 should have time in which to reply, I will leave over many other things that I wanted to say. I hope he will endeavour to answer the detailed points that were put by my hon. Friend at the beginning of the Debate. Finally, I am convinced that, if this House were really prepared to deal with the question on a basis which would prevent this continuous tapping of the public purse for the ultimate benefit of the landlords, there would soon be a very different position in our British agriculture. I have in my hand an extract from the" Notts Evening Post" of 7th June, describing the summer rent audit of the farmers, market gardeners and tenants of the Donington Estate at Donington Hall, when Mr. J. G. Shields, apparently one of the bigwigs in that quarter, said that:Famers were depositing money at banks, which was a good sign.Captain Charles Shields also stated that:It was the first occasion he had heard any farmer say he was doing well.With the various subsidies, such as the fertilisation subsidies and the subsidies for oats, wheat and other commodities, the land is certainly being cultivated and improved, but all the time, with the exception of the actual owner-occupiers, you are gradually improving the capital value for the landowners themselves, and in the end the tenant farmer will have to pay the piper and will find that there is a permanent incubus upon the industry. I hope very much that there will come a day when the general industrial community, about which something has been said to-night, will see to it that they return a membership to this House that will deal with the agricultural industry, not on a basis of being hard and harsh to farmers and farm labourers, but on a real basis of co-operation between town workers and farm workers. The first thing we have to do is to see that the purchasing power of the industrial worker enables him to take advantage of agricultural production. There is a lot to be done in that direction. The second thing is to see that the 500,000 or 600,000 agricultural workers get a proper wage. But when that time comes, you will have to tackle those who sit still on the backs of the farmers and land workers, taking their toll of rent and profit, and using the land as a holiday place and hunting-ground.
§ 10.36 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)
I think my right hon. and gallant Friend who opened this Debate with such an interesting speech has good reason to be satisfied with the general course of the Debate. I have taken a rough analysis of the general trend of the speeches to-day, and it is rather interesting to note that, with the exception of the right hon. Gentleman the Members for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) and the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who led for the Opposition, and in that capacity have felt it their duty to look every gift horse in the mouth, there were only two speakers who roundly condemned the Bill. All the others favoured it, including two hon. Members opposite, who, mixed with some criticism, gave a wise approval to the general objects of the Bill—and these were hon. Members with practical experience of farming; I refer to the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) and the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin). They criticised points in the Bill, but could not give it that round condemnation which their Front Bench did. I think that in the matter of agriculture the Opposition has some difficulty in controlling the flow of speeches from its own prominent Members. Only the other day we had a speech from the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) who, in referring to agriculture, said:Are we going to produce primary products in this country at high cost instead of purchasing them from other countries at low cost, thus enabling those countries to meet their obligations to this country?"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th June, 1939; col. 807, Vol. 348.]Formerly I was Secretary to the Department for Overseas Trade, and I was interested in keeping open as much trade as possible; but I think there should be a limit to the policy suggested by the hon. Member for Seaham. I wonder whether he would apply the same theory to coal, which depends on special statutory regulations for a measure of protection.
A number of questions have been raised in this Debate. I do not pretend that I shall be able to answer them all, but I should like to deal with some of them. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough referred to the returns which the Scottish Department of Agriculture makes on the subject of the profitableness of farming. He paid my Department a 1662 rather left-handed compliment for our efforts to get that information. He said our example was not followed by the English Department. I understand, however, that my right hon. and gallant Friend, through the universities, does get a measure of similar information. I should be the last to put aside a compliment to me or my Department, but I am bound to point out that that information is by no means full. These returns are mainly useful in enabling us to keep an eye on trends. The right hon. Gentleman himself, who chose a relatively good year, compared to the year which followed, mentioned that out of upwards of 200 farms covered by the returns there had been a number on which a loss had been made. I would point out also that those 200 farms represent a very small proportion of the 75,000 agricultural holdings in Scotland. At the same time the Department made some effort to get information, and we propose to continue to do so. Perhaps we shall be aided in our efforts to find out how profitable farming is when the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Kirkwood), who, I am sorry to say, is not in his place to-night, takes over a farm in the Island of Jura. He will no doubt come back and tell us how profitable it has been.
§ Mr. George Griffiths
The Noble Lady will not give it to him if there is any profit to be made out of it.
§ Mr. Colville
I am sure that if the hon. Member for Dumbarton takes to farming his researches will be welcomed by the Scottish agricultural Department. These returns are made by inquiry from the farms, and they are got from the farmers who keep books. It is rather the better type of farm that keeps satisfactory books, and while one wants to improve bookkeeping on farms, I think that the returns on an entirely voluntary basis do check up the rather better farms and give us a valuable piece of information.
The hon. Member for Don Valley spoke about the cost of the production of food. Oats is a good example of the difficulty in calculating the cost of production. It is a crop which finds a place on all sorts of farms of a greatly varying character. I do not hide the fact that the cost of production can be estimated in a number of ways. The general opinion, however, is that the cost would be between £6 and £7 an acre. If every one of the 16 cwts., 1663 the average yield, fetched the standard price of 8s. the return would be £6 8s. Most farms use a considerable proportion of the crop as raw material for feeding livestock. In Scotland, however, it is the only cash crop in certain parts, and a valuable cash crop in other parts of the country.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen asked some questions, and I will try to answer him, though I may not be able to deal with them all. In dealing with sheep he asked, Is it clear that the prices of offals are not included? The answer is that the dressed carcase weight disregards the principal offals, but has regard to certain others. My right hon. Friend read out a list of offals that could be so regarded. The hon. Gentleman asked whether standard prices had been worked out. The monthly standard prices for sheep will be determined by the Livestock Commission in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 5, Sub-section (2) of the Second Schedule to the Bill. He asked whether weights had been fixed, and he went on to make some very practical suggestions in that regard. The answer on that point is that the Livestock Commission will also have to consider the standard weights to be fixed by the Orders of the Ministers on the advice of the Commission. That is laid down in the Second Schedule. The hon. Gentleman proceeded to ask that there should be increased representation of sheep producers on the Livestock Commission. The Commission itself is an independent body, but the representative body which advises is the Livestock Advisory Committee. Steps have already been taken to add representatives of the sheep producers to that committee. He complained about the ravages of rabbits. There is a private Member's Bill for England and Wales which the Government have agreed to help, and in the case of Scotland, the Government have introduced a Bill, which includes not only rabbits, but deer—in the Island of Jura and elsewhere.
We have very much in mind the question raised by the hon. Member for Carmarthen and the hon. Member for Don Valley in regard to the market reports. There are officers of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Agriculture in Scotland, and they work together in order to calculate the average 1664 price in the markets on which they have to report. Every effort is made to ensure that the prices are determined on a uniform basis, and experience of actual cases indicates that prices agree very closely with the actual prices realised for cattle eligible for the subsidy. The hon. Member for Don Valley said that he thought our efforts to attach efficiency to the payments made in the Bill were in the nature of eyewash. He will not expect me to agree with him on that. It will be necessary to carry out inspection as effectively as possible, and surprise visits will be made to farms for this purpose. Our inspectors are generally moving about the country and get to know the places where inspection may be desirable and valuable. Some small increase in the staff may be necessary. It will not be a great increase, but we shall not hesitate to increase the staff of inspectors if it is necessary in order that these inspections, these surprise inspections, are to be made.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Are they going to be the same people who were constantly looking for thistles and never found any?
§ Mr. Colville
I am sorry to say that there are certain farms in Scotland where there would be no difficulty in finding thistles, but I am sure the officers will do their work as civil servants fairly and accurately. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) also gave support to the Bill, as indeed did Members in all parts of the House. He asked one question in relation to the ceiling for sheep. The figure of 27,000,000 is related, of course, to the United Kingdom sheep population in the June quarter; the number of fat sheep which may be marketed in any year may be about 10,000,000 or up to 13,000,000, including ewes.
§ Mr. Colville
Yes, by the return on the 4th June.
The House will agree that we have had two very interesting maiden speeches today from the hon. Member for West Perth and Kinross (Mr. Snadden) and the other from the hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine (Mr. ThorntonKemsley). I should like to congratulate both hon. Members on their speeches. They' both raised several interesting 1665 points. The hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine referred to the importance of the rotation of crops. I would specially stress that in the case of Scotland, and also the importance of it in relation to what we are doing for oats. It is necessary in Scotland to grow oats, because in certain parts of the country it is the only crop which can be grown for cash and keep the land in a healthy condition.
The hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) disliked the ceiling for sheep. I would remind him that the figure of 27,000,000 has been exceeded only four times in the past 40 years—in 1907, 1908, 1909 and 1932, so it is not an unreasonable figure to fix. But of course we shall watch it.
I am satisfied from the districts I have visited in the North East of Scotland that in these oat-growing districts not only is farming in a poor state, it is in a desperate state.
§ Mr. Alexander
We have to be satisfied to vote large sums of public money on the word of a Minister who thinks things are bad but has no evidence.
§ Mr. Colville
The right hon. Gentleman's complacency in regard to farming will not stand him in good stead in the country. But I would like to answer a specific point he raised about credits. There are two Corporations, one to deal with agricultural credits in England and one in Scotland. In regard to the English Corporation the position is this: In 1929 an issue of £5,000,000 5 per cent, debentures at par was made. In 1930 £3,500,000 debentures were issued, redeemable in 1959. In 1932 £2,000,000 4½ per cent, debentures, redeemable in 1961, were issued at 95. There is no provision for repayment. The difficulties which brought about the necessity for assisting the Corporation were mainly these: The immediate outcome of the conversion of War Loan in 1932 resulted in a heavy fall in interest rates generally. In consequence the Corporation found itself unable to make loans from the funds which it had in hand at rates corresponding to the prevailing interest rates without incurring a loss. It was receiving the repayment of loans already made by regular instalments and by premature repayment of outstanding balances. The provision which is being made for the assistance of this company is to enable it to carry on with the function for which 1666 it was devised, bearing in mind that it has a firm contract in regard to these debentures. But there is a provision here of which I should like to tell the right hon. Gentleman. It is proposed to make it a condition that so long as the corporation is in receipt of these payments, it shall not pay dividends on the share capital except with the consent of the Minister and the Treasury. It is intended to make that stipulation. Only with the consent of the Minister and the Treasury will a dividend be paid as long as these payments are going on.
With regard to the Scottish Corporation, my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) asked me, in a Parliamentary Question, why there was no provision to make a similar payment to the Scottish Corporation. The circumstances are not parallel. The Scottish Corporation started its operations at a later date, in 1934, after the conversion operation had taken place, and so was fortunate enough to avoid the period of high borrowing rates which have led to the present difficulties in the case of the English Corporation. I have been in touch with the Scottish Corporation, and they are satisfied that they can carry on for the present without a special Exchequer subvention. The assistance proposed in connection with the English Corporation is not for the purpose of lowering interest rates, but to enable the corporation to carry on. The specific point which my hon. Friend put to me was, why should not the Scottish Corporation also lend its money at lower rates, equal to the English rates? There is at present a fractional difference of one-quarter, the rates being 4£per cent, and 4#x00BD percent I am in consultation with the Scottish Corporation, but I am not in a position to add anything further to-night; nor do we propose at present to put anything in this Bill on the subject. If at any time it was thought wise or necessary to make any change, my hon. Friend will remember that we have a separate Agricultural Credits (Scotland) Act, which could be amended; but I am not giving any undertaking that anything of that sort will be done.
Mr. Henderson Stewarts
Is my right hon. Friend really suggesting that it is proposed that Scottish borrowers should continue to pay a higher rate of interest on their loans and therefore get no assistance from the State, whereas the English 1667 Corporation charge their borrowers one-quarter per cent. less, having obtained a grant of £60,000 a year from the Exchequer?
§ Mr. Colville
My hon. Friend will recognise that the English Corporation lent large sums of money at a higher rate of interest than the Scottish Corporation. The management of the Scottish Corporation say that there is no need for financial assistance, as they were able to borrow money at lower rates on account of the lower interest.
I should like, as Secretary of State for Scotland, to stress the importance of this Bill to Scotland. In Scotland, oats is a staple crop, and in 1938 the acreage under oats was 779,000—more than four times the acreage of wheat and barley combined, and almost exactly one-third of the total oats area of the United Kingdom. In Scotland, oats represents a staple crop. It is necessary not only to furnish cash, but also for the welfare of the land. Therefore, I have very great pleasure in being able to recommend this Bill to the House. I am certain that it will not only give our agriculture more confidence, but will provide a real improvement in agricultural conditions.
I should have liked to deal with some of the points raised by hon. Members about the conditions of agricultural workers. I will only, however, in conclusion, refer to one point. The recent legislation in Scotland, passed by this Government and not by previous Governments, has made the machinery of the
§ Agricultural Wages Act available in that country. It was passed at a time when the farmers were depressed and doubtful about the future. They were passing through difficult times, and without the necessary assistance to give confidence to farming in Scotland, I do not think that even with that machinery we could have hoped for better times for the farm workers. But with that machinery and this assistance, we can hope for better times for them. Also the Government have passed recently two Acts relating to rural housing in Scotland, while there are Acts on the Statute Book already for England. [Interruption.] I could give the figures of the work which is going on if I had more time, but there will be opportunities' later to stress that point.
§ My right hon. Friend and I are bringing this Bill before the House believing that we are making it possible for the farmers to develop their business with energy and with confidence, and, in doing so, to help the welfare of the country. I am quite sure that, irrespective of party in this House, our dearest wish at the present time is for peace, but at the same time we are determined to stand for certain things which we regard as essential. In making that stand, it is not only armaments and money that are required, but also a prosperous agriculture in this country, and this Bill is a great contribution towards that end.
§ Question put," That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 229; Noes, 119.1671
|Division No. 175.]||AYES.||[11.3 p.m.|
|Acland, R. T. D.||Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Crooke, Sir J. Smedley|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Crookshank, Capt, Rt. Hon. H. F. C.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Cross, R. H.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Bull, B. B.||Crowder, J. F. E.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Bullock, Capt. M.||Cruddas, Col. B.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Burgin, Rt. Hon. E. L.||Culverwell, C. T.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett C. of Ldn.)||Burton, Col. H. W.||Davidson, Viscountess|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Butcher, H. W.||Davies, C. (Montgomery)|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Carver, Major W. H.||De Chair, S. S.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Cayzer, Sir C.W. (City of Chester)||De la Bère, R.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Denman, Hon. R, D.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Channon, H.||Denville, Alfred|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Dorman-Smith, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir R. H.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Clarks, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Dower, Lieut.-Col. A. V. G.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Drewe, C.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Colfox, Major Sir W. P.||Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Colman, N. C. D.||Dugdale, Captain T. L.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Duncan, J. A. L.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N. (Buckrose)||Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Eastwood, J. F.|
|Braithwaite, J. Gurney (Holderness)||Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)||Eckersley, P. T.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Edmondson, Major Sir J|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Cox, H. B. Trevor||Ellis, Sir G.|
|Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Loftus, P. C.||Sandeman, Sir N. S.|
|Emery, J. F.||Lyons, A. M.||Schuster, Sir G. E.|
|Errington, E.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Selley, H. R.|
|Everard, Sir William Lindsay||McCorquodale, M. S.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Fildes, Sir H.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Shepperson, Sir E. W.|
|Findlay, Sir E.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Fleming, E. L.||McKie, J. H.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Foot, D. M.||Maitland, Sir Adam||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Furness, S. N.||Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Snadden, W. McN.|
|George, Major C. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Mander, G. le M.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rl. Hon. Sir J.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Spens. W. P.|
|Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Markham, S. F.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Goldie, N. B.||Maxwell, Hon. S. A.||Storey, S.|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||Medlicott, F.||Stourton, Major Hon, J. J.|
|Grant-Ferris, Flight-Lieutenant R.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Granville, E. L.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel Sir T. C. R.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.||Stuart, Rl. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Gridley, Sir A. B.||Nall, Sir J.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Tale, Mavis C.|
|Grimston, R. V.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Hambro, A. V.||Owen, Major G.||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Peake, O.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Peat, C. U.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Perkins, W. R. D.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Peters, Dr. S. J.||Touche, G. C.|
|Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Petherick, M.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Hoare, Rt. Hon. sir S.||Pilkington, R.||Turton, R. H.|
|Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Wakelield, W. W.|
|Hopkin, D.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Ramsbotham, Rt. Hon. H.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Rankin, Sir R.||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Hutchinson, G. C.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||White, H. Graham|
|Jennings, R.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Joel, D. J. B.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Remer, J. R.||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Keeling, E. H.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Kerr, Sir J. Graham (Scottish Univ.)||Ropner, Colonel L.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Rosbotham, Sir T.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||Wise, A. R.|
|Leech, Sir J. W.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Rothschild, J. A. de||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Rowlands, G.||York, C.|
|Levy, T.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Liddall, W. S.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E, A.|
|Lindsay, K. M.||Russell, Sir Alexander||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Lipson, D. L.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)||Lieut-Colonel Kerr and Mr, Munro.|
|Little, J.||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Salt, E. W.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Jagger, J.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||John, W.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Day, H.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Dobbie, W.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Lathan, G.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Ede, J. C.||Lawson, J. J.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Leach, W.|
|Batey, J.||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Lee, F.|
|Beaumont, H. (Batley)||Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Leonard, W.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Frankel, D.||Leslie, J. R.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Gallacher, W.||Lunn, W.|
|Broad, F. A.||Gardner, B. W.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)|
|Bromfield, W.||Garro Jones, G. M.||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Buchanan, G.||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||McGhee, H. G.|
|Burke, W. A.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||McGovern, J.|
|Cape, T.||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||MacLaren, A.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Maclean, N.|
|Chater, D.||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Marshall, F.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Maxton, J.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Hayday, A.||Messer, F.|
|Collindridge, F.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Milner, Major J.|
|Cove, W. G.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Montague, F.|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doneaster)|
|Daggar, G.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)|
|Dalton, H.||Isaacs, G. A.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Muff, G.||Sexton, T. M.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Naylor, T. E.||Shinwell, E.||Viant, S. P.|
|Noal-Baker, P. J.||Silkin, L.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Oliver, G. H.||Silverman, S. S.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Paling, W.||Sloan, A.||Westwood, J.|
|Parker, J.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Pearson, A.||Smith, E. (Stoke)||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Smith, T. (Normanton)||William., T. (Don Valley)|
|Poole, C. C.||Sorensen, R. W.||Wilson, C. H. (Atterclifle)|
|Price, M. P.||Stephen, C.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Pritt, D. N.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Richards, R. (Wrexham)||Stokes, R. R.|
|Ridley, G.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Riley, B.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Mr. Matters and Mr. Groves.|
|Ritson, J.||Thurtle, E.|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.