HL Deb 22 March 1888 vol 324 cc11-8

, in rising to ask the Lord President, Whether the Government contemplate taking any steps this Session on the Report of the Departmental Commission on Agricultural and Dairy Schools? said, that the proposal in the Report lacked definition and limit. It was, however, large enough in its outline, although it was called only a commencement. The proposal was that there should be a Central Normal School of Agriculture, to be provided and maintained by the State; that existing endowed schools for the middle class should be utilized for teaching practical farming; that agricultural schools originated by local effort should be stimulated and assisted by Government aid for labourers, tenant farmers, and ethers; that district schools in selected districts, of various kinds, five in England and two in Scotland, should be at once set up under the control of the Central Department, and in the management of district committees; that gardens, allotments, and farms should be connected with rural elementary schools for the study of the principles of agriculture, scholarships of £50 a-year each being given to boys and girls who should pass the Sixth Standard in them; that district dairy schools should be established, and endowed with £500 a-year each, besides special grants for buildings and apparatus; that an annual grant of £3,000 should be put at the disposal of the Agricultural Department for original agricultural research; that diplomas from the Central School should be given for the highest qualification, which in agricultural studies was to include forestry, gardening, fruit-growing, poultry, and bee-keeping, besides all ordinary farm work; and in dairy studies was to include the rearing and feeding of stock, and making cheese. Such was the outline for commencement, and for the purpose it was not too large. But the question was whether the State could do all this best. South Kensington did not seem to him to be the true fountain of practical agricultural skill. Much was being done at the present time which State undertaking would supersede. The school in Cumberland was acknowledged to be a success, although the result of private enterprize. Then there was Cirencester, which was said to be too expensive for small farmers, but the scholarships and exhibitions of £100 a-year which this Report proposed would fully open it to their use. Evening classes were also being established for this purpose in country districts. Those actually engaged and interested in the advance of technical knowledge were everywhere making better provision for special apprenticeship than the doctrinaires of Government Departments could possibly make by State schools within definite programmes. At most, the State ought to provide central training for teachers, and exhibitions to aid poor talent. There was already on the Estimates a proposal to give £5,000 to begin the work recommended by the Commission, and a promise had been made of a Bill for a Minister of Agriculture. A Department of Agriculture under the Council Office existed in Parliament Street, and in connection with the Local Government Bill more shadowy forms of coming aid appeared. Some clearer indication should be given of what was intended before steps were taken which would make mistake irremediable.


asked, when the Government proposed to lay on the Table the Evidence on which the Report of the Departmental Commission was founded? It seemed to him important that they should have the Evidence before they considered the recommendations made in the Report, as there were many points that required to be elucidated by the Evidence.


said, he was glad of an opportunity to express the gratitude that a considerable section of the agricultural community felt for the patience and consideration Her Majesty's Government had evinced in dealing with all matters relating to the industry in which they were interested. Commissions had been appointed to inquire into every subject that had been suggested as a possible remedy for the existing depression, which, although the agriculturist had exercised his prerogative of grumbling at, was, as the noble Marquess told them on Monday, not unique to this country, or confined to this one branch of industry, most departments of trade having suffered in a like ratio. The subject of State-aided agricultural education had been an almost unknown thing in this country up to the present time. The Commission of which Sir Richard Paget was the Chairman recommended that dairy schools should be assisted by funds to carry on their operations, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer very wisely remarked that he must be convinced of the utility of such schools before he assented to grants being given them. By that, presumably, he meant their utility from a national point of view. In order to convince the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Commission quoted as a re- markable instance of what education hail done for Denmark, her imports of butter to this country having increased from 80,589 cwt. in 1867 to 210,322 cwt. in 1877, and to 487,603 cwt. in 1887. But this increase might be accounted for by studying the prices realized, which were as follows:—104s. per cwt. in 1867, 128s. in 1877, and 109s. in 1887. No doubt that 104s. in 1867 paid the Danish farmer. When, therefore, the price rose to 128s. in 1877, it showed an undue margin of profit, and stimulated him to further efforts, and the production had increased in proportion. But the question was if there were many farmers who would be satisfied with such a price for their butter on the average of 12 months, except in the most primitive districts, and if the dairy produce made in England was of an inferior character to that imported from Denmark or elsewhere—if this were proved, then, indeed, we had reason to inquire what could be done to raise the standard of home-made goods; but even in that case it rested with the landowners to improve the produce of their estates. If we were living under a system of peasant proprietors—or even as in Denmark, where the soil was greatly subdivided owing partly to the state of the law, which interdicted the union of small farms into large estates, but encouraged in various ways the parcelling out of landed property, and left the tenant entire control of his land so long as the rent was paid—it might be advisable to aid those who were unable to acquire the knowledge necessary for obtaining the best return from their holdings. But with large estates and well-organized, powerful agricultural societies, such as the Royal Agricultural Society, with 9,000 members, and subscriptions amounting to £9,000 annually, it did seem unnecessary to subsidize new schools. As Professor Wrightson observed last week, in the Paper he read before the Society of Arts, the paternal principle of government had never found favour in England. Almost everything in the way of advancement was left to private and corporate enterprize, and the results of this system of self-help had been magnificent. Further on he said— Dairy farmers, the men above all others singled out for assistance, have been exceptionally fortunate. No class of men have progressed more rapidly with the times. They have wiped out the obloquy of a few years ago with regard to the alleged inferiority of their butter and cheese, and these English products are once more equal, if not superior, to those imported from Denmark, Brittany, and Normandy. With this opinion and the evidence gained from the Agricultural Returns, it would be absurd to say that dairy farmers had not made great strides of late years in Great Britain; and they would undoubtedly continue to do so on those estates where the tenants were not paralyzed by too heavy payments of rent, tithe, and taxes. If, however, they were overburdened with charges of this description, they would be unable to hold their own when brought into competition with the whole world, and no amount of State-aided education would achieve the desired result—that of enabling them to pay such an interest on their capital as would satisfy their requirements. In conclusion, he would urge on Her Majesty's Government, if they saw the advisability of acceding to the recommendations of the Commission, not to enter into the speculation suggested of buying a 200-acre farm near Rugby for, say, £12,000, but to hand over the money to the Royal Agricultural Societies of England, Scotland, and Ireland, to be utilized by them in disseminating dairy knowledge throughout the entire Kingdom, a course not involving the present or any succeeding Government in an obligation to continue such grants, and one that would from the past history of those societies assure the money being expended for the benefit of practical agriculture.


said, that the special knowledge which was known to be possessed by the noble Lord who had just spoken would induce their Lordships to attach great weight to his observations. With respect to the Question that was put by the noble Lord behind him, he felt some difficulty in answering it. A Question had been put in the other House, and the Government intimated that a Minister of Agriculture was to be appointed, if Parliament should sanction it, with whom it would naturally rest to determine what should be done in the matter. As Head, at present, of the Department charged with the interests of agriculture, he might say that, even without adopting the suggestions of the Commission as embodied in their Report, he still felt that there would be many opportunities, in the course of the present year, of rendering assistance to some extent in aid of local effort, and in consonance with the principle of self-help which the noble Lord opposite had just commended. He regretted very much that the two Reports had not been accompanied by the Evidence. It was in print, but he could not say how soon it would be laid before the House. He would, however, take steps to ascertain how soon it could be produced, because it was very desirable that those who took a special interest in the matter should be cognizant of the Evidence which had been laid before the Commission. It would be observed that in that Commission, as in many others, a good many leading questions were put, which showed pretty clearly the bias which suggested them. When witnesses had a pecuniary subsidy dangled before their eyes, it was not to be expected that they should have the moral courage of the noble Lord opposite and say they would rather not have it. There were some who, to a certain extent, did so; but it would be found that some of those who managed dairies skilfully and with success fully appreciated the value of their own excellent practice. Many inquiries had been made of him by deputations and others upon this subject. A large deputation from Scotland had asked that whatever assistance was given should be extended equitably to that country, and had urged that too much importance was attached to dairies in comparison with other branches of agriculture. Indeed, they said that the least depressed interest was that of dairy farming, and that other departments of agriculture required more teaching and more assistance than dairy farming, while they by no means desired to check any support to that calling. There had not been much done in the way of practical teaching in connection with the Science and Art Department. A certain amount was expended from year to year; but it was mainly upon what might be called theoretical teaching and book learning rather than practical agriculture. There was a time when there was in this country agricultural instruction connected with elementary schools; but it was done away with, because it was found that it interfered with the gaining of grants for general education. In agricultural districts boys left the ele- mentary schools at an early age, and it was necessary that they should in early youth acquire a knowledge of horses and other animals, and that was knowledge of a more practical kind than they could acquire by gardens or allotments in the neighbourhood of a school. It might be desirable to provide by small scholarships for assisting some boys to obtain a more scientific knowledge of the business in which they were to be employed. But, after all, he could not help thinking that for the bulk of the lads the best instruction in agriculture would be instruction gained on the land itself. It was impossible in schools, except, perhaps, in evening schools, to gain time for special instruction, and it was to the farmers we must look to train the boys they required to do their work. He had heard that an agricultural school had been recently set up in Glasgow for the training of young farmers. Those were assisted by landlords, and considerable numbers attended the classes from a distance. That seemed to him the right sort of beginning. He could not hold out any hope that anything would be done in the way of distinct State foundations during the present year. The so called Agricultural Department were not in a position at present to make the inquiries which would be necessary for an undertaking of such magnitude. He might mention that the Veterinary part of the Department of the Council had met with an approbation throughout the country which was almost remarkable, considering the very unpleasant duties which it had to discharge in enforcing the law with regard to diseased cattle, and endeavouring to prevent the spread of infection. With regard to the Agricultural Department more recently set up, it had been proceeding by degrees; but strong representations had been made to him that it was very desirable there should be greater strength infused into it; and he was of opinion that it needed it. The Department was beginning to attract a great deal of attention throughout the country; and he might promise on its behalf that the representations in question would be carefully considered. He trusted that the agriculturists would succeed in deriving substantial benefit from the new Ministry if established. Practically, his answer amounted to this. He believed the Department would re- ceive from the Chancellor of the Exchequer this year a sum which would be expended in obtaining information as to the real needs of the country, and in giving assistance, as far as possible, to local efforts in testing the advantages which might be derived from the present condition of teaching in this country. The Department did not hold out the expectation that the State was going to do everything; but if the localities showed that they were really in need of assistance by taking steps themselves, the Department would be prepared to assist them this year with a view to further action if, with sufficient knowledge, it was found desirable to go further in the matter.