HL Deb 11 July 1889 vol 338 cc70-83

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I have to ask your Lordships for the Second Reading of this Bill, which has passed without opposition in the House of Commons. The movement in favour of a Minister of Agriculture took its origin in a Resolution carried some years ago in the House of Commons, on the Motion of Mr. Sampson Lloyd, by which it was resolved that it was extremely desirable a Department should be created for Agriculture and Trade. In 1881, the Motion of Sir M. Lopes for the same object was accepted by the then Government, and in order to give effect to that Resolution, the Committee of Agriculture, which now exists, was in 1883 appointed. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was made Vice President of that Committee, and has so continued; but since my noble Friend who holds that office became Duke of Rutland, the duties which had to be discharged in the House of Commons were undertaken by Lord Lewisham, who has since acted for the Department. My Lords, I have heard some remarks made with respect to the Committee so appointed in 1883, and by the present Government both in 1885 and 1886. That Committee has been by no means a nominal one, for it has frequently been called together to consider very important matters. The President is, of course, responsible for everything that is done, and it was not for the purpose of relieving him from that responsibility that the Committee has been on several occasions called together; but the Committee is composed of those who know the wants of the country in connection with agricultural subjects. It has also been of service in regard to the distribution of the money last year assigned to the Department for dairy and agricultural schools. My Lords, I should not be moving this Bill if I thought in doing so I should be understood as condemning the present system. So far as the Veterinary Department of the Privy Council is concerned, I am quite aware that that Department has been approved by all parties and classes in the country. It has done its duty very effectually. Under that Department cattle plague and foot and-mouth disease have been effectually stamped out; and, with regard to pleuro-pneumonia, although it is a much more insidious and difficult disease to deal with, it has been taken in hand with the best powers of the Department, and I hope that, whoever may be the new Minister of Agriculture, he may be as triumphant over that disease as his predecessors have been in dealing with the enemies of agriculture I have alluded to. The Veterinary Department has been served by officers who are recognized not only officially, but in the agricultural world as men of singular capacity, activity, and energy, and the country is indebted to them for the ability with which, when disease appears, they use their best endeavours to stamp it out. It is only just to mention Professor Brown, Mr. Cope, and Major Tennant; but indeed I may say generally that the staff of the Veterinary Department has been all that could be desired. The Statistical Department was transferred from the Board of Trade, and I think I may say that those conversant with those matters will admit that the statistics which have been drawn up in the Privy Council Office have been of a character which deserves the approbation of all those interested in them, and, at the same time, they have been brought out so promptly as to be of the greatest use to the farming interest of the country. That, of course, will go on. The great duties discharged by the Agricultural Departments of foreign countries, at enormous expense, have been carried out in England mainly by the voluntary action of the Agricultural Societies of this country; and I do not-believe that this country would be ready to vote an establishment on the large scale adopted in other countries for the Department now to be created. However, the determination of the agriculturists to have a Department entirely to themselves has been sufficiently made manifest, and I am the last person to stand in the way of their receiving the most thorough attention to their wants. Having regard to the difficulties and troubles they have had to encounter in recent years, I do not wonder that they stretch out their hands in all directions for assistance, and that they may look to anew Board of Agriculture to give them, more advantages than they have hitherto had. With regard to schools of agriculture, a grant of £5,000 was made last year for distribution by the Privy Council, and that grant has resulted in a number of agricultural and dairy schools springing up in England, Wales, and Scotland that are doing useful work, and give us reason to hope that the want of these institutions, hitherto felt in this country, will be supplied without any great drain upon the Treasury. My Lords, I have very little more to say. The Bill, which is a short Bill, speaks for itself. It hands over the work hitherto done by the Privy Council in respect of all questions connected with contagious diseases and agriculture; it hands over the work of the Land Commission, with its officers, to the new Board, and also that of the Ordnance Survey, and it will likewise take charge of agricultural statistics and matters relating to forestry and horticulture, as well as the inspection of agricultural and dairy schools. I hope the Bill will be passed without undue delay, because uncertainties and difficulties naturally occur when a Department has, so to speak, a new one hanging over it, and I hope the Treasury will adequately provide for it, and that it may be put in a position to get to work speedily, when I think there can be no doubt it will do work of a satisfactory kind. I submit the Bill to your Lordships for Second Reading.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2ª"—(The Viscount Cranbrook.)


My Lords, I have listened with great attention to everything that my noble Friend has said. His speech was very much what I anticipated it would be; he eulogized the Agricultural Department; he told us that the Veterinary Department was as good as could be; he alluded to the statistics; and he told us he was far from condemning the present system. Judging from the remarks of the Lord President of the Council, I imagined that he would have concluded by asking your Lordships to read the Bill a second time this day six months. My Lords, I claim as strong an interest and to be as greatly connected with agriculture as any person in the country. I enjoy the confidence and the friendship of numerous farmers, and I can assure your Lordships that nothing would be further from my wishes than to do anything which would, in my opinion, be hostile or adverse to the agricultural interest. It is, however, because I think that this measure is unnecessary and mischievous that I now lift up my voice against it. I am afraid that I cannot ask your Lordships to reject it, because the Bill having passed the other House without a Division, I do not think it probable that your Lordships would by a majority reject it. The measure is unnecessary, because there is nothing provided for in it which is not performed at the present time by the Agricultural Department, presided over by the Lord President. I think it is mischievous, because to my mind it will raise hopes in the minds of the agriculturists of the country which can never be realized. Agriculturists may be led to believe that the mere fact of setting up an Agricultural Department will conduce to their welfare and put an end to that state of depression which has been passing for so many years over the country. In this belief they would be utterly disappointed, and it is on that ground that I consider the measure a mischievous one. The First Lord of the Treasury, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, said— Having regard to the present condition of affairs, the competition which existed, the reduction of price which has prevailed during the last few years, resulting perhaps in a greater dislocation of employment in the agricultural industry than in any other industry, and having regard also to the fact that in many parts of the country land has been thrown out of cultivation and that those who have been dependent upon it as owners, and cultivators, and employers have suffered most severely, the Government cannot but admit that there exists very considerable ground for the demand which is made by the agricultural classes for the constitution of a department which would make the interests of agriculture its special and peculiar charge. This is not a personal, individual, or sectional question. It is an Imperial question. It is clearly to the interests of the country that the land should be made productive to its utmost capacity, and should be made to contribute to the prosperity of the country as far as possible. Now, my Lords, I want to know, with regard to competition, which is one of the points referred to, what is there in this Bill which will enable us to meet competition? It does not propose to resuscitate our old friend Protection, though I, for one, should not object to that. Then it is said that parts of the country have been thrown out of cultivation. I do not see how anything that can be done under this new Bill can bring into cultivation any part of the country that is now out of cultivation. He talks about there being a greater dislocation of employment in the agricultural industry than in any other industry. What is this Bill going to do to remedy that? It seems to be—well, I will not say what I think of it. Then he says— The Bill is an effort to establish a department which will, I hope, be exceedingly useful to the agricultural community. No doubt a great strain has been put upon those who are interested in land during the last few years. Prices have fallen; there has been an absence of profit in almost every important portion of the farmer's industry, and now we have to endeavour by all the means in our power to bring back prosperity to that portion of Her Majesty's subjects, not by any action of Parliament, not by the fostering care of a department, but by bringing home to them that knowledge and power by which they themselves may work out their own deliverance. How in the name of wonder the passing of this Bill, which is really only transferring these matters to a new Department, is to bring all that about passes my comprehension. I hope that in the course of time all that may be worked out, but at the present time I confess I do not see how it is to be done. I ask again, my Lords, what is there in this Bill which would enable agriculturists to meet competition? As to the parts of the country thrown out of cultivation, how can anything in this Bill bring back to a state of cultivation lands that have gone out of cultivation? Then, again, what is the Bill going to do in order to remedy the dislocation of employment in the agricultural industry? It has been urged that the Bill will be useful to the agricultural community, and that there is an absence of profit in the agricultural industry. I agree with the First Lord of the Treasury in this, and I should like to see that condition of affairs altered; but this Bill will not do it. How this Bill is to bring home to agriculturists that knowledge and power by which they are to work out their own deliverance I absolutely fail to comprehend, seeing that it only provides for the transfer of the present duties of the Department to another Board. Now, my Lords, I take the Bill itself. The whole of the Bill is contained in the second clause, which declares three things—first of all, the powers and duties of the Board of Agriculture; secondly, the powers and duties of the Land Commissioners; and, thirdly, the powers and duties of the Land Survey, are to be transferred to the new Department. It is quite beyond my comprehension to see what benefit will accrue to agriculturists by mere transference of the duties of the existing Department to another Department located in a different place. I am also astonished to find that one of the most important agricultural countries—Ireland—has not been included in the Bill, hut that it is, on the contrary, to be left to the administration of the present Irish Privy Council. I will quote statistics to show how the Veterinary Department has dealt with outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and cattle plague. I should like to give your Lordships a sample of the existing state of things. In 1871 there were 52,164 fresh cases of outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, 691,565 animals being attacked. The United Kingdom has now been free from foot-and-mouth disease for some years. No cattle plague has been imported since the passing of the Act of 1878. As to pleuro-pneumonia, I can show your Lordships that in 1877, the year before the passing of the Act, there were 2,108 farms returned as infected and 5,330 animals attacked. In 1888 there were only 513 farms returned as infected, with 1,813 animals attacked. If the Government would spend only one-half of the money which they intended to spend on the creation of this new Department in taking proper measures they could stamp out pleuro-pneumonia altogether. It must be admitted that the present Department does its work in an admirable manner, and we should hardly be able to find its equal in any other country in the world. In the year 1888 no fewer than 68 different abstracts were compiled by Mr. Whitehead and published by the Agricultural Department. Mr. Whitehead has also published elaborate essays on the subject of moths, flies, and beetles affecting agriculture. That has all been done now, and I doubt whether, under the new system, we should get much more information. I am astonished at the ignorance displayed on this subject. I have heard it said, for instance, that it is perfectly monstrous that a country like this, where agriculture is such an important interest, should not have an Agricultural Department as France has. But we have a Department of Agriculture, although our system is different, because in France everything is done by the Government. Even the expense of shows is borne there by the Government. But in the case of a show, such as that recently held at Windsor, every penny of expenditure comes from voluntary contributions. Those who complain that we have not an Agricultural Department like that existing in France, do not know probably that that Department cost France £1,600,000 last year, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would, I think, make a very wry face if he were told that he would have to find anything like that amount of money to maintain agriculture in this country. I have heard that the new Minister would be able to stamp out disease; but I cannot imagine how the Minister could do more in that respect than is done now, for he certainly could not go outside the Act of Parliament. My Lords, I have only a very few words more to say; but there is one thing which I must mention. The argument which seems to have weighed most with my noble Friend the Prime Minister was addressed to him by a deputation which waited upon him a few months ago. The deputation suggested to him that there should be a Board of Agriculture. There were several speeches made, and my noble Friend at the end of the meeting stated his views to the deputation. I cannot help believing he must have been thinking of some great diplomatic matter which was weighing upon his mind, or he would not have answered the deputation in the way he did. He said that every advantage to be derived from organisation and concentration of effort should be given by the Government, and that it appeared to him that the arguments in favour of the formation of an Agricultural Department were unanswerable, and that those were the views which Government had for two or three years adopted. I looked to see what the arguments were which my noble Friend considered unanswerable; and I found that in 1865 it was stated that there was the most deplorable chaos in the Public Departments with regard to agricultural affairs. A deputation attempted to approach the Government on the subject of cattle plague which was then ravaging the country, they applied to the then Prime Minister. Lord John Russell told them that he knew nothing at all about the question, and as it had very likely something to do with money he referred them to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Gladstone. They all took fright at the proposition. Next they went to the Board of Trade, who said they were not an Agricultural Department, and when the question was put where there was one, the reply was that the only one was the Woods and Forests. That was regarded as a very dubious suggestion. Finally they interviewed the then Home Secretary, who heard what they had to say, and they asked him to pass an order for the compulsory stoppage of the sale and transit of animals. Therefore, the argument which weighed with my noble Friend was that in 1865 a gentleman, who had suffered loss by the cattle plague, came to London with a deputation. He endeavoured to obtain an interview with Lord John Russell, who declined to have anything whatever to say to him, and he went back to his country seat; he returned in 1889, and what had happened in 1865 is given as an argument why a new Department should be now instituted. At the end of the meeting my noble Friend stated his views. He said— Every advantage to be derived from organization and concentration of effort should be given to you by the Government under which you live. For those reasons it seems to me that the argument in favour of the establishment of an Agricultural Department is unanswerable, and you have only been repeating and illustrating with fresher details the views which Her Majesty's Government have been induced now for two or three years to adopt. I am surprised that my noble Friend should have been at all moved by what that deputation told him. Whatever might have been the circumstances existing in 1865 as a reason for this certainly do not, as I have shown/exist in 1889. I do not, however, propose to go to a Division. I trust the measure may do good to the agricultural body. I do not think it will, and I fear they will be very much disappointed; but, at any rate, I hope it will do no harm.


My Lords, although I cannot for a moment assume to hold the position in the agricultural world which my noble Friend has, I think I am entitled to say a few words upon this subject for two reasons—first, that I have filled the post of Lord President of the Council; and, secondly, that I was a member of the Government which made a very considerable change with regard to the management of the Veterinary Department. I venture to think the noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council made a slip in his statement as to the time when the Committee of Agriculture was appointed.


I made a mistake—it was in 1881 the Motion was made, and the Committee appointed in 1883.


Yes. In 1881, if my recollection is correct, the House of Commons passed a Resolution in favour of appointing a Committee of Agriculture and Commerce or Trade, and of a Cabinet Minister being appointed to the head of the Department. Mr. Gladstone's Government did not adopt the last recommendation, nor did it think that the Department of Agriculture should be mixed up with the Department of Trade or Commerce; but they thought it reasonable that the House of Commons should have a responsible Minister to represent agriculture, and they constituted the Committee of Agriculture at the Privy Council instead of the Veterinary Department which had previously existed. That was in 1883. That was a considerable change. At that time it was decided that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster should represent the Department in the House of Commons. I agree that that arrangement might require some development after experience; but I cannot agree with the Government in thinking that so complete a change as that now proposed should be made. Another course might have been taken. A permanent Secretary or Under Secretary might have been given to the Lord President of the Council to represent that Department in Parliament. That, I think, would be a better arrangement than the arrangement which was made in 1883, and which has been going on ever since. I also feel that great disappointment might arise in consequence of the appointment of the new Minister; and I desire to ask whether the Department would have such wide powers as those of the Agricultural Departments of the United States and France? I agree that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not encourage a Department reaching the expensive dimensions of the French Department; but there is always a danger, in forming a special Department of this sort, that increased expense will arise. Now I cannot help joining in the praises which the noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council and the noble Duke have bestowed on the existing Department. I should deprecate a change which might take away from the influence of the Royal Agricultural Society and other voluntary Associations, which have done such great good in the country. The old Department has conducted some very large transactions with perfect success. They have rooted out the foot-and-mouth disease, and managed the agricultural statistics with great success, and have issued most important documents, giving a vast amount of information to agriculturists on a variety of subjects. All those things are most valuable to agriculturists, and I do not see how the new Agricultural Department can succeed better in regard to all these matters. I should like to refer to the officers of the Department to whom the noble Viscount referred, and give my testimony to the great knowledge, ability, and zeal shown by Professor Browne and the other gentlemen connected with the Department. There could not be a more able, firm, discreet, zealous, and at the same time permanent head of a Department than Mr. Charles Peel, the Clerk of the Council. I am sure the agriculturists of this country owe a great deal to him for the marked ability and judgment with which he has carried on his duties, and the valuable assistance-he has given to the Lord President of the Council and all those with whom he has come in contact. My Lords, I have very little more to add; but having been connected with this Department I have made these few remarks because I wish to caution the agriculturists throughout the country against having too great expectations as to what the new Department will carry out, and also to give my humble testimony to the efficiency of the work done by the Agricultural Department of the Privy Council.


My Lords, we have heard two speeches delivered by noble Lords who enjoy a high reputation for a knowledge of agriculture, and who usually represent the feeling of the agricultural population of this country. On the present occasion, however, they appear to remember only that they are Past Presidents of the Privy Council. At all events, they do not represent the feeling of the agricultural population on this, occasion. There is no doubt that the farmers want this measure. They have pressed for it very strongly and for many years in every possible form; and I am quite sure that neither of those noble Lords, with their great influence, could go to a public meeting in an agricultural part of the country and carry a resolution embodying the opinions which they have just expressed. They endeavour to explain the prevalent feeling by saying that the farmers are misled into entertaining the most extraordinary and delusive hopes, and that they look forward to an entire cure of the depression under which they have been labouring and to a general rise in prices as the result of this measure. I think that the noble Lords have painted in too dark colours the intelligence of the class whom they so accurately represent. I think the farmers may be given credit for knowing very well that the mere creating of a Department will not alter the economical causes, to which are due the calamities which we all so much deplore. But the farmers naturally wish that their industry, which is one of the most important, if not the most important of the country, should receive that care, that organization, and that consideration which other industries in this country have hitherto received. The noble Earl opposite says it is a great pity to withdraw from the action of the great private Societies the duty of taking care of the interests of agriculture, and that agriculture will be none the better for the change. Then why was that operation performed with respect to trade? Why has a special Ministry existed now for over 100 years for the sake of taking care of trade, if the results of Governmental solicitude were so injurious as the noble Earl represents? The farmers know very well that the Board of Trade has been of great use to the trade of this country, and naturally resent the idea that agriculture should be looked upon as a matter of so little importance that it should not be thought worthy of that administrative machinery and care which the Government have given to rival industry of trade. The two speeches we have heard are not speeches which show that thore can be any harm in this Bill. They are speeches partially lamenting the disappearance of a state of things with which the speakers have them- selves been familiar, and expressing the pious regret which is conveyed in the words quorum pars magna fui. But there is nothing to show that any injury could result from this Bill. On the other hand, this Bill will put the business of the Government, as far as it is concerned with agriculture, in a more reasonable and a more orderly condition than it has ever been put in before. Just detach yourselves from the habit with which you have regarded the present arrangements and imagine that you are looking at them for the first time. Let us suppose the proverbial Japanese to be inquiring into the institutions of this country, and to be asking in what manner the Government provides for the care of agriculture. He would find that we take one of the greatest officers of State, whose historic office has always been concerned with the gravest political matters, and give him in addition the duty of looking after agriculture. With him is associated the officer who appoints the magistrates and clergymen of a distant county, and lest they together should not be able to do the work we add a Vice Chamberlain who takes care of the ceremonies of the Court. However, the machinery works very well, as is shown by the tributes which have been paid to the Departmental officers, and in those tributes I most heartily join. Still, I maintain that we are not doing things decently and in order, and that we ought not to be exposed to all the reproaches of my noble Friend behind me, because we wish agriculture to enter into that regular state of things which we have long had with regard to trade. The only real objection to this Bill is that there is a necessary expense, but at all events the expense is not very large. The House of Commons is not generally very indulgent on that subject. This Bill passed through the other House without any protest on the part of those who make the protection of the public purse the subject of their special care. I suppose the House of Commons thinks it is not an unnecessary expense, and, therefore, we need not trouble our consciences on that subject. After all, the Bill will put matters into a more regular form. We shall gather round the Department to a greater extent than we have hitherto done all that science and practice can give us in respect of the administrative ability which this sub- ject requires. We shall announce and give a pledge to the farmers that we regard agriculture as one of the most important interests of this country, and as being worthy of as much solicitude en the part of the Government as are the interests of trade; and, without expecting any absurd or exaggerated results from a measure which is not in itself a large one, we believe that it will be distinctly to the advantage of this industry in particular, and of the country generally.


My Lords, I think the proverbial Japanese would be quite as much puzzled by the provisions of this Bill as by the present state of affairs. I also feel a great interest in agriculture, and I think the noble Marquess opposite has stated the only ground on which this Bill can be supported. It is a sentimental affair. There is a certain, though I imagine not a large, number of farmers who think agriculture is slighted because a special Department is not devoted to it. I have had the honour to fill one or two offices in the Government of this country, and my experience has led me to think that the Bill will be an utter delusion. The notion that the great agricultural interest is to be benefited by measures of this kind is absolutely ludicrous. No doubt a Veterinary Department with able clerks to collect statistics might be of service, and I suppose the Ordnance Survey would not be interfered with. A wish has been often expressed for the creation of a new Forestry Department. I heard something of forestry when I was at the India Office, and I found that in this country there was not sufficient woodland for a forestry school, and that we had to obtain instruction from Germans and Frenchmen. The fact is, my Lords, that agriculturists must look to their own exertions, and not to the Government, for improvement in their condition. I do not profess to say that this Bill will do any harm particularly, but I do not think it will do much good. But I so far agree with the noble Marquess that it will tend to satisfy a certain number of persons who are now agitating, and may be induced to cease from agitation by the passing of this Bill.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2ª accordingly, and committed to the Standing Committee for General Bills.