HL Deb 07 February 1911 vol 7 cc43-60

THE EARL OF DENBIGH rose to ask the following Question:—"Having regard to the hopes held out by Ministers in both Houses of Parliament during the past Session as to the possibility of assisting the establishment of the sugar-beet industry in the British Isles by grants from the Development Fund, to ask His Majesty's Government whether they now consider that such a method of procedure is possible, and, if not, what they propose to do for the encouragement of an industry which would confer such benefits on our agricultural districts and on the country generally."

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I do not think that any apology is needed for bringing this question again before your Lordships' attention, because your Lord- ships must be well aware from what you have seen in the daily Press that this question of establishing the sugar industry in the British Isles is one that has been occupying public attention in an increasing degree all over the country. Not only in the British Isles has it attracted attention, but I have been told by many people on the Continent that manufacturers, more especially in Germany, Austria, Belgium, and France, are watching us very closely, and with a certain amount of apprehension, because naturally they do not wish to see some of their best customers going away from them. But it is interesting to note that this increased attention has come about largely since the debate which took place in your Lordships' House last March, in the course of which I ventured to call attention to the fact that a new departure had taken place owing to Dutch manufacturers having come into the English market and invited farmers in East Anglia to grow beet-root for export to Holland, there to be manufactured into sugar. This attracted a great deal of notice all over the country.

As a result a considerable number of experimental plots were at once put down, and several hundred acres of sugar-beet were grown by farmers for export to Holland. Particulars with regard to these various crops have been collected and published, as far as possible, by the National Sugar-Beet Council, of which I am the humble chairman, and which has been working in conjunction with the Central Chamber of Agriculture; and it is satisfactory to note that on the whole the results have been of a most encouraging nature in one sense—namely, that they have effectually gone to disprove the contention' which has been so often raised that the English climate is in itself unfavourable to the cultivation of sugar-beet. I think we have effectually disproved that, although most people who knew anything about the matter were fully convinced of the fact before; and it is interesting to note that this fact has been fully brought out in an interesting article which appeared in the Journal of the Board of Agriculture for January, wherein they laid especial stress upon this question of climate.

In many parts of England, notably in Essex, Hereford, Somerset, and Cornwall, beet-root has been grown with a sugar percentage as high as 18 per cent., which is extremely good, and in those districts, and in many others, especially in Lincolnshire, crops of from 15 to 20 tons per acre, carrying quite good percentages of sugar, have been grown. There have been many disappointments, almost invariably caused through want of proper cultivation and lack of experience. The ground had been badly prepared; the seed was put in in many cases far too late; the weather was very unpropitious during last year; singling the roots—an important operation—was in many cases done carelessly and at random, and unless the roots are singled at the proper time it makes a considerable difference in the amount of sugar afterwards obtained. There has also been insufficient hoeing and weeding, and in many cases the proper implements were not used a lid the labourers were devoid of all practical experience. But this broad fact has been undoubtedly proved, that sugar-beet can be grown in this country, and that all that we require at the present moment is the necessary capital, experience, and organisation.

Your Lordships will have noticed in the papers that there has been a great deal of talk of factories which were going to be put up. There was to be a factory in Essex, another in Worcestershire, and others in Lincolnshire and Sussex, but the regrettable fact is that none of these projects has materialised, and I do not think the reason is far to seek. The reason mainly is that in this industry you have to provide two profits—a profit for the farmer and a profit for the factory. The farmers naturally want a good price. They are a bit sceptical as to the cost of cultivation, and before they embark on beet cultivation on a large scale they want to be assured of such a price as will cover them well. Then if the factories have to pay unduly high prices for their beet-root, it makes it more difficult for them in the early stages to get over those initial difficulties which are always present in the starting of any new industry. Obviously, if you cannot hold out inducements or hopes of good profits for the capitalist it is extremely difficult to get the capital necessary to erect factories, and it is very difficult to make any progress unless His Majesty's Government will give some material help.

The reason why I venture to urge this question with so much persistence is that we have to face two facts in this country. One is that the number of people engaged in agricultural occupations is about half what it was some fifty years ago; and the other is that whereas formerly we grew wheat for some twenty millions of our population, we now only grow wheat for between four and a-half and five millions of our people, and there are something like from 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 acres of land that years ago were under corn crops which have now gone down in grass, and grass very often of an inferior description. I submit to your Lordships, as practical agriculturists most of you, that this is a very serious situation, and in war time we might bitterly regret the day when we had allowed so much of our corn land to go down in grass and reduced ourselves to growing such a very small amount of food for our own population.

Then, again, you have the fact that sugar in itself is an article of necessity. Yet I wonder how many of our population realise that some five-sixths of the sugar which we consume in this country is beet sugar imported from the Continent of Europe. If that supply was interrupted and we continued to neglect the possibilities of growing it ourselves, you can imagine that a most serious rise in price might occur. Therefore from the point of view of economic supplies and the necessity of having our own sugar production I maintain that this is a very important question. I hope that at last His Majesty's Government are beginning to realise that fact, and to appreciate that this is no mere fad that I am venturing to bring before you, but a question of urgent national importance and one to which the Government of the day ought to pay attention. It is a question that has been recognised by all foreign Governments.

Help and encouragement have been freely given in every country except our own for the putpose of establishing the sugar industry. You have only to look at what has been clone in Germany, Austria, France, and America. On all hands it is admitted that wherever the industry has been established an enormous amount of good has been done, the value of the land has been raised, and land which was formerly out of cultivation has been brought into good agricultural value. There is plenty of laud in Germany at this moment which was formerly practically worthless and growing nothing, but which is now growing excellent crops entirely owing to the sugar-beet industry. I was at Magdeburg the other day, the centre of the German sugar industry, and was informed by one of the leading sugar authorities that if sugar-beet was not cultivated there the production of corn would probably go down some twenty per cent.; and if these results have been obtained in other countries I cannot for the life of me see why we cannot obtain similar results here in the British Isles in those districts where perhaps high farming has not been extensively practised and where the production of the land is by no means what it ought to be. I submit, therefore, most emphatically, that there is nothing which would more surely tend to gradually bring back under cultivation the grass land which has grown out of corn crops than the creation of a successful and profitable sugar industry.

Last Session His Majesty's Government appeared to be gradually waking up to the importance of this matter, and vague hopes were held out in both Houses that perhaps something might be clone from the Development Fund, of which we have heard so much. I wish now to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are of opinion that this can practically be done. If it cannot, I want to know what it is that they propose as an alternative. I do not much care what the alternative is so long as it is practical and effective. I fear very much that it is not practicable to do anything from the Development Fund. In the first place, by the terms of the Act under which that Fund came into existence it is not allowable to devote money for the purpose of assisting an enterprise trading for profit. Well, the sugar industry is hardly likely to be a success in this country unless it not only trades for profit but at a profit. Then I have heard it suggested that perhaps grants might be given to farmers who grow the beet so that they could afford to take lower prices from the factories. There, again, you run up against the Brussels Convention, and I am told that such a grant would be regarded as a bounty within the terms of that Convention. There is another matter, and that is that when you start giving grants in that way it is very difficult to state to which factories you will give grants. Are you going to give a grant to anybody who might set up a factory and put in a claim for it? I think the question of grants from the Development Fund is a very impracticable one.

What I am asking at the present moment is, What are the Government going to do? Are they going to do anything, or are we to be forced to the conclusion that all the talk which we have heard about assistance coming from the Development Fund is what our American cousins would call so much "hot air"? At the present moment, as I have pointed out, it is extremely difficult to make any further progress. Farmers cannot be induced to grow beet in sufficient quantities in the immediate neighbourhood of a factory unless they get a price which is hardly warranted by the present price of sugar; and when you ask capitalists to put up money for a factory, the first question they ask is, What are the Government going to do? We hear various rumours with regard to the remission of the Sugar Duty, but I wish to suggest that the Sugar Duty at the present moment—it is only about a farthing in the lb.—is no hardship whatever to individual consumers, and that the only people whom its abolition would practically benefit would be mineral-water manufacturers, wholesale confectioners, and jam makers, who no doubt constitute a very important branch of industry, and I might also, perhaps, include cocoa manufacturers, who also use sugar; but I do not think that the prospect of mineral-water manufacturers being able to make a larger profit than they do at the present time is a matter of such importance that it can be mentioned in the same breath with the question of doing something practical to revive the agriculture of the country. You cannot put the two questions alongside one another. Therefore I do maintain that there is no call whatever at the present moment to remit the Sugar Duty, although. I admit that a great many people on my own side of politics have talked rather freely on that question, mainly, I believe, because they were entirely ignorant of the possibilities of the sugar industry in this country, and because they understood that matter just as little as the members of His Majesty's Government. If you take off the Sugar Duty you leave us obliged to face a highly organised and scientific Continental industry on equal terms, and in the initial stages and until our people have obtained a sufficient amount of experience I am afraid that would be a matter of very great difficulty. Even on the Continent, where the men are highly trained and where nearly everybody understands the industry, the factories did very badly in the first year or two, though when once well under weigh they have become most successful enterprises. How much more is this likely to be the case here in Great Britain?

I submit that if the sugar-beet industry could be treated as an infant industry, as laid down by Mill, and could be given the advantage of the Import Duty without an Excise for, say, five years, capital would be immediately forthcoming. That is a business proposal, although I see it greatly amuses the noble Earl the Leader of the House. The present Sugar Duty is nearly£2 a ton. No factory should be erected which is not capable of dealing with something like 5,000 tons of sugar in the year, and therefore the policy of leaving things as they are, which is what I hope His Majesty's Government will decide to do—leaving the Sugar Duty on and leaving the question of Excise alone for four or five years—would. make a difference of some£10,000 a year to a factory; in other words, it would make all the difference between profit and loss. So you see what an inducement that would be for people to come forward and invest money in this industry. I have no doubt I shall be told that other infants would immediately spring up and demand similar assistance, but I think the answer to that is very easy. There is all the difference in the world between taking advantage of a duty which is now in existence for the purpose of helping an industry and completely changing your policy and putting on other duties which do not exist simply and solely for purposes of Protection. I do not my-self see why there should be any further demand, for the simple fact that, with the exception, perhaps, of tobacco, there is no other article except sugar bearing a duty which is wholly imported from abroad and which could he manufactured in our own country. All I wish to do is to call attention to the importance and necessity of doing something practical to encourage the investment of money in factories, without which no further progress can be made, and I am anxious to know whether His Majesty's Government are prepared to treat this purely businesslike proposition in a businesslike way, and, if so, how it is they propose to do it.

I should like before I sit down to call special attention to the case of Ireland. Ireland is a purely agricultural country, and agriculture there is mainly dependent upon the cattle industry. How far it is wise to have all one's eggs in one basket is a matter worth consideration; but I know, although I have not particular-knowledge of the experiments made this particular year in Ireland, that beet has been grown there successfully, and that all the ideas about the Irish climate being unsuited for it are entirely exploded by the experience gained. I believe there is every indication that the sugar industry might flourish very well in Ireland, and I have seen it said on high authority that if it could be established there it might very likely have a far-reaching and lasting effect on the agriculture of the country.. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.


My Lords, I need hardly assure the noble Earl opposite that no one on these Benches looks upon his advocacy of the great sugar-beet industry as a mere fad. We all recognise his devoted efforts to propagate this industry, and I hope I may be permitted to compliment him on the excellent and interesting speech he has just made, and on the way in which he has placed his views before the House. I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him into the question of the shortage of food in war time, or into the question whether or not it is absolutely necessary that more wheat should be grown in this country. May I also be excused from going into the large question of economic supplies. That the Government have taken practical interest in the agricultural industry is shown by the fact that a quarter of a million of public money has been cheerfully voted by the Commons House of Parliament for its advancement. A further sum of£50,000 a year has been also cheerfully voted for the purpose of promoting horse-breeding. The Advisory Council, a very strong body with Lord Middleton as Chairman and comprising the Duke of Portland, the Master of the Horse, and various well-known masters of hounds, held their first meeting to-day, and I trust that something very practical and satisfactory will result from their labours.


How much of that money is going to the sugar industry?


The noble Earl asks what assistance is going to be given by the Government towards the great industry of which he is the spokesman and advocate. Last year the noble Earl took me somewhat severely to task because we did not send what he called apostles into the country to preach the gospel of sugar-beet growing to the benighted inhabitants. I then reminded him that this had already been done by subsidising the agricultural colleges, which grow beet-root and spread the knowledge of its culture among farmers. I am able this year to go further, and to say that the Board of Agriculture propose to make arrangements for further experimental growth and to give publicity to that fact; but I venture to think with the noble Earl that the experimental time is somewhat over, and it is now generally known, thanks largely to the advocacy of the noble Earl and his colleagues, that very good sugar-beet of commercial quality can be grown in this country where the soil is suitable. What then is the next step? The next step, of course, is the establishment of factories for the extraction of the sugar. For that a certain amount of capital is required—I am told that a sugar-beet factory ought not to be begun or run under a less capital than£100,000—and so far private investors in this country have been unwilling to subscribe to any large amount. However, several companies have been started in the localities which were enumerated by the noble Earl, and the promoters of those companies are more or less sanguine as to the result. Now we are told that to crown the edifice His Majesty's Government are to give what the noble Earl calls practical assistance.


No company has yet been started.


They are being started, I think. I understand that practical assistance is asked for to bring them to such a state as would be safe to start. The noble Earl made three suggestions, and I think my task has been considerably lightened because he answered the whole of his suggestions himself. His first suggestion was the provision of debenture capital by the Government. What does that mean in plain English? It means either a Government guarantee of a mortgage or the advance of Government money on mortgage. It is very doubtful whether, if noble Lords opposite were in office, they would give a very satisfactory answer to the noble Earl on that point. As regards the suggested grant out of the Development Fund, the noble Earl again answered the suggestion and told us truly that no grant could be made out of the Development Fund to a company trading for profit; and if the noble Earl will read the words I had the honour of using this time last year he will see that there was no distinct promise, and that no words of mine can be twisted into a distinct promise, of any grant from the Development Fund for this purpose.


I never said that the Government made a promise. I said they held out hopes.


It comes to the same thing. The next suggestion was a bonus of so much an acre to farmers who grow sugar-beet. The noble Earl again told us that that was impossible, and that it was no use thinking about it, because, as he pointed out, under the Sugar Convention of 1903 no bounties of any sort can be given. We need, therefore, waste no time on that. I now come to the suggestion which the noble Earl calls both practical and effective. The Government have been up to the present very severely censured for not doing something. Yet what the noble Earl now asks the Government to do is to do nothing—to leave things exactly as they are in the matter of the Sugar Duty for five years. There is a sweet reasonableness about that period, because in the debate last year doubt was expressed whether the time should not be extended to ten years. But now we are asked to leave things exactly as they are for five years. In other words, the Government are to pledge themselves for five years to give no relief from taxation to the consumers of sugar and to the great industries that are dependent upon it as a raw material. I speak under correction, but I believe the price of sugar has risen under the duty from£8 or£9 per ton to£14 or£16 per ton. Yet we are asked to do nothing in any circumstances to give relief to the great mass of the population who consume sugar or to the great industries of which sugar is the raw material. The noble Earl quoted Mill, and it all comes back to the old policy of dry-nursing infant industries. The noble Earl must know that with the old and exploded policy of dry-nursing an infant industry His Majesty's Government will have nothing to do. We cannot hold out any hopes of assistance in that direction. At the same time, I do recognise, and I think everybody will recognise, the efforts that the noble Earl has made to introduce a new, important, and what might be a most beneficial industry, and I should be the last person holding the office I have the honour to hold to throw cold water upon them. I do think that we owe him a debt of gratitude for his well-meant efforts, and if the prospects of the cultivation of sugar-beet are so promising as he represents them to be, then surely plenty of money will be forthcoming from private sources to foster and develop it, and the noble Earl will go down to posterity as a pioneer of a new industry and as a benefactor of the farmers of this country.


My Lords, the noble Earl who represents the Board of Agriculture has dealt, with obvious knowledge and in a very interesting manner, with the question which my noble friend brought forward, but he laid down some general propositions with which, speaking solely for myself, I certainly cannot agree. I understood him to pat his foot down, or, if we may use the classical phrase, to bang, bolt, and bar the door against any effort on the part of the Department which he represents to assist a new agricultural industry. He said he would have nothing whatever to do with the policy of dry-nursing an infant industry. There is dry-nursing and dry-nursing. I think we should all be agreed t hat it is the duty of any Government to be very careful how it advances public money in t he support of a new industry; but I, for one, protest altogether against the doctrine that it is not the function of the Board of Agriculture, at any time or in any circumstances, to assist into being a new branch of agriculture. How can the noble Earl lay down this old, time-honoured, but now absolutely musty, doctrine in the face of the experience of the world?

Look at; the wonderful agricultural industry in Canada. Would that be what it is if the Canadian Government had adopted the views of the noble Earl? Do we not all know that agriculture placed in circumstances of great difficulty in modern times without Government assistance when it comes to organisation? That is the difficulty of your farmer—the question of organisation. The man who tills the land has limited capital. He is not in that constant contact with his neighbours engaged in the same trade as are the cotton-spinners of Lancashire or the iron-masters of Yorkshire. Communication and exchange of ideas are difficult. He is not in constant contact with people whose business it is to finance industry. Our Colonies have shown, and foreign countries have shown, that the comparatively slow development of agriculture has been largely due to that cause, because when Governments have come forward and assisted farmers to do that which they cannot do for themselves, agriculture has then flourished and extended the producing power of the country in a way which thirty years before was not thought possible.

I speak with some warmth on this subject because I have had personal experience of what can be done by Government in the way of assisting the organisation of agriculture. My noble friend, like me, and long before me, has been to the further parts of His Majesty's Dominions and learnt many things there. It is less than six years ago that I had the honour of going to South Africa as High Commissioner. When I went there I believe there was not one single sack of mealies, or maize, exported from South Africa to Europe. Last year there were 2,000,000 sacks of maize exported, and that, my Lords, I venture to prophesy is only the commencement of one of the most important agricultural trades of the world. If the Minister for Agriculture for the Transvaal had held the same view as to the functions of Government as my noble friend opposite, if he also had rather have died in the last political ditch than break the principle of never supporting an infant industry, there would not be one single sack of maize exported from South Africa to-day. The whole of that trade was created by the Transvaal Government in conjunction, before the days of Union, with the other South African Governments. They brought the farmers together, they arranged the railway and shipping rates, they supplied the stores for the grain and the necessary machinery. The whole organisation was got into motion, and the farmers were told, "We have sent from the Government farms so many sacks of mealies to Europe; the quality is pronounced universally good, and the maize has at once stepped into the front rank in the European market, even in front of American maize. Now is your chance. All you have to do is to grow the right sort of maize, the seeds for which you can buy from the Government experimental farms, and put it on the railway. We [the Government] will do the rest for you." That action of the Government of the Transvaal stands a chance of giving to South Africa that same close settlement and intense cultivation which the cultivation of wheat has given to Canada. This wonderful economic transformation of South African agriculture has been entirely brought about by the action of the Government. Therefore I could not remain seated and without a protest listen to the noble Earl, here and in the twentieth century, laying down the doctrine that it is not the business of the Department of Agriculture to foster a national agricultural interest.


My Lords, I am sure we have all heard with interest the speech just delivered by the noble Earl, embodying, as it did, so much of his own personal experience. But, interesting though his speech was, I am not certain that it was entirely relevant to the subject of the Question asked by the noble Earl opposite. After all, Lord Denbigh, in his interesting statement, asked the Government to do one definite thing. He passed in review the various courses which the Government might have followed, and for one reason or another he decided that they could not be adopted; and he came at last to the final question as to whether the Government would pledge themselves for a fixed term of years to continue to impose the duty upon all imported sugar. I do not know whether the noble Earl confined himself entirely to beet-sugar, or whether he meant to make the same preferential arrangement with regard to cane-sugar imported from various parts of the Empire; but, in any case, so far as foreign sugar was concerned the duty was to be maintained for a fixed term, and no equivalent. Excise duty was to be raised on home-grown sugar. That is a proposal which does not seem to me to stand in any close relation to what the noble Earl who has just sat down calls organisation of agriculture, in regard to which he complained of the dictum laid down by my noble friend behind me. The things of which the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, spoke may, and perhaps in some ways do, conceivably infringe the pure doctrine of Free Trade, but at any rate they are not the things which Lord Denbigh asks should be done. The noble Earl on the Front Bench opposite mentioned railway rates. Well, I suppose that all points in the direction of a scheme which is desired by some, but not by all—namely, the nationalisation of the English railways, and the consequent fixing of rates for the benefit of particular industries. The objection which has hitherto been taken to that scheme is that it is of too Socialistic a. character. Indeed, this is just one of those cases—


I did not advocate nationalisation of railways. I only mentioned that to show in how multifarious a manner the Government intervened to complete the organisation of the industry.


I quite understood the noble Earl; but I wished to point out that so far as we are concerned here that particular form of assistance could only be given by adopting the large policy of nationalisation; and I was going on to say one sees how near Socialism and Protection approach when it comes to this question of the encouragement of industries, and the well-known saying of Bastiat that a Protectionist is a Socialist with an income of 50,000 francs a year seems to be exemplified by the character of the proposals made by the noble Earl who has just sat down.

Then we come to a different branch of the question. Lord Denbigh's proposal is frankly Protectionist. Of course, we do not quarrel with the noble Earl for making it, but it is frankly protective; and I think we are entitled to say further that it is Protection applied in a peculiarly dangerous and damaging way, both to British industries and to the British consumer. It is impossible to forget that when Mr. Chamberlain, in the autumn of the year 1903, developed his policy in two great speeches, one delivered at Glasgow and the other at Greenock, he particularly mentioned the Sugar Tax as one of those which he desired to do away with in consideration of the imposition of a tax upon corn, meat, and dairy produce; and we have understood to this day, because it has since been confirmed by Mr. Balfour and others who have spoken on behalf of the Tariff Reform creed, that if it were found that the food of the working-classes was in any way increased in price by the adoption of Mr. Chamberlain's policy, it was to sugar and tea that you were to look for a reduction of taxation to redress the balance in the working-man's budget. That possibility is to be finally abandoned in order to give this particular industry of sugar growing in this country an extra chance. One is tempted to ask noble Lords opposite who would be responsible for the financial affairs of this country if they came into power whether they would be prepared to do what the noble Earl now desires. Then the noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, spoke somewhat slightingly, as he was almost bound to do for the purposes of his argument, of the different industries which flourish when the price of sugar is low.


I did not speak slightingly of them. I said they were very important industries, but not so important as the agricultural industry.


I agree that it was purely by comparison that the noble Earl sought to prove that the industry of sugar growing in this country was more important than the possible damage to t hose great industries.


Hear, hear.


I have, of course, no facts or figures at my disposal here, because I never intended to take any part in this debate, but I should very much doubt whether there was any prospect of sugar-beet growing in this country, even under the favourable circumstances which the noble Earl suggests, ever becoming an industry which would compete, on the mere question of employment and the number of labourers involved, with those great industries which depend upon cheap sugar. And, of course, apart from that, there is the question to which I have already alluded, that of the interests of the consumer, which are to be compromised for a term of five years. I really think that noble Lords opposite will agree that if we are to be asked to depart from Free Trade this is a somewhat extreme instance in which to begin to ask us to do it, because it is not merely that we are to compromise the Free Trade doctrine in respect of a particular industry, but we are also to tie our hands when it is a question of giving relief to a large class of consumers, with the further possibility of inflicting considerable damage on existing industries. In those circumstances I do not think the noble Earl, although I can quite understand that lie is disappointed with our answer, can wonder that it has taken the form which it has.


My Lords, the noble Earl who leads the House has devoted his observations almost entirely to the particular proposal which my noble friend behind me (Lord Denbigh) has made to your Lordships—namely, the suggestion that His Majesty's Government should promise for a period of five years, at any rate, not to alter the present Sugar Duty, and not to impose an Excise duty on sugar grown in this country. I am somewhat in sympathy on that subject with the views of the noble Earl opposite, for this reason—without entering upon the question of Free Trade or Protection—that I do not think it would be possible either for the present Government, or for any Government likely to succeed them to make the promise which my noble friend Lord Denbigh desires. I think am right in saying that the present Government, through their spokesman in the House of Commons, have thrown out a suggestion, if not a promise, when the finances of the country permit to abolish, the existing duty on sugar, and, as my noble friend behind me admitted, what has been said by those who represent the Opposition in the House of Commons on this subject has pointed to their intention to do very much the same thing. I deeply regret that. I was responsible for the imposition of the Sugar Duty at the time of the South African war. It was supported by the highest financial authority of the Opposition of that day, Sir William Harcourt, and I believe that no better duty was ever proposed or carried by Parliament. Therefore I deeply regret to think that both sides are to a certain extent pledged by what they have said to its repeal at some future date. But that is the fact, and therefore I am not surprised at what the noble Earl has just said with regard to the position of the Government on that subject.

But the noble Earl went on to attack my noble friend who sits on this Bench, and who has during the last six years governed South Africa with so much distinction. The noble Earl took him to task for suggestions which he made, not in regard to the proposal of my noble friend Lord Denbigh, but for some kind of assistance to the sugar-beet industry in this country in the way of organisation, and even in dealing with railway rates. The noble Earl the Leader of the House said that if you attempt to deal with railway rates in this matter you are suggesting Socialistic doctrines which are even worse than Protection. I happen to remember that as President of the Board of Trade, a good many years ago now, I was the responsible Minister for carrying a Bill through Parliament which laid down the rates for all the railways in the Kingdom on every conceivable subject they carried on their lines. Was that Socialistic, or was that nationalisation of railways? It is perfectly possible, if the Government of the day think it desirable, to establish a new and lower rate by legislation for sugar-beet over the railways, without any question whatever of Socialism or nationalisation of the railways. I think there was something wanting in the speech of the noble Earl. It was frankly admitted by the President of the Board of Agriculture that it has been proved that sugar-beet can he successfully cultivated in this country. Well, that is a very important admission. Everybody admits nowadays, even the most bigoted Free Traders, that anything that can be reasonably done by the Government to assist and improve the present position of agriculture in this country is very desirable. If a great new industry like the production of sugar-beet could be introduced it would give employment, and utilise the land in a way in which it is not now being. used.

Why cannot the Development Grant be utilised in some way for this purpose? My noble friend said it was because nothing from that Fund can be devoted to a company that is "trading for profit." I remember that while that Bill was passing through your Lordships' House I moved the omission of those words, or their alteration in a way which would have permitted the employment of the Development Fund to assist in starting the sugar-beet industry. That Amendment was inserted by your Lordships. It went down to another place, and I need not say that, with all our other Amendments, it disappeared from the Bill when it became law. Is it impossible for His Majesty's Government to consider whether, through the promotion of some kind of agricultural organisation which might be of enormous advantage to the occupiers of small holdings—for I believe the cultivation of sugar-beet is precisely one of the kinds of cultivation which can be dealt with by small holders—they could not do something towards giving this important industry a fair start? Would that be contrary to the principles of Free Trade? Would it not be doing precisely what every one has a right to expect, and what I am sure the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture would be himself the first to desire? I hope His Majesty's Government will not consider this question concluded, but that they will see whether, following the example of my noble friend Lord Selborne in South Africa and the Governments who acted under him, they cannot do something to promote the sugar-beet industry in this country.