§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN rose to call attention to the various Orders which are constantly issued by Government Departments other than the Board of Agriculture affecting the industry of agriculture; to ask His Majesty's Government how many of such Departments (including that of the Director-General of Production of Food) are empowered, and by what authority, to 214 issue such orders and instructions; and to move to resolve—
§ That the issue of Orders and instructions by such Departments, affecting that industry, is prejudicial in the highest degree to the largely increased production of food which has become essential for national safety, and should be discontinued in future unless countersigned by the President of the Board of Agriculture; and that all such Orders and instructions should be laid forthwith on the Table of both Houses of Parliament.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I ask your attention for a few moments to this matter, because I think that the case which I shall submit to you is deserving of consideration. The vast number of Orders and instructions which are issued by various Departments affecting the industry of agriculture has become, in my humble judgment, so grave a matter that the time has arrived when attention ought to be called to it.
§ I have not the slightest idea how many Departments think they are entitled to interfere in every kind of way with the agricultural industry, but I do know of several instances where what I can only call very grave abuses have occurred. Take one, for instance, which we discussed the other day—the Forage Order, issued by the War Office. Your Lordships will remember the circumstances under which attention was called to that Order, and what happened. To clear up the position I asked, just at the end of that debate, whether it was the fact that the President of the Board of Agriculture had really given his hearty concurrence to that Order. The answer which I received from the noble Earl the Secretary of State for War was "undoubtedly he had," and that the Order was issued "at the request of the Board of Agriculture." That statement turned out to be exactly contrary to the fact. My authority was the President of the Board of Agriculture himself, who gave an unqualified contradiction to the statement. I learned only yesterday of another Order—the Bean Order. What that Order is or what it proposes to do I do not know, except that very serious restrictions are placed both upon the sale and the use of beans before December 17, and after that date they can be used only with a permit from the Board of Agriculture. It was by the merest accident that I heard of this Order.215
§ One objection to the present system is this. These Orders are published only in the London Gazette, and we were told on the authority of the noble Earl the Leader of this House last night that the Gazette is a publication which nobody ever reads and is seldom seen. If that is the case—and I believe the statement to be true—how on earth are busy farmers, engaged heart and soul in trying to do what has been enjoined upon them over and over again—namely, to increase the production of food as much as they possibly can in view of the submarine menace and other dangers by which we are confronted—how are they to know what is going on with regard to these Orders? They are in absolute ignorance of them. Suddenly and without notice most arbitrary instructions are issued interfering with farmers. Numbers of cases have been submitted to me where there has been most arbitrary interference with their work. That is going on all over the country. Imagine what the consequent confusion must be in the minds of farmers, and how much this practice disturbs them in their operations. The present condition of affairs cannot be allowed to continue without serious remonstrance, and I hope that considerable changes will be effected.
Another matter of complaint is that many of these Orders are issued by people who seem to know nothing—certainly not enough—about the industry which they are affecting, and that apparently they do not care how much inconvenience they inflict upon the people engaged in this particular industry and the confusion which they necessarily cause. What I wish to ask is this. How many Departments are there at this moment who think themselves entitled to issue instructions and Orders to people engaged in the agricultural industry, and under what authority are these powers exercised? Often Orders are issued with very little consideration indeed for the people who are chiefly concerned. Yet, my Lords, if we are to believe some of the most distinguished members of the present Cabinet—the Chancellor of the Exchequer for one, and the Prime Minister for another—an increased production of food is "vital to the maintenance and the life of the nation." I submit that this increased production of food is greatly retarded through the issue of these Orders. The words I have quoted are not words which would be used by a Prime Minister
unless they had a very serious meaning; and I contend that the issue of Orders and instructions in great numbers, all affecting this industry and coming from different quarters, is prejudicial in the highest degree to that largely increased production of food which all of us desire, to which the country has been looking forward, and which has been absolutely promised by the Prime Minister in these words—
In the year 1918 we shall be self-supporting as regards food in this country.
I hope that the Prime Minister may not find himself seriously disappointed on this point, but I have very little doubt in my own mind that he will.
§ After all, the crucial mistake, as has been pointed out more than once, has been the neglect of the agricultural industry by Government after Government in this country—a mistake which the Prime Minister declared must never be made again. In my humble judgment, every time one of these foolish Orders—issued one day, and withdrawn, like the Forage Order was, shortly afterwards—is promulgated, it tends in the direction of preventing that increased food production which we all desire. I want to know who the offending Departments are that exercise these powers, what authority they have, and whether they do not often exceed their powers; and I further ask the Government to accept the remedy which I propose—namely, the counter signature of the President of the Board of Agriculture to Orders which are issued directly affecting the agricultural industry and the production of food. And above all I ask that in future these Orders may be laid upon the Table of both Houses of Parliament. This seems to me a most reasonable request, and I cannot conceive what objection there can be to it. At present, as I have said, no one knows what Orders are issued, least of all the people engaged in the actual work of agriculture. But if the Orders are laid on the Table of both Houses, everybody will have an opportunity, through their representatives, of learning what Orders are issued and which are in force and which are not. I venture also to think that some of these Departments would very probably be more careful than they have been in the past with regard to the Orders they issue if they knew that the Orders would be laid on the Table of Parliament and be open to criticism, and, if necessary, to condemnation.217
§ Moved to resolve, That the issue of Orders and instructions by Government Departments other than the Board of Agriculture, affecting the industry of agriculture, is prejudicial in the highest degree to the largely increased production of food which has become essential for national safety, and should be discontinued in future unless countersigned by the President of the Board of Agriculture; and that all such Orders and instructions should be laid forthwith on the Table of both Houses of Parliament.—(Viscount Chaplin.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I am unfortunate in not possessing the close and intimate knowledge of the agricultural industry that is possessed by the noble Viscount who has just spoken, and by many, if not by most, of your Lordships. I rise to say a few words upon this Resolution for another and a totally different object. I am as anxious as the noble Viscount to know what is the authority which regulates the issue of these Orders at the present time. We know that apparently the whole agricultural industry has been taken under control by various Departments of the State. I want to know by what authority they have assumed that control. I do not think it can be too often remembered that, although we are in the middle of a tremendous conflict, we are governed by the civil law, and it seems to me of the utmost importance that nothing should be done in violation of, or even to strain, that law at the present moment. If that law is insufficient for the necessary purposes of governing this country, the law should be altered. Nor is there any reason to doubt that the Houses of Parliament would alter it if it were shown that an alteration was required. It seems to me quite impossible to reconcile with the general law the issue of the Orders that have from time to time emanated from the various Government Departments with regard to the agricultural industry.
The mischief of the matter is that the small farmer, the small man, is defenceless in the face of these Orders. He is told that he must not sell his hay except at certain prices; he is hindered and restricted in every act that he does; and he has no power whatever to resist. If, on the other hand, bigger industries are affected, they have very well known means by which they can represent their grievances to the Department, and it is not unlikely that 218 they may receive favourable consideration, not because the Department desires to favour one man at the expense of another, but because, if the Department thinks that it is treading upon uncertain ground, it is not anxious to provoke a collision with a rich and powerful interest who may show that its ground is insecure.
I have risen in order to enforce the request—the very reasonable request, I think—that has been made by the noble Viscount. What is the authority under which these Orders are issued? I would beg whoever replies to the noble Viscount on behalf of the Government not to think that it will be a satisfactory answer to say, "Under the Defence of the Realm Act." That is no answer at all. The real answer must be some section of the Defence of the Realm Act that governs the particular case. There is nothing, I think, more mischievous, nothing that may lead to greater danger in the future, than the exercise of special powers under general words in an Act of Parliament which was never passed for the purpose of conferring those special powers, and the abuse of which may cause, as I think, very serious loss to the State and a very grave disturbance in the government of this country, which should at the present moment be more stable than it ever was before.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, perhaps I may say a word on this subject, as I raised very nearly the same question a few days ago. First I must thank his Grace the Duke of Marlborough for a very courteous letter which he wrote me, although it did not indicate the adoption of the suggestions which I had hoped might be adopted. I pointed out the other day that there are seven Departments which issue Orders affecting the industry of agriculture. This is a state of matters which ought not to be allowed to continue—that is, if there is any real desire to assist agriculture, and not to throw all possible obstacles in its way. Therefore I entirely agree in urging that in future all these Orders should be countersigned by the President of the Board of Agriculture; and not only that, but that the Board of Agriculture should have a complete indexed copy of all the Orders which are in force at any given time. It is quite impossible that farmers should obtain information from the London Gazette as regards these 219 Orders. They do not see the Gazette, and most of them do not know of its existence. The only way in which farmers can be certain of obtaining information is by enabling them to obtain from the Board of Agriculture a complete list of all Orders in force at a particular time. It must be remembered that disobedience to these Orders may lead to imprisonment with hard labour, although the person against whom proceedings may be taken may not have the slightest notion that the Order had been issued, and may be in complete ignorance as to its terms. That is surely a very harsh measure as regards agriculturists. There is another important suggestion in the noble Viscount's Notice, which I also ventured to make the other night. It is that all such Orders and instructions should be laid forthwith on the Table of both Houses of Parliament. The objection then taken by the noble Duke was that, if these Orders had to be laid on the Table of Parliament before they became operative, time would be lost, and time might be an important factor. But I pointed out then—and I think the noble Viscount (Lord Chaplin) takes the same view—that I did not ask that the Orders should not become operative until they had lain for a certain time on the Table of the House, but that they should be laid on the Table in order that information might be given, which, of course, is an entirely different point.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I also emphasise this point, which I hope the noble Duke will bear in mind when he gives his answer, that these Orders in substance cannot be questioned in any Court of Law, because the terms of the Defence of the Realm Act are so wide that they cover everything But the Orders are open to question in Parliament, and they ought to be laid on the Table so that questions may be raised upon them if necessary. Let me give an illustration of what I mean. It has been laid down, as one of the conditions of issuing the Regulations as regards the price of food, that the necessities of the industry and the cost of production should be properly considered. Those are two very important safeguards. But there is no place where it can be considered whether those safeguards have been applied or not, except in Parliament itself. In those conditions, 220 unless the Orders are laid on the Table of Parliament, it is open for the individual Minister, whoever he may be, entirely to disregard the very safeguards which Parliament has laid down in the Defence of the Realm Act. This is a matter of the greatest importance, particularly at the present time. There are various Orders affecting agricultural prices. The question arises in regard to each of them, Have the conditions of the Act been complied with or not? That cannot be questioned except in Parliament, and Parliament ought to have an opportunity of raising that point. This can only be done if the Orders and instructions are forthwith laid on the Table of both Houses of Parliament. It seems to me very difficult to understand why these conditions cannot be complied with, and I sincerely hope that, on further consideration, the representative of the Board of Agriculture in this House will be able to give a satisfactory answer.
THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK
My Lords, I should like to support what has just been said by Lord Parmoor. I speak feelingly on this matter as a member of a county war agricultural committee. My table is covered with bundles of Orders and Regulations which we have received from time to time. These Orders and Regulations, however, are not complete, because the War Office sometimes send us the Orders they issue and sometimes they do not. Again, many of the Orders and Regulations have been considerably modified, and some have been revoked altogether. The noble and learned Lord (Lord Buckmaster) pointed out that farmers and small-holders have no means of acquainting themselves with the contents of these Orders. I may say that it is exceedingly difficult for a member of a war agricultural committee to grasp their meaning, and to know which are in force and which are not. I hope that the time is coming when this large number of Orders and Regulations will be no longer showered upon us, and I trust that when the deluge does come to an end we may receive the Orders in some sort of form that we can understand. I can assure the noble Duke that it would be an enormous convenience to all members of war agricultural committees and their executives, failing the adoption of the suggestion I have just made, if these Orders when issued were laid on the Table of the Houses of Parliament.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH)
My Lords, in reply to the noble Viscount's Question as to the number of Departments empowered to issue Orders and instructions, let me assure him that the. Ministry of Food, the Home Office, the Privy Council, the Army Council, the Ministry of Munitions, and the Board of Trade have all a right to issue Orders, The Food Production Department, which the noble Viscount wants to treat separately from the Board of Agriculture, is, being a part of that Board, naturally entitled to issue Orders, and any Order issued by them has the authority and sanction of the President. The noble Viscount asked me to tell him the authority from which the power to issue Orders of the kind in question is derived. In nearly all cases it is done under the Defence of the Realm Act. I understand that Lord Buckmaster contends that this is a very inadequate reply, and that he would like to know under what section and under what particular phrase of the Defence of the Realm Act these Orders are issued. I have taken the precaution to lay a copy of this book, the Defence of the Realm Manual, in the Printed Paper Office of your Lordships' House, and I fear I must leave it to some noble and learned Lord to explain to other noble Lords the exact clause in the Defence of the Realm Act which entitles the various Departments of State to make these Orders.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I will with pleasure hand a copy of the book to the noble and learned Lord. With regard to the observations which fell from Lord Chaplin, I do not think I need pursue the discussion of the Forage Order. That, I think, has been thoroughly threshed out. But the noble Viscount complained about the Bean Order. He said that he knew nothing about it, and that very few of the farmers knew anything about it; and he asked what it meant. It means simply this. A great many of the beans which are grown in the autumn will be required for seeding for the crops of the year 1918, and it is to ensure that, an adequate supply of beans will be in existence for the purpose of using as seed that an Order has been issued to prevent these beans being consumed or absorbed. I think that is a very 222 reasonable and natural precaution. The noble Viscount regarded the Order with feelings of apprehension and dismay. I think a good many of these Orders have a very simple explanation. Certainly that is the explanation which can be given of the Bean Order.
The noble Viscount complained that farmers do not know about the issue of these Orders and are not informed of them, and the noble Earl, Lord Northbrook, brought the same argument to bear. About a fortnight ago the noble Viscount complained that he himself did not know of the Orders that had been issued. I hope that I have removed that criticism, because I took the precaution to go to St. James's Square, to the Paper Department of the Board of Agriculture, and I there spent an hour getting together and collating every single Order that had been issued by any Department of State which could in any way be construed as being associated or connected with agricultural matters.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I did not count them. But the noble Viscount will find them all in the Printed Paper Office of your Lordships' House. I wrote to various noble Lords interested in the matter telling them that these various Orders could be found there. I have brought down a further number to-day, so that there is now a complete list for the noble Viscount to peruse in the Printed Paper Office. To-day the noble Viscount complains that, although he is in possession of these Orders, the farmers themselves are not acquainted with them. I dare say that is a perfectly genuine complaint. But it is important to realise how very difficult it is for us to place this enormous number of Orders in the hands of every farmer in England. If the noble Viscount will suggest the machinery by which the whole of the farmers, say, in Lincolnshire can be provided with every pamphlet that is issued, the Department, I am sure, will welcome his proposal.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
Yes; but that would not place the farmers thoughout the country in possession of the 223 contents of the Orders. I understand that the charge of the noble Viscount is that Orders are continually being issued, and that the farmers have no opportunity of acquainting themselves with their contents. All the Orders are published in the Gazette. It is said that the Gazette is not read by the people concerned. But the Orders are also published in the newspapers. The farmers have an opportunity of reading the Orders in the public Press. Furthermore, as Lord Northbrook reminded your Lordships, the county agricultural committees are possessors of all these Orders, although I do not deny that they sometimes find difficulty in understanding their meaning. I do not see that the Board of Agriculture can do more than issue these Orders to the Press and to the county war agriculture committees, and also insert them in the Gazette.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I have deposited in the Printed Paper Office of your Lordships' House every single Order issued by the Board of Agriculture and by any other Department which in any way relates to agriculture.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
Do I understand that the noble Duke agrees that these Orders as they are issued shall be laid on the Table of both Houses? That was my request. If that were done, then every one would know from day to day what Orders were issued.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I understand the noble Viscount's point. Up to date I have certainly fulfilled his wish. I asked the Clerk of the House whether I might leave the documents on the Table, but I understood from him that it was the custom to place them in the Printed Paper Office. So far as future Orders are concerned, I can promise the noble Viscount that the moment they are issued I will make it my business to see that they are brought down to the House and placed in the Printed Paper Office, so as to be at the disposal of noble Lords who are interested. I am bound to say that I cannot agree with the noble Viscount in his statement that because of the number of these Orders, and of the fact that they are sometimes conflicting, the food production of the country has not 224 been developed to the full extent that it might have been. The noble Viscount has probably seen the Report which Sir Arthur Lee has published in the Press, giving a detailed account of what has been done by the Food Production Department during the last few months.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
I have seen some very contradictory Orders issued by Sir Arthur Lee and by the President of the Board of Agriculture.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I was alluding, not to that, but to the statement which Sir Arthur Lee has published in the Press, in which he clearly shows that the programme which the Food Production Department set forth to achieve only four months ago is in a fair way of being carried out to the satisfaction of the President of the Board of Agriculture. If that is the case—and it is the case—how can the noble Viscount say that the Orders of which he disapproves have in any way impaired the production of food in the United Kingdom? Indeed, the very contrary is the case.
The noble Viscount asked whether it would not be possible to provide that none of these Orders should be issued by any Department unless they received the approval and the counter signature of the President of the Board of Agriculture. To ask one Minister to submit his proposals to the veto of another Minister is a form of procedure, so far as I am aware, which has never been attempted in this country. It is clear that this form of machinery would not work, and that no Minister would permit the Orders which his Department issued to be at the mercy of a Minister who controlled another Department. The most that any Minister would submit to would be that his proposals should be decided by those who form the Cabinet. They, and they alone, can be the final tribunal as to the merits or demerits of the Orders issued.
I do not think there is any remaining point which I have not answered. I can assure your Lordships that I am most concerned to place in your possession every Order dealing with agriculture as it is issued. I quite understand the desire of the House—it is a most legitimate desire in the circumstances in which we are living—that you should be in possession of the decisions of every Department of State regarding agriculture, and I have made 225 it my endeavour, and I have asked the officials to make it their endeavour, to lay at once in the Printed Paper Office of this House any fresh instruction, or any fresh Order, or anything whatsoever in the way of a pamphlet or book, which can in any way be associated with agriculture.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
Might I ask one question following the points raised by the two noble Lords opposite? The noble Duke told us just now, as to the cascade of Orders with which we are deluged, that in nearly all cases they were issued under the authority of the Defence of the Realm Act. Could he, without any prolonged reference to the pale blue volume which he handed to Lord Buckmaster, tell us the exceptional cases under which Orders are issued which are not covered by the Defence of the Realm Act? Are they covered by necessitas, emergency, that kind of thing?
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
No, that is not the case. There are, however, one or two which do not come under the Defence of the Realm Act. I am afraid I cannot find them, but I shall be glad to show the list to the noble Lord.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
Agricultural freedom will begin to shriek if you go on in this way. As the noble and learned Lord (Lord Buckmaster) said, agriculture employs more labour than any other industry, but it is the only industry which is not organised against a combination of arbitrary treatment. If you go on treating us in this way, I consider that the liberties of a large section of the people will be menaced.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I understand that it is not reasonable to ask the noble Duke to define at the moment the contents of this large, and, I think, growing blue volume. But can he assure the House that, on every occasion before these Orders are issued, the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown is taken as to whether the Orders are or are not under the Defence of the Realm Act?
§ LORD PARMOOR
These Regulations—and this is part of their complication—come from three sources: the Defence of the Realm Act, Orders in Council made under the Defence of the Realm Act, and Regulations from the Departments themselves 226 which have been empowered by Orders in Council. If these three matters were kept distinct, that alone would very much assist agriculture.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I hope that the noble Duke, or some other noble Lord representing the Government, will be able, before the debate closes, to give some reply to the questions of my noble friend, and also to the questions which have been put by the noble and learned Lord below the gangway. The noble Duke made a most gallant defence of his Department, and I can assure him that there is no disposition on this side of the House, or in any part of it, to make any attack on the Board of Agriculture or to under-rate the great difficulties under which they labour. Those are known to us all, and we entirely appreciate them. But I am sure the noble Duke sees that the agricultural community, which has been accurately described by my noble friend Lord Ribblesdale, does need a special kind of consideration which other industries, able to combine and to stand up for themselves, do not require in precisely the same way.
The noble Duke, in opposing my noble friend Lord Chaplin's suggestion that the issue of Orders and instructions by every Department should be counter-signed by the. President of the Board of Agriculture, said that it was not reasonable to expect that Ministers should submit their instructions to the President of a Department other than their own, and that such a conclusion would be destructive of the independence of the other Departments. Yes; but how do they come to be issuing Orders about agriculture at all? These are agricultural Regulations; and it might equally be said that the President of the Board of Agriculture should be able to issue Regulations affecting military matters, and that they would not have to be passed and agreed to by the Secretary of State for War. Surely the whole essence of the question is that these are agricultural matters. Our contention, therefore, is that it is only with the expressed agreement of the President of the Board of Agriculture that they ought to appear.
I know quite well that on a former occasion—which I do not want to reopen any more than the noble Duke did—his argument was that the presence of a representative of the Board of Agriculture on a Joint Committee sufficiently safeguarded 227 that Office. I have had a great deal to do in the past with Committees on which different Offices were represented, and I should be very sorry to say that the issue of an instruction by one Department could be justified simply because it had been considered by a Committee which included the representative of some other Department who, in the discussions of that Committee, probably found himself in a minority of one, and who might possibly go and complain to his chief when it was too late, while the public would naturally know nothing whatever of what had occurred.
The noble Duke has done his best to meet my noble friend's desire that further publicity should be given to these multifarious Orders as they are issued by placing them in the Printed Paper Office of your Lordships' House, not, I imagine, with a view of their being generally circulated, but with a view of their being obtainable by those noble Lords who may desire to see them. I am afraid, however, that he did not meet my noble friend's complaint that a very large number of persons directly interested in some of these Orders in the country do not find it easy to obtain copies of them, and I think if the noble Duke would be so good as to ask his Department to devote their attention to some further means for ensuring their publicity and circulation he would be doing a good service. But I trust that my noble friend (Lord Chaplin) will agree with me that his request—the one of which I spoke before, namely, that the expressed agreement of the Board of Agriculture should be received before any of these Orders are issued—should continue to be pressed. I regard that as of great importance; and perhaps there, also, the noble Duke might be so good as to ask the Chief of his Department whether some such machinery cannot be devised.
As regards the question of the Defence of the Realm Act, of which noble Lords more competent to deal with it than I am have spoken, a layman is tempted to ask whether in the opinion of His Majesty's Government there are limits of any description to what it is conceived may be done under that Act. I think that the noble Duke did not treat us quite fairly in merely presenting that stout volume for our inspection, instead of doing what we hoped he would—give chapter and verse for the section of the Act which, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, 228 allows certain Regulations to be issued. Whether all the Regulations that have been issued under the Defence of the Realm Act would stand the shot of a legal inquiry, reaching possibly even up to the Chamber in which we are now meeting, is a matter into which I will not attempt to inquire. But at any rate I think that members of the Government, who, after all, have the power of obtaining the advice of noble and learned Lords and of right hon. and learned gentlemen and all manner of other learned persons, might be able to provide us with an indication as to the particular sections of the Act on which Departments rely when they issue particular Regulations.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I want to raise what is only an infinitesimally small point, but which arose out of what has just been said by the noble Marquess opposite. We are aware that the noble Duke who represents the Board of Agriculture has taken great pains to collect the whole of these documents bearing upon agricultural questions, and to deposit copies of them in the Printed Paper Office here. We are grateful to him for that. But I do not think that many of your Lordships will be disposed to go from time to time to the Printed Paper Office and search amongst this wilderness of papers for a particular document that may be of interest to him. What I want to know is this. Will these papers that are thus lodged in the Printed Paper Office be included in the list of what are called non-circulated printed sessional papers? Pink forms are circulated from time to time, and any Peer who desires a copy of a particular Paper has only to put a mark against it and he obtains it. What I want to know from the noble Duke is whether the documents he deposits in the Printed Paper Office will be treated in that way, and whether, by the ordinary procedure, we shall be made aware of or be supplied with a complete list of the documents he has put in.
§ LORD BERESFORD
My Lords, I wish to ask a question with regard to an extraordinary statement which was made by my noble friend Lord Chaplin. He said that the Prime Minister had stated publicly that this country would be self-supporting in the matter of foodstuffs in the year 1918. Surely that must be a mistake; and, if so, it ought at once to be contradicted. It is a 229 serious statement, and may lead the people of this country to think that we are in a much better position than is the case. Statements of this kind do a great deal of harm. For instance, there was a statement made the other day in public by the Prime Minister—of course, in all good faith—in which he told us that we could build four times the amount of shipping next year that we built last year. That is perfectly true. But he did not tell the public that we built only 500,000 tons then, compared with nearly 2,000,000 tons in 1913. These statements ought to be made very carefully, and that is the reason why I call attention to them. I should like to ask for some correction to be made with regard to the statement that this country will be self-supporting as regards food in 1918. Our foodstuff supply produced in this country before the war was only one-fifth of our requirements, and I do not believe that by any exertion in the world you can get much more than two-fifths, even with all the proposals now being made.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The EARL OF CRAWFORD)
My Lords, I have not the statement of the Prime Minister before me, and I will therefore refrain from commenting upon it; but I have no doubt that anything he said must have been dependent upon carrying out the extended policy of increased cultivation to which he referred on February 23 last.
In answer to the noble Marquess, the Papers in question can. I understand, be treated as Command Papers. They will not technically be Command Papers, but they can be treated as such and will be set out on the Pink Paper circulated to your Lordships, and any of your Lordships who desire to have the documents sent to your houses will receive them on the normal signature. I would point out that in the Minutes of yesterday's proceedings no less than three of these Orders are announced. Therefore your Lordships, by reading our Minutes, are apprised of the issue of these documents.
I am very much obliged to the noble Marquess opposite (Lord Crewe) for saying that there is no disposition to attack the Board of Agriculture. But I am afraid there has been a disposition to do so. My noble friend Lord Chaplin said that the authorities apparently did not care how much injury their officials inflicted.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
I was not referring to the Board of Agriculture, but to the Orders that were issued by the other Departments.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I think my remark equally applies to my noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor, who said that every possible obstacle was being thrown in the way of agriculture. I believe that both those views are exaggerated. It is remarkable, if this hostility to agriculture exists and these obstacles are so freely thrown in its way, that the progress in cultivation should have been so marked, because marked it undoubtedly has been. I really think that Lord Buckmaster must not press laymen upon this Bench too severely to quote the sections under which these Orders are issued. We were not given notice. If we had been, we should have warned the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, or have applied to the Attorney-General for replies. I know that the noble and learned Lord can himself answer this question perfectly well. If I toss him over one of these leaflets and he takes the Statute off the Table of this House, he will answer the question in a moment to his own satisfaction.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I have looked at the Statute, but I have not been able to answer the question to my own satisfaction.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
If that is so, it has applied for years, ever since the Defence of the Realm Act came into operation. There is nothing new about it, so I am afraid that if anything ultra vires has been committed he (Lord Buckmaster) shares the responsibility with his successors. I quite understand and appreciate what Lord Chaplin said about getting this information into the hands of the farmer. Nothing in the world is more difficult to achieve. These Orders, alas! are frequent, and there are 450,000 farmers, large and small, affected by them; and to distribute individually to every farmer in the land a copy of every Order which is issued is a virtual impossibility. I would ask any noble Lord with a mathematical mind to work out the table and to find out how long, at eight hours a day, it takes 200 clerks, working quickly, to issue 450,000 circulars. The length of time and the staff involved are amazing, and I am afraid that in a non-bureaucratic country as we are to-day, to whatever we are tending in that respect, 231 it is impossible to notify every individual of every Order which is issued.
The Board of Agriculture is fully cognisant of the difficulty to which Lord Chaplin has referred. It is attempted by the existing agencies to give the utmost publicity to these Orders. On the whole it is very remarkable how well the average farmer is informed. These Orders are published in the London Gazette. None of us sees the London Gazette, but the newspaper world sees it and studies it, and the newspapers extract from the Gazette those things which are of material interest to their readers. Therefore a few copies of the Gazette distributed among the newspaper editors of this country reach a circulation 100,000 times greater than that of the Gazette itself. The local newspapers and the fanning newspapers are constantly apprising their readers of these subjects. Any noble Lord who takes up a farming newspaper week by week—there are plenty of them—will see these Orders reproduced, explained, commented upon, and criticised. It is the same with the farmers' societies, and indeed with the war agricultural committees to which the noble Earl opposite alluded. But he really depreciated the work of his own committee. It is a first-class war agricultural committee over which the noble Earl presides, which has been of immense assistance to the farmers; and although these Orders are bewildering to a degree, I repeat that it is most remarkable and most creditable to all unofficial parties concerned how well the information has been diffused. My noble friend beside me (the Duke of Marlborough) is going to put the arguments before the President of the Board of Agriculture. I am sure, though I have not spoken to him on this particular point, that on his behalf I can undertake that everything further which he can do shall be done to ensure that these Orders are brought as early as possible to the notice of those whom they concern.
The noble Viscount says that Orders affecting agriculture should not be issued unless countersigned by the President of the Board of Agriculture. That is, that any Order dealing with agriculture is subject to the veto of the President of the Board of Agriculture. I think that the answer given by the noble Duke beside me was adequate. I do not think, where more than one Department is concerned—and more than one Department is concerned in agriculture—that a Minister 232 should have the right to veto one of his colleagues. The proper tribunal between two Ministers at issue is the Cabinet, and not one of the Ministers. Lord Crewe said, Why should Departments issue Orders relating to agriculture except the Board of Agriculture? I think that the answer is simple. Agriculture occupies a dual capacity. The War Office issues Orders to agriculturists in its capacity of consumer; the Board of Agriculture issues Orders to farmers in its capacity of producer; and it is very risky to suggest that the President of the Board of Agriculture should have the right to veto a proposal, we will say, about commandeering wool. What would be the result? The War Office—it did so two years ago under the Defence of the Realm Act, which I fancy was passed by Lord Buckmaster—came forward and said, "We are the largest consumers of wool in the country, and we are determined to have the whole crop. We are prepared to pay a percentage above the price ruling before the war." Acting under the Defence of the Realm Act they did that. I forget what the exact figure was, but it was something above the pre-war price. If the President of the Board of Agriculture had been vested with a right of veto, what would have happened? His business is not primarily to safeguard the interests of the consumer; his duty is to stimulate production. Where you have the consumer on the one side, represented by the Food Controller or the War Office, and the producer on the other, represented by the President of the Board of Agriculture, there is bound to be a conflict; and if you give the President of the Board of Agriculture a right of veto over the consumer he will then and there, whenever he agrees to an Order, be attacked by the farming world for having given away their case. You will weaken him, and the one thing we do not wish to do is to weaken the President of the Board of Agriculture, upon whose shoulders rests the duty of increasing production. Therefore I am entirely opposed, on merits, to inflicting this duty on the President of the Board of Agriculture, for the, to my mind, very strong reason that it might weaken him.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I never proposed that the President of the Board of Agriculture should have a veto as against the Government as a whole on a proposition made by another Minister. That was not 233 my point. In the event of a difference of opinion, say, between the War Office and the Board of Agriculture on a particular matter affecting agriculture, the point would, I assume, be referred to the Cabinet, just as it would in ordinary times when there was a large Cabinet in which Ministers met. It is quite clear that the Minister whose proposed action was approved by the Cabinet would have his way, and it would be the act of the Government. My fear was that a Regulation might be issued by the War Office to which the Board of Agriculture did not give its approval and without the chance of submitting the point to a superior authority.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I will not pursue the point. It was not the view of the noble Marquess which I was criticising so much as the statements on the Paper. The Motion on the Paper suggests a counter-signature, not with regard to the President of the Board of Agriculture against the Cabinet, but between the two or three conflicting Departments referred to in its earlier paragraph. It was as regards counter-signature between two Ministers, not counter-signature between the Board of Agriculture and the Cabinet, to which I was referring.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
My Lords, I recognise and thoroughly appreciate the anxiety, which I have no doubt is genuine, both of the noble Duke and of the noble Earl who has just sat down to do all they can to assist the agricultural industry in its present position. But I own that some words that fell from the noble Earl just now rather added to my apprehensions, because when discussing the Board of Agriculture and the War Office and the effect of my Resolution upon them the noble Earl said that the War Office spoke as a consumer. Every Department in the Government speaks as a consumer. According to the noble Earl, if speaking as a consumer is the warrant, then every single Department of the Government would be justified in issuing Orders affecting and interfering with the business of the Board of Agriculture. I do not share those views at all. The whole object of my Motion is to check interference of that kind, and to leave the Board of Agriculture to manage its own particular business. I confess that I was not altogether satisfied with the reply to my Question. What I asked for in particular was that these 234 Orders, when they are issued, should be forthwith, as a matter of course, laid on the Table of both Houses of Parliament. The noble Marquess just now called attention to that, and suggested an alternative. I still adhere to my view. I think it would save trouble and be more advantageous if the Papers were laid in the ordinary way on the Table.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
On account of the expense. If we can get them without reprinting, it is just as good.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
But you do not get them in the same way. Everybody's attention is not called to the matter in the same way. But the printing would have to be done in any case. They would have to be printed on the Pink Paper, and the Pink Paper has to be circulated. If I can get nothing better than that, I shall accept it.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
Perhaps I did not make my meaning clear. These Orders are not going to be reprinted. On the Pink Paper will appear merely the title of the Order.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
If they are laid on the Table of the House, apart from the question of delay involved, which is serious, they would have to be reprinted and entered on our proceedings, which would be unwarrantable.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
We shall have other opportunities for discussing this question, if necessary, and trying to enforce our views. But I will go so far as to say that we are prepared to accept the suggestion made by the noble Marquess—namely, that the Pink Paper shall contain the title and the fact of the issue of all Orders and instructions affecting the business of the Board of Agriculture. I must, however, say one or two words with regard to the other statements made by the noble Earl. He dwelt on publication in the London 235 Gazette. I do not think that course will help the farmers much with their business. What the farmer reads is his local paper as a general rule. Some of them may read the weekly papers, but the local paper is the one on which they depend for their information. Further, farmers, particularly at this time of the year, almost at any time of the year, are not particularly given to reading. They have a great deal more work to do at this moment than they know how to get through. Do not run away with the idea that labour is plentiful, or, indeed, that anything is nearly as plentiful as it ought to be at the present time; and this makes the business of the farmer ten times harder.
As a reply to me, both the noble Duke and the noble Earl pointed to the increase of what they called cultivation. That is perfectly true. But cultivation is one thing, and production is another. There is such a thing as counting your chickens before they are hatched. I prefer to wait until I see what the result of the cultivation is. And in this I am justified, unless I am grossly misled from what I have seen for myself in various parts of the country and from what I have heard, and from what I was told only the other evening by a noble Lord, a great friend of mine, Lord Desborough. He is the President of the Land Union, and takes the deepest interest in agriculture. He said to me, "I have some beautiful land in the valley of the Thames. It used to grow the most splendid crops of wheat. What is its position to-day? I never saw anything more lamentable in my life. It is good land, but through want of labour it has never been possible to clean it; and where I used to grow the most splendid crops of wheat there are as many thistles as wheat, and the thistles are higher than the corn." There are cases like that all over the country. I beg noble Lords not to run away with the idea that because you have ploughed up fresh land you are necessarily going to increase production.
Let me give your Lordships an instance of what I have seen myself. Seventy-five acres of land ploughed up and sown with oats in Richmond Park! I never saw such a ghastly fiasco in my life. I recommend the noble Earl to go and see it for himself. I doubt whether it will ever pay for harvesting, or ever be cut, for that matter; but the production, in any case, will be of the smallest description ever 236 obtained for the money spent. From what we have been told in this House, £1,100 was spent in growing that seventy-five acres, and I shall be greatly pleased if it produces much more than a quarter or a quarter and a-half to the acre. I was reminded about Lincolnshire, and I would say a word upon that point. A member of this House is chairman of one of the principal war agricultural committees in that county. I have not his letters with me, or I would read a few extracts from one of them in order to show your Lordships how entirely mistaken you are in believing that as a general rule farmers know what these Orders are which are being issued at the present time. He tells me exactly the contrary. Fresh Orders are perpetually coming out. The farmers know nothing about them. Even this noble Lord, as chairman of one of the war agricultural committees, tells me that he has the greatest difficulty in keeping pace with these Orders, and he adds that the confusion that has arisen from their constant issue is getting worse and worse every day, and ought to be checked without a moment's delay.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.