§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH)
My Lords, we have had in this session several interesting debates on the condition of agriculture in Great Britain. In this House there are many men who have laboured to promote its welfare in days of good and evil report. There is the noble Viscount, Lord Chaplin, who has told us that he has pleaded for fifty years that we should give agriculture a worthy place in our national economy. There is the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, whose insight into the scientific side is well known to agriculturists. There is the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who, both in office and out of office, has constantly reminded his fellow-citizens of the importance of increasing our home-grown food supplies. And there is the noble Marquess who sits below the gangway (Lord Lansdowne), whose experience, controlling as he has in the arid plains if India and the snowelad regions of Canada the granaries of the Empire, entitles him to speak with a still wider authority. Indeed, there is no Assembly in the world winch contains so 263 many men who are qualified to talk with authority on the subject-matter before us.
I was told the other day by a learned historian that the last time a Bill was presented to your Lordships' House giving effect to principles akin to those embodied in this measure was as far back as the year 1349. The Statute of Labourers also enacted an agricultural wage, but the Board of Agriculture has learned something in the intervening centuries; for whereas the Statute attempted to keep things as they were by establishing a maximum wage, this Bill stimulates to further effort by laying down a minimum wage. Happily, this is a country which cleaves to its traditional policies, and the system of maxima, though long ago discarded by the Board of Agriculture, is in full swing in the kindred establishment presided over by my noble friend the Food Controller.
I now turn to the Bill itself. It is divided into four Parts. Part I gives the guarantees of the minimum price; Part II assorts the principle of the minimum Wage; Part III restricts rents under certain conditions; and Part IV states the right of the State to interfere. I think your Lordships will agree that it would be impossible in a modern democratic community to guarantee a minimum price for the produce of the farmer if you did not give an equal guarantee that there should be a minimum wage for the labourer. Conversely, it would be improper for the State to assure the labourer of his wage without simultaneously assuring the employer of his price. Therefore your Lordships will notice that Part I and Part II are interdependent. Their interdependence is as it were, rounded off by Part III, which forbids the diversion to the landowner of the economic surplus provided by the State. Finally, in Part IV the State, on whose credit the scheme is based, holds in reserve its own intervention to ensure in return for its pledges the proper cultivation of the soil. In fact, the community is entitled to know that its money will be well spent. We have therefore four perpendicular principles—price, wage, rent, and State intervention—held together and unified by a lateral band without whose support the separate principles will not stand.
It your Lordships will allow me, I will outline the main proposals under each of these four heads. First, as to prices. 264 The minimum guaranteed prices for wheat are 60s. for this year, 55s. for the two following years, and 45s. for the last three years. The prices are similar for oats. The weight is the Imperial bushel—that is, 480 lbs. to the quarter in the case of wheat, and 312 lbs. in the case of oats. Your Lordships will wish me to explain how the guarantee operates. We first of all find out the average price for corn for seven months from September to April. The Corn Returns Act gives us these figures in the weekly returns of sales over some 200 towns in England and Wales. The Board of Trade compute from these returns the weekly, monthly, and yearly averages. It is the seven months average—that is, from September to April—which will be the average for the year. If the average price is over the guaranteed price, then there is nothing to pay to the farmer from the State If the average price is less than the guaranteed price, then the farmer is entitled to the difference between the guaranteed price and the average price. Your Lordships will ask, What is that difference? Clause 1 of the Bill explains the manner in which this is ascertained. The farmer is entitled to four times the difference per quarter on wheat on every acre, and five times the difference per quarter on oats on every acre. There is no allowance for barley, because it is assumed that barley from a technical point of view is not really food for human consumption. Then follow provisions that the Board of Agriculture will settle the price of a mixed crop—that is, a crop half of oats and half of wheat—and will settle the price where land is badly cultivated; that is, in the case of a farmer who deliberately cultivates his land badly and hopes to get some benefit from the State. Clause 3 sets forth the claims for payment. It is the occupier who will be the man to be paid, with certain reservations, such as local custom and so forth. All claims for payment will be settled by the Board of Agriculture. Finally, there is a clause to prevent fraud.
What are the objections to the guaranteed prices? It may be said by some noble Lords that they dislike a Government guarantee altogether. My reply is this. The Government will not have to pay in the year 1917. In 1918–19 will the difference be great between the 55s. which is the guaranteed price, and the market price? My reply is, No. In 1920–22 the guaranteed price for wheat is to be 265 45s. Will the country have to pay? My reply is that it is most improbable. Why then, some noble Lords will ask, give a guarantee at all? The guarantee is given as an insurance against loss to the farmer. We desire to give the farmer peace of mind. Your Lordships know well the anxieties of farming. We can control a good many things, but there is one factor which we cannot control, and that is the weather. Moreover, the farmer has to spend money and does not recoup himself for a very long period. He has to "stand out" of his money, as it is called in farming, for a long time. As an example, this year the farmer has had to buy sulphate of ammonia at about £16 a ton. He uses it for the crops of 1918, and he does not sell those crops till the year 1919. Therefore he has to "stand out" of this money for a very long period of time. I do not think I need elaborate to your Lordships the difficulties of farming. These are only too well known to you. But if, in addition to all those difficulties, the price of the home produce was to be undercut by foreign markets, then I think your Lordships will agree that the farmer's anxiety would become intolerable. If, therefore, the country by means of these guarantees can give to the farmer peace of mind, and probably without having to pay for it, then surely the country can be congratulated on having made an excellent bargain.
What is the next objection? It may be urged that the State should pay only for those acres converted from grass to arable, and strong representations were made on these, lines in the House of Commons. But why pay for tillage and not for results? In my humble opinion it would be a most pernicious system. In the Midlands where I live that is the practice. You pay for tillage on roots and you pay for tillage on seeds. And what is the result? Frequently the roots are very bad, and very often there are no seeds after you take over the farm. Therefore you pay for something which you do not get. I think it would be a very dangerous experiment to commit the State to that policy. Let me give as an illustration two cases—first, that of the, farmer who takes over a more or less derelict farm. He tills it a gain in the course of two or three years; he would get no benefit from the State. Whereas the farmer who had taken over a grass farm, ploughed up the grass, and obtained a fine crop, would get the full benefit from the 266 State. It would not work with equality, and therefore I dismiss that contention
Then it is said by some, Instead of giving guarantees, why not store wheat over a period of three years? In the first place, the, wheat is non-existent; secondly, this process would be very costly. We consume in this country 35,000,000 quarters of wheat; we grow 7,000,000 quarters. That means storing three times 28,000,000 quarters, which in round figures amount to some 80,000,000 quarters. If your Lordships assess the value of that wheat in cash and consider the interest lying idle, you will find that it comes to a figure of over £10,000,000 a year; and in addition I have made no allowance for ware houses, which we have not got, or for the deterioration of the material itself. I think we can therefore dismiss that contention.
What is the final objection? It may be claimed that the guarantee should operate on the amount of corn sold and not on the basis of acreage. That is a line of argument which I have no doubt will be put forward by some noble Lords in this House with great force and skill. My reply is this. We found it impossible to assess the amount; we found it too difficult. Moreover, we realised the fact that the acreage basis helps the small farmer, whereas the amount of corn sold would give all the advantages to the large farmer. I think the point is obvious to your Lordships. Everything that the small man grows he consumes, and therefore would have no advantage; whereas the big farmer consumes only a portion of what he, grows and sells the rest. I do not think that the acreage basis will operate as a deterrent to good farming and good cultivation.
I have explained to your Lordships the provisions of Part I. I have, reminded you of some of the objections which may be raised in the course of this debate against its provisions. I pass now to the consideration of Part II. I have shown that the State has given guarantees for minimum prices which in all probability it will never be called upon to fulfil. What does the State get in return? Clause 5 asserts that the agricultural labourer who is an able-bodied man shall receive a minimum wage of not less than 25s. a week, and then follows a definition of "able-bodied man." Let us bear in mind the position of the agricultural labourer. In 1885 he was given the vote. I do not 267 know which Government he supported, but neither Party has been able to do very much for him. Indeed, his position before the war was very little better economically than in the year 1885. The Agricultural Holdings Act of 1908 allowed farmers to lay down grass. What was the result? Labour became displaced, and those labourers eventually got some small holdings under the Small Holdings Act. What happened then? Frequently the smallholder had to pay from 6s. to 8s.—indeed sometimes more—per acre than was being paid by the sitting tenant, because there; were the administration charges of the public body; and in a case where the county council itself purchased the farm, the interest and sinking fund were added to the rent of the small-holder. So that I think your Lordships will agree that the position of the labourer was not altogether satisfactory.
Clause 5 states that an Agricultural Wages Board is to be set up. The duties of the Board are explained in the various subsections of Clause 5. The Wages Board shall fix wages for time work, and may do so for piece work. The Wages Board may fix a minimum rate for a special class of workman, like shepherds or carters, and in special areas. Then comes a provision for certain exemptions. The Wages Board can vary or cancel the minimum rate. Under Clause 6, if a workman is earning at piece work a less amount of wages than the minimum time-rate applicable in the case of that workman he can complain to the Wages Board. Under Clause 7 any person—that is, an inspector—can complain to the Wages Board that a certain workman is getting a wage less than the minimum wage. Those are what I might call the duties of the Wages Board.
I should like to invite your Lordships' special attention now, because the Bill here becomes more complicated. It is like the Maze at Hampton Court; you require a guide—that is, if you wish to get out. The machinery of the Wages Board is described in the Schedule on page 15 of the Bill, and is as follows. A Central Authority is to be set up. It is to be composed half of representatives of employers and half of representatives of labour. The chairman and secretary will be appointed by the President of the Board. The Central Authority has the right of creating District Wages Boards, which, 268 equally, will be composed half of representatives of labour and half of representatives of employers. But some of those who sit on the Central Authority may sit on the District Wages Boards, and in addition, nominated members appointed by the President can sit on the District Wages Boards. I may observe, in passing, that in both cases women are eligible, and when you bear in mind the excellent work, to which I am sure your Lordships will testify, that women have done in agriculture during the past six or eight months, I feel sure your Lordships will regard this as a very wise and proper provision. The powers of the Wages Boards will be found under the Regulations which we are entitled to set up under Part V, Clause 11, paragraphs (b) and (c). Their powers are that thy may settle allowances which may be counted as part of the minimum wage; they may settle the hours of labour, and they may settle overtime. I trust that I have explained to your Lordships quite clearly the duties of the Wages Boards, and the machinery and powers.
It only remains for me to explain Clause 4 of Part II. I hope noble Lords quite understand that no minimum wage is fixed until the Agricultural Wages Board fix it themselves. But subsection (4) of Clause 4 is designed to remind the farmer that if he does not pay 25s. a week to an able-bodied man after the passing of this Bill, the man can sue the farmer for the difference between the wage he receives and the ultimate wage as fixed by the Wages Board. That is what I might call the intermediate period. But the moment the minimum wage has been fixed by the Wages Board the employer must pay that minimum wage. If he continues to pay only 25s. a week, and the minimum wage is higher, he is liable to a fine and ordered to pay the difference.
Your Lordships will no doubt think that these proposals are somewhat novel. They follow the machinery laid down in the Trade Boards Act. Perhaps your Lordships will have some apprehension as to whether these Wages Boards will prove themselves to be valuable factors in agrarian problems. It is my belief that they will discharge their duties properly and in an equitable manner. After all, we must have some trust in our fellow-citizens. I understand that the country is about to enfranchise 6,000,000 to 8,000,000 men and women. If it can 269 trust 6,000,000 or 8,000,000 fresh electors, it can surely have confidence that the powers to be entrusted to these Wages Boards will not be abused by them. I now turn to Part III of the Bill, the part which deals with the landlord's rent. This part redeems the pledge given by the Prime Minister that landowners should not use the guarantee in Part I for the purpose of private gain. If your Lordships will allow me, I should like to digress for a moment. The land of England is grossly under-let. I think I can prove that to your Lordships in one minute. The average tent in the Midlands is 22s. 6d. an acre, in the part from which I come. Of the total revenue from the land, 25 per cent. is spent in administration charges and in repairs; and if you add 10 per cent. for Land Tax and tithes, this equals 35 per cent. Well, 35 per cent. on 22s. 6d. is 7s. 6d. It has been estimated by the members of the Surveyors Institute and other bodies that the landowners of England have sunk £12 an acre in the land in the shape of buildings, drainage, and so forth. Four per cent. on £12 is 10s. Add this 10s. to the 7s. 6d., and you arrive at 17s. 6d. If you deduct 17s. 6d. from 22s. 6d. you get 5s., which is the net economic rent per acre. But the story does not end there, because in war taxation, Income Tax, and Super Tax, a great many citizens are paying 10s. in the £. Therefore your 5s. is reduced by half—namely, to 2s. 6d.; and if, in addition, a citizen makes provision against death duties, which in happier days was considered a right and proper thing to do, the 2s. 6d. dwindles away altogether. Therefore I think your Lordships will see that there is no economic rent whatsoever from the land of England. It is under the shadow of these financial obligations that I ask for your consideration of Part III of this Bill.
Part III prevents any landowner from deriving any benefit which may be created by the operation of Part I of the Bill. Whether noble Lords will term this a war measure, or a national measure, or an agrarian measure, no one can say that it is a landlords' measure. I think it is as well to make this point quite clear, as I have noticed a tendency on the part of certain individuals, with an amiable inattention to veracity, to describe this Bill as a "Rent Production Bill." The position is this. Any landowner can readjust his rent in the same way as he has always done, and as if this Bill had never come into force. But he cannot 270 raise it if the tenant can prove to the satisfaction of the arbitrator that it has been raised in respect of any prospective profits that might be gained by the operation of Part I of the Bill. The governing words are to be found in Clause 8, subsection (1)—any question as to whether the rent payable under such a contract is in excess of the rent permitted.It really then resolves itself into a question of fact which the arbitrator himself must decide. The landowner will be able to raise his rent because of repairs having increased in expense. He will also be able to do so if the interest on mortgages has been raised, if the tithe has been increased, and if the land is grossly under-let. But this is the point I want your Lordships to observe—the tenant has always the right to have determined by arbitration whether that rent could have been obtained without the operation of Part I of this Bill. I hope I have made the position quite clear to the House. This applies to all holdings, big or small, and applies equally to grass and arable alike. Noble Lords will notice that an arbitrator is appointed, and that this Bill follows the Agricultural Holdings Act. That is a point that may have escaped noble Lords. Under the Agricultural Holdings Act you are entitled to employ counsel before the arbitrator, whereas under the Small Holdings Act you could not do so. Therefore under this Bill you will be entitled to employ counsel, which in my humble opinion is a very wise and proper precaution. In view of the good relations which have existed between landlord and tenant in the past, and in view of the fact, as we know perfectly well in this House, that, except in a very few isolated cases, the landowners of England have not rack-rented their tenants, I sincerely trust that this provision will not have a disturbing influence in the future in the administration difficulties which are bound to confront the landowner.
I turn to a consideration of Part IV, which gives power to the Board of Agriculture to enforce proper cultivation. Clause 9 says that the Board of Agriculture can servo a notice on the occupier of land requiring him to cultivate the land in accordance with directions given by the Board. The Board of Agriculture can interfere, with the terms of the lease; if the tenant gains any advantage by the Board's interference, the Board can give 271 some or all to the landlord. Under subsection (3), if the occupier fails to cultivate, the Board can either authorise the landlord to determine the tenancy or determine the tenancy by their own order, or, if the landlord is in possession, they can themselves, or by a person authorised by them, carry out the necessary tillage and cultivation. By subsection (4), the Board can, having entered in possession of the land, let it to a new tenant for five years on terms which they themselves think fit. The owner has a right of objection, and a reasonable opportunity is given to him to object.
Under subsection (5), if the Board instruct the tenant to carry out certain work, the landlord cannot sue the tenant for breach of covenant. That, of course, applies in the case of grass lands, some of which are now being ploughed up. By subsection (b), when the Board give up possession of the land they can recover damages from the owner (if any), and they can impose on the owner the tenancy they have created. Subsections (7) and (8) entitle the landlord to make a claim against the Board, to be settled by arbitration. This meets the case where the Board have taken over a farm from the landowner and might leave it in a worse state of cultivation than when they took it over, in which case the landowner would be able to make a claim against the Board. Subsection (9) empowers the Board to make a new committee other than the war agricultural committee; and subsection (10) asserts that Part IV is not in force as long as the. Cultivation of Lands Order operates under the Defence of the Realm Regulations. I do not deny for a moment that these are immense powers. The powers given to the Board, however, remove tome of those irksome duties which were formerly exercised by the landlord or his agent; and, of course, your Lordships will realise that these powers are to operate and apply only against those farmers who are well known to be bad farmers, and against those landlords who have been proved for a period of years to have lost all sense of their responsibility to their estates.
What is the position? The nation has to grapple with the situation as it finds it. More food has to be grown in Great Britain. There is a quantity of bad grass, and there are a certain number of indifferent farmers. Both factors are detrimental to the realisation of the nation's 272 requirements. The final observation which I wish to make in taking leave of this Part of the Bill is the following. I devoutly hope that these changes of tenancies, the difficulties of which are well known and appreciated by noble Lords in this House, will be carried out with the minimum of friction and annoyance to all parties concerned.
I turn to Part V. I have very little to say under the heading "General." The Board of Agriculture take power to make Regulations which shall be laid on the Table of the House in accordance with the usual custom. The majority of the clauses deal with the creation of machinery for carrying out the Bill, and the necessity for making Agricultural Returns with penalties attached for failure. The Bill applies also to Scotland and to Ireland, and any points which in the course of the debate may be raised in connection with those two countries will be dealt with by my noble friends who represent in this House the Scottish and Irish Departments.
The agrarian question has bulked largely in our past political controversies. It has been the parent of legislation not without moment in your Lordships' House, and of discussion not unmarked by acrimony on the public platform. I refer to these controversies, the memory of which has now become remote, only in order to point out to the House that in relation to them this Bill is at once an experiment and an eirenicon. It is an experiment in that it sets out to standardise by legislation two things—selling price and wages—which have hitherto been left to be determined by the higgling of the market. It is unnecessary for me to remind your Lordships, in justification of this experiment, that the future welfare of British agriculture obviously depends upon the satisfactory settlement of those two factors. But the Bill is also an eirenicon in that it sweeps aside those disputes as to systems of tenure which once vexed us, and concentrates upon the immediate practical issue of increasing the output of the soil.
There may be some noble Lords in this House who, while sympathising with the aims which we have in view, may claim that the means by which we propose to achieve them are revolutionary. If all revolutionaries began by stating and enacting the conditions of a stable and prosperous development, we should not distrust so much as we do the emblem of the Red Flag. 273 But these are precisely the conditions which this Bill proposes to establish. By setting up a minimum wage it gives the rural worker the assurance, gained by his urban brother in two generations of labour agitation, that the labourer is worthy of his hire. By guaranteeing prices it gives to the farmer the certainty that neither the bounty of nature nor the activity of man in other regions will rob him of the well-merited reward of his enterprise. Finally, it reminds the landowner that, whereas no direct benefits can be derived by him, yet greater exertions are demanded of him by the State.
It is on these broad general grounds that I commend this measure to your Lordships. The national need which it meets is sufficient justification for its provisions. But it has this further merit, that it looks to the future and seeks to leave in a far more amenable form than it found an issue which is certain to come up for settlement in the reconstruction period after the war. There is a war that will begin when peace is declared. An intense economic struggle, first to recover from the stress and chaos and devastation of the days through which we are now passing. Surely it will be that nation which first emerges triumphantly from the crisis of reconstruction which, in the sober judgment of history, will be held to have won the war. In this wider sense this Bill is a victory Bill. I respectfully ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading. I trust that you will read the clauses contained in it. I hope also that your Lordships may find them properly drafted. And if that should be the case our thanks are due to the Clerk of our House, who in the earlier stages—and to the Civil Servants who in the later stages—did so much to lighten our labours.
In conclusion, may I say that this Bill is not antagonistic to, but is in harmony with, those great moral forces to which this House has ever appealed. It seeks to do no man evil. It aims at doing all men some good. It embodies the pious hope of the Psalmist—That our garners may he full and plenteous wish all manner of store; that our sheep may bring forth their thousand and ten thousand;That our oxen may be strong to labour; that there be no decay, no trading with captivity, and no complaining in our streets.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Duke of Marlborough.)274
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I trust that the noble Duke will allow me to offer him my felicitations on the manner in which he has discharged his important task, in a speech which was equally marked by grace of expression and the careful and lucid marshalling of arguments. I can assure him that I do not rise in any sense to offer opposition to the Bill which he is asking your Lordships to read a second time, although there are certain criticisms which no doubt will be made on different features in it both by other noble Lords in the House and by myself. I say that I offer no opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill. Your Lordships might almost have supposed that I should, after an observation which was made on July 18 last by my noble friend opposite, the Lord Privy Seal, in which he described me as one of the most convinced and determined opponents of increased tillage. I am afraid I must offer a contradiction to that imputation made by the noble Earl. I am no opponent of increased tillage. On the contrary, I am convinced that there are many hundreds of thousands of acres of land that has been laid down in grass in the United Kingdom which might be ploughed and which ought to be ploughed. Neither have I any personal predilection in favour of pasture farming. In fact, if my noble friend were so good as to entrust me with the charge of a farm, I think if it were an arable farm I should probably look after it somewhat less badly than I should if it were a farm entirely devoted to pasture.
The objections which at one time or another I have raised, both in this House and out of it, have been, not to the increase of the area of tillage, but have taken the form of a protest against two classes of persons. In the first instance, those who may be said to have the growing of wheat absolutely "on the brain," and who believe that by ploughing up any pasture anywhere a great benefit can be conferred on the country. Some of those people would, I think, desire to see no grass whatever left in the country, except possibly in Hyde Park and in the quadrangles of the colleges of the University over which my noble friend the Lord President presides. The other class of persons against whom I have entered a protest—and I shall continue to do so—are those who, having somewhere read a book on the subject of farming in Denmark, believe that it is possible to institute the day after to-morrow, a complete system of arable dairy-fanning in this. 275 country. There is a great deal to be said for arable dairy-farming, as we all know; and it can be conducted, I have no doubt, in many parts of England with great success. But, apart from the fact which my noble friend the noble Duke mentioned the other day, that cheese cannot be produced by that method, the main objection to it in these times is that it requires more labour than any other system of farming that can be devised; and, apart from the fact that most farmers are not acquainted with the somewhat intricate details of management, that fact appears to put it out of court for the time being during the war.
In the discussions in another place on this Bill a contest appeared to rage—if that is not too strong a word—as to whether this measure ought to be regarded as a temporary measure designed only for the period of the war, or whether it must be regarded as a permanent addition to the Statute Book. In one sense that argument hinges on another question—as to whether the submarine menace, which is, I think, the parent of this Bill, must be regarded as being in itself permanent. I hesitate to accept the belief that that will be a menace for all time; at any rate, on the scale which it is at present. The consequences which would follow from the acceptance of that lamentable conclusion are so far-reaching and so calamitous to this country that one would require a great deal of proof before adopting it. If it really be the fact that in one of its main essentials we have lost for good the command of the sea—that part of the command of the sea which does not merely mean winning a great Fleet action, but protecting the commerce of the country—if that be true, one has to ask, How does the future of the British Empire stand? It is not only a question of the importation of corn, but of the movement of troops, of the importation of a great number of other commodities necessary to our national existence; and one almost has to ask, if this particular method of attack can be revived in some future war on an even larger scale than at present, and applied at the very beginning of the struggle, instead of only at a late stage of it as has happened now, what really is the meaning of the British Empire as a great unit for defence in a gigantic war? However, I hesitate to accept the conclusion that science will not find some method of combatting the malignant work of the submarine by further 276 inventions, of which it is unnecessary to discuss the possibility in a debate like this, but the nature of which will no doubt occur to many of your Lordships.
And I have been led by this train of thought to observe, in looking through the discussions that took place on the Second Reading of the Bill in another place, that the corn production of the Empire was never mentioned by anybody. All through, the House was asked to defend itself by growing here as much corn as possible, conceivably in the long run up to 8,000,000 or 10,000,000 acres more than at present, in order to make the British farmer and the British consumer independent of the foreign producer. Not a word about Canada, or Australia, or India, of whom I presume it would be equally desired to make the country independent, in some possible circumstances, at an exceedingly heavy cost to the general consumer here. It is, of course, impossible also to deny the fact that there are many, both in this House and in the country, who would desire to see this measure, in some form or another, permanent, perhaps not in this particular form, but in some amended form, as involving a radical alteration in our fiscal system. I do not hesitate to say that I always have been, and still remain, a Free Trader—in this sense, that I believe that where free international exchange can be carried on it is to the advantage of everybody concerned, and that the exceptions to that rule, which may in some cases be numerous and are very likely to be far more numerous after the war than I think they could reasonably have been before it, are in themselves unfortunate. I know that in expressing this opinion my view is diametrically opposed to that of those who hold an entirely different economic creed—namely, who consider that high duties are useful things in themselves, that high prices as a rule are the parent of high wages and of general prosperity. It is clear, of course, that there must necessarily be a large number of people in this country who would welcome a permanent measure of this kind on general grounds, quite apart from the service which it may render in the conduct of the war.
The President of the Board of Agriculture in another place was careful all through to insist that this should be described as a war measure and not otherwise. But it cannot, I think, be disputed that, by the proposals as stated by my noble friend, an 277 important vested interest is created of which it would be, even if it were desired, exceedingly difficult to get rid at the conclusion of the six years which the Bill covers, and that therefore it is difficult not to regard this Bill as indicating the dawning of a general system of tariffs. I am well aware that some of the straiter sect who agree with my noble friend behind me (Lord Chaplin) lamented that the operation of this Bill was that of a bounty and not of a tariff, and I dare say my noble friend would hold the same view.
But what, I think, is more interesting to consider regarding the general principle of the Bill—it is not a matter which I desire to develop at any length although it is important, and it was touched upon by my noble, friend opposite at the conclusion of his speech—is what will be the general effect of all the proposals of this Bill on the English land system and the Scottish land system as we have known them? On that I think there are two things to be said. It was quite evident in the debates in another place that there were signs of the divergence of standpoint and opinion, which we see marked in other countries, between the agrarian and the industrial interests. A good deal of the discussion there was devoted to arguments that the consumer was suffering that the taxpayer was being mulcted for the benefit of the landowning classes, that enormous profits were now being made both by landlords and farmers, and that this Bill would only tend to make matters worse. On that matter I should like to say this, that though I believe that in some instances large profits have been made by farmers, taken all over England I think their amount has been greatly exaggerated in some quarters. I wish myself that it had been found possible to subject farmers to the payment of Excess Profits Tax. It would have been a far more satisfactory method if it could have been adopted. I see the difficulty of adopting it, but it would have relieved them of the odious imputation, under which they now stand, of being the one class of persons who can make a great deal of money without contributing anything to the support of the war; but I do not believe that their profits have been anything like what is sometimes supposed. I am quite certain that it would be most unwelcome to my right hon. friend the President, to the noble Duke, to the Board generally, and indeed to His Majesty's Government, to feel that their measure, or 278 any part of it, was encouraging the cleavage between agrarian interests on the one side and the general interests, including the labour world, on the other. But I do not think that the fact can be altogether disputed by anybody who has read the debates in the other House.
In the second place, I think it cannot be disputed that Part IV of the Bill is bound to have a gradual but a continuing and grave effect on the English land system as it now exists. I believe that the institution of a continuing power of inspection and of entry will in time tend to bring about a marked change in the relations between the landowner and the tenant fanner. My right hon. friend the present Secretary of State for India, who sits for an agricultural constituency, stated, I see, in the course of one of the debates in the House of Commons, that the end of this measure must be the nationalisation of the land. That statement, I think, is painted in rather bold colours. But I should be very sorry to differ from him that it does mark a step in that direction, because the English land system, with its curiously balanced plan of reciprocal duties between landlord and tenant, not in a great number of cases sanctioned by legal covenants, leading, as the noble Duke observed, to the under renting of a great deal of the land of England, is a machine of which any violent interference is likely to stop the working.
I remember, in one of the former debates upon Irish land purchase, saying that there were three reasons which made the ownership of land in England interesting and agreeable, which did not, in the main, exist in Ireland, and that, therefore the system of general sale by the landlords of their estates was less of a wrench to them than it would be to us. Those three attractions of land-owning were—in the first place, the sport which could be obtained by the ownership of land; in the second place—a somewhat diminishing quantity but still appreciable—the degree of political and local influence which the possession of a large estate gives; thirdly—and by far the most prominent and important—the satisfaction which a man gets from undertaking the management of a large estate. The first and second of those may I conceive be said, at any rate for the time being, to have greatly diminished, if not altogether disappeared; and if the third is very seriously interfered with, if the freedom of action by the occupier and the freedom of 279 management by the landlord are greatly hampered by State interference, I think the beginning of the end of our present land system, at any rate so far as regards the retention of large estates goes, may be considered to be near. Whether that is altogether a misfortune is, of course, a matter of opinion. Very large estates are, as a rule, very well-managed estates; but there are no doubt many arguments which might be adduced for the greater division of properties and the retention by those who live in large houses of a comparatively moderate quantity of land.
I fear I have somewhat digressed from the terms of the Bill itself, and I will say a few words on one or two points in it. I am not one of those who hope that it will ever be possible, assuming the premiss that the breadth of wheat in this country must be largely increased, to bring it about without a definite guarantee to the farmer. I have differed from some of my political friends in that respect. What the form of the guarantee ought to be, however, is another matter. It is very interesting to follow the different phases of discussion between those who desire to proceed on the basis of production, either of wheat or of oats, for the grant of the guarantee, or on the basis of the acreage cultivated. I may say at once that it seemed to me exceedingly unfortunate that the, only farmer who should get the benefit of the Bill should be the farmer who sold his produce. As was often pointed out, that course would only lead to the farmer selling the actual corn produced, and either buying back the identical quarters sold or other quarters which he would proceed to feed to his stock. But, apart from that, there could be no reason whatever for mulcting the farmer who consumed as against the farmer who sold. That is one of the points to the credit of the plan which was finally adopted—that of taking the acreage, of land put under these crops and treating the area as the basis. At the same time, I cannot but regret that that system has been adopted. I cannot myself see why it should have been impossible to ascertain locally the total production on the farm, including, of course, the amount consumed on the farm itself. After all, it always has to be done by every outgoing tenant; it is a daily operation where the farm changes hands; and although I can understand that it would be in some ways inconvenient, I cannot believe that the difficulty was altogether insuperable.
280 As it is, you are confronted by two objections to this acreage plan. My noble friend said that he did not himself believe that the effect would be to discourage good farming, but he gave no reasons for his entertaining that happy belief. Of course, there is no need to exaggerate. One need not assume that people will farm their land badly on purpose, but it is perhaps fairer to state the converse—namely, that it does nothing whatever to encourage high farming or good farming. It tends to lead to an attempt to achieve an average amount of production, probably by a moderate use of manure, and I think it will be found that the total yield both of wheat and of oats in the country will be substantially diminished by the adoption of this particular plan. The second drawback, which I conceive to be a real one—and here I am afraid I shall have my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal down on me again—is that it does seem to me to offer an inducement to a foolish farmer to plough up grass land which he had far better leave alone. I do not wish to dwell on the figures of the prices fixed in Part I, but I dare say later on some representative of the Government will tell us how exactly they were arrived at. The noble Duke said something under that head. But it would be interesting to hear somewhat further developed how the particular figures for wheat came to be fixed.
One word about the question of the minimum wage. My noble friend behind me (Lord Chaplin) has drawn attention more than once to the speech which the Prime Minister made in another place on February 23 last, in which he said that the farmer did not want to be bothered with Wages Boards at this time, and therefore they did not propose to have them. It is permissible to anybody to change his mind for a good reason; but there, again, I am not quite clear as to the precise reasons on which my right hon. friend acted. Of one thing, however, I am quite certain—and here I believe I shall have the concurrence of everybody, strange though it may seem—namely, that it is a great misfortune that a figure was ever put into the Bill at all. Everybody who spoke in another place, including the President of the Board himself, cordially agreed with that proposition. I have not seen the speech of anybody who showed any form of enthusiasm for the naming of a particular figure, and it appears to me to have a number of disadvantages. One knows why the figure of 25s. was 281 included. It was because it had been mentioned in an entirely different connection for quite other purposes But as applied to the agricultural labourer, where conditions differ so materially, where those who take part in the industry are, so to speak, at the opposite poles of the industrial life of the country, it seems to me most unfortunate to have attempted to fix a figure for the whole country. The effect, of course, is that in those parts of the country where far higher wages are paid the figure is regarded with suspicion, because it is taken as a sort of implication that their payments are too high and that some attempt ought to be made to come nearer to what is spoken of as a fair wage. On the other hand, there are some parts of England—and I have no doubt we shall hear this stated by some of my noble friends in the course of the debate—where it is simply impossible for the farmers to pay 25s. as a commercial proposition. I am not at all sure that my noble friend opposite, the noble Duke, has not neighbours who would regard this figure of 25s. with acute dismay. It is, of course, true that it is possible for the Wages Boards to make every kind of allowance for different circumstances—namely, for the fact that a man is lame, or more than 60 years of age, or for five hundred other reasons—but, if all those cliff rent exceptions are to be made, why in the world put a figure into the Bill at all, and thereby tend, as I think, to confuse the issue?
The noble Duke stated most clearly the facts with regard to the veto on the raising of rents, and he certainly did his utmost to remove any fears that might have been felt by noble Lords that this particular restriction would work unfairly. He made it, I think, clear that the restriction applies simply to cases in which direct connection can be proved between the two things—namely, the guarantee on the one hand, and the rent raising on the other—and that in all other cases the Board would look at the action as they would have looked at it if this Bill had never been introduced. At the same time, it does, I think, serve as an illustration for the general proposition which I ventured to lay down earlier in my observations, that it is one of the matters in which regulation, rule, and the interference of Departments are closing in on the English land system, with the possible results of which I spoke. That, of course, applies especially to Bart IV, with regard to the enforcement of cultivation. 282 I have heard it said that people need not attach excessive importance to this regulation for the enforcement of cultivation, that it is rather put in as an encouragement to some and as a terror to others, and that the operation of this part of the Bill will be in fact perfunctory. That, of course, will have to be proved by experience. On the other hand, if it is not perfunctory, if there is anything like a regular interference by permanent local committees with the independent action of farmers, I am afraid that they will regard it as a real grievance, to which they are quite willing to submit during the term of the war and for purposes connected with the war, but on which they will look with very different eyes if it is continued, as I venture to assume it will be, after matters have come more or less to their normal condition. All this applies to the regulations and to the creation of officers which are possible under Part V of the Bill. There, again, I think the farming community, as represented by those who have a right to speak for them, will look with some suspicion and dread upon a multiplicity of regulations applied to the way in which they carry on their business. And, equally, those who own land are, I can assure the noble Duke, not at all desirous of being relieved of what he described as the irksome duties of a landlord, duties which I know he himself fulfils with the utmost good will and capacity, and which are, in fact, a welcome part of the life of so many members of your Lordships' House.
I hope that His Majesty's Government will not in any way resent such criticisms as I have ventured to make upon this measure. The noble Duke spoke of it as an eirenicon, because in his opinion it serves to block a controversy which before the war was arising over the system of land tenure in this country. As I have told the House, I have endeavoured to state some reasons for taking an opposite view, and for thinking that, far from putting to sleep questions relating to land tenure, this measure rather tends to excite them. The difference of opinion which it undoubtedly in some of its parts excites, I am afraid, rather tends to turn the ploughshare into a sword, and not into the instrument of peace which my noble friend believes that the Bill will be I have no doubt that a number of noble Lords will desire to move Amendments in the Committee stage of this Bill, some no doubt from quite different points of view, but all, 283 I am sure, with a desire to make it into as sound and workable a measure as possible. Personally I may say that I should be prepared to support all the conclusions of any measure dealing with the land or anything else which can be proved to be beneficial for the carrying on of the war or necessary for the sustaining of our national life during its progress; and it is indeed, only on those parts of the Bill which do not appear to me to be directly connected with the war that I have ventured to offer some words of criticism.
My Lords, I rise with no idea of finding fault with His Majesty's Government for endeavouring to deal with the highly important and intricate subjects of this Bill. I very much sympathise with them, and I am not in the least surprised that they have made an effort—I think a successful effort—to deal with several very important matters which are dealt with in the Bill. I rise, however, with the object of pointing to one thing in the Bill which I think is a defect, and which has already been touched upon by the noble Marquess—namely, the highly complex question of a money wage. The noble Duke touched very lightly upon it. He did not tell us why 25s. had been selected as a standard. I imagine that it must have been selected a good many months ago, and I also imagine that the prices of the various necessities of life have materially altered since; so that even if it were a wise figure when it was orginally selected, the variation of prices must have affected its value since.
The noble Duke, I have no doubt, himself felt that he was on very weak ground, because he reminded your Lordships what the results of all previous efforts to fix a wage in currency have been as regards a maximum; and I thought that he seemed to think that in going to the other extreme and trying to fix a minimum wage in currency some remedy had been discovered. I am sorry to say that I think it will be found that the endeavour to fix a minimum wage in currency is just as fallacious as trying to fix a maximum wage, and that in the end it is quite impossible to lead to satisfaction. I am not dealing so much with the point raised by the noble Marquess, with regard to the variation of wages in different parts of the country, as with the fact that currency has a varying value, and that it is impossible to say, certainly with prices fluctuating as violently as they do now, what the value of so many shillings 284 is in the power of those shillings to purchase the necessities of life. That is the point upon which alone I wish to dwell, and I add my regret to that of the noble Marquess that the Government have gone so far as to take the risk of fixing a wage in currency. I do not know why they need have done so, for they inserted in a prior part of the Bill, in subsection (5) of Clause 5, a power to the Agricultural Wages Board which enables them to vary the standard of 25s. The subsection runs—The Agricultural Wages Board may, if they think it expedient, cancel or vary any minimum rate fixed by them.They have that power, and if they are going to fix an equivalent of a 25s. wage I do not know why it should not have been left at that; especially as the clause goes on to say, in subsection (6)—In fixing minimum rates under this section the Agricultural Wages Board shall, so far as practicable, secure for able-bodied men wages which, in the opinion of the Board, are adequate to promote efficiency and to enable a man in an ordinary case to maintain himself and his family in accordance with such standard of comfort as may be reasonable in relation to the nature of his occupation.I think those are excellent words. It is a most wise precaution. I believe the words have only recently been added, but I congratulate His Majesty's Government on having inserted them. I believe that they will be most useful with reference to a point which I am going to raise in a moment; and having regard to them, I hope that His Majesty's Government may consider whether it is necessary to retain the figure of 25s. or any figure.
I have already referred to the instability of a wage fixed in currency. I dare say many of your Lordships will remember that twenty years ago, or more, there was a violent controversy with regard to bimetallism and monometallism. The theory of the monomotallist was that gold, being a standard, could not alter in value. I think the fallacy of that theory has been pretty well exploded since. The discovery of the application of cyanide to the low-grade mines of the Transvaal has resulted in the triplication of the output of gold for the use of the world, and the consequence has been that we have seen the value of gold diminishing—that is to say, prices had been rising regularly until 1914, showing that the purchasing power of gold was diminishing all that time. Who can prophesy what is going to happen after 285 this war? Who is going to prophesy the purchasing power of gold after this war? I should think that nobody would have the temerity to risk it. That point is practically disposed of by a remark which, I observed in the papers, was made by Lord Rhondda the other day, when he told your Lordships that the purchasing power of a sovereign had fallen to the equivalent of what nine shillings could buy before the war. This is a pretty good proof that many people agree now that currency does alter in purchasing value, and that, I hope, justifies my argument that it is most dangerous to put a money wage into this Bill.
The attempt in the past—the noble Duke acknowledged it as regards maxima prices—to fix a money wage as a maximum has always broken down; and this will break down, although it is a minimum wage. That is no dictum of mine; it is as old as Adam Smith in the "Wealth of Nations." Let me quote a few lines from one of his passages—The price of labour cannot be ascertained very accurately anywhere, different prices being often paid at the same place and for the same some of labour. Where wages are not regulated by law, all that we can pretend to determine is what are the most usual—I commend this remark to your Lordships—and experience shows that law can never regulate them properly, though it has often pretended to do so.I dwell upon this, because I am so presumptuous as to hope that I may extend this warning to the people generally outside this House, as well as to your Lordships. I want to warn the public that it is inevitable that this will lead to dissatisfaction, because it has aroused extravagant hopes in a good many breasts; and I think that it is still more likely to lead to dissatisfaction because of the very dangerous prophecies which have been made by one or two very distinguished people. I see that a night or two ago my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Agriculture said—I think that wages can never be reduced by the Wages Board.I observe that the Bill is to apply only for six years, and I presume that that period extends to this particular part of the Bill. But I should think it highly improbable that after those six years it will be possible to eradicate from the minds of the people who are drawing those money wages that 286 they are not to have the benefits of those six years extended to them for all time.
The President of the Board of Agriculture went on to say—If we had adopted a scale which was at all adapted to the high abnormal prices to-day we might have loaded the industry more heavily than it can bear, and we should have killed employment. What we have done for the labourer is to secure him an irreducible minimum wage.That seems to me to be a most dangerous expression. And it follows on something which was said by my noble friend Lord Selborne, many months ago now, when he was at the Board of Agriculture, and when he warned the agricultural community that they must never expect to see such wages as we had paid in the past. Why not? I can point quite easily to a date when I should think that everybody would admit—certainly the agricultural labourer would admit—that he was infinitely better off than he is going to be with the 25s., or whatever it be above 25s., with the prices of commodities as they are to-day. After all, what you have to think of is what those shillings buy, not the number of shillings that a man receives. Hero I would like again to quote from that masterpiece, the "Wealth of Nations"—Labour, like commodities, may be said to have a real and nominal price. Its real price may be said to consist in the quantity of the necessaries and conveniences of life which are given for it; its nominal price in the quantity of money. The labourer is rich or poor, is well or ill-rewarded in proportion to the real, not to the nominal, price of his labour. The same real price is always of the same value; but, on account of the variation in the value of gold and silver, the same nominal price is sometimes of very different values.I said that I could name a period when I am perfectly certain that the agricultural labourer was, and knew that he was, far better off than he had been at any previous time, and I think better off than he has been ever since. That was in the period 1895 to 1899. I had hoped to have been able to give your Lordships a comparison of the cost of all the necessities of life which are included in what are known as Sauerbeck's Numbers. As your Lordships probably know, calculations had been made for very many years past by Mr. Sauerbeck, which, since his death, have been carried on by the editor of the Statist; and it is possible to compare real wages—that is to say, what a wage is able to buy in the necessities of life—for very many years 287 past, and it was in the period 1895–1899 that the real wage of the labourer was at its highest. I am sorry that I cannot give your Lordships the real wage to-day. I wrote to the Board of Trade more than a week ago asking them to supply me with the figures, but I have had no answer. Possibly before the debates on this Bill close I may get them.
But I can turn to one very material article of consumption—namely, wheat—and I can give your Lordships a comparison of the figures of the wages in my own immediate neighbourhood, and the prices which I know were current for wheat in the various years. Lord Rhondda has fixed the price for this year at 72s. The Government have put the minimum wage of 25s. in the Bill. Let us take 75s. instead of 72s. merely for the convenience of computation. That is to say, a labourer, supposing he is getting 25s. a week, will go home every week with one-third of a quarter of corn—a quarter of corn being about the consumption of a man in a year. He will go home every week with one-third of his annual consumption of corn. In the year before the war he was, in my neighbourhood, getting 18s. a week, and the price of corn was about 33s. A little sum will show your Lordships that he was getting six-elevenths of a quarter—much better than what he is getting now, which is, as I say, only one-third of a quarter. But go back to the 1895–1899 period, when he was getting, in my neighbourhood, about 14s. 6d. a week, and wheat was about 22s. a quarter. I sold wheat myself that year for 18s. The labourer was going home with two-thirds of a quarter of corn every week. It is not an extravagant thing to take wheat as a guide, for the, relation of the values of wheat as between 1895–1899 and the present day follows very closely the variation in values of the forty-five articles in Sauerbeck's figures. I do not say they are exact, but they are very near. So that the labourer twenty years ago was very nearly twice as well off as he will be when he gets 25s. now and wheat is being sold at 75s. a quarter. Yet my noble friend Lord Selborne says you must never expect to go back to the wages of those years. Why not go back to them if the man is better off? It all depends on the value of currency, and it is a very bold thing indeed to say that wages are never going back to what we have seen in the past. I would venture to hope that wages will follow more closely the variation in the prices of the 288 necessities of life than they do under the rough-and-ready system which we have pursued hitherto on an agreement between employer and employed.
The tendency of wages is always to rise and to fall slower than the values of the necessary articles. They are rising now slower than the index figure of real wages under Sauerbeck's figures, and that, in my opinion, is the cause of the dissatisfaction one sees in many parts of the country. It is because the man is nothing like as well off as he was. He has been accustomed almost since the days of the Crimea to find himself better off, but only by degrees, of course. Except in the actual years of the Crimea, the index figures of real wages—that is to say, what he can buy—have gone up almost consistently year by year from 1855 to 1914. How far they have fallen from 1914, as I have said, I cannot at present ascertain, because the Board of Trade have not been able to supply me with the index figure, but it must be a very big drop; and the working man, having been accustomed for so many years to a gradual improvement in his position, suddenly finds himself so much worse off, and of course he is asked to do as hard work as then, if not harder, some of it very uncongenial, and to give up his holidays. Yet, as I say, he finds himself nothing like so well off with regard to the necessities of life—I say nothing of the comforts—as he was three years ago. Obviously that must lead to dissatisfaction; and that is why I am quite sure that if a more suitable standard could be found than the standard of a currency wage the Government would be wise to depend upon that in their Bill instead of the money wage which they have mentioned Therefore I am glad that they have put in the two subsections to which I have referred, which empower the Wages Boards to have regard to what the man may aim at as a comfortable condition of life.
As I said before, there are these index figures, and the Board of Trade have been accustomed for years to work out what are the relations of wage and of the prices of necessities. From those two only they arrive at their index figure of real wage. It is possibly not wise to put that in the Bill, although I would ask the noble Duke who is in charge of the Bill to think it over, and perhaps to discuss with the Board of Trade whether it might not be possible to put in a more stable and a more safe standard than a currency wage. At any 289 rate, it will be within the power of the Board of Agriculture to give some guidance to the Wages Boards. Think of the poor people. They are going to be thrown on to the stormy sea of haggling between the employer and employed, and whether they will ever reach shore without broken limbs I very much doubt. I am quite sure that it would be an immense guidance if you could indicate to them that there are such things as the statistical calculations to which I have referred, because, of course, they have to consider what is a fair wage. I am not going to say that the wages in the 1895–1899 period were fair, having regard to the condition of agriculture. We know that at that time farmers were being rained every day, and although the wage was only 14s. 6d. in my neighbourhood, it was still too high. But if my suggestion were adopted it would give these Wages Boards some idea of a standard which I venture to suggest to your Lordships is far more suitable than the currency standard which the Government have put into the Bill.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My Lords, I ask the indulgence of the House for a few minutes while I try to show how it is possible for a man whose whole fortune is invested in land, and who for fifty years has been engaged in the home food production trade, to give a wholehearted support to this Bill without in any way infringing or violating the Liberal and Free Trade principles in which he was bred and born. We all know the reason why this Bill was brought into existence. We know that for three years before the war farmers were doing very well indeed, and especially those who were dealers as well as farmers. During the first two years of the war they were doing as well as could possibly be wished. But then a crisis came. The U-boat scare came, and a shortage of food in this country was announced, and some people went so far as to say that we might expect a famine. The country behaved extraordinarily well. Every one went on to voluntary rations at once and did what he could. But worse remained behind. The price of food went up, I believe, something like 100 per cent., and we had it on the authority of Mr. Middleton, of the Board of Agriculture, that the German farmer, in spite of worse land and in spite of worse weather, was able to produce 50 per cent. more meat and corn per acre than could our British farmers—more than could those British farmers 290 whom we all consider to be the backbone of England.
The nation at once said, "That has to be altered." And on February 23 Mr. Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of this country, made his famous speech, in which he enunciated the agricultural policy of his Government. At first it was received, as we all remember, with acclamation on both sides, by the Press and by the public; but, as always happens to everybody who brings in a Bill or starts anything fresh, it was not long before it was attacked from both sides and from both flanks. The Members of Parliament who represented the great industrial urban constituencies at once took fright, as they saw that it would be extremely difficult for them to persuade 46,000,000 consumers in this country, amongst whom their constituents, that the best thing for them and for the country was to give a bonus to the 200,000 food-producers, or tenant farmers, of England, to induce them to do their national duty—a duty which was as much incumbent upon them as it was upon other people to go and face fire in the trenches in France and elsewhere; and more especially because it was generally believed that the agricultural tenant belonged to a privileged class, that he had privileges which were not extended to urban tenants. He, up to last year, did not have to pay any Income Tax; he was relieved of half his rates, which were paid by the State; and in addition, if he had a bad year, he could reckon with certainty that from 20 to 40 per cent. would be returned to him on his rents, which very few, if any, urban dwellers or tenants could look for.
Then, on the other side, the landlords and tenant farmers of England looked with some dismay to the destruction of what I may be permitted to call the patriarchal system, with all its social, sporting, and political advantages. The landlords considered, not without reason, that they were somewhat hardly treated. The record of the landlords of England is an extraordinarily good one, and more particularly in your Lordships' House, the members of which, I believe, own about one-third of the whole of the agricultural land of England. I do not think there is one single instance—I am certain there is not in this House—where a landlord has raised his rents or shared in the profits of his tenants during the war, though these profits have been in many instances extremely large. In the 291 Bill the landlords are not permitted to raise their rents—that is, to take any share in the profits, which will go entirely to the tenant fanners. And in addition to that, supposing that they give notice to quit in order to raise their rents, that becomes, like the world was before the creation, void and without form. Therefore they might fairly consider, in the circumstances, as they have behaved so nobly and well to their tenants, that they are to some extent hardly treated.
Then another bombshell is launched at them. The Game Laws—I do not know whether it is temporarily or permanently—are suspended. There are a great many landlords in this country—the margineers, the men who live on a margin—a great portion of whose income is derived from the letting of their game estates. But this source of income has been taken from them, and some of them, though they wish to do everything they can for the country, perhaps think that they have some reason to complain. With regard to the farmers, they, of course, get all the profit that there, is to be got out of the land, but they are told that the old wages, 14s., 15s., and 16s., a week—the old service wages as they were called—must be now a thing of the past. A minimum wage of 25s. a week is enforced. If the farmer does not pay that wage, he is liable to a fine of £20, and he is also liable to a fine of £1 for every day where the wages are not paid, and the labourers can recover all arrears. In addition to that, the landlord finds himself face to face with a sort of inquisition for the enforcement of the proper cultivation of the land by what is called the agricultural war committee. Now, these agricultural war committees have been doing splendid work. They are absolutely impartial. There is no fear, favour, or affection, and I think the general opinion is that they have done extraordinarily good work. They have already raised the tone of farming in most parts of England. Then also the farmers had to complain of the shortness of labour.
There is, further, what I need not labour now, the vexed question of how to get more wheat and more oats grown by the ploughing up of grass lands. Some persons believed that His Majesty's Government were anxious to plough up all the fine cheese growing Cheshire land, that they wanted to plough up the Vale of Aylesbury, and the Eton playing fields, and so forth. Perhaps, in fairness to them, we might say that His Majesty's Government were a wee bit responsible for this belief. We all know of 292 the unfortunate experiment of Richmond Park, where one of His Majesty's Ministers put in oats at a cost of £18 an acre, and when he had accomplished that fine performance he found it necessary to rail in that portion of the land with a deer fence, which cost over£600—whether it came into the estimate or not, I do not know—in order to prevent those picturesque but tiresome animals from pulling up the crop by the roots as soon as it showed its nose above the ground.
But there is one thing which is very evident, and which draws the tooth of most of the critics of His Majesty's Government. So far as I know, no critic has been able to suggest any alternative policy which would secure an early increase of home production. The Government programme holds the field absolutely. On that, perhaps I might be permitted to say that most of the criticism has been removed by a remarkable speech which was made by Lord Milner on Jane 27, of which I hardly think sufficient notice has been taken. He removed the cobwebs. His plain and statesmanlike speech removed, to a great extent, all the apprehensions and fears which some people most legitimately had. May I quote a few words from that speech with regard to the bonus? Of course, all the Free Traders were frightened to death about the bonus, because they thought it was the thin edge of the wedge of that terrible proposal for the taxation of the food of the poorest of the poor. What did Lord Milner say about that? He said—The bonus is essentially a war policy. It is a war measure of first necessity. It is an absolute obligation to leave no stone unturned to increase the home-grown supply of food in this country. It is an emergency policy adopted under the pressure of extreme necessity. So much for the bonus. I think that every Free Trader can accept that declaration from His Majesty's Government, and accept this bonus as simply and solely a temporary war expedient.What did the noble Viscount say about labour? We all know that labour is very short, and it is no use complaining about it. The agricultural labourers, to their great credit, in 1914 joined Haldane's Territorials and Kitchener's Army. God bless them for that. They stood in the trenches up to their necks, in the cold and the snow, and they saved the country. It is impossible to speak too highly of what the agricultural labourers did in our hour of need. So what is the use of complaining that we have not the labourers in this 293 country? We cannot be sufficiently thankful to them for going out, because if they Lad not done so, there would be no farms, or lard or houses, to cultivate or to live in at this time—the Germans would have been here. This is what Lord Milner said about labour—I have spent days and days hunting far labour for agriculture, as I am absolutely convinced that increased production is a war measure of the very first necessity.Now, honestly, what more could the Government have done than they have done in providing labour? In the county that I live in they have provided us with so much labour that the farmers have not taken it all up.
In conclusion, I hope that I may be believed when I say that I am not in any way turning my coat. From the bottom of my heart I congratulate the Prime Minister and his colleagues on the courage and the audacity with which they have collectively tackled this great land question. They have done more in a few months with regard to agricultural reform than we wretched land reformers have been able to do in a century. They have rung the death-knell of all the abuses of the patriarchal system; they have re-established and practically recreated the agricultural labourer, and they have recognised and are assisting to the utmost in their power all those much-ridiculed and laughed-at smallholders and allotment-holders who are digging themselves in all over England, both in the country and in the towns. My last word is that my heartfelt congratulations are due to His Majesty's Government for bringing forward this measure, as now we may hope to witness the realisation of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's dream of seeing the fair land of England the treasure house of the poor; and we shall also see, what the noble Duke alluded to in such touching words at the end of his excellent speech when he moved the Second Reading of the Bill, the restoration to the soil of his country, under conditions that are fair to the landlord and fair to the industrious solvent tenant, and, above all, fair to himself—we shall see the restoration to the soil of his country of the dispossessed and of the landless man.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the noble Marquess who has just addressed us always approaches his subject with a candour which engages our 294 sympathy, and he has not failed to do so to-night. I think he probably has a much clearer idea in his mind of what this Bill really means, of what it is going to lead to, and what a good many of its supporters intend it to lead to, than some of the official advocates of the measure. This Bill is constantly described—I think the noble Marquess himself in one part of his speech described it—as a war measure, an emergency measure. So it is in a certain sense. The origin of the Bill is the decision of the Government to encourage the output of foodstuffs in this country by means of a guaranteed price. I agree with the noble Marquess that this plan, in the circumstances, was entirely defensible, and that, as he put it, this plan holds the field. It is also true that in a sense the remaining Parts of the Bill are to some extent a corollary of the first Part—I mean that which deals with the question of the guaranteed price. But I think it would be a great piece of self-deception if we were to try and convince ourselves that the Bill was merely a temporary or stopgap measure, and that after the period of years during which it is to operate has come to an end we are the least likely to revert to the condition of things which prevailed before the war. I sometimes doubt whether even His Majesty's Government see this quite clearly.
I noticed that during the debate in the House of Commons the President of the Board of Agriculture on one occasion let fall the remark that this Bill was not to be regarded as a Bill for the reconstruction of agricultural life. I go so far as to say that it is because this Bill is a Bill for the reconstruction of agricultural life, because it is intended to lay the foundation of a system of reconstruction, that the Bill is here to-night. The Bill has been supported by men who are bitter opponents of any interference with the law of supply and demand. It has also been supported by men who are bitterly opposed to anything which can possibly be represented as a subsidy to the agricultural interest; and we know that to many people this Bill—I think quite wrongly—seems to be a subsidy to the landowners of England. Why do these people support this Bill? Not because of that which is contained in the first Part of it but because of the other provisions which deal with the minimum wage, and which deal with the claim of the State to interfere with the manner in which the land of this country 295 is treated by those who own and occupy it. And in those quarters the Bill is supported under a strong conviction that, while the subsidies given by it will disappear, the Wages Boards and the machinery for interfering with the treatment of the land by those who own it will remain as a permanent part of the agricultural system of the country.
I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to say a few words in regard to the main features, and the main features only, of the Bill. In the first place, let me say a few words as to Part I of the Bill, which deals with the guaranteed price. I feel convinced that a guaranteed price was inevitable, and the only question which seems to me to be open to doubt is whether His Majesty's Government have chosen the best method of calculating the manner in which the bonus or guarantee should be adjusted. I am quite sure that no plan that can be invented is beyond criticism. I will undertake to produce a really convincing argument against any plan which can be proposed for this purpose. But having said that, I am bound to add that in my view the plan which now appears in the Bill, the plan under which the guarantee is based upon acreage and not upon production, is a better plan than the one which appeared in the Bill when it originally came before Parliament. There is a great deal that can be said upon that point, but I will not pursue the argument at length. I will only say that I have always been intimidated, in regard to the proposal to calculate the subsidy to the farmer on the basis of production, by my conviction of the extreme difficulty, particularly when you come to deal with the smaller holdings, of ascertaining with even substantial accuracy what the production has been and what the price obtained. Then there is the suggestion, which I think the noble Duke noticed and which is on the face of it an extremely attractive one—the suggestion that some means should be found for limiting the advantage of the guarantee to those persons who have added to the production of wheat and oats. There is no doubt that, as the Bill now stands, a number of people will benefit under the first Part of the Bill who have not added a quarter to the total production of cereals in the country. I think the Committee over which my noble friend Lord Milner presided encouraged the idea of restricting any benefit of this kind to those who had made an extra effort in order 296 to meet the necessity of the nation. But I confess I do not see how the thing could be done without a great injustice. The injustice that I apprehend is this, that any arrangement of that kind would have the effect of excluding from the benefit of the guarantee a number of men who had been making for some years past the very effort which we desire other people to make now, who had made it voluntarily and without the stimulus afforded by this proposal, and who would find that they were, so to speak, left out in the cold when their neighbours, who had not exerted themselves in the same way before, obtained the full advantage of the guarantee.
I wish now to say two or three words with regard to what seems to me to be much the most difficult and controversial Part of the Bill—I mean the Part which deals with Wages Boards and the minimum wage. I think the treatment which this subject receives in the Bill shows pretty clearly that these provisions, at any rate, are not likely to be of a temporary kind, and that they have no real connection with the guaranteed price. A man will get the higher wage although he is employed upon work which has nothing whatever to do with the production of wheat or oats. If he is helping to produce milk or beef, he will equally get the higher wage. But the two things are connected in this way, that the decision to grant the guaranteed price undoubtedly made it impossible, from the view of a practical politician, to deny to the labourers their share of the advantage which it was proposed to confer.
And let me say this. I have for some years been convinced that, whether we had had a war or not, this question of wages in the lowly-paid areas of the country had to be dealt with. The rise of prices which has lately taken place has brought it to the front and made it absolutely necessary to deal with it. But I think there is a good deal to be said as to the Government plan for dealing with this question. We all remember what the original proposal of the Prime Minister, made on February 23 last in the House of Commons, was. It was a rough-and-ready plan. You were to have a minimum wage of 25s., and there were to be no Wages Boards. That has been left very far behind. We have now in this Bill an extraordinarily elaborate piece of machinery for dealing with this wages question. My noble friend the noble Duke gave an illustration which I think shows 297 that my view is not an unreasonable one. He said this plan is like the Maze at Hampton Court, and you cannot get out of it unless you have somebody to guide you through. And he proceeded, I must say with great skill and courage, to perform the functions of guide. I confess I should have been glad if we could have found a simpler way of dealing with this wages problem, and I do not think it need haves been beyond our powers to do so. I think what people were ready for, and what they would have welcomed, would have been some arrangement for setting up all over the country Conciliation Boards, at which employers and employed, masters and men, would meet and arrive at a give-and-take arrangement with regard to the rate of wages which might reasonably be allowed to prevail in any particular locality.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My noble friend says the thing is done in Scotland. That is the case and not only is it done in Scotland—
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
His Majesty's Government at the very last moment, as the House knows, inserted in the Bill a new Schedule, amplifying and stereotyping, I understand, for Scotland the plan which already obtains there—a plan which has an immense amount of support from the agricultural community, which is backed by the Scottish Board of Agriculture, by the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, and a number of other very high authorities. It may be too late now to change the Bill in this respect as regards this country, but I am very sorry that some solution upon those lines was not attempted.
Then let me say that I quite agree with what was said by the noble Marquess on the other side as to the 25s. minimum. The 25s. minimum seems to be of more than doubtful utility. It is quite clearly a survival of the Prime Minister's February speech, from which it was taken. As my noble friend Lord Harris pointed out. It may be a quite appropriate minimum at one point, and a quite inappropriate minimum at another; and it is quite inapplicable to a large part of the United Kingdom where wages have long ago soared high above the 298 25s. limit. And, finally, as I think my noble friend Lord Harris also pointed out, it is quite inconsistent with the Amendment inserted on the Report stage of the Bill by Mr. Prothero, under which the Wages Boards are directed not to observe any minimum but to fix rates which, in the opinion of the Board, are adequate to promote efficiency and to enable a man to maintain himself and his family in accordance with such a standard of comfort as may be reasonable. That Amendment, which was an afterthought, seems to me by no means consistent with the plan of the minimum wage.
May I make one or two general observations in regard to this wages question. It is constantly said in these discussions that the most highly paid workman is of greater value than a man who receives low wages. There is a great amount of truth in that. But what one has to remember is that it is impossible to transform an inefficient workman or a less efficient workman into a more efficient workman by suddenly doubling his wages. As I think Mr. Prothero said, it, takes a generation to bring about a change of that kind. Then I think we should be very careful when we deal with this subject that we do not convert what is intended to be, and what will be, a boon to the labourer into a disaster by attempting to force wages up to a point at which the man will not get employment at all. One cannot shut out that consideration. There may arrive a moment when wages might be pushed up to a level which the industry could not carry; and if that point were reached you would find that the employer would say, "You can force me to pay these wages when I employ people, but you cannot force me to employ them if I cannot afford to pay these rates." There is a rough calculation which has been more than once quoted during these discussions and which is of this kind. One hundred acres of grass offer employment for one labourer, and 100 acres of arable offer employment for four. If you force this wages question too strenuously, you will find a farmer with, let us say, 100 acres saying to himself, "By going back to grass again I can save money through employing one man at 30s. instead of four men." He would save £234 a year, and that is a pretty solid inducement. We must be careful that we do not drive the farmers to look at the wages problem from that point of view.
299 I think it would be a great mistake to assume that the well-being of the agricultural labourer depends entirely upon the amount of money wages that he draws. We hear a great deal about the high wages in Scotland. I know something about Scotland. It is true that the wages are very high. The man is hired for the year or for the season in the market by his employer. He occupies his cottage, if there is one for him, as a bird of passage; he has no stability of domicile; he may be lodged in a bothy with other men. He gets more wages, but his lot is infinitely less attractive than that of the west country labourer, who has lived in his cottage, and his father before him, for years, and who has his allotment and is settled in the village. I believe evidence has been given before one of the Committees which has inquired into this question, and that it goes to show that these highly paid men are very often, I will not say outcasts, because that is the wrong word, but completely cut off from anything like permanent association with the neighbourhood in which they do their work. They are mere hirelings instead of being, as they are in some parts of the country, as we know, members of the community, with a stake in the place and with a permanent domicile within it.
This Part of the Bill deals with the very important question of the exception of certain classes of men from the minimum wage. It is common ground that there are some men who cannot, either because they are not able-bodied or for other reasons, earn the full wage, and that such men must be put upon a different footing from the man who is thoroughly efficient and able-bodied. The attempt to discriminate opens up difficulties which seem to be immense. You cannot grade your men scientifically and say this man is worth 30s, that man is worth 25s., this man isworth23s., and another man is worth a guinea. The thing is impossible. Nor, again, can you sort them according to their ages. I have heard it proposed that you should take sixty years of age for the upper limit and twenty years for the lower. I think it would be grossly unjust to do anything of the kind. I know men who are handsomely over sixty to whom it would be an insult to offer anything less than a full rate of wages. I know younger men who, although they may be nineteen or twenty, are doing work which ought to entitle them to the full recompense of an able-bodied labourer. Then what are you 300 to do? Because you must deal with this question.
As I understand—and I shall be glad of information upon this point—the Bill relegates all these questions to the district committees and sub-committees, who are, unless I misunderstand the proposal, to deal with questions of age, of lower rates of wages, of piece-work, and so forth, and then to advise the Wages Board. I am afraid that this procedure will be very irksome, very dilatory, and in some ways very offensive, because you are really compelling a man to go to the tribunal and say, "I am a wretched fellow, a poor cripple. I cannot earn the full rate of wages. Will you be good enough to give me a permit to work at a lower price? "A very similar difficulty arises in the ease of employment on piece-work. I am a great believer in piece-work. I think it is good for the man, who earns more money; it is good for the employer, who gets better value for the wages he pays. I think we ought to encourage piece-work, and the Bill evidently contemplates the possibility of piece-work. It says that the Board may, if it likes, fix piece-work rates. It does not say that the Board must do it. And it goes on to contemplate cases where the Board has not fixed piece-work rates at all. Now, if the Board is wise, it will not attempt to fix piece-work rates. Anybody at all familiar with country life will tell you that to fix piece-work rates for hoeing turnips, clearing hedges, or cleaning ditches, is absurd, because no two pieces of turnips are the same, no ditch is equally foul and obstructed, and no hedge requires precisely the same amount of brushing and combing. Therefore they will not fix rates.
What happens under this Bill? Piecework rates have not been fixed, but the man and his employer come to terms. They make a bargain into which both sides are perfectly willing to enter. But unless I misunderstand one of the clauses of this Part of the Bill, even in cases of that kind, where the contract has been a free contract willingly entered into by both, the man—and not only the man but somebody authorised by him—may turn round and claim that the bargain should be revised, and that, if he has not succeeded in earning by piece-work the amount which he might have earned if he had been employed on time, the difference is to be refunded to him by his employer. That seems to me to be a very 301 dangerous arrangement. It is quite true that the man may have made an indifferent bargain, or he may have been prevented by weather, or he may have found that the job was more difficult than he anticipated; he may be able to show that he failed to earn his minimum rate. But it is by no means clear that the bargain was an unfair one at the time it was made, and I think we ought to be rather careful how we discourage these men, who, after all, are by no means stupid or wanting in independence, from entering into reasonable bargains with their employers.
With regard to Part III, the part of the Bill which places difficulties in the way of a landowner who may desire to raise his rents, I think the provision is a necessary one, not because I believe for a moment that the landowners of this country were at all likely to take advantage of this Bill in order to raise their rents on the strength of the guarantee, but because I feel that for political reasons it is necessary, so to speak, to stop that hole up. But I hope it will be observed that, when we landowners accept, as we do, this clause, we are in effect admitting that, although the greater part of the capital embarked in agricultural enterprise is found by us, although the risks of failure ultimately fall upon us, although our liabilities continue, nevertheless, in spite of all this, we are quite ready to forego any claim to our share in this grant.
I think when we get to Committee we shall probably hear a good deal about Part IV of the Bill. I admit that some provisions of this kind are necessary and I am quite ready to concede that, at a time when every quarter of wheat matters to the country, you must find some means of preventing the flagrant misuse of the land by people who are so ill-advised as to misuse it. It is within the knowledge of most of us that there are here and there cases where, owing to selfishness, owing to eccentricity, which you sometimes encounter in all professions of life, an owner of land has treated his estate, or part of his estate, in the most injudicious and most unpatriotic manner. For example, a large tract of valuable land might be sacrificed to game. In such cases everybody would concede that the Government had a right to come in and to compel all concerned to mend their ways. But one is tempted to observe at this point that the Government have already to hand the means of dealing 302 with eases of abuse of this kind. Under a Defence of the Realm Regulation—I think it is No. 2 L—they have the whole of the weapons ready to hand that would enable them to deal most effectually with bad eases of that sort. What is the explanation of the extraordinary arrangement by which we are to have existing simultaneously Clause 9 of this Bill and also the Defence of the Realm Regulation to which I have referred? I noticed that the noble Duke, although his explanation of the Bill was a pretty full one, when he came to that point, I thought very judiciously, left it unexplained. But we have had some explanation of this, and the explanation was given by the President of the Board of Agriculture two or three days ago in the House of Commons.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I think I did explain to the House that Part IV did not come into force as long as the Cultivation of Land Order operated.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
That is exactly what I am coming to. That is one of the conundrums of the Bill which I want to have explained. Mr. Prothero, in the speech to which I was just going to refer when my noble friend interrupted me, told us why this was done. He said that he desired to keep the Defence of the Realm Regulation alive, and to keep Clause 9 of the Bill in suspense, because the machinery provided by the Bill was too leisurely and deliberate—the pace at which you could proceed under the Bill was not sufficient to satisfy the Board of Agriculture. The procedure laid down by Clause 9 of the Bill may not be rapid enough to meet the requirements of the Board, but do not let us be told that it is not a drastic, a stringent procedure. What does it provide for? The owner and the occupier may be ousted, and anybody may be brought in to do such things to the land as the Board of Agriculture think proper. A new tenancy may be created. The new tenant may remain there, I think, for five years, and the whole arrangement may be terminated by a few months notice when it suits the Board; and then the land is thrown back, new tenant and all, upon the hands of the unfortunate owner.
I do not in the least object to all this if you are dealing with a case where there has been a flagrant misuse of the land. I will go further and say, stiffen up this 303 clause as much as you please if you mean to confine its operation to all cases of that kind. But I do not like the clause even as it is now, and still less would I stiffen it when you are dealing, not with cases of flagrant misuse of land, but with land which is merely not cultivated in such a manner as the Board think best—that is, not cultivated up to a certain ideal propounded either in Whitehall or by the District Boards. I hope that when we get to Committee we shall have some further light thrown upon this Part of the Bill, and that His Majesty's Government will consider whether it would not be possible, instead of keeping two separate codes in existence side by side, to rely entirely upon the Bill, if necessary strengthening it, as I have suggested, when you come to deal with flagrant cases of misuse of land by those who own or occupy it.
I have detained your Lordships too long, I am afraid, with all these details. All I will say, in conclusion, is that I feel quite sure that this Bill will be received by the agriculturists of the country with every desire to make it a success so far as its main object is concerned—I mean the object of adding to the output of food in this country. And so far as the other provisions of the Bill are concerned, I offer these criticisms certainly in no hostile spirit, but because it seems to me to be of the utmost importance that any measure which is now put upon the Statute Book should be framed in such a manner as to secure, so far as is possible, the good will of all classes affected by it.
§ LORD HINDLIP
My Lords, may I be allowed to offer my congratulations to the noble Duke for the lucid way in which, in moving the Second Reading, he explained the provisions of the Bill. I also congratulate him on the skilful way in which he avoided some of the more difficult parts of the Bill. The noble Duke spoke about providing for the peace of mind of the farmer. I am not quite sure about the peace of mind of the farmer. I think when he finds himself between the upper and the nether millstones of the Food Controller and the War Office his peace of mind will be of that kind which passeth all understanding. The noble Duke said that the State had the right to know that the money would be well spent. I am glad about that. But who is to get the money? A great deal has been said about the amount of money which the guarantee will cost the country. That is perfectly 304 true, I am afraid. But it is not the farmer who is going to get it. The host of officials that you are going to create will be the only people to derive any monetary benefit from the Bill. It seems to me, with regard to any monetary benefit the farmer is going to receive, that the guarantee is totally illusory. There is certainly a very valuable promise in the Bill to the effect that the Food Controller cannot put the prices of wheat and oats below the minimum prices which are guaranteed in the Bill. In the ordinary course I do not see how it can be possible for the price of wheat to fall below 49s. before the year 1922. If it did, or if the Food Controller in the future, as I am afraid may be the case, takes these minimum prices in the Bill for his maximum prices, then the state of things at which we shall arrive will be that which obtained in this country after the Napoleonic Wars, after the Crimean War, and after the 'eighties.
Then, I do not like the acreage basis for the guarantee. It discourages the good farmer and it hardly pleases the bad. Growing corn and producing food is totally different from the production of manufactured articles. In the production of food, if you give an extra dose of capital or an extra dose of labour, you are up against the immutable law of diminishing returns. The immutable law of diminishing returns knows no Food Controller. It is the same thing with the speed of a ship. It is the last knot in the speed of a ship which eats up the coal, and it is the last quarter of corn which you grow which costs the money. Although I do not like the acreage basis of payment, I must come to the same conclusion as the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne—namely, although I think it is wrong, I am afraid it is expedient.
I have no objection to a minimum wage, but what I object to in this Bill is that the minimum wage is a kind of Vicar of Bray. If you are going to compel the farmer to cultivate his land up to a certain standard of perfection and are also going to compel him to pay a minimum wage for the rest of time you must continue to guarantee prices, and they must be sufficiently high for the farmer to be able to make a profit. If you take any other industry than farming, say a coal mine, a steel plant, or a cotton mill, which does not pay, and you think there is no reasonable prospect of its paying, you shut it down and nobody can stop you. But under this Bill a farmer cannot close down. He will be 305 compelled to go on farming and to pay wages at the minimum rate; and I do not see how he can possibly pay a minimum wage and continue farming up to a certain high standard of perfection unless you maintain the guaranteed prices. Prices are fixed only for five years; but the minimum wage is apparently for the rest of time. As I have said, I do not object to the minimum wage in the least. It is regarded as the basis of the interest of the agricultural labourer in the land and in the industry. But I do not like your reference. You are going to have a kind of Jacob's ladder from the farmer, through the Local Board to the Central Board in London, and, as far as I can see, up and down this ladder the unfortunate minimum figure will scramble, chased from beginning to end by a host of travelling inspectors. I am not without hope that some better plan will be evolved before the Bill leaves your Lordships' House. I have seen a scheme for improving the minimum wage discussed, and I hope that this part of the Bill will be improved.
Then I come to Part IV. which the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, seemed to think would be somewhat perfunctory. I am certain that the persons who are responsible for this Bill have not the slightest intention of letting this Part be perfunctory, and I think somebody ought to make that quite clear. Personally I welcome the power to enforce cultivation, though I confess that I do not quite understand how the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, who unfortunately is not in the House at the moment, can do the same. This enforcement of cultivation will certainly put an end to the policy of which he was such a strong upholder, which was to allow the farmer to do exactly what he liked, when he liked, and how he liked, and I shall be delighted if that policy is going to come to an end. But here, again, I am not very much in love with the Government's method. I should like to see the owners encouraged very much more to enforced cultivation through the Board of Agriculture. Up to the present time it has been more or loss impossible for an owner to get rid of a bad tenant. All he could do was to sit and wait for the tenant to go to another farm, or to be translated to another sphere. In either case the probability was that when the landlord got the farm back into his own hands it was very much deteriorated. Surely, if you endeavour to make owners 306 of land regard themselves very much more as trustees of a source of national food production, and you encourage them to work with the Board of Agriculture in this matter, you will do away with the necessity for a great many of these inspectors.
Now, with regard to the host of officials whom you are going to create. It seems to me that they will be as numerous in this country as Iron Crosses are in Germany, and cost a great deal more. I do not know whether the Government have made any estimate of the cost of this Bill. I should like to ask that question. I should also like to know where the inspectors are all coming from. I am sure there are not the people available; in the country to-day with a sufficient knowledge of agriculture to be appointed to these positions. What I am afraid of is that you will take a large number of officials who were appointed to the Land Valuation Department and transfer them as inspectors to the Board of Agriculture.
Then I come to Clause 9 (1). I associate myself with the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, in what he said about this part of the Bill. In this clause—line 1, page 8—I would like to see the Government agree to put in, after "country," the words "according to approved methods of husbandry." As it is, the clause leaves the farmer at the mercy of any crank or theorist, as Lord Crewe has pointed out. I can imagine myself very great danger here. Supposing some future President of the Board of Agriculture wishes to remodel the English system on, say, the German system, which has been mentioned before to-night, with that country's very hot sun and drier climate. And not only that, and this is a point which was not referred to in Mr. Middleton's pamphlet, and which is ignored generally by our agricultural experts who are so keen to carry out the Continental system in its entirety—for the Danish and German methods, as far as I can make out, you must have cheap labour, child labour, and plenty of it, and a very high tariff. You will never see any of those things in this country again. And there is in those; countries very little of what Mr. Prothero, in more than one of his books, has described as that "very heavy soil, "which breaks the heart of the English farmer.
In this Bill there are references to osier beds, woodlands, etc., I should like to 307 know what those references are for. To take an extreme case. Are you prepared, say, to turn Belvoir Woods into a potato patch and charge the whole of the cost to the owner without giving him the right of appealing to anybody? That is, of course, an extreme case and would not happen. But there will probably be cases somewhat like that, and I think that this drastic power which is given to the. Board of Agriculture in this Bill needs some check. There are great dangers of abuse in the future, and although nobody is more anxious than myself to see proper cultivation enforced, I think there should be some appeal. I understand that this Bill is not the whole of the policy of His Majesty's Government. I believe they have a larger, more comprehensive, and more permanent policy in their minds, and in the interests of the primary industry of the country I beg of them to bring out the whole of their permanent policy as quickly as possible. I also hope that they will not set their faces against any reasonable Amendments being put into this Bill to protect good agriculturists against rash acts which may be performed in the future by an ill-advised and arbitrary Board of Agriculture.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
On behalf of my noble friend Lord Chaplin, I move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Debate adjourned accordingly till to-morrow.