HL Deb 16 July 1918 vol 30 cc875-85

Amendments reported (according to Order).

Clause 1:

Amendment of 7 & 8 Geo. 5, c. 46, s. 11 (3).

1. For subsection (3) of section eleven of the Corn Production Act, 1917, the following subsection shall be substituted:— (3) This Part of this Act shall not, except as hereinafter provided, come into operation until the termination of the present war, and the powers under the Defence of the Realm Regulations exerciseable by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries with a view to maintaining the food supply of the country with respect to matters dealt with in this Part of this Act shall continue to operate until that date: Provided that—

  1. "(a) before any person is deprived of the occupation of his land in connection with the food supply of the country, he shall be served with a notice of the intention of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries to take such possession; and i any person is served with such notice as aforesaid, or with a notice requiring that any land in his occupation shall be cultivated according to the rules of good husbandry, or requiring any change in the mode of cultivating or in the use of land in his occupation, or otherwise dealing with the said land for the purposes of food production, the proviso to subsection (1) of section nine of this Act shall apply as if the notice had been served under the powers conferred by that section;
  2. "(b) Where any notice is served order made, or possession of land taken under the said Regulations, the provisions of this Part of this Act relating to the determination and recovery of compensation shall apply as if the notice had been served, the order made, or possession taken under the powers conferred by section nine of this Act."

LORD CLINTON moved to add a new proviso at the end of proviso (a). The noble Lord said: This is nothing more than a drafting Amendment, and your Lordships will note that it is Clause 2 of the Bill placed in a position a little higher up.

Amendment moved—

Clause 1, page 2, line 4, at end insert: (b) Where any such notice is served on a tenant a copy of the notice shall at the same time be served on the landlord and the landlord shall have the same right as the tenant of requiring any question to be referred to arbitration; and."—(Lord Clinton.)


The noble Lord has told us that this is a drafting Amendment, but it is at the same time an excessively important one, and on it I should like to be permitted to ask a question of which I have given him private notice—namely, Can he assure the House that in his opinion and in the opinion of his advisers all risk and danger of the scarcity of cereals is happily at an end, and, if not, whether the scarcity of food can be met by the old peace time methods? If the noble Lord is able to give an affirmative answer to that question, as I hope he will be, it will not be necessary for me to say another word.


I do not think that anybody, least of all the noble Marquess, can expect an affirmative answer to be given to the question whether all possibility of a scarcity is over. The scarcity of food remains, and, of course, must remain, as long as the war lasts. As long as the war is in existence there must be anxiety among all those who are in any way responsible for food production in this country. It is only, of course, by the very greatest efforts on the part of all concerned—individuals, the agricultural community, the food production authorities, and the Royal Navy—that something worse than scarcity has been averted; and it is impossible at the present time that we can afford in any degree to relax the efforts which we have made and which we are making now. It will remain our duty by every means in our power to increase production to the highest possible limit the land can attain.

Before the war we produced only one-fifth of the wheat we consumed, and, even with the whole of our present increased production and with all our reduced consumption, we are still no doubt very far indeed from being self-supporting. It is rather difficult to imagine this country in the position of ever being entirely self-supporting. As we are not self-supporting we naturally have to rely upon importation from overseas, an importation which is still surrounded by dangers of a certain kind which I need not specify to your Lordships. But presuming that these risks and dangers were entirely eliminated to-day, we should still be in the position that we should have to avoid as far as possible any further importation as the tonnage is urgently required for other matters, and it is compulsory upon us to increase production in every way possible.

The answer, I am afraid, to the first part of the question must be that the scarcity of food still remains. Then the noble Marquess asks whether the scarcity can be met by ordinary peace time measures. Clearly it cannot be met by any such measures. They are admirable, no doubt, for peace time. Our methods of cultivation and method of tenure have grown up with us and are probably in every way suited to their purpose in peace time, but they are too slow for a time of war and they cannot then be relied upon. Efforts are being made to speed them up, and they have met no doubt with a very great deal of success, a success which it is certain our ordinary methods could not by any possibility have produced. If we desire to continue our present production, as we must do, it is obvious that we have to continue methods which hitherto we have looked upon as extraordinary ones.


I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for his answer. It is not what I hoped, however, and I am bound to say that most people would consider it disquieting in the extreme. In the face of such an answer, how can the House venture to weaken the provisions of the Corn Production Act which was passed to increase the area of corn in this country and thereby to avoid the risk of great scarcity if not famine?

We have this Bill before us now, and we have the new Amendment of the Government before us also. I am afraid I must say that, in the opinion of a good many people, this Bill as amended is absolutely useless in the present food crisis; and the Government Amendment that has just, been moved makes it worse still. Your Lord- ships will remember that an Amendment was moved by Lord Desborough and backed up by Lord Parmoor. The noble and learned Lord is not in his place, and I thought Lord Desborough was not, but I see that he is; it is rather more difficult to say what I was going to say in his presence than it would have been to say it in his absence. However, those two noble Lords are recognised—I think rightly recognised—in this House as the twin acknowledged leaders of what I hope I may be forgiven for calling the Patriarchial Agricultural Party, just as Lord Selborne is the recognised leader of the more progressive Unionist or Conservative Party. Lord Desborough and Lard Parmoor are a formidable combination. They are men who are highly respected in the counties in which they live. They live at home; they themselves farm; they are large landed proprietors, and when they speak they do so from practical knowledge, and not, as some other people do, from theory or hearsay; and not only in this House but also in the counties where they live they are rightly listened to with respect and attention.

But I would respectfully ask my noble friend whether he is quite certain that, when he is advocating all these what he calls "safeguards," he knows the danger, and, I hope he will forgive me if I add, the possible mischief, of what he is doing? In war drastic measures are, of course, absolutely necessary; everybody submits to them; but if those drastic measures are to be carried out everyone should be treated alike. I will take one instance. We are at war; the guns are thundering on a fifty-mile front at the present moment; the fate of the Empire is trembling in the balance; every man in England has to go out and fight, and rightly so; you take a shop keeper, for instance, you ruin his business, you put him in the ranks and send him out to France, where possibly he may lose his life, and he leaves a wife and children to be looked after, as of course they will be properly looked after, by the country.

But when it comes to dealing with a man who is fighting exactly as big a fight—the man who is fighting the battle of the harvest at, home—how do you treat him? It is a very different state of things altogether. There is a shortage and a dangerous shortage. Some time ago we thought there was going to be a famine, and the Government quite rightly said, "You must increase the food production of the country." They sent to the different counties and said "You must produce so many acres more land under cereals." They appointed agricultural war committees with great powers. Many of us have served on those committees. The committees then went into the counties and said to the different people—take my own county; they took the greatest possible care, they got all the local knowledge, and they aaid to the farmers "We have to get 30,000 or 40,000 acres of grass land broken up. Plough up those ten acres of grass fields. You must do your share of the work and take the risks, and you must find the labour. You are fighting the battle of the harvest, so plough up those ten acres." Or else they say, "We have pledged ourselves, and it is the law of the land, that everybody who wants an allotment shall have it, so give up those fifty acres of land for allotments for people who want allotments."

What happens? The Bill as it was introduced by the noble Lord was a capital Bill, but as it now stands it allows the farmer or the owner to say, "You order me to plough up that field. I have got my safeguards. I demand and I can get not only notice given to myself as occupier or farmer, but I am going to have notice given to my landlord." The landlord may be fighting in Palestine and never get the notice at all. Also he can insist under this Bill upon arbitration. I am not going into that question now, but everybody knows what arbitration is, especially under this Bill. It means expert witnesses, and everybody knows what they are. It means lawyers, and we all know what lawyers are. It also means delay and dangerous delay, and I want to ask the House one question. What will the men who are waiting and determined to get these allotments—and there are thousands of them waiting at this moment, independently of the men out at the Front who when they return mean to get allotments out of the country which they intend to share—what will these men when they come back to their country say if they cannot get these allotments and if there are all these safeguards, difficulties, and arbitrations in the way and, worse still, if it becomes necessary to put the centres of population on bread rations, which God Almighty forbid!—what will they think of this procrastination and of all these agricultural safeguards?

I never speak for other people, but I believe I am perfectly justified in saying this, that every member of a war com- mittee—and some of these men have done splendid work—every one of them will tell you that the effect of this Amendment of my noble friend will be inevitable and fatal delay and will certainly prevent the crop being got in. It will probably mean the loss of a year, and the whole of Mr. Prothero's great scheme, which we have been told is a preventative against famine, will be paralysed. Besides that, if this new legislation is brought into operation you will lose for an absolute certainty all the best men on your agricultural war committees. Two or three determined men with a few good seamen in a submarine are quite enough to wreck a Dreadnought, and the action of Lord Desborough and of Lord Parmoor I regret to say may, and I almost say will, wreck Mr. Prothero's efforts to try and feed the country and put the food supply on a proper basis. I have seen it said in the papers—I hope it is not true—that on Thursday he is going to meet the landlords' demands and that he is going to climb down. I hope this is not true. I hope that when this Bill goes down to the House of Commons it will be restored to its original shape and sent back to this House as it was moved by the noble Lord opposite. If not, I fear that these agricultural safeguards will rouse a feeling all over the country that agriculturists are a favoured class. That will be a feeling which every man in this House would deplore, and which it may be very difficult to explain and perhaps impossible entirely to remove.


My Lords, I had no intention of trespassing upon your time, but as the noble Marquess has made a well considered and most polite attack upon myself I can hardly refrain from some attempt at explanation of the conduct which he thinks so very outrageous. What happened really is this, that neither I nor Lord Parmoor have attempted to introduce into this House any fresh legislation of any sort or kind. The legislation which was proposed was this—namely, that after we had agreed to four Parts of the Corn Production Act, when it came for the Government to carry out Part IV of the Act, they would not carry out their part of the bargain. I never suggested any legislation of any kind, but after full consideration of the Corn Production Act of last year the operation of Part IV was at the request of the Government, and to suit their convenience, postponed for one year. When the year was nearly over the Government came forward and brought in a very small Act to do away with their part of the bargain. Therefore I think it is rather unfair of the noble Marquess to say that I am, or Lord Parmoor is, introducing fresh legislation to bring upon the country all the terrible catastrophes which he prophesies. We all know that the Empire is trembling in the balance, and I understand from the noble Marquess that shopkeepers are threatened with ruin, but that is no reason why you should ruin by legislation a tenant farmer who cannot go to the Front, who perhaps may be over age, but who is doing his best to increase the food production of the country.

The noble Marquess who has just sat down objected to both Amendments. He objected to the Amendment of the Government which gave an appeal when land was to be ploughed up—an appeal which was in Part IV of the Corn Production Act. Since then Mr. Prothero has said that owing to the depletion of man-power in the agricultural world and the shortage of fertilisers they are going to issue instructions that no more land should be ploughed up and, with regard to the Orders which have been issued, I understand there should be some sort of right of appeal. Therefore that Amendment is practically going to be carried into force.

I do not wish to repeat the arguments I have used, but with regard to the other Amendment which was carried in your Lordships' House it merely reintroduced another portion of Part IV which was agreed to last year. There is no fresh legislation about it, and I think it is very necessary. You may do a great deal of harm to food production if, by ill-considered, compulsory taking of land, you ruin farmers. It may very likely happen, and it has happened. In all these demands for allotments or small holdings the whole case ought to be very carefully gone into and considered.

My Amendment does not in the least prevent land being taken, but it merely says that both the owner and the occupier of the land should have the right to be heard before an independent referee. There is nothing very drastic in that. If you take a farm and a man wants a small holding, what part of the farm attracts him? Naturally, he wants the very "eye" of the farm. He wants the best and not the worst of the farm. This has happened a number of times. If he gets people compulsorily to give him this bit of the farm, which may he well watered, surely the person who is farming land on a big scale—three or four or five hundred acres, and has buildings upon it and is paying the rates—miht be heard. If the case for taking the particular piece of land is a good one, the land will be obtained just the same. It is the same with allotments. Everybody wants to see allotments increased. They have increased and they will further increase. But surely if allotments are wanted, and the taking of land hinders the rest of the work on a farm, the appeal lies on that. The man does not appeal on whether the man should have an allotment or hot, but whether that particular piece of land is the best suited to be taken out of the farm, or whether some other piece should not be substituted, or whether it was really in the interests of agriculture to take the land at all.

The Government want to go on under the Defence of the Realm Act till the end of the war. Under that then is no appeal. That was the object of the repeal of Part IV of the Corn Production Act. The noble Marquess below me drew moving pictures of people who boldly ploughed, or refused to plough, ten acres of land. I can only says that people in South Bucks are not encouraged to plough up their land when they see the Government taking 600 acres of proved corn land. All the arguments which I have seen with regard to that are, I believe, absolutely wrong. You cannot expect people to plough up land after this. What is the good of ploughing up ten acres if the Government take 600 acres of good corn land? Grass land is problematical, but here you have 600 acres of land which has produced the best corn in the county of Bucks for years and years and years. One reason for taking this land, I understand, is that they were going to continue the canal, but the canal is given up. Therefore, that reason is gone. Another reason is that they wanted gravel. I read that the Under-Secretary of State for War said that they wanted gravel to hold up heavy lorries. The land is not gravel; it is deep loam. It will not hold heavy lorries. To destroy this land because it is gravel—when it is not gravel—and because it will hold up lorries—when it will not hold up lorries—is rather discouraging to the farmers in the neighboorhood.

There is a little bit of gravel, and that is under our only isolation hospital which serves nineteen parishes. A lot of money has just been spent upon it. I think the hospital is going to be moved, and they are going to take out the gravel to make ferroconcrete. It is known that that gravel is absolutely unsuitable for this purpose. If you want gravel you must go miles. I do not think there is any nearer than Staines. All this applies to the question of the right of appeal. When farmers see the Government doing these things, and when the Government appeal to their patriotism to plough up ten acres of good, useful pasture land while hospitals and people are asking to be supplied with milk, it does strengthen my hand when I say that Part IV of the Corn Production Act should be restored and a right of appeal given, not to a lot of lawyers but to a competent surveyor appointed, in default of agreement, by the President of the Surveyors Institution.


My Lords, if I may intervene for a moment it is to say a word in reply to the noble Marquess who rose at the same time as myself. He complained of the statement of the noble Lord who moved the Amendment, and said that his reply would cause the utmost anxiety amongst most people in the country. He went on to add that the Amendment which the noble Lord had moved would make things still worse. I rise to ask this question of my noble friend opposite who is in charge of the Bill—What is the difference between his Amendment and Clause 2, which is now in the Bill? They seem to me to be almost precisely the same. I was going to ask him—perhaps he will kindly tell us after I sit clown—what the difference is between the Amendment which is going to create anxiety in the minds of most people in the country and the Bill as it now stands.

I do not know why the noble Marquess should claim to speak on behalf of "most people in the country." It is a very wide term. I should doubt if, when he said that, he spoke on behalf even of most people in this house or of most people connected with agriculture outside this House, but that is neither here nor there. He went on to speak of the old patriarchal methods of conducting agriculture, of which he disapproved altogether. I can only say that it was under the old patriarchal methods that agriculture in this country reached the very summit of its prosperity, and to a degree which was never known in any other country in the world. What happened to it under the Progressive Party, of which the noble Marquess is such a keen and distinguished representative? We got into the terrible mess in which we found ourselves during this war; a mess, difficulty and trouble, due to the neglect of agriculture, and agricultural interests, by Parliament; and no one made this statement in more emphatic terms than the Present Prime Minister in the other House of Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton, spoke of the necessity of increasing the production in this country by every possible means. There is no one in this House who agrees with him more firmly than I do. He knows that I am as anxious for this as he is, but he has also experience enough in politics to know that it is permitted to politicians holding the same views sometimes to have a difference of opinion as to the methods by which their views can best be obtained. That is the only difference between the noble Lord opposite and myself.

If I have been mistaken in opposing certain parts of that policy, and I am ever shown to have been mistaken, no one will regret it more than I shall. But I do not think I shall be shown to be mistaken, and the best proof of it is that even on the part of those who are responsible for this policy, the President of the Board of Agriculture—to whom the noble Marquess referred just now—told me himself that what he was going to say in the House of Commons next Thursday will not disabuse the mind of the noble Marquess as to the injury which this Bill has inflicted, and is going to inflict, in connection with the war. I think he will be surprised with some of the instructions which have already been issued by that Department, and other instructions which are likely to follow in the future. I am sorry to have intruded again so soon on your Lordships' attention this afternoon, but I thought some of the observations of the noble Marquess could not pass altogether unnoticed.

I sincerely hope that the advice given by the noble Marquess will not be listened to for a single moment in another place. This is not a moment to create friction that can be reasonably avoided, between the two Houses of Parliament; and I am surprised that a man of his long experience in politics should have thought this a suitable occasion to try to promote friction between the two Houses. Those of us who have taken the line we have do so honestly believing it to be the best method of promoting the increased production which we all most urgently desire. I have worked in this cause for years; and fifteen years ago, although I could never get the least attention to my words, I did all I could to warn the country of what was coming and to prepare in time, before the moment came, the steps to be taken in connection with our food supply in time of war. Having given much thought and attention to this subject for a great number of years I am not prepared to take any instruction from the noble Marquess who spoke just now.


I rise only for the purpose of pointing out that this interesting debate has hung on the question of moving a small number of words from one part of the Bill to another.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2:


2. Where any notice is served on a tenant a notice shall at the same time be served on the land, who shall have the same rights under this Act as though the land were in his occupation.

LORD CLINTON moved to leave out Clause 2.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 2.—(Lord Clinton.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3:

Short title.

3. This Act shall be cited as the Corn Production (Amendment) Act, 1918.

LORD CLINTON moved to add at the end of Clause 3 the words, "and shall be construed as one with the Corn Production Act, 1917, and shall come into operation on the twenty-first day of August, 1918." The noble Lord said: The twenty-first of August is the day on which the Defence of the Realm Regulation powers, under the Corn Production Act, expire.

Amendment moved— Clause 3, page 2, line 18, after "("1918") insert ("and shall be construed as one with the Corn Production Act, 1917, and shall come into operation on the twenty-first day of August, nineteen hundred and eighteen").—(Lord Clinton.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.