HL Deb 23 July 1918 vol 30 cc1002-7

My Lords, before the public business of the House begins, I ask the indulgence of your Lordships for a few moments in order to make a personal statement. I shall not detain you at any length, and I hope the House will excuse my interpolation. On the Second Reading of the Corn Production (Amendment) Bill on July 9 last, Lord Parmoor called attention to the stormy experience that he had had with the Bucks Agricultural Committee, and he criticised them somewhat severely for ordering I think it was 100 acres of land to be ploughed up. He then left the House, and I thought it my duty to stand up for the committee of which I was a member. I answered that there was not only that stormy experience, but that we had had another little experience with my noble friend with regard to the cultivation of some parts of his farm of over 1,000 acres, which I said was not very satisfactory.

On July 11 my noble friend, speaking on the Committee stage of the Corn Production (Amendment) Bill, used these words— I regret that the noble Marquess— referring to me— who made some remarks about toy farming is not prosent. As he is not here I only want to say this. There is not a shadow of foundation Of truth, as far as I can understand, in what was no doubt his unintentional statement. A statement may be right or it may be wrong, but I do not know what an unintentional statement is. Then he went on to say— I do not wish to say more than that in the noble Marquess's absence. If I had been sitting next to my noble friend I do not know how much more he could have said.

I hope the House will not think that I am in any way touchy or quarrelsome, or that I object to criticism, but I really think that my noble friend went a little far when he used the words that I have just quoted. To put the matter as briefly as I possibly can, I had better say this. My noble friend fell foul of the agricultural committee of which I was a member, and he carried his complaints to Cresar. He wrote to Mr. Prothero to complain of our action. Mr. Prothero replied to his letter, and said— I have sent a copy of this letter to the Chairman of the Bucks Committee— that is the committee on which I serve— and have no objection to your publishing it. I hope, therefore, that I am doing nothing wrong in reading the letter to your Lordships' House.


I do not wish to interrupt the noble Marquess on a question of this kind, except to say that I think the letter to which he is referring has nothing to do with this matter at all.


I do not think there can be any objection—and I have taken advice upon it—to my reading to the House the letter addressed to Lord Parmoor, a copy of which was sent to the chairman of my committee, and to the publication of which the writer. Mr. Prothero, has no objection. It is as follows— I received your letter of the 2nd instant, making a strong protest against the action of the Buckinghamshire Agricultural Committee in ordering you to plough up 53 acres of grass on your estate. It is not my practice to interfere with the county executive committees in their exercise of the difficult and responsible duties which have been entrusted to them, and I have no intention of acting as a court of appeal from their decisions. It is obvious that the practical and experienced men who compose those committees are in a far better position to decide what land should be ploughed than any one in London with no knowledge of the local conditions. As, however, you contemplate publishing our correspondence. I have inquired personally into your case. I find that just a year ago your estate was inspected and the surveyor reported that none of it was cultivated satisfactorily; that in June last the executive officer of the Buckinghamshire Committee reported that six fields were particularly foul; that when your attention was called to them you agreed in the main with his criticism; but that another inspection in September showed that, though there had been some improvement, there was still cause for complaint. Last month the chairman of the Hambleden District Committee wrote to you in connection with the demand of the Government for more arable land for corn growing, and stated that his committee were of opinion that two fields comprising 53 acres in all should be ploughed, but he stated that his committee would gladly consider any alternative area that you might prefer to suggest. You replied contending that the productive capacity of your farm would be impaired, and declining to plough any mere grass. The two Fields which were scheduled were inspected last week by the executive officer of the Bucks Committee, and he reports that, one consists of 30 acres of poor grass which has been down about twenty years, and the other of 23 acres laid down in 1894 of which the herbage is of poor character and part of which is covered with young briars. He saw no reason why both of these fields should not produce good crops of spring corn. In your letter to the chairman you wore good enough to say that great weight is due to my opinion. I hope, therefore, that when I say, as I do now, that in my opinion it is your clear duty in the national interest to carry out the order of the Bucks Committee, you will proceed to do so at once. If you require an extension of time beyond March 15, the Bucks Committee will be ready to agree, but it is necessary in the orders to prescribe an early date for completion, so that in case of non-compliance the necessary action can be taken before it is too late. Having satisfied myself that the land scheduled had been carefully selected and that you had been treated with all possible consideration, I have no hesitation in endorsing the action of the Bucks Committee, and I shall support them to the full if, which I cannot believe, it should be necessary to enforce their order. I have sent a copy of this letter to the Chairman of the Bucks Committee, and I have no objection to your publishing it. I will now read, if I may, two or three paragraphs from the report of the executive officer, dated June 16, 1917— Gentlemen, Moor Farm. Gt. Marlow 1607. Map 140 & 147. Grass 130. Arable 165. Owner and Tenant, Lord Parmoor. Accompanied by an officer of the Board of Agriculture and a member of the Bucks Agricultural Committee, upon instructions I inspected this farm on the 15th inst., and beg to report as follows:— I wish especially to draw my committee's attention to six fields— mentioned in Mr. Prothero's letter, and containing altogether 76 acres; that is, half the arable land of Moor Farm, which was inspected and complained of— No. 36. 14.797 acres is an oat stubble after wheat, not even ploughed or cultivated, and is full of docks and rubbish. No. 31. 10.933 acres. Peas after winter oats, there is absolutely nothing of a crop. This field is full of charlock and thistles, and should receive immediate attention. No. 56. 9.265 acres. Barley after wheat—very thin crop and full of couch. No. 82. 14.391 acres. Fallow after oats. This field is as full of couch as it is possible to be, also docks; this field is in a most deplorable condition; ploughing has just been started. No. 60. 13.005 acres. Oats after swedes. This is a very leer crop, full of thistles and a good deal of couch. No. 79. 9.169 acres. Half of this planted oats and vetches; the latter failed; there is nothing on it except rubbish. In view of this, my Lords, I think that I was justified in the words that I used. With great humility I submit, that the words used by my noble friend were not what we are usually accustomed to in this House, and with every confidence I ask my noble friend to be good enough to withdraw them.


My Lords, I regret as much as the noble Marquess that a matter of this kind should be brought before your Lordships' House. It originated in a reference which was made to me in the Corn Production Bill debate. Let me supply my side of the case. Just before the report to which the noble Marquess referred was made, I had this farm inspected by a person who I believe to be the greatest expert in the South of England in matters of this kind. This is his report— I am very much impressed with the way in which your bailiff has managed the farm. The stock all looked well, and his farming left nothing to be desired. The husbandry is good and the crops are excellent. The report to which my noble friend referred was sent to me, and I passed it, on to this expert, and this is what he says about it— I am bound to say that in my opinion the report of the executive officer is most unfair and misleading. As I have before stated, the farm is carrying crops that any farmer might well be proud of, and I have no hesitation in saying that better crops of wheat and oats could not be seen. At the same time, after making an expenditure in 1916 of about £1,000— I have spent, about £1,000 a year on this farm for many years to promote production. He goes on— on cakes and artificial manures, and a large outlay for the present year, it is only to be expected that the crop should be in a satisfactory condition. In conclusion, it is my opinion that the farm has been cropped in the best manner to provide the greatest possible amount of corn to meet the needs of the nation, and as a whole it reflects a very considerable credit on the bailiff. There was a difference between this gentleman and the executive officer. I made the suggestion—I think a similar suggestion was made by the noble Lord who represents the Agricultural Department in this House, the other day—that the threshing machine should decide. When the threshing machine came I wrote to the executive committee on behalf of my bailiff to point out that the wheat crops had turned out a record. There were six quarters to the acre upon this farm which has been attacked—almost an impossible record upon our poor hill cold farming land.

I may say that my farm is open to everyone to inspect; and before he knew anything about these discussions a neighbouring farmer whom I did not know, but who is a great farmer in oar district, wrote— It is a great pleasure to mo to go over your well-managed and well-cultivated farm. This farm is producing much more beef, clover, roots, corn, and mutton than any other farm that I know in the Chiltern Bills district. There is a question for discussion. I withdraw nothing of what I have said—nothing whatever. It would not be fair to my bailiff if I did.

There is only one matter of the slightest general interest in this connection, and it is this. I did not know that my noble friend was a member of the committee, and I should have thought that the information he got as a member was a privileged com- munication. Of course, if the committee wish to take steps it is for them to do so, but I have never heard a word more since about a year ago. The produce of the farm was a record in every direction. If the committee wish to take steps they can do so, but I hope that in this House we shall not have illustrations of members of committees dealing with what are really privileged communications, and making statements which, so far as the noble Marquess is concerned, were as I said unintentional—


It is not privileged.


I think it is. If all the information which is sent to the executive committees is to be used against individual farmers—in my case it does not matter—it will be a very serious thing for those individual farmers, and to them it will matter a good deal. It is a monstrous thing, and one which should not be allowed. There is one other matter. The noble Marquess referred to me, I think, as Chairman of Quarter Sessions, with the imputation or insinuation that as Chairman of Quarter Sessions I wanted some exceptional treatment. I beg to say that there is not a word of truth in an insinuation of that kind, which I humbly suggest ought not to be made to your Lordships. I have nothing more to say.