HL Deb 21 March 1918 vol 29 cc581-608

VISCOUNT CHAPLIN had given notice of his intention to ask His Majesty's Government the following Questions with regard to grass lands already broken up or under orders for ploughing by the instructions of the Government—

  1. 1. Whether the requisite labour for its care and proper cultivation has been arranged for and will be forthcoming when needed; and
  2. 2. Where any land under orders for ploughing is not already broken up, whether in view of the late period of the season and the shortage of fodder and feeding stuffs the Government will consider the possibility of suspending the order for ploughings, by which the hay crop would be lost, until after that crop has been taken, and especially in districts where dairy farming prevails; and to move for Papers.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to preface what I have to say by some explanation of why parts of the Questions which I had originally placed upon the Paper are no longer included. By the courtesy of the Director-General of Food Production, I had the opportunity of interviewing him the other day, and. I learned from him, as regards my inquiries for certain Returns about the number of acres ploughed up in 1917 and 1918, and as to the provision of labour, that no Returns were possible. They had not received them with regard to the ploughings up to the present time, and therefore it was useless for me to ask for them. I had two Questions relating to certain Returns as to the way in which the ploughing had been done in 1917 and 1918—whether by tractors or by steam ploughing or by horses—which personally I thought was not unimportant. Still more important, of course, is the question of adequate labour. For the season I have stated I have been obliged to abandon these inquiries, for the present at all events.

The questions which I have raised are only the natural corollary to a Motion which I made in June of last year, and which was accepted by the Government, and by Lord Milner in particular on behalf of the Cabinet. If you refer to the terms of that Motion you will find that my Questions are strictly limited to inquiries I made at that time, when it was practically promised that effect should be given to certain suggestions. I have, therefore, thought it right to take the course which I have taken this afternoon. Moreover, I have been greatly pressed from all parts of the country not to allow the adjournment for the Easter holidays to take place without drawing the attention of the Government to these matters. Just before I left my house this afternoon I received a long communication with which I will acquaint the House. From many other letters that I have had I am afraid this discloses what is rapidly becoming a typical case and illustrates what is now going on in various parts of the country with regard to the ploughing up of land. It is a case where an owner of land has been ordered to do a certain amount of work of that kind himself, to break up the land, and he has no means of doing it. He has neither implements, nor labour, nor horses, nor the money to find them if he could get them. There has been a long correspondence from which I will read only one or two of the concluding letters to show exactly what has occurred, and I think you will agree with me that it is an extremely hard case. This is a letter signed C. Williams, honorary secretary to the Agricultural Committee, Newcastle-on-Tyne, who says— With reference to the Order requiring you to cultivate the land specified therein, for the crop of 1918, the Executive Committee, in pursuance of the Cultivation of Lands Order, 1918, made by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, under Regulation 2M of the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Regulations, 1914, hereby require you to commence ploughing the said land within ten days of the date of this notice, and thereupon to proceed without delay to complete the work and properly prepare the land for seed. I am to point out that neglect of, or failure to comply (for any reason other than that of unfavourable weather) with, this notice will render you liable to prosecution for an offence under the Regulations. What is the reply to that letter? It is written by a solicitor of high standing in that district, who, I understand, is the agent for the gentleman concerned. He had written to me before on this subject, but I only got this further communication this morning. I know nothing beyond what is contained in these letters, but still I think they are deserving of inquiry on the part of the Government unless there is any reason to suppose, and I know of none, that it is misinformation. He says— I enclose herewith correspondence which I have had with the Local Committee at Newcastle. I have placed the situation very clearly before them—namely, that while the owner of the estate is ready and willing loyally to obey any legal orders respecting the ploughing up of the land, yet he has no available cash and therefore he has to apply to the Local Committee at Newcastle for an advance of £10 per acre, namely, £720, to enable him to do what he is ordered to do. You will see by the last letter received from Newcastle that the authorities state that they have no power to make this advance, and apparently the only advance they will make is to enable the owner to purchase grain, or potatoes, according to the crop intended to be grown. You will see that the authorities at Newcastle do not attempt to deal with my point, but simply state that they have no power in the matter. The situation thus is a most illogical one, because if the owner of the estate is not possessed of the means to enable him to farm the land how can he be expected to pay a fine, which I presume is what the authorities will ask for as we have been served with a ten days' notice to plough up? Will you kindly, therefore, bring this matter before Lord Rhondda and the authorities as soon as possible, as I am determined not to let the matter rest.


It has nothing to do with me.


I am delighted to hear the noble Lord say that, because I have always disputed that he has any right whatever to deal with any matters affecting the production of food. The letter goes on— And if a satisfactory solution is not arrived at, I have friends who will bring the matter before the House of Lords and the House of Commons. I have only quoted this letter. Possibly you may say I am to blame for not having taken the pains to ascertain for myself whether there is any reason to doubt the accuracy of the information, but I have obviously not had time to do so. I only received it just before I left my house. It is typical of a great number of communications which I have received from all parts of the country, and I cannot believe that I should get these unless there was something in them, or in some of them, to warrant my taking the course I have taken this afternoon.

In saying this I do not wish that my attitude with regard to the question of the ploughing up of grass lands and the necessity for an enormous increase in the cultivation of this country should be misunderstood in the slightest degree. The first occasion on which I believe I addressed your Lordships was on a Motion which I had placed on the Paper before Christmas in 1916, and the moment I could obtain a day I raised the whole question of the condition of our food supply, and what, in my humble judgment, it was absolutely necessary we in this country should do. I have never wavered in the slightest degree in the opinions I expressed at that time. What I said then was that, in the light of our recent information, and in the presence of modern methods of warfare, especially at sea, there was only one possible safeguard for the continued existence of this country as a great nation among the other countries in the world, and that was that we made ourselves self-supporting as regards our essential supplies of food. I also expressed the conviction, which I still maintain, that if that policy is carried out by the right methods it is a policy which it is perfectly possible for us to pursue. Why do I say that? I say it because in the years 1841 to 1845, in that quinquennial period before the repeal of the Corn Laws, we fed 24,000,000 of our own people with wheat, or about 90 per cent. of the whole population of the country. And what we have done before, if we choose, we can do again, especially when you consider that you can call in the aid of oats and barley grown in this country in addition to wheat, and that an immense use in the making of bread can be made, and successfully made, of potatoes as well. It gives me every right to believe that what I say is perfectly true—namely, that as regards the most essential of our requirements we can be made self-supporting in this country if we choose to take the proper methods of becoming so.

But for that purpose, or for the production of other kinds of food in this country, there are two things which are vitally essential. As regards corn, one is adequate labour; as regards meat, it is the whole-hearted and loyal support of all the farmers and producers of meat in this country. Have we got the first? Have we got adequate labour? That is a question which I cannot answer. I know not what are the views of the officials in the different Government Departments who ought to know, and who ought to be able to tell us. We have heard nothing since the debate, I think it was in June, when Lord Milner told us all that he had done in that matter, and I think he had done a great deal. Though I have talked with him about it once or twice since then, I have never thought it necessary to press him upon the subject until the present time, when I receive all these complaints about the harsh methods which are being adopted with regard to numbers of people who do not immediately comply with the requirements to plough up very valuable land, especially at this late period of the season, when there does appear to me to be not sufficient and substantial justification for it.

What about the position of the farmers? They were perfectly satisfied after the speech of the Prime Minister on February 23 of last year. There was laid downa programme which consisted on the one side of a guarantee of certain prices for corn, and on the other side of a guarantee of fixed prices for wages. The wages were to be 25s. a week, and they were supposed to balance the price of corn. What is the latest intelligence that I hear upon that point? I believe this to be absolutely true, and the Government must know it. The Wages Boards were afterwards set up, although a distinct statement was made by the Prime Minister that they should not be set up until after the war. The Wages Board which is in operation in Norfolk, one of the great corn-growing districts, has now decided—and they have the power to do it under the Corn Bill—that wages are to be 30s. instead of 25s. a week. What does that mean? Wages are always, upon an arable farm, by far the largest outgoing that a farmer has to meet, and farmers who know their own business, men upon whom I can rely—I had a conversation with one of them yesterday, a Lincolnshire man whom I have known for at least forty years, and who holds one of the biggest farms in that corn-growing country—tell me that it will be absolutely fatal to production unless a very large addition indeed is made to the guaranteed prices of corn in order to balance the increased cost in wages.

What is the case in regard to meat? Have the farmers confidence at the present moment which will induce them to do everything they can to increase the production of meat? I do not want to raise old controversies between myself and the Controller of Food which I hope, for the present at all events, are disposed of. But I am bound to say—it would be wrong of me to conceal it—that by the scale of prices which he adopted a scarcity of meat was brought about. He says that the scale had been adopted before he came to the Ministry. Still he was responsible for it, and he must remember also that in this House gentlemen sitting on both sides so far as I remember, warned him again and again that if he adhered to that proposal there would be a famine in meat before the New Year. The great shortage which had been predicted actually came about before last Christmas.

The noble Lord the Minister of Food was kind enough to send me the other day a Memorandum in which I was told that all differences between the farmers and himself up to the present had been settled. I have unfortunately been told, again by men of high standing upon whom I can thoroughly rely, that this is a great mistake, and that they are not satisfied yet. I am afraid that this is not absolutely germane to the Question which I have put on the Paper, and unless the noble Lord particularly desires it I do not expect—I do not deserve—to have any reply from the noble Lord. But as we are about to part for the Recess I thought that I should be failing in my duty if I turned a deaf ear to the innumerable requests, which have been made to me with regard to the ploughing up of some grass lands. I hope that those who are responsible in His Majesty's Government for this branch of the question will at least be careful to make inquiries, and that if they receive, as I presume they must receive, some complaints, they will very carefully examine them before compelling people, at a great sacrifice to themselves, to plough up the grass when they believe that to be unwise, especially at a period of the year like this when practically speaking it is almost too late—too late with much hope of success—to do a great deal in the way of spring sowing of corn. That being so I would ask whoever may be responsible that serious consideration should be given to the last of my Questions, namely, whether it would not be possible for the Government, where the ploughing up of land would involve a loss of the hay crop, taking into consideration the lateness of the season and the admitted shortage of fodder and food-stuffs, to make some modification of their Order and Instructions. I have nothing more to add, and I am grateful to your Lordships for your kind attention. I beg to move.


My Lords, if I may be allowed I should like to make a short personal statement of the reasons for my resignation of the office of Joint Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Agriculture. I feel that your Lordships will think that this occasion is by no means an inopportune one to give you the reasons for it. The noble Viscount, in the Questions which he has asked, has insisted very strongly upon the unwisdom of ploughing up grass land in the month of March, and I have no doubt that the noble Viscount himself, and I have no doubt also the members of your Lordships' House, would expect the representative of the Board of Agriculture to defend that policy. I find myself in the position of being unable to give a proper Parliamentary defence for the ploughing up of grass land in March. I am in a similar position to the gentleman whom the noble Viscount quoted—that is to say, I have ploughing orders placed upon the land in my occupation which I shall find it impossible to carry out. I feel that it would be dishonest on my part, and distinctly dishonourable, to defend the policy of the Board of Agriculture in this House when simultaneously, in my private capacity, I was attempting to prevent, or indeed almost to resist, the application of that policy when enforced upon me by the executive committee of my own county. I cannot help feeling that the members of your Lordships' House would not wish that any one who belonged to it should hold so invidious a position. I explained the situation to the President of the Board of Agriculture, and also to my noble friend the Leader of this House. They both quite understood it, and we parted on the best of terms and without any ill-feeling whatsoever existing between us.

If I might dwell upon one or two of the points raised by the noble Viscount this afternoon, I should like briefly to do so. He spoke upon the difficulty of the labour problem. In my county the position is this. The Prime Minister some few months ago issued a circular inviting the labourers to work an hour a day more. That manifesto or circular has been published and placarded in many of our villages, but the sequel of that exhortation to labourers is this. Lorries under the control of the Government are perambulating our villages inviting the inhabitants to go and work at aerodromes, and promising them £3 a week. It is perfectly true that they are not supposed to take agricultural labourers, but in spite of those instructions a great number of them find their way to these aerodromes. The great difficulty which the farmer finds himself in as a citizen is that industrially he is compelled to do something which he is anxious to do, but which he finds he is unable to do because other citizens who worked for him are enticed away by very large wages and will no longer work for him. The remaining labourers who still work for him, owing to the discrepancy between the wages which they get compared with their fellow-citizens working in the aerodromes, are not willing to come forward and discharge this extra work which has been imposed on the farmers. I see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, sitting opposite to me. I believe that if one individual tries to take a workman away from another, it is called industrial seduction, and I believe there is a penalty for industrial seduction. [Lord PARMOOR: Hear, hear.] But this is exactly what is going on. Through causes of which I do not know the reason, the whole of the agrarian population is disturbed and disorganised by this unfortunate system of offering large wages for work in aerodromes.

I do not put this forward in the spirit of criticism of His Majesty's Government, but I hope that within the next few weeks they will be able to examine this very serious problem and will try and modify the situation so that the good will and amity which existed before among the agrarian classes may once more be restored. I notice that the noble Earl, Lord Jersey, has a Question on the Paper after Easter dealing with this problem, and I dare say by that time some member of His Majesty's Government will be able to reassure us on this point.

It is under these overwhelming labour difficulties that the farmers are called upon in the month of March to plough up still more grass land. I fear that some of them will be unable to comply with those requests, and I do think that they will have a grievance if, as the result of their inability to discharge these ploughing orders, they should be proceeded against by any Executive Committee under 2M of the Defence of the Realm Regulations and brought before a Court of summary jurisdiction. They would then be held up to the contumely of their fellow-citizens, and possibly fined. I hope that the representative of the Board of Agriculture will see that no injustice of this hind is inflicted. When I was at the Board of Agriculture several people who had been fined came to me. I do not think that they minded paying the fine, but what they did feel very strongly was that they should be held up to their fellow citizens as individuals who were not trying to do their best in time of war. Each one had a good reason and an excuse—whether they were right and proper excuses I cannot say. But I hope that that very unpleasant action which has had to be taken in the past may be only exercised with great caution in the future.

I agree thoroughly with the policy of the Government in the conversion of pasture to arable, but I hold this—and I hold it with the noble Viscount (Lord Chaplin)—that the time of year now is too late to continue that practice. This is no attack upon the Government; it is purely a farmers' question. It is a farmers' question to decide how late it is wise to turn pasture into arable, and I think the farming community hold strongly that it is much better to harrow and roll and sow the existing arable land, and concentrate your effort upon that at this present time in the form of an intensive cultivation than to dissipate your efforts in scrambling to get a little more grass under arable, and neglecting the existing arable land.

We have heard a great deal about, arable land producing five and six—and, indeed, I have heard some people say ten—times more fetal than grass land. I do not think anybody denies that. But we must bear this in mind that the crops which you propose to substitute for the grass, and which are of greater feeding value, are all liable to disease—all the wheats, the barleys, the oats, the clover, and the turnips have the fly, and there are the swedes also with the finger and toe; and, when later in the year you try to translate grass into these other feeding stuffs, the more risk you run that these crops may be afflicted with one or other of these particular diseases. And, therefore, the later and the longer you continue ploughing, the greater is the risk you are incurring that you may not get the foodstuffs that you anticipate.

There was rather an interesting publication from the Food Production Department issued during the year 1917. A calculation is made on what is called the starch equivalent for food production, and it is on the basis of the starch equivalent for food production that a relative value of crops is based. It is roughly this, that the starch equivalent for meadow hay which yields 23 cwt, per acre is, in round figures, 1,300 lbs. The starch equivalent of oats on the same acre, at 5 qrs., is 1,500 lbs. per acre, that is to say, 200 lbs. more. Now, it is obviously a great risk to destroy 1,300 lbs. per acre starch equivalent of food in order to get only 1,500 lbs. And, in addition, you have to bear in mind that in getting your crop of oats you have to consume a certain amount of food for the horses and the men employed. I quote these figures only as an illustration on a scientific basis of the extreme caution and the extreme care which should be employed before you determine to destroy the starch equivalent for grass in order to obtain the starch equivalent for any other foods that you require.

I wish to raise one other point before I sit down. I do not know—and I do not ask the representative of the Board of Agriculture to tell us this afternoon—whether it will be the policy of His Majesty's Government in the future to plough up more pasture land, and to turn more pasture land into arable. If it should be so, I ask most seriously of the Board of Agriculture that if they determine piton this policy— and I shall not challenge it—pray let the farmers of England know as soon as possible that you mean to do so; and do inform them of the fact that, if they have to reduce more of their grass land and turn it into arable, due warning and notice, if possible of twelve months, will be given to them before you expect them to make that extensive change in their tillage. Nothing has disturbed the farming community more than being asked at a late time of the year, when they have made the whole of their arrangements for their crops and possibly for their stock, that the balance of their land should be changed through a particular ploughing order placed on that farmer, without, perhaps, an accurate or careful survey having been made.

My final point is with regard to the Executive Committees. I have heard a good deal of complaint of the work performed by committees—not necessarily by Executive Committees, but by all committees; and I strongly urge on the representative of the Board of Agriculture that he should try, between now and the date when fresh grass lands will have to be ploughed up—I am assuming it will be August or September—to have, not necessarily a court of appeal but some body of gentlemen set up in London who can discuss with, and be in a position to give advice to, the Executive Committees in connection with some of the work they discharge. After all, every farm has its own spirit, and each farmer has his own particular way and method of farming. He may have his own ideas and his own way in which he desires to carry out that work. So long as the work is in conformity with the aims and objects of the State that man should be left alone, or interfered with as little as possible. On the other hand, there may be individuals who require more supervision. But up to the present I do not think that there has been sufficient discrimination exercised. If the noble Lord can find some method by which some relation can exist between those who are responsible for putting a ploughing Order upon grass and those who are called upon to carry that Order into effect and put it into a wheat crop or a barley crop, it would be a very good thing. It is very hard on the farmer that an individual should order him to plough up a particular field, on which the farmer may lose a great deal of money, where the individual who is responsible for putting forward that ploughing Order is in no way financially hit. It seems to me that something should be done to rectify that rather unwise proceeding. I know that it is very difficult to find a proper method; but it is one which I commend the noble Lord to consider between now and the autumn. I feel confident, if you could find some individual in whom the farmers place perfect confidence and on whose judgment they are prepared to rely in regard to any ploughing Order which is placed on them, that to the extent to which they believe in that man, to the same degree they will try to carry out effectively the work they are called upon to perform.


My Lords, there having been a strong attack made upon local Executive Committees, as a member of an Executive Committee I think it only right that I should state that, in my opinion, some of the criticisms are unfair and somewhat uncalled for. It certainly is not a pleasant duty for anybody to be a member of an Executive Committee. There is no doubt that we tread upon the toes of a good many people, and very often upon their pet theories. But the committees have a duty to perform to the country—namely, to endeavour to get as much land ploughed up as possible. And I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Chaplin, did not give enough credit to the committees for the fact that their members have local knowledge of the land, and that in addition they are enabled to call in further assistance from valuers and others in order to decide what is the best land to be ploughed. I must confess that the sudden theory of the noble Duke that there should be a body set up in London which could better settle what land is to be ploughed up than those who have local knowledge, does fill me with surprise. If you wish to retard all further ploughing up of land, the way to do it is to set up what the noble Duke would call a court in London to settle what land is to be ploughed up.

There is one thing to which I take exception in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Chaplin. He spoke about the late period of ploughing up. If it is a late period, it is because the farmer who has received notice two or three months ago has refused to plough up his land. The responsibility for the lateness does not rest with the Executive Committee but with the individual farmer who has so far steadily refused to obey the Order to plough up his land. I know nothing about the case near Newcastle, mentioned by the noble Viscount, except what he himself said. There seems to have been a great deal of correspondence about the matter; therefore it is clear that the owner in question was warned some time ago that the land had to be ploughed up. We have been told that the question of money is involved; but the Executive Committees have to see that the land produces as much corn as possible. If a farmer is not able to carry out the work, the Executive Committees have been asked by the Board of Agriculture to see that somebody else takes the land in hand. With regard to the question of money, I would remind the House that the War Executive Committees, if a farmer requires money for the purchase of fertilisers, can support his application for the money to a bank, such money to be repaid after the harvest. Consequently we have the power to help what I may call needy farmers to fertilise their land as much as possible.

As a member of an Executive Committee I would say that, when we give our decisions, based on our knowledge and belief, that certain land should be ploughed up, the powers under which we give those decisions should not be suddenly suspended by orders from London or elsewhere, otherwise it will render the position of the members of local Executive Committees—who have difficult and onerous duties to perform as it is—perfectly untenable. It appears to be the case that if anybody has a grievance he appeals to a London authority to override us at once.


My Lords, may I say a word, also as a member of a War Executive Committee, in answer to what has been said by my noble friend Lord Chaplin? But before I do so, I should like to express the very deep and personal regret that I feel at the announcement which appeared in this morning's papers. I am sorry to hear that the noble Duke has given up his office as joint Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Agriculture. The noble Duke has been one of the pioneers of ploughing up grass land. He farms, I think, something like 5,000 acres himself; and he has added to the lustre of a glorious name by the fact that he is connected with the great reform in agriculture that your Lordships were good enough to pass a little while ago. It is a great honour to the House to think that this great peaceful revolution was brought into the House of Commons by a statesman who is not only the intimate friend but the agent-in-chief of the vast possessions of one noble Duke, and that it was magnificently carried through all its stars in your Lordships' House by another noble Duke in person.

As regards the Question of my noble friend Lord Chaplin, I listened very attentively to his speech, but he will forgive me if I say—he speaks so very openly and straightforwardly to us that he will not be surprised or resent it if we speak in the same way to him—that he was like a bird fluttering round a tree, not able to make up its mind which branch it was going to settle upon. He talked about every conceivable agricultural topic under the sun except the one in his Question, and that one, which is a most important one, he dismissed in a few sentences. He told us that he had altered all the terms of his Question.


So I had.


So he had. When we came down here to-day we found that his second Question was quite different from that which had been kicking about on the Table for over ten days. He gave us the reason why he made a sort of bovril of his first and second Resolutions. He told us that, but he neglected altogether to allude to the fact that the second Resolution, as it at present reads, is a perfectly different one from the one which was on the Paper last night. His Resolution as it originally stood was very carefully and astutely drawn, and it asked that the Government should reconsider the order for ploughing up grass lands until after the hay crop had been taken, so as to ensure that the hay crop should not be lost.


I did not move that.


That was in the Question which lay on the Table for ten days.


Not so long.


Certainly for over a week, say nine days; and now he comes down here and says, "Oh! I didn't move that." Of course, he didn't. But it was what we expected to be debated and what we came here to hear him speak upon, and I do not know why he withdrew it, but I rather fancy it was because he discovered suddenly that the Board of Agriculture had already done what he wished them to do. Sir already Lee wrote to the Agricultural War Executive Committees on March 15, asking them to exercise great caution before issuing these orders for ploughing up grassland, especially with regard to heavy land; but now the position is entirely changed. If I may be permitted to use a military expression to my noble friend who has brought so many agricultural field days before the House, I should say that he had entirely changed his front. The whole position is quite altered. The Government are now asked to reconsider the Order for ploughing and to reconsider the possibility of suspending the Order for ploughing of such land. Why? It is the old reason—because the hay crops would be lost. What does suspending mean? It means temporarily abandoning or cancelling the Order. As a member of an Agricultural Committee I entirely agree with Viscount Galway that suspension or abandonment or cancellation of the Order ought to be resisted at all costs.

I referred the question to the Agricultural War Committee of which I am a member. It is a very fairly representative Committee. Eight or ten of the best farmers in the county are members of it, and we have the land adviser of Sir Arthur Lee when he lived in the county, and the Lord Lieutenant of the county, on the Committee, and our chairman is a man who almost to a certainty will be next chosen as chairman of the county council whenever that man should be wanted. I referred this question to my colleagues, and this is what they unanimously say, "We have already acted on the lines of Sir A. Lee's letter." In fact, we have done what my noble friend up to last night wished the Government to do. The general feeling of the Committee is that there is all the difference between those cases where orders to plough up grass were issued some months ago, and those cases where orders are being issued now, and that was the point so well put by my noble friend opposite. In the first place, the farmer has often only himself to blame for the present position, and he should be made to run all reasonable risk to produce corn. But even in the latter case what is going to happen where the orders are being issued now? The opinion of our Agricultural Committee is that it is more than questionable at this late hour whether a farmer should be told to try and risk it, especially in the case of heavy land.

Now this cancelling of the Order—this indiscriminate cancelling of Orders—means that the farmer who has acted patriotically will find himself with his grass broken up, and his defiant neighbour will come under my noble friend's umbrella and will retain his grass land intact. What does Lord Chaplin's, Motion really mean? It really, if you come to boil it down, means a want of confidence in the men on the spot, and I hope that the Government will under no circumstances listen to the advice, counsel, and hopes of my noble friend, but that it will rely, as Lord Galway said, on the common sense of the Agricultural War Committees, who are doing such great work in carrying out the provisions of the Food Production Act, which is a great peaceful agricultural revolution, and will if well and courageously administered mean the salvation of the whole country.


My Lords, I should like to add one word in defence of the Executive Committees. I believe that these Committees all over England are as good practical agriculturists as are anywhere to be found; and while I regret to hear the news regarding the noble Duke, I still absolutely disagree with him in imagining that any central body in London can be a better judge of these matters than the executive committees. To refer, however, very briefly, to the actual subject before us, I should like to ask the Government to consider very closely this question of labour. Undoubtedly a great deal of delay has occurred as regards getting sufficient and efficient labour to cultivate the already existing arable land and the fresh land broken up. A great number of promises have been made on this point. We have been told, week after week, that we shall receive lists of soldiers available to go and work on the land from different headquarters in the county, and when it comes to be examined a large number of the soldiers are found to be absolutely inefficient for work on the land.

At the present moment there is an enormous wastage of labour and money going on with regard to tractor ploughing. I do not think I should be wrong if I said there are not ten, or twenty, or fifty, but hundreds of men, soldiers and others, in this country who have been sent out with tractors or to learn tractor ploughing, who are doing absolutely nothing. At this moment there is great difficulty in getting then transferred from tractor ploughing to other labour which they can do. I believe this is due to some esprit-de corps in Departments which prevents one Department from handing things over to another. Owing to this and overlapping there are hundreds of men absolutely idle who could be doing most excellent work. I call attention to this ease because the labour question is most important. Having 300 acres of land to break up in the Fen, which can grow beautiful crops but requires a large team to work it, two months ago I applied for German prisoners. I have not got them to-day. I believe there is some delay. It disheartens men who are trying to do their best that so much labour should be wasted. I think it is most important that the Food Production Department should recognise the gravity of the labour question and should try to meet it as best they can. It is impossible for the Food Production Department to lay down any rule to say that a man must stay on the land, and cannot go to an aerodrome. Unfortunately, wages are a great deal higher at the aerodrome, and I do not blame the horseman, who can earn £3 a week at the aerodrome, for going to the aerodrome instead of remaining on the farm at £2 a week. If there is a lot more laud broken up the Food Production Department must recognise that labour must be provided.

In conclusion, I would say that I cannot agree with the second part of the noble Viscount's Question with regard to the Orders to break up land. As a member of two Executive Committees, I can only say that I know of cases where men have defied the Committees. They never meant to carry out the Orders, and they do not intend to do so to-day. If the Government begin letting them off an outcry would be caused throughout the country. It would be unfair that the farmer who had been patriotic and done his best, and had perhaps had to buy horses and secure labour in order to obey the commands of the Executive Committee, should get no benefit, while other men who openly defied the Committees should be let off. I hope the Government will be very loth to let these people off. Of course it is getting late now to plough up the land. I should like to commandeer their hay crop, and, when they have got the hay crop, to turn some cultivators in, and charge these people with the cost. Perhaps that would teach them to be patriotic in future.


My Lords, there are two points to which I should like to call your attention, and they are concrete points. First of all, as regards the County Agricultural Executive Committees, I may remind the noble Viscount that he was one of those who introduced into the Act an appeal from those Committees to an independent surveyor; I think he is one of those who saw at that time that you can only get fairness in matters of this kind by having an appeal to some independent person. Quite apart from what the noble Duke has said, as soon as the Act comes into operation, which will be about next December, the appeal will also be brought into operation. For my part, I think an appeal is most necessary. I do not want to make any attack on the Executive Committees, but it really is a question very often between them and an individual farmer, and it is right that the question should be settled by some outside expert authority. I think the noble Viscount must have forgotten the attitude he himself took on the matter.

The second point is this. I want to give an illustration which I know to be perfectly true. It is an illustration from the county in which the noble Marquess is a member of the Executive Committee. The position was that there was a farmer who had about 900 acres, about one-third grass and about two-thirds arable. He had been advised that his farm was what is known as a "balanced" farm—that is, one having the proportion of arable and grass which would give the maximum production as regards corn, beef, and mutton. That is an important matter, very often overlooked in these mere theoretical calculations. Although he put forward that view he wrote to the Executive Committee and said that he would agree with their agent to plough up any quantity of grass land they required—a very proper thing to do. That was, roughly, some time last autumn. Having come to terms with the Agricultural Executive Committee he set to work to plough up the grass land which they asked him to plough up. It was not a question of a compulsory order, because he came very fairly to an arrangement with them. The amount ploughed up was more than the one-ninth to which the President of the Board of Agriculture called attention. In addition to that, in order to comply with the requirements he bought horses at really exorbitant prices—he gave 150 guineas for a horse which in the old days he could have got for forty guineas—and he set to work to get a tractor plough. It was very necessary to settle this in time because he had a very large stock of sheep and cattle. He sold a good many, leaving those for which he would have sufficient food, assuming he was not required to plough up more grass land

What happened? About the second week in February this year they required him to plough up another sixty or seventy acres of grass land. He pointed out that it was late, and that it meant almost starvation to his young cattle and particularly to the only flock of sheep, Border Leicesters, which are grass sheep. He was informed that there would be a compulsory order if he did not do it, and he would be subject to the contumely and fine of which the Duke had spoken. I do not think the farmer dislikes the fine so much as the lecture with which the magistrate, in high and haughty tones, generally accompanies the fine. He set to work and he has nearly completed it. In the second week in March there was a further order to plough up more grass land. He wrote to the Executive Committee stating that this was mere loss and wanton waste, and that it was quite impossible in this country to grow cereals on land ploughed up so late. They wrote back and said "Try potatoes." He replied that he had tried potatoes several times, and had never got back in crop as much as the seed. This particular farmer has never heard of any withdrawal of these Orders by the Executive Committee of the county of Bucks. What his liabilities may be perhaps I shall have to ascertain myself some day. As a matter of fact, an application was made to the Board of Agriculture in connection with these Orders, and they gave the answer which I think was the only answer they could give—that they had nothing to do with them. They delegated the whole power to the County Executive Committee, and, therefore, could not interfere in any way. Whether the Board of Agriculture have that power under the Defence of the Realm Act I am very doubtful. If the question is raised some day these Orders, in my opinion, may be found to be illegal from top to bottom.

The point I put is this. You have a farm in which the farmer came to terms with the Agricultural Committee last autumn. That is quite right; they must look ahead. Fresh orders are given in February and he could only protest and try to see what he could do. There were fresh orders again in March, which is much too late as regards the ploughing up of any grass land.


No, no.


I can vouch for the fact. And what is the result of orders of that kind? I am not going to attack, generally, the Executive Committees. There are committees and committees. They act really on the advice of their executive officers. No Executive Committee goes and looks at a farm, and I have never seen the Executive Committee of my county looking over the farms. They have an executive officer to advise them.


I certainly did not mean to indicate to the noble Lord that I was attacking the Executive Committees. Far from it. I was protesting against the view that it was too late to plough in the month of April.


You think grass land ought to be ploughed up in April?


It certainly can be. In 1917, if my recollection is correct, something like 200,000 acres were ploughed up in April with success.


May I point out to the noble Lord that, with regard to the question of nobody seeing the land, the District Committee go round and report to the Executive Committee, and, if there is any doubt, they hear always the views of the aggrieved person.


If the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, thinks you get any advantage by ploughing up grass land in April, that is a matter of opinion; but as regards statistics, I have seen statistics which are adverse to the ploughing up of grass land in April. And as to the 200,000 acres turning out well, the report which I read was that in some cases land that was ploughed up in April was an utter failure. What I am protesting against is this. Let the farmer know in time what he is to do. Like every other business man he has to look to the future. Let him know what he has to do in order that he may make provision for the next year, and then do not, at subsequent stages, put new orders upon him which it is almost impossible for him to comply with, and, if he does, upsets the whole forecast he has made for his farm. That is the point I make. I entirely agree with much that the noble Duke has said with regard to the difficulties, but I am giving him a case where the farmer did not mind the expenditure. His object was to get the maximum production and he expended the money necessary. What is objected to is the issue of orders too late. I entirely agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Chaplin, has said more than once on this question, and I think it is a matter which requires great care.


My Lords, before an answer is given to the Question of the noble Viscount I should like to say one word in hearty support of my noble friend, and especially in support of the second part of his Question. I happen to have returned from the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire district, and during the week-end I had an opportunity of discussing the situation with a large number of tenant farmers. In spite of the sweeping assertion made by the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, and the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, as to the blacklegs only benefitting by such an Order, I am bound to admit, so far as this district is concerned, that when the statistics and reports come to be seen it will be found, taken as a whole, that the graziers and the farmers in the grazing and dairy-farming districts have risen to the occasion and are doing their best. From the nature of the situation, and for the reasons already referred to by my noble friend Lord Chaplin—the fact of its being grass land, the want of the necessary agricultural implements, having to buy cart horses to carry out the ploughing, and the dearth of labour—it is to a great extent impossible for all the land already scheduled to be ploughed up in that particular district at once. As one farmer described it to me, it seems a wicked waste and a sin that land should be left perfectly unproductive this summer. If it was ploughed now it would not have had the advantage of being broken up by the winter frost and the weather, and it would be just as suitable for seed in the autumn if it was ploughed up immediately after the hay crop was taken off it. For that reason alone I sincerely hope that the Local Agricultural Committees, who are doing their work sincerely and well, may be told that if they think fit they may in certain cases allow this to be done.


My Lords, although I have been instructed by the Government to answer the Question which has been put on the Paper by the noble Viscount, I am thankful to say I have not been invited to represent the Board of Agriculture permanently in this House. Before I make some remarks on behalf of the Government on the noble Viscount's Question, I should like to be allowed to associate myself with what the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, said with regard to the noble Duke's resignation of his office as Joint Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Agriculture. I am sure there is no one in this House, sitting on either side, who does not regret very much his resignation. We are all aware that he was a perfect master of this subject, as was only natural from the fact that he is not only a great landowner but a farmer on a large scale, and has, I understand, conducted many interesting experiments on his property from patriotic motives. Moreover, I think your Lordships will always admire the way in which the noble Duke, when he represented the Department in this House, always stood up for the interests of the Department and the interests of agriculture when they appeared to be in danger.

With regard to the Question which the noble Viscount has put on the Paper, I am instructed to inform the House that the position as to the labour for the land is at the present time in the following state. In addition to the farmers and all those labourers who are exempt from military service, or who have been retained on the land for food production and not sent into the Army, there are at the present time 22,000 soldiers who were allotted for agricultural services last spring. There are also 27,000 skilled agriculturists and 10,000 unskilled men from the Army, who were allotted to agriculture later in the year 1917. There are also 8,000 prisoners of war, 1,600 aliens released from internment, and 250,000, partly half-time and partly full-time, women. Besides these there are to come, under arrangements already made, 2,000 skilled soldier agriculturists, 3,000 German prisoners of war, and an undefined number of aliens who are to be released from internment. As to the future there can be no doubt in the opinion of the Department but that the new labour which has been brought on the land is steadily increasing in efficiency. The Board hope to secure such additional labour as, with the seasonal work in prospect, will enable the cultivation and the harvest of the extra crops to be successfully dealt with. That is the answer of the Board as to the first part of the Question put on the Paper by the noble Viscount.

With regard to the second part of the Question, in some counties I am informed that the executive committees have not yet completed the issue of all their orders, and consequently notices are still being served for ploughing up more land. The Department are not prepared to admit that the time has yet passed for ploughing certain classes of land for spring sowing. Of course it is late, but, as the noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal pointed out, last year a great deal of land was ploughed up at a still later period, and the experience of last year shows that there were many cases in which good crops of corn were obtained from land which was ploughed later in the season than the present date. Even if the corn crop cannot be sown it will be possible to grow a fodder crop or root crop which will help to make good the shortage of feeding-stuffs, and which will also get the land ready for corn next year when the need for food will be equally urgent. The necessity for producing all the food possible this year is so urgent that the Government cannot afford to lose the chance of increasing the crop for the harvest of 1918 in order to allow grass to remain. At the same time the Board feel sure that the executive committees will act with ordinary common sense in regard to the issue of Orders. Lord Lincolnshire, Lord Ancaster, Lord Galway and others addressed your Lordships with all the weight that their authority commands in this House, and the Board feel sure that the executive committees will not require land to be cultivated for the harvest of 1918 unless there is a reasonable probability that it will produce a crop. The committees have been instructed that in the case of heavy grass land special caution should be exercised in the issue of orders to plough prior to the hay harvest, and the circular to which I think the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, referred—the circular letter from Sir Arthur Lee dated March 15, and sent to the Agricultural Executive Committees—confirms that point. It is probably in the hands of any of your Lordships who are interested in this matter, but if any noble Lord has not received one I am sure that the Department will be most happy to send it to him at once.

As to dairy farming districts, the Board consider that by ploughing up some of the grass land and growing more crops gain rather than loss will ensue. Those crops are, of course, often of great help to the producers of summer milk, since they provide food at a critical period of the year when pasture is often deficient. It must be remembered that feeding-stuffs cannot now be purchased in the necessary quantities, and dairy farmers must look forward to breaking up part of their grass land and cultivating crops suitable to feed to cows in the winter months.

A considerable number of interesting speeches have been made this afternoon on various topics not entirely germane—that is the expression which the noble Viscount opposite used—to the points covered by his Question. Into those other topics I hope that the House will excuse my not entering this evening, because as I have explained I am answering merely as a stop gap this afternoon. I have no doubt that when the House meets again after the Easter Recess a successor to the noble Duke will have been found qualified to deal with any of these points which may be raised in debate. Without notice I am afraid that I am not so competent to deal with them. I noted, however, one or two points raised by noble Lords in the course of the debate upon which I might perhaps say one word. With regard to the case of Mr. Dent, to which the noble Viscount alluded in his opening remarks, I will certainly take care that the matter shall be inquired into, and the Board of Agriculture will inform the noble Viscount of the result. I think that the noble Viscount also complained that at one time the Government had stated that in order to stimulate farmers to plough up as much grass as they could they would guarantee a fixed corn price and a fixed labourer's wage at 25s. a week. He went on to say that some friends of his in the agricultural world had been much disturbed on finding that in the case of the county of Norfolk the other day 30s. had been fixed by the Wages Board. My recollection of the matter is that 25s. in the first instance was merely named as a minimum.

The statement made by the Duke of Marlborough and by my noble friend Lord Ancaster as to the great hardship that is inflicted on farmers by labourers being enticed away to work in the aerodromes at wages far higher than they have been paid on the land, is certainly a most important point, and one that I hope the Board of Agriculture have not lost sight of. At all events I will convey to them that the matter was mentioned by several of your Lordships in debate. The answers that I have given are those that the Department have instructed me to make this afternoon, and I hope that any noble Lords who have raised points that I have not replied to adequately will recognise that it was only at the last minute that I was instructed to answer and will excuse my deficiencies.


My Lords, I do not think that my noble friend Lord Chaplin ever did a greater service to the cause of his country in this war or to agricultural production than when he pressed the Government last summer on the question of labour. The attitude that he was obliged to assume then was one that appeared to be attacking the Government, but as a matter of fact what he really was doing was supporting to the best of his ability the Government, and strengthening them to get that supply of labour which alone would enable the policy of increased production to be carried out. I think that it is very largely due to what my noble friend then did that Lord Milner was able to achieve a triumph and procure labour for the Board of Agriculture, and that so much work has been done since that time in bringing land under cultivation. That being so, I thought my noble friend was abundantly justified in returning to the subject this evening and raising again this question of labour.

If more land is to be ploughed up for 1919—and here I would strenuously endorse what the noble Duke says about this—let us know what the programme of 1919 is to be as soon as possible, and if it is to be a programme of increased ploughing of land the labour must be found for it. I am very glad to see Lord Rothermere upon the Bench opposite, because, though he is not personally responsible, his Department is to my knowledge at the present moment the cause of the greatest danger to increased food production in this country. I was presiding yesterday at a meeting of delegates of the War Executive Committees of the whole of England and Wales, and I may say that from almost every county the same story came, or certainly from a large majority of the counties—that the whole labour situation was being upset again by the contractors who are building aerodromes. One man told us that an excellent horseman of his, a man far over military age, who had been with him for many years and was earning 35s. a week, had been seduced to an aerodrome, where he was doing unskilled labour, and the first week he brought back £6. How could you blame the man for going? It is impossible to blame the man if he does not resist temptation such as that. What farmer can compete against such wages and why are such wages offered? As I understand, the reason is that the contractor is paid a percentage on the cost of construction, and therefore he has got no inducement to keep the cost of construction down. The testimony that was brought forward was so strong, so universal, that I implore His Majesty's Government to look into this and see whether something cannot be done. At the very moment when they are trying to help agriculture by supplying German prisoners and untrained persons to supplement the personnel of the farm, the most trained men are being taken away by the contractors working on aerodromes and similar Government work. Therefore the labour question may again become urgent, owing to causes which were not foreseen and not suspected.

I do not doubt that there are cases of hardship in these orders to plough up grass, or that the War Agricultural Executive Committees have sometimes made mistakes. It is quite impossible that such a work could be done without mistakes, and without cases of hardship. But I ask your Lordships to remember that the whole of this work has been done for the country, not by officials, not from a central Department in Whitehall, but in every county by small committees, which, I believe, almost invariably contain the most experienced farmers, land agents, or land owners in that county, men who are as cognisant of the local conditions as it is possible for a committee to be. So far as I can gather or judge, they have done their work extremely well and with a marvellous measure of success, and I think your Lordships would do well to trust to them. I cannot believe that any tribunal in London, such as was suggested by my noble friend the Duke of Marlborough, could possibly with advantage revise the decisions of the War Executive Committees in their own counties. Within my own experience the number of mistakes they have made is very small. They may have made mistakes, they may make mistakes again, but, after all, the great question is to get more production of food, and more production of cereals above everything else. That is the one thing on which the whole war may turn—cereals. And therefore pressure must be applied, continuously applied. And, after all, it is a matter of opinion and a matter of the conditions of the case whether it is or whether it is not advisable to plough up land in March and April. Last year many of us could not touch our grass lands until March or April. I ploughed up grass lands both in March and in April, and I got quite a fair crop. But this season has been the most wonderful season that we have had ever since I farmed, and I have been farming now for more than thirty years. The burden of proof is on the man who has had the Orders to plough and has not ploughed, unless those Orders were given only a few days ago.

Therefore I say that although there are undoubtedly hard cases I believe your Lordships would do well to give your support to the War Executive Committees in each county, and I think you will not be disappointed. I believe that when the returns of next harvest come in the result will be surprising—far better than anybody really yet anticipates. And the credit will be due to the President of the Board of Agriculture in the first place, to Sir Arthur Lee in the second place, to the War Executive Committees all over the country in the third place, and, last but not least, to my noble friend who has moved this Motion to-night. Because I verily believe that, unless he had constantly kept before the Government the points that must be observed in order to make this policy successful, the Board of Agriculture would not have had the authority behind it or the strength behind it to secure from the other Departments of the Government that labour which alone has made the policy possible.


My Lords, one word or two only in reply. I have listened with great interest to the various speeches which have been made. Some noble Lords, who have disappeared with the exception of Lord Lincolnshire, Lord Galway. and Lord Ancaster, appeared to think I had made some attack upon the War Executive Committees. Nothing could possibly be further from my intention. Nor do I think that I could with justice be accused of having done so. I do not believe anybody appreciates more than myself the work which I know the great majority of them have done. All that I did was to call attention to a particular case for which I asked consideration, and I added that it was typical of many other instances which have been submitted to me. Every speaker has admitted to-night that mistakes undoubtedly have occurred, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for saying that inquiries shall be made into the particular case that I cited. That is all that I desire. That was the only reason why I raised the question at all.

I must say a word of sympathy for the noble Marquess sitting upon my right (Lord Lincolnshire). The noble Marquess insisted upon discussing the Question that I have withdrawn. I told him why I withdrew it when I began: because, having been to see Sir Arthur Lee, a very old friend and colleague of my own, and discussed the matter with him, I learned that it would have been unfair to the Board and a waste of the time of the House if I had pursued the Questions which I had originally put on the Paper; and having seen him, I put down one of them, but omitted the other two. I am full of sympathy for the noble Marquess, because he evidently came down with a speech prepared for reply to another Question, and that, I think, is probably the reason why he took such great umbrage at the course I have pursued. I beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.