§ Debate on the Motion for the Second Reading resumed (according to Order).
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE had given notice, on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move "That the Bill be read 2ª this day six months." The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I have been asked by one or two of my noble friends whose opinions I most highly value, "What is your object in moving the rejection of the Agriculture Bill?" I do so for the simple reason that in my opinion— 1144 and not only in my opinion, but in that of many who are more qualified to speak than I am—the Bill is bad for agriculture; it is dangerous to the public, inasmuch as if it is to be used at all and to come into operation it must lay fresh millions of taxation on an already exhausted nation; and I may add that the Bill is repugnant to Liberal and Free Trade principles. These are my objections for what they are worth, but I have received an amount of powder and shot from an unexpected quarter.
§ Your Lordships listened with interest to the speech of my noble friend the Minister of Agriculture a week ago, when we heard from him the admissions that this is an unpopular Bill; that there is no enthusiasm for it amongst any section of the industry; that it is not primarily designed as a measure of agricultural reform, for it contains proposals which admittedly interfere with the laws of supply and demand, and that it is not in any way the product of the unaided genius of the Government—I am perfectly ignorant of the person to whom reference is made—but that it is a reasonable compromise negotiated (and I ask your Lordships' attention to the word "negotiated") between the authorised representatives of the Farmers' Union and a group of very distinguished landlords in the House of Commons.
§ THE MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE (LORD LEE OF FAREHAM)
I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but I was speaking only of one part of one clause in that connection. It is not fair to apply the observation to the whole Bill. I was referring to a subsection of Clause 8 only.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
I fully accept that explanation. I will only remark, as regards that clause, that we should like to know of whom this group of very distinguished landlords in another House is composed. I do not know what your Lordships may think of these negotiations, but I hardly imagine that they can be acceptable to our House as a whole. My noble friend then made a statement which I think (and I have no doubt the whole House will think) is hardly fair to himself. He stated that he laid no claim to any special expert knowledge of agriculture, nor had he any pretensions to speak as an agricultural authority. I take the earliest opportunity to assure my noble friend that that is not the case so far as 1145 we are concerned, and I express to him the gratitude we all feel for the splendid work he did during the critical times of the war.
Then my noble friend promised to consider what he was good enough to call "reasonable Amendments." I should like to ask one simple question. What earthly chance has any reasonable, concentrated Amendment of passing through your Lordships' House? The three classes affected are landlords, farmers, and labourers. I ask, Is there any earthly chance of an Amendment proposed to your Lordships by my noble friend Lord Kimberley, who is the accredited representative of Labour in your Lordships' House, passing this House? Is there any chance of any Amendment in the farmers' interest, proposed perhaps by my noble friend Lord Chaplin, who for so many years has taken a sort of avuncular interest in the tenant farmers? Is there any chance of an Amendment to get rid of control being accepted by my noble friend opposite? If that is so, what remains?
The only Amendments which can have any chance of passing this House are in the interests of the landlords—that is, in the interests of the landlords in this House; and how can we landlords possibly expect the Minister of Agriculture to agree to any Amendments openly framed and submitted for our own special personal profit or advantage? What would be said of the House if such a thing were done? I know it has been whispered that pourparlers, agreements, and concessions have been made during the past week, and that therefore the opposition to the Bill is weakened; but what could be said of us if we gave a Second Reading to a Bill simply and solely because concessions had been given by the Government in our own interest? I do not believe one single word of these whisperings or these reports that any such negotiations have taken place.
Now as regards these promises. I think most of us are sick to death of promises. We have had nothing but promises—promises about peace and about retrenchment, and now we have these promises about Amendments, but I do not suppose there was any promise that ever went so near to the heart of the British public as the simple announcement by the Prime Minister some years ago that he meant to make this country "land fit for heroes to live in"—a land "which heroes would fashion and share," 1146 if I might quote the splendid sentence which Lord Northcliffe put in one of his books. Certainly no Prime Minister has ever had a greater chance of carrying out so noble a resolve. Just think for one moment. There was the Prime Minister himself, the most fearless and outspoken advocate of agricultural reform that it is possible to conceive. And I may say in the strictest confidence—I should not like it put about—that I have heard noble Lords, members of this House, say that in some of his past speeches he may have gone a "wee bit too far." Still, he has the steadying influence of Lord Selborne, a past President of the Board of Agriculture, on whose Report we are told this Bill rests. I have not time to go into that, but I have my doubts about it. At all events he had to help him the steadying influence of Lord Selborne, a man who in the worst times of the war did us great personal service by keeping the men on the land—a service which I do not think has yet been sufficiently recognised or appreciated.
Then he had Lord Ernle, another ex-President of the Board of Agriculture and a man with a European reputation as an agricultural authority, who has the advantage of being controller and commander-in-chief of one of the best and most expensively managed estates in the United Kingdom. Beside these, there is my noble friend opposite who is at the head of the Ministry of Agriculture, and to help him he has Mr. Flood, the Permanent. Secretary, and all his companions, who deservedly rank among the best of the Civil Servants of the Crown. I cannot pay then, a higher compliment. In addition to that he had thousands and thousands of acres of the best land in England in the market. And, best of all, the Khaki Victory lightning election, sprung upon us a very few hours after the Armistice had been declared, fulfilled its open object by giving the Prime Minister the largest mechanical majority that probably this country has ever seen. Yet with all that in hand, what do they produce? Nothing but this miserable Bill, which according to the words of the author is unpopular—that is, distrusted and disliked by the people at large. What does the Bill do? All it does is to interfere with, to disturb, to harass and alarm the whole of the agricultural industry. It must increase the price of food if it is going to do any good at all, and we have it on the best authority that it will not bring one single fresh acre under wheat cultivation, 1147 nor, in consequence, put a single additional agricultural labourer on the land. All it does is to show once more, so far as Coalition legislation is concerned, how deep is the gulf between promise and performance and how wide is the gap between aspiration and achievement.
I am afraid we cannot say much for the Bill itself, but I am bound to say that we ought to have nothing but praise for the way in which my noble friend introduced the Bill. He came to the point at once. He made a Second Reading speech, and he mercifully left out that inevitable preamble which we all of us use as to why it was, and when it was, and where it was, and wherever it was, and all the ten thousand pities it was, that the farmers in England in days past had to give up their farms and over a million labourers in consequence were forced into the towns. He mercifully left that out, because it would have lasted five and twenty minutes. He came at once to the gist of the Bill, and he told us that the Bill was divided into two parts, and that each part had its own distinct and definite object. He put the whole case in a nutshell, and if the House will allow me to save time I should like to put security first.
I think it is generally admitted that increased production depends very much upon security of tenure. Security of tenure is evidently a leading factor in the minds of His. Majesty's Government. The Prime Minister, in a speech that he made at Caxton Hall on October 31, 1919, laid great stress on it. He said, "The first condition is security of the cultivator." Then Sir Arthur Boscawen, who so ably piloted the Bill through the House of Commons, was good enough to say that "security is the keynote of the Bill." We also heard last week what the opinions are of the noble Lord the Minister of Agriculture on the subject. Security is in Clause 8, Part II, page 12 of the Bill. If your Lordships will turn to that security clause you will see that the word "security" is not even mentioned in it. In little italics on the side of the Bill you will find instead the word "compensation." Compensation, of course, for the landlord for his goodness in keeping his tenants on the land? Not a bit of it. It is compensation for disturbance, compensation for kicking the man out of his holding, compensation for doing the very thing that this Bill is sup- 1148 posed to get rid of and to destroy. Let me read the words in the Bill—If a tenant is required to quit without any fault on his part, the compensation is to be one year's rent plus the loss or expense of removal.But he had that before. That was in the Bill in what Messrs. Gilbey would call '06. It was in 1906 that that privilege was given to him under the Liberal Government when Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was Prime Minister. Therefore you cannot claim to give him any boon, because he had it before.
But you say, "Oh, wait a minute, he gets one year's rent." That is one year's gross rent, which would probably be on different estates two, three, or four years' net rent. I do not say whether that is right or wrong, but I say call it by the proper name. Call it "compensation" if you like, call it confiscation, call it the proper thing to do to a tenant, call it highway robbery, call it anything you like—I give no opinion on the subject—but for the Lord's sake do not call it security of tenure when the tenant receives notice to quit for what is now called the caprice of the landlord and which was not very many years ago considered a very serious offence, the sort of offence that necessitated immediate removal. Supposing that the tenant has been given notice to quit for killing the ground game, or for perpetually putting his great feet into partridges' nests, or keeping a dog, or going to chapel instead of to church, or (worst of all) voting against his landlord. In the old days that meant immediate dismissal. Now, that is the caprice of the landlord, and if that is done the tenant gets four years' rent, which may be ten or twelve years net rent. I am giving no opinion as to whether that is right or wrong, but I say for goodness sake do not call that security of tenure.
Two or three noble Lords with myself heard the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill in another place, and when this was explained by Sir Arthur Boscawen a bewildered Radical Member who was listening to Sir Arthur with his eyes and mouth wide open with astonishment involuntarily exclaimed, "Yes, but where does the security come in?" Sir Arthur thought he had his chance, and looked at him with a sort of look as much as to say "Oh, you perfect ass, the Lord has delivered you into my hands." Sir Arthur then turned round to his supporters, and with what the French call beau geste said, 1149 "The security is that most people will hesitate before giving notice." Where has Sir Arthur Boscawen lived all his life? Where can be possibly have lived to make such a, statement as that? His second statement was, "The tenant will walk off with large sums of money, and he will very likely get a better farm." That is the statement made in the House of Commons by the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, and he could not make it without the consent of his chief who, I suppose, agrees with him. My opinion is that this is the sort of security which secures evictions, and which simplifies, justifies, and legalises notices to quit, and puts a premium on them. Therefore I should not he hauled over the coals if I said that the Prime Minister has recanted his old opinion to this extent, that he has been converted to this, and if this is his conception of security of tenure then I think I may fairly apply to him the words that Lord Macaulay, in one of his essays, applies to what he calls "scribblers" on the subject of liberty, and say—Mr. Lloyd George and Lord Lee of Fareham conceive of liberty as monks conceive of love, as cockneys conceive of rural innocence and delights, and as novel-reading seamstresses conceive of Almacks and Grosvenor-square, of balls at Buckingham Palace, of seductive Marquesses, and of mustachioed and magnificent life guardsmen.I have only one thing more to say, and I regret that it is to make a personal statement. The noble Lord the Minister of Agriculture threw a distinct challenge across the Table to me and said, "I hear you are going to move the rejection of the Bill. What else do you propose? What is your policy I Are you going to have the laissez faire policy over again, or are you only going to reject for the purpose of rejecting?" It is news to me to be asked to stand up in this House and to lay down the law and lecture people like the Duke of Buccleuch, or the Duke of Bedford, or Lord Ancaster, or any of your Lordships as to the way in which your properties ought to be managed, or the way that you treat your tenants. But since he has brought this matter up I might say very respectfully that I have my own ideas as to what security of tenure should be, and as I always try to practise what I preach I put them into my own agreements. I think I may fairly say that my plan of security of tenure has not been altogether a failure, because I have had my estate of 33,000 acres for 53 years, and except in cases of death I have only had eighteen 1150 changes on the estate in the whole half-century. I apologise most humbly to the House for presuming to bring in a personal question of any sort, description, or kind, but I was challenged across the Table to that effect. My noble friend put on his shining armour and rattled his sabre in my face, and I was bound to answer the challenge. That is all I have to say about security of tenure.
To save time and not to trespass on your Lordships' House, I propose only to take the two main points in the Bill and not to go into details. I leave all the other dangers and difficulties and I will not say what else in the Bill to other noble Lords. I believe there are a great many who intend to speak and whom your Lordships are very anxious to hear, so I leave all the details to them and will only say a few words on the increase of production. Increased agricultural I production was brought before the country in 1917 in a very startling, sudden, and disagreeable manner. The noble Lord opposite, who used to be Civil Lord of the Admiralty, let out a very remarkable stable secret which I should think when it was telegraphed over to Germany must have given very great satisfaction to that dreadful person, Admiral von Tirpitz. The noble Lord told us that there never were more than 18 submarines hovering round the coast, and yet that it took 2,500 vessels of war to try to catch these submarines and that every submarine sunk cost the country £20,000,000 sterling. That was a most ghastly condition of things, of which, mercifully, we were unaware at the time. Still there was a good deal of anxiety about on the subject, and to prevent a panic—I ought not to say that because there never was panic in this country, though my noble friend talked of panicky farmers—to prevent any alarm the Prime Minister thought it would be wise, and no doubt it was, to make a public statement, and he took the opportunity of making that statement at the Guildhall, where he had an invitation to go. This is what he said. He said he was going to do something for the country, and he added—If our plans are carried out there will be 3,000,000 fresh acres of land under cultivation, and we can guarantee that without a ton of foodstuffs from abroad no one can starve.That was the statement he made in the Guildhall. Of course, that reassured the 1151 public very much, and they whooped and holloaed and cheered and said there was nobody like Lloyd George, and away they went to their different homes. The Prime Minister was shown by the City officials into his old pre-war Limehouse Inn, and was then whirled back to Downing-street very much pleased with his evening and the way in which he had been received.
Then a few weeks afterwards Lord Ernle—Mr. Prothero, as he was then—came to the rescue and did a very remarkable thing. He introduced an Emergency War Corn Production Bill, which, like an Agricultural Prince Rupert, he carried at a gallop through both Houses of Parliament, and it was put on the Statute-book I think some time in August. Lord Ernle saved the situation temporarily.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
There is no doubt about it, and though some people were rather apt to what is called "crab" the Act, the public did what they could, we were all on half rations, all our flower-gardens and our wives' flower-gardens were put under potatoes, cabbages, and other food, and in consequence of there being more than 1,000,000 acres put under allotments and intensive cultivation we weathered the storm, thanks to Lord Ernie. I stated in this House—I was not contradicted, so I suppose it is right—that instead of fourteen weeks' supply of homegrown food which is our normal supply, we had at least forty-two weeks' supply of home-grown food during 1918.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
What we did then we can do again, and I respectfully submit that possibly Lord Ernie did a bigger thing than he has any idea of, because supposing that the Government are going to war—goodness knows whether they are or not, nobody knows—but supposing they want to go to war, they already have this Act which is in existence until 1922. If they go to war all we have to do is to increase the supply of overseas wheat so as to tide over the dangerous time up to the next harvest, and then, thanks to Lord Ernle, do what we did before—do everything we can to make ourselves temporarily self-supporting, and there would not be the smallest earthly reason for bringing in this, I will not use any adjective, Bill.
1152 But this year it was thought that the Government ought to bring in some other agricultural policy. It was very expensive, but that did not matter, and though they were advised, I am informed—I do not know it, it is only simple gossip—by those who know to hold their hands and to let the Act run out to the end of 1922, they said, "Oh, no; we must bring in an agricultural policy. We must spend some more money, and we will bring in an agricultural policy which will astonish the country." And they have done it.
The first proposal was, of course, "We must do what the Prime Minister said we would do at the Guildhall; we will get 3,000,000 acres and put that under wheat cultivation—the thing is settled, and there we are, no one can stop us." But then the experts said, "Good gracious! That won't do at all, because we have it on the best authority—Sir Henry Rew, the best authority in the world on these subjects, tells us that if you want to make England self-supporting you have to do two things. You have to double the number of your sheep and cattle"—whether you can or cannot do that I have not the smallest conception—" and the next thing you have to do is to quadruple the present wheat production of the country." The area under wheat cultivation in 1917 (and I believe it is the same now in 1920) was about 2,000,000 acres, and you would have to quadruple that. Every child of ten knows that four times two is eight, and therefore you would have to get at least 6,000,000 acres more. We talk very airily about millions in these days, but 6,000,000 acres—nobody knows how much that is. Six million acres is 12,500 square miles of country, which you would have to get in England to put under wheat. That is a startling proposition. I honestly think that it would demand the most first-class wizard that you could lay your hands on, from Pharaoh's magicians to Maskelyne and Cook, to get 12,500 square miles in this country to put under wheat in six weeks, in six months, or in six years. Of course, the Prime Minister's plan went by the board.
Then what was to be done? Some agricultural Solomon said, "Oh, I have it; all we have to do is to make the Corn Production Act permanent. I dare say a good many of your Lordships remember those terrible times during the war when the Corn Production Act was brought into 1153 your Lordships' House, and it was given into the charge of Lord Milner, whom I am glad to see in his place. And when he came to the guaranteed price of corn it rather staggered us as Free Traders. But we remembered the splendid way in which the Opposition backed up Mr. Asquith and Lord Grey when war was declared; we remembered the splendid way in which the working men of this country came to out rescue, and slaved and toiled in the factories seven days in the week, ten hours a day, month after month, and year after year; and who were we to make any opposition, or to throw any difficulty in the way of a proposal made on the authority of His Majesty's Government, and supposed to be absolutely necessary for the safety and welfare of this country? And so we at once said, "Take all the land. We will back you up in any proposal that you make; we will do all we can to help you; we will do everything in our power to stop these accursed Germans from putting their filthy feet on English soil. We will do everything we possibly can to help you. Only we ask you for one condition. Are you going to make this Bill permanent? Is it the thin edge of the wedge to bring in Protection, or is it a war measure. Do you ever think of making it permanent?" And the noble Viscount opposite said. "No, on my honour no." It is so important that I will ask the House to forgive we while I read the exact words that were used in this House by the noble Viscount. He said—The bonus—That is, the guarantee—is essentially a war policy. It is a war policy of the first necessity. It is an absolute necessity to leave no stone unturned to increase the homegrown supply of food in this country. It is an emergency policy adopted under the pressure of extreme necessity, and I think—I hope the House will listen to this—that every Free Trader can accept that declaration from His Majesty's Government, and accept this bonus as simply and solely a temporary war expedient.And now what have we got in print in this Bill? We are told that the object of the Bill is to make this temporary measure permanent. I have no hesitation in saying that we, the Free Traders of this country, look upon this as a distinct breach of faith. I hope I may be excused for speaking plainly on this subject, but the noble Viscount opposite knows that in days gone 1154 by those with whom I have worked have not I seen eye to eye with him and his policy. But we have always found the noble Viscount a perfectly clean fighter; we have always looked upon him as one of the most honorable, honest, and upright men—a man who would be absolutely incapable of any act of political legerdemain. And therefore I think we shall await his speech with very considerable anxiety and interest, as there must be some hidden reason, some reason of vital importance, which has made him change his mind on so important a subject as this, and made him lend his countenance and support to turning a Bill which he himself in this House said was temporary into a permanent one.
We are told that we must pass this Bill because the Labour Party and the Labour men are in favour of it. Well, I have no earthly right to speak for the Labour Party, but I am told that they have come into this frame of mind because they have been told and because they believe (which is so extraordinary) that if guaranteed prices go the guaranteed living wages must go as well; that the two things are balanced; that the two things go together—that if one goes the other must go also. Now, my Lords, can you believe that? What would be the use of their new and well organised labourers' trade union if that were the case? If, and only if—which I cannot for one moment conceive possible—there were any determined attempt to bring agricultural wages down again to their pre-war starvation level the agricultural labourers' union would take action at once and they would be supported, and properly supported, by all the other Labour organisations; and yet more, I think they would have the sympathy and the approval for their action of seven men out of ten in this country. I cannot under any circumstances conceive that the old horrible state of things which existed before the war should ever come into operation again, a state of things which was not only a disgrace and a scandal but a danger to this country.
What would the British public say about this balancing movement? If the British public once think that tinder the present land tenure agricultural labourers cannot hope for a living wage unless it is secured by a rise in the price of the nation's food, we shall have nationalisation of the land—not the present nationalisation, not the nationalisation which means that if 1155 an unwilling owner refuses to part with his land for public purposes for what is an absolute necessity to the community it may be taken from him and a proper price paid, but we shall have nationalisation of the most stringent kind that it is possible to conceive. The fact would be that proposals would be made to take the land from the people who are at present in possession of it.
I have only one question to ask the Government. There was one thing which struck everybody, and that was the way in which the noble Lord opposite, the Minister of Agriculture, omitted to say anything of what the cost of this Bill would be. He skated over that thin ice very gingerly. I want to ask His Majesty's Government one distinctive question. Whether they will answer it or not I do not know, but I think on the answer to that question will depend a great deal the way in which the vote will go on the Second Reading. I want to ask them, Can they tell us, dare they tell us, how many millions this Bill will cost the country if it is once put into operation and once gets into full swing? Will it cost £40,000,000? Will it cost £50,000,000? Or will it cost £60,000,000? We know what the idea of millions is now; we will not be very particular to £10,000,000; but we ask the Government to give us some slight idea of what the cost of what I must call this most iniquitous Bill would be if it ever came into active operation.
My last word is, Are you going to vote for a Bill of this sort? It is called an Agriculture Bill, but it does not touch the fringe of agriculture. It is no more an Agriculture Bill than I am an agricultural labourer. The Bill does not provide land for soldiers or for agricultural cottages, or help small holdings or allotments. It fails to help the agricultural industry, as it does not deal with scientific treatment or artificial fertilisers, nor does it provide anything for agricultural education or research. It does not attempt to deal with the question of the transport or distribution of food. It gives no real security of tenure as I think I have shown, to the tenant farmer. Then what does it do? All it does is to interfere with and to annoy every branch of the agricultural industry, to increase the price of food to an already overtaxed nation, while it does not add one single acre to our wheat cultivation or give employment to another agricultural labourer.
1156 I ask your Lordships to read this Bill a second time—but not to-morrow before dinner; to read it a second time in the dim and distant future, at the Greek Kalends, or, in plain English, this day six months. That is the suggestion that I humbly make to your Lordships, and with all respect and with equal confidence I beg to move the Amendment that stands in my name.
Leave out ("now") and insert at the end of the Motion ("this day six
months").—(The Marquess of Lincolnshire.)
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, there is no doubt about the importance of this Bill. I am afraid it is my permanent misfortune to disagree politically with the noble Marquess who has moved the rejection, and I am afraid that there are certain points in this Bill where I shall find myself also at variance with some of my noble friends behind me whose co-operation and good opinion I so greatly value. But I should not be honest if I did not state to your Lordships' House exactly why I stand here to support the Second Reading of this Bill.
This Bill consists of two parts, only indirectly connected. The key word of the first part is "guarantee and control"; the keyword of the second part is "security." First of all, I want to say something about the principle which lies at the root of the first part of this Bill. I understand that that principle is the increase of production for reasons connected with national welfare and safety. I will only very briefly refer to national welfare as distinct from safety. I understand that the Government feel increasing anxiety at the growing disproportion between the rural and urban population in this country, and I must say I personally hold that view too. I think it is a political and social danger that the political power of the rural population is so constantly decreasing in proportion to that of the industrial population. The questions on which I wish to say something are the considerations of national safety which I believe to be the principles on which this Bill is based.
We all hope and pray that this country will never be engaged again in a great war like the one from which we have recently emerged. But no man can be so rash as to say that that is impossible. Therefore 1157 it is our duty as trustees of this generation to omit no precaution that will enable our children and grandchildren, if they are forced to fight such a war, to emerge from it victoriously. It is not possible, I quite agree, to foresee exactly the conditions under which a future war will be fought. All we can do is to take precautions in our generation according to the light we have. There are some people who think that in a future war twenty-five years hence there will be no need for a Navy, or at any rate for any capital ships in a Navy. Personally I wholly disagree with them. But who is going to be so rash as to say that because a Navy may be out of (late under future conditions therefore the Admiralty ought to stop shipbuilding? It is exactly on the same line of national defence that I approach this question of Part I of the Bill.
What will happen if this Bill is rejected and no Bill of the same kind takes its place, if we relapse into the policy of laissez faire which existed before the war? It is not a case of things remaining as they are. No; the process of the conversion of arable land to grass will go on at an ever-increasing rate, and if war took place twenty-five years hence this country would not find itself with the same proportion of grass and arable land as it had in 1914, but something very much less. And why? Not because in my humble opinion grass fanning is more remunerative than arable, but because it is sufficiently remunerative and at the cost of much less risk and anxiety. Therefore to my mind the danger is that our children might be confronted in a future war with a very small proportion indeed of land under the plough.
What would happen? We remember the risk we ran in the last war, but the number of submarines and aerial craft that will be in existence at the beginning of a future war will be infinitely greater than at the beginning or the end of the last war. Do not suppose that I think this country can ever forego the importation of food. It is all a question of degree and proportion. It will make the whole difference in the judgment of the Admiralty, as I understand, to the future conduct of a war whether we have to import practically the whole of our corn stuffs or only a proportion. If it is suggested—I think Lord Lincolnshire said so—that should the same conditions 1158 occur again we must go through the same process of ploughing up, the answer is this, as I conceive it. If the decrease of arable land takes place at the rate I have supposed you would not have in this country the experience, the trained labour or the apparatus for tillage, and the enemy would not give you the time for that improvisation which was possible under the conditions of the last war.
Therefore Part I of this Bill rests, according to my conception, borne out if I may be permitted a personal statement by my own experience at the Admiralty and Board of Agriculture, solely on the conditions of national safety. This cannot be too often affirmed, because it is perfectly certain that neither the agricultural landowner nor the agricultural occupier has ever asked for any part of this Bill for his own sake. If it was consistent with national safety every single one of them would only ask to be left alone. Therefore the case that the Government have to make is the case, as I conceive it to be, I that this is a question not of the advantage to the owner or occupier, but a question ' of national safety. That is all I am going to say about the principle on which Part I is founded.
But a number of important questions will emerge. The first question is in respect of the guarantee. Is the guarantee sufficient? Is it a basis on which a policy can be founded? Many of your Lordships think it is not, and that is a proper and very necessary subject for discussion. Then comes the question of control. If there is a guarantee, and if the basis of the policy is national safety, obviously the Government must take precautions to see that the policy is effective. That means control, and control is the most unpopular part of the whole of this Bill. Every single owner and occupier dislikes control in any shape or form, and will only submit to it if convinced that it is necessary for the national safety. Supposing that conviction be reached, then your Lordships must examine carefully the proposals for control. Will they be effective? Are they adequate? Are they excessive? Are the safeguards all that they should be for the legitimate interests of the State, the owner and the occupier? Those are all questions which will emerge in respect of Part I of the Bill.
Now I come to Part II, which deals with what has been termed security. Why is 1159 there any question of security or insecurity? Before the war there were certain rather advanced advocates of the tenant farmers' views who asked for fixity of tenure, but the vast mass of tenant farmers in this country felt that they had perfect security in the legitimate exercise of their profession. Why therefore has this question of security emerged? It is because of the enormous sales of land which have taken place. And why have the sales of land taken place? Simply because the agricultural landowner could not afford to hold his land. Agricultural landowning has been for a long time a very unprofitable form of investment. With the war came the war taxation, and the owner found his position perfectly impossible. He found also that there was a market for his land and, like a wise man, most legitimately he sold it.
The result on the tenant was unfortunate. It was doubly so because, most unfortunately as I have always ventured to think, it became the practice for all owners, or most of them, who sold their land to give notice to quit to all their tenants before the sale. As we are to a great extent a House of owners it is only fair and right that the occupier's ease should be fully stated here in the debate. The result was that many thousands of tenant farmers, greatly attached to their farms and their homes, who never dreamed that so long as they fulfilled their contracts honourably they would receive notice, did receive notice and in many cases were forced to quit. That was a great shock to the whole of their social and family system. They received notice to quit in many cases owing to the operations of syndicates formed to buy the land and to sell it so as to obtain the greatest profit for the syndicates. I will not pursue this story further, because it is very familiar to all your Lordships. The consequence was that this feeling of insecurity, which did not exist before in any important measure, became general.
If your Lordships will pardon me, it is very important to state the case as between the owner and the occupier fairly in this debate, because Part II depends so much on that question. Perhaps you will permit me to state a little matter of history. When this question first became a burning question, eighteen months to two years ago, the representatives of the Central Landowners' Association ap- 1160 proached the National Farmers' Union and asked them whether the two bodies could not put their heads together and endeavour to arrive at a settlement of the questions which were becoming important and almost burning public questions. We said that except on the question of tenure we saw no reason why there should not be complete agreement, but that we recognised, in respect of tenure, that it might not be possible to come to an agreement, and in that case each party would be free to go its own way and to take its own course unprejudiced by the discussion. That offer, I greatly regret to say, was courteously but definitely refused, and from that day to this the question has emerged rather as a controversy between these two classes who have so many common interests in the land and between whom the mutual relations are on the whole so good.
But there has been a great deal of confused thought. The words "security of tenure" have been constantly used by the National Farmers' Union which never has had fixity of tenure or dual ownership as part of its programme. It has carefully avoided them in England, though I believe the contrary is true of Scotland. Though these farmers disclaim, honestly and fully, any intention of asking for fixity of tenure, yet they use the words "security of tenure" in a very loose manner. If you come to think of it security of tenure really means fixity of tenure. There cannot be full security of tenure without fixity of tenure; fixity of tenure means dual ownership; and dual ownership, as all your Lordships would agree, is a most disastrous system. A great deal of the difficulty which has arisen in this controversy has been due to looseness and confusion of thought in the use of words. If any of your Lordships have taken the trouble to read the evidence laid before the Royal Commission on Agriculture which sat last year you will have seen from the questions asked and the cross-examination of witnesses how very confused are all the ideas held on this question.
Now I must allude in this connection to some words I greatly regret were used the other day by Mr. Langford, the Chairman of the National Farmers' Union, at Bristol. He was speaking in favour of this Bill, and the assumption on his part was that this House would throw 1161 the Bill out. He is reported to have said that—His knowledge of the temperament of the farming community was this. If they did not get this very modest measure of security they would go straight for fixity of tenure or join the Labour Party and go in for ationalisation.I do not think Mr. Langford really meant to try to bluff your Lordships' House. It would not be courteous or respectful to him to think that. Nor can I for one moment believe that he really contemplated that the National Farmers' Union would go in for fixity of tenure, because what does fixity of tenure mean? It means fair rent and free sale, the transfer to the tenant of a large proportion of the property of the landowner, created exclusively by himself and his predecessors in title, without payment—a property to which the tenant has absolutely no legal or moral claim. Knowing as I do the tenant farmers of England I do not think for one moment that they would endorse any such proposition. Therefore I take it that what really is in Mr. Langford's mind is that if he does not get this Bill he will go in for the nationalisation of land. On another occasion it might be very interesting to discuss here what effect the nationalisation of the land would have on the State or on the landowner. All I want to point out to agriculturists is that to the farmer, to the cultivator of the soil, nationalisation means rivetting the yoke of officialdom in its most complete and uncompromising form on his neck permanently.
What the occupier is entitled to is not fixity of tenure in any shape or form, but full security for his capital legitimately invested; and approaching the Bill and its provisions in this respect, let me remind your Lordships what are the relative positions of the landowner and occupier to-day. Putting aside those fortunate owners of agricultural land who have other means of supporting their property, and dealing only with that great body of squires who are dependent upon their agricultural property for their subsistence, perhaps it was true before the war that the squire was a comparatively rich man, and the substantial occupier was a comparatively poor man. What is the position to-day? It is perfectly certain that the squire is the comparatively poor man and the substantial farmer is the rich man Why? Because whereas during the war the labourer increased his wages manyfold, and the farmer prospered greatly, and quite legitimately 1162 and to the national advantage, the landowner got no advantage out of the war whatever. His is the proud record of having given everything and taken nothing. The consequence is that he now has to sell his land.
And when you come to Part II of this Bill it is only fair and right to remember what has been the experience of some of the landowners who have sold their land. I know that it has happened, again and again, that an owner who has been forced to sell his land has with the greatest consideration for the tenants not put his property up to auction. He has had it valued and sold it to the tenants by private agreement, and then he has found, in case after case, that the tenant has gone and resold the land at great profit. Is it wonderful, therefore, that he has been advised usually to go to auction, and why should he not go to auction? That is the means of disposing of his property which the occupier always uses when he sells his property off the farm. When the Government is concerned in the matter in the capacity of trustee—either the Charity Commission or the Education Department—I think they almost always insist that the land should be put up to auction. Yet, my Lords, it has actually happened on several occasions that there has been something like a not at an auction—certain farmers have combined to try and stop the auction. There was a case decided in the Courts as recently as the 3rd of this month, by Mr. Justice Lawrence, in which farmers who did this were properly punished. I deeply regret that nobody else whose sale has been interrupted has taken the same proceedings as these people, who have done a great public service by doing so. I know as a fact that these practices have had no encouragement whatever from the Executive Council of the National Farmers' Union. They have set their faces steadily against anything of the kind, as one would expect from the gentlemen who compose that Council.
Why have I mentioned these things? Because it is really necessary in examining the provisions of Part II to see what is the history of the matter, and how the case stands, because there are at this moment spokesmen of the occupiers who are claiming something wholly unreasonable. They ask to have all the advantages of the position of an owner, and all the advantages of the position of an occupier, 1163 and none of the disadvantages of the position either of an owner or an occupier. Why do I say that? Because these men, some of whom are making quite exaggerated demands for compensation on disturbance, insist upon the right of leaving the farm at any moment they like on twelve months' notice. The one thing they will not part with is the right to leave the farm whenever they like. How does that bear upon this Bill? It means nothing less than this—that to the State, in carrying out such a policy as is adumbrated in this Bill, the owner is a much more important person than the occupier, because the occupier can run away, and will if times are bad, but the owner cannot run away. The owner never can leave his property unless he can find somebody else to take his place, and therefore if the Government want a policy permanently carried out the owner is of more importance to them than the occupier, and the person who is of the greatest importance of all is the owner-occupier, the man who is now, I am glad to say, numbered by many thousands in this country—either the squire farming his own estate or a large portion of it, or the farmer who has bought his farm. Between them they really form the class on which I think the policy of the Government should be based.
What has been the attitude of the Minister of Agriculture? He has had the conflicting views of the owner and the occupier put before him. To my knowledge he has listened to both with the utmost patience and courtesy, and I hope you have noticed that in his speech the other night he never used the words "security of tenure." The word he used was "security." Therefore I am quite sure that he has approached this matter with strict impartiality, but nevertheless I hope he will permit me to say that this Bill, in my judgment, sways the beam too far towards the occupier in the interests of the State.
Let me read a paragraph from the Report of the Agricultural Policy Sub-Committee, over which I had the honour to preside, and on the Report of which this Bill is to a large extent, though by no means wholly, founded. This Bill awards, except in certain cases strictly defined, all expenses of removal and one year's rent—not net rent but gross rent, which is a very serious thing; it means perhaps four or five years' net rent—in 1164 every case of non-capricious disturbance, and it awards a maximum of four years' rent in cases of capricious disturbance. There is of course no definition, and there can be no definition, of what is capricious or what is non-capricious. I ask your Lordships to listen to paragraph 278 of the Report of my Committee—It is generally agreed that the compensation allowed under the existing Acts is insufficient in cases of capricious disturbance. We are of opinion that in such cases the tenant might reasonably be allowed an additional year's profit, beyond that made during the year in which the notice to quit is running, in addition to the compensation for loss already allowed under the existing Act. In view, however, of the possibility of disagreement as to assessment of profits, we prefer to base the additional compensation to be allowed on the rent paid, and we recommend the insertion, after 'entitled' in the above sections, of the following words, to a sum not exceeding one year's rent in addition to compensation for the loss or expense directly attributable to his quitting the holding.'That was in the case of capricious disturbance, and that is exactly what this Bill awards in the case of non-capricious disturbance.
What is going to be the result of that? This is a point that I want most particularly to press upon my two noble friends opposite. I try to look at this matter entirely from the point of view of the State, and not of that of the owner. The object of this Bill is to increase production and to improve the class of farmer who farms the land. There are very good farmers in this country, and there are very bad farmers. The very bad farmer is dealt with, but there is, and we all know it, a large class of indifferent farmers, men whom in the interest of the State it would be much better to get rid of in order to put good farmers in their places. How will the indifferent farmer, the man who is not a palpable sloven, emerge from this Bill? I am afraid that he will be rooted into his holding. With all the best intentions, the words of the Bill as they stand at present will make it quite impossible for the ordinary landlord who wants to get rid of an indifferent tenant and to put a better man in his place to do so. That is, perhaps, the most serious flaw in Part II of this Bill.
Then I come to the case of the owner-occupier, whom I have already suggested is the most valuable class in the whole country from the agricultural point of view. Take the case of a man who has just bought his farm and farms it himself. 1165 A year or two hence he dies. His son is still a boy of fifteen or sixteen. That boy ought to continue and finish his education. He ought to have his general education completed, and to go to some agricultural college, and then take his place on his father's farm. Why should he be fined one year's rent if his mother lets the farm for five or six years, and the man who takes it knows quite well the family circumstances, and that the son will want the farm when he has finished his education? It seems to me this is a very unfortunate and unjust handicap on the owner-occupier. I apologise, my Lords, for having detained the House so long. I have tried to indicate some of the facts which bear on the controversy that we are discussing, and some of the points which will emerge for discussion in Committee, but from what I said at the beginning of my speech your Lordships can have no doubt that if my noble friend Lord Lincolnshire goes to a Division I shall vote against him.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Your Lordships will have noted that the discussion of the Bill has so far been entirely confined to the Ministry of Agriculture past and present. The Second Reading was moved by the noble Lord opposite, the Minister of Agriculture, in a most masterly statement which clearly set before the House all the arguments which have induced His Majesty's Government to deal with the question in this way at this moment; and now my noble friend Lord Lincolnshire, who so honourably occupied a similar post in the past, has moved the rejection of the Bill, and the noble Earl who has just sat down is, as we know, of still more recent connection with the Department. My noble friend Lord Lincolnshire has moved the rejection of the Bill, and we all know what his experience is, and also what his proved devotion is to the cause of agriculture in all its relations; and therefore we may be sure that he has considered the matter thoroughly before taking the responsibility of moving the rejection of the Bill on Second Reading.
I may say at once that while I agree with many of the criticisms which my noble friend made, and while I disagree to sonic extent with the particular support of the Bill which has been given by my noble friend who has just sat down, yet I do not feel justified in joining my noble friend in voting against the Second Reading. In the 1166 first place, I think it will be generally held by your Lordships' House that it is a very serious matter here—although I confess your Lordships have not always shown it in the past where sonic of out measures were concerned—to reject on Second Reading, and with only the sort of discussion and examination which can be given on a Second Reading, a measure to which the House of Commons has given much attention and upon which it has spent a great deal of time. But apart from that, I happen to have the honour at this moment to be Chairman of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, which is the most generally representative of all the agricultural bodies in that it contains many representatives of the landowning class, many tenant farmers, including a number of members of the National Farmers' Union, many land-agents, and, in fact, all sections connected with landowning except the agricultural labourers, though we should be exceedingly glad if the agricultural workers' unions would join our body and add force to our deliberations. In that capacity I should be extremely unwilling to vote against the Second Reading of a Bill which professes to be, and indeed is, an amending measure of the existing Agricultural Holdings Acts. There are many points on which I think the Bill should be amended and on which close examination is required, but I feel that to reject; it without such examination would not be a proper step for any one to take who is entitled to speak in any sense as a representative of agricultural opinion at this moment. These two Bills— because Part I and Part II are really two Bills——
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
—are somewhat loosely connected, and I think it would have been more profitable if they had been brought in as distinct measures. I do not see any close link of cohesion between them. We cannot deny that so far as Part is concerned it does finally pronounce the doom of the independent system of British farming. I think that is not putting it too strongly, because in order to avoid collective ownership—and we understand that is one of the stated purposes of His Majesty's Government—it sets up a system of something very like collective management or, if that is too strong a term, a form of collective superintendence which is not applied to any other industry what- 1167 ever. And the alleged reason is that which has been so strongly advanced by the noble Earl who spoke last—namely, that this question of arable farming has to be regarded as a definite part of national defence, in the sense that the land of this country must be regarded as a kind of adjunct to the Army and Navy with a view to its becoming a source of supply in time of war. One is almost inclined to observe that the proper person to preside over the Ministry of Agriculture must be the Quartermaster-General of His Majesty's Army rather than the noble Lord who so capably fills that place. If this argument is to be pressed to the whole length to which my noble friend behind me seems disposed to press it, I do not think that is putting the matter too strongly.
It is assumed, I think, that the late war taught us certain lessons, and the lesson which we apparently ought to have learned is that although the Navy can retain the command of the sea so far as the protection from invasion of these Islands is concerned, yet so far as the protection of commerce and the convoying of supplies is concerned we must be said, in a certain sense at any rate, to have lost the command of the sea; or if we can retain it at all it is only at such vast and almost incalculable expense that different measures have to be taken if our national existence is to be maintained. I mention incalculable expense because of the estimated figure which my noble friend mentioned, which I had also seen, that it cost £20,000,000 to destroy each German submarine. Therefore, my Lords, something in the nature of the Corn Production Act of 1917 has, according to those who hold those views, to be continued, and that is the purpose and object of the guarantees mentioned in the Bill.
I take very much the same view about the whole question of compulsory corn growing and of guarantees as is taken by my noble friend the Marquess of Lincolnshire. I cannot bring myself to be convinced by the arguments so powerfully advanced by my noble friend the Earl of Selborne. If he is right and we really are, if not beleaguered, at this moment liable to be beleaguered almost completely at very short notice—if you admit those premises then, no doubt, there is much to be said for the view advanced by my noble friend. But even with all the modifications of the Act of 1917 which this Bill contains it is admitted by the noble Lord opposite and 1168 lamented by my noble friend behind me that there remains a vast amount of direct interference with the farming industry. The effect of paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of Clause 4—(b) that the production of food on any land can, in the national interest and without injuriously affecting the persons interested in the land, be maintained or increased by the occupier by means of an improvement in the existing method of cultivation or by the use of the land for arable cultivationdoes, of course, involve that direct interference. I understand from what the noble Lord opposite said in his opening speech that this power of ordering ploughing, to put it plainly, is so fenced about and so safeguarded by every manner of appeal that nobody need be considered to be endangered by it. One is inclined to consider that if it is so very important that there should be a large amount of ploughing and at very short notice, the noble Lord may be wrong to have fenced the possibility about in such a way as to make it extremely difficult to realise. If, on the other hand, it is really so difficult to get a ploughing order through I would ask the noble Lord whether it is worth while to keep in the Bill at all a provision which has undoubtedly agitated a great number of people, and filled different agricultural societies with the most acute alarm if, after all, it is not likely to be freely used or very effective in practive.
I would remind the noble Lord—I cannot think that his Department have quite realised it—that here this one industry is going to be permanently made the subject of public inspection is a way in which no other industry in this country ever has been or apparently will be. We are, of course, familiar with inspection by public authorities, but that inspection is carried out in different instances sometimes with a view of safeguarding the health of those engaged in the industry, sometimes (as for instance the case of manufactures of explosives and others) in the interests of the public safety, and sometimes in other instances to avoid the creation of a public nuisance. But there is no instance so far as I know where public inspection takes place in order to ensure a certain amount of production or a particular kind of production. I do not think it is possible to find an industry which is thus, in a sense, subjected to a sort of bastard nationalisation (if I may so call it) in that 1169 manner. And I cannot help thinking that when your Lordships consider this Bill in Committee—if you pass the Second Reading—this particular part of Clause 4 (1) will be subjected to very close consideration indeed.
Supposing my noble friend Lord Selborne is right—and I assume that the Government share the same view, that there is a possibility of a sudden war on a large scale—we need not at this moment consider with whom such a war is or can be waged; but, assuming that such a thing is possible, we have to ask, Do the provisions of the Bill as they stand meet the case? Shall we, even if the Bill is passed as it stands, be very much better off in the way of corn production than we were in 1914? That, I think, is a point of some importance. In some ways we shall be less favourably situated, because in 1914 there was a great deal of pasture land which later was ploughed up, which contained it is true in some cases wireworm, but also contained very valuable and important elements of ancient fertility which tended, particularly in the absence of artificial manures, to produce relatively heavy crops, if not in the first season, at any rate in the second.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
No, I said when ploughing began after 1914. Of course, so far as that land has been ploughed, whether it remains arable or whether it has been laid down again into very inferior grass, it has parted with its particular quality, and pro tanto you would be in a worse position. On the other hand, you are no doubt in a better position in this respect that by having increased your arable area you have probably more individuals who can plough, and you possess more implements for the purpose, but whether that addition of power is sufficient to put you in a very much better position as regards the production of a crop of wheat, assuming for the moment that the wheat is not in the ground, I think is open to question. Or, to put the matter in another way, unless you have actually got your land under wheat you are not in a very much better position because it is now arable than you would be if it was good pasture. My point is that His Majesty's Government do not, I think, venture to go as far as they would like to go—namely, by enforcing a certain portion of compulsory wheat-growing in this 1170 country; and if His Majesty's Government share the views of Lord Selborne, which I consider somewhat unduly alarmist, they ought, I think, to have stiffened their Bill a good deal in this direction. Because, as matters stand, if a great war were to be sprung upon us at short notice I cannot help feeling that, Bill or no Bill, Act or no Act, we should run the risk, so far as wheat is concerned, of being caught short (as they say in the City) very much as we were in the autumn of 1914.
We know, of course (it is familiar to everybody who has studied these subjects at all), the objections to wheat storage. It has been carefully considered, and anything like a large system of storage has been, as I understand, in the main rejected by the experts. But I cannot help thinking that, as matters stand, it would be worth the while of His Majesty's Government to consider, if they share the views of my noble friend Lord Selborne, whether they ought not to combine the provisions of this Bill with some other provisions which would ensure the existence of a six months' supply (or whatever it might be) of wheat in the country at a given moment—if they really believe that a sudden outbreak of war has to be guarded against.
I need say very little about Part II of the Bill, which brings one, of course, into a completely different atmosphere. We all know what the English land system depends upon—how under that system of landlord and tenant, as we have known it, generally speaking a major part of the farm is supplied by the landlord in the form of the permanent improvements and he makes himself responsible for the complete maintenance of those permanent elements of the farm. The changes that have taken place in our land system owing to the great number of sales which have taken place have been described by previous speakers. I certainly myself do not dispute that some amendment of the law is needed in the direction of strengthening the Agricultural Holdings Act. The one thing—I entirely agree with my noble friend who spoke last—if you are going to maintain our present system, is to avoid the creation of a separate tenant's interest in the land—that is to say, the creation of a saleable tenant right, whether it be goodwill or however you may choose to describe it, which would take us some way down the slope which led to the Irish system 1171 known as the three F.'s, and to the ultimate necessity for State purchase.
Here I am probably not in complete agreement with my noble friend Lord Lincolnshire. He, I think, casts a more favourable eye on what is known in the strict sense as fixity of tenure than I do, because I consider it altogether incompatible with the maintenance of the English land system as we know it. What is meant by security of tenure—used, as Lord Selborne truly said, in a somewhat loose sense—as described in this Bill, is a state of things which will make a landowner think twice before he changes a tenant without good cause. It is rather in the nature, as I take it, of a deterrent to the landowner who may wish to make a change for a reason which may seem good to him but does not involve any failure on the part of the occupier. Looking at this greatly vexed clause, subsection (5) of Clause 8, I agree with the previous speaker that the one year's compensation is a highly illogical method of compensating an outgoing tenant, and also it cannot be disputed that in some cases it is bound to inflict much hardship, upon small landowners particularly. At the same time I confess that, as matters stand, I should not attempt to remove this provision from the Bill, and for this reason—that in the original scheme of the Bill, and certainly in some of the Amendments that were moved in another place, there was an attempt to establish compensation not merely for the expenses of removal but for what could only be described as the goodwill of the farm that was being dealt with. Once you start down that slope you are creating a dual interest, and therefore, illogical though this one year's rent is and unfairly as I have said it would work sometimes, yet I would sooner agree to its retention in the Bill than leave the matter open for the insertion of other words, plausible enough in themselves, but which would contain the germ of what I consider is a very dangerous principle. On the other hand, I am not at all sure, in Clause 14, that what is described as continuous good farming does not rather tend to create something in the nature of a good will, and it has to be regarded with great suspicion on that ground. It has always seemed to me an absolutely indefensible proposal in itself, and I confess I shall not be sorry if it disappears from the Bill in the course of its progress through your Lordships' hands.
1172 I have pointed out that I do not think it right to oppose the Bill although I take as strong an exception as anybody could to the greater part of Part I, to the whole system of the fixed prices, guarantees, and attempts to create an artificial system of wheat-growing in this country. On the other hand, as I say, I think that the second part of the Bill deserves and ought to receive close examination and support in its main features. I am sorry to part company for once with my noble friend Lord Lincolnshire, but I am sure he will understand that it is not from any want of appreciation of his interest in agriculture, but simply through a difference of opinion as to the probable effect of the passing of some provisions of this Bill, and even more the probable effect of its rejection by your Lordships' House.
§ LORD ERNLE
My Lords, I think I almost ought to apologise to the noble Marquess who has just sat down for following him as yet another ex-President of the Board of Agriculture. This Bill, has come into this House as an unwelcome guest to all appearance, but the first point that I would make is that if it is an unwelcome guest it is not an unbidden one. It has come here with a very strong and a very pressing invitation. The ink was hardly dry on the signature of the Armistice before a demand was made by agriculturists from every part of the country for an immediate declaration of the Government's policy towards agriculture. At that time the Government was immersed in peace negotiations. For ten months I had plenty of opportunity of knowing how strong, how persistent, was the demand, and how it went on increasing in volume. Now in fulness of time the Government accedes to that request, it fulfils a pledge, it discharges a promise, it frames a policy, and that policy is in the Bill.
I confess for my part that if a policy is to be framed by a Coalition Government I cannot conceive what lines it could follow other than those contained in the Bill. I would remind your Lordships that the only other policy which is at present in the political field is nationalisation. If I might make one other point from that waiting period in the early months of 1919, it is this. A Commission of Inquiry over the whole range of agriculture was demanded. It was pushed strongly by the Labour Party in the Labour newspapers. It was taken up by influential agriculturists in the 1173 other House. A Resolution was passed on the subject, and although for my own part the one thing I wanted was to keep the air cool and the field clear, I had to give way. I dreaded a repetition of the Coal Commission, and therefore the Commission was appointed with the most strict terms of reference and with a very peculiar constitution, on which I different I from the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. No representatives of the land-owning interests were placed upon that Commission. That was quite deliberate. I felt that if they were there it would enlarge the scope of the inquiry, and we confined it to the one particular point of prices which is embodied in the Bill. I want to make this comment. If that Commission had been granted with extended terms of reference, and if it had been constituted as the Coal Commission was constituted, I am quite certain that, the reception which has been given to this Bill by agriculturists would have been profoundly modified. You would have found how strong, how bitter, and how far reaching are the feelings upon the subject contained in this Bill. I believe that you will, as I do, recognise in this Bill a perfectly genuine effort to effect a working compromise between opposing and conflicting forces.
I quite agree with the criticisms which have been offered on the Bill in some parts. I do not agree with the whole of it, and I shall point out one particular in which I differ from it essentially. But I want to pursue for a moment the point that it is a working compromise between conflicting forces. I will follow the order which Lord Lincolnshire pursued and take first the relations of landlord and tenant and ask you to see how the Bill is a compromise between two conflicting forces. The one essential and vital principle of the relations between landlord and tenant is that there should be one owner and one owner only. I had plenty of experience of the force with which the opposite principle was urged upon the Government in my time, and I am perfectly certain that the noble Lord has had a still more recent experience of the same kind. The Bill does not give way on that point. Fixity of tenure with dual ownership is not given. What is given is this—perhaps it is a better phrase than security of tenure—continuity of tenure is strengthened and compensation is payable upon its interruption. That is the principle upon which the Bill proceeds. This 1174 part of the Bill, of course, is going to depreciate the selling value of land. On the other hand it is going to make land easier to let, and you will have saved this vital principle of single ownership. There you have the balance fairly drawn, although I shall allow myself some latitude in criticising and perhaps voting on some of the clauses on that point.
The second part deals with production. I will not go into the war side of that question, because it has been emphasised by Lord Lee of Fareham and also by Lord Selborne. But again you have this balance of compromise. No one with any practical knowledge of agriculture can pretend that the maintenance of arable farming, which is the essence of this part of the Bill, is anything, or may even turn out to be anything, but a depreciation of the value of land. Quite obviously it is so. Grass land is cheaper to cultivate, does not involve such a large outlay of capital, reduces the labour bill, and reduces also the anxiety and risks from weather or foreign competition. It is therefore to your interests, where you have the alternative, to turn arable land into grass, and the Government recognise that it is getting national advantages at the expense of those who own I and occupy arable land.
But arable farming also gives you the power of employing more labour, maintaining a larger rural population on the land for the benefit of the national health and preventing the increasing congestion of the towns. Those are big national advantages. I do not think they can be disputed. You put the two against one another, and the nation comes forward and says, "We see that you are going to sacrifice your commercial advantages (those of you who farm your land as arable) and, therefore, we will come forward not to maintain your profits but to prevent your substantial loss, and at the point where profit ends and loss begins we will step in and shoulder the burden." You set your gains as citizens against your gains as men of business; it is a matter of compromise and it would be very difficult to say on which side the balance lies.
There is also this further effect of the maintenance of arable farming. I do not wish to discuss but merely to state the attitude of the industrial classes in the towns towards agricultural land. They 1175 undoubtedly regard it, whether it is in private ownership or not, as a national asset for the production of food and the employment of labour. They ask that if the existing system breaks down on these two points another system must be established. The Bill does meet those arguments. In the first place, as to the production of food it meets it in two ways. It meets it by a clause relating to arable farming and the provision for enforcing good cultivation. In spite of what the noble Marquess has said I hope the clauses for the enforcement of good cultivation will not be whittled away so as to become ineffective. But the point on which the townsmen lay most stress, and dread beyond anything else, is that the rural population will be forced, either by inadequate wages or actual want of work, to flock into the towns to compete in the industrial labour market. That is the dread which haunts them and again the Bill meets that point. It meets it by the Wages Board and by the maintenance of arable farming, and it is because all the way through these fiercely conflicting forces are met and a working compromise established that, on the general outlines of the Bill, I support it.
The noble Marquess raised a point which seems to me the most difficult in the whole Bill—namely, the power to increase arable cultivation in Part IV. I feel very strongly on that portion of the Bill. Fortunately it comes quite early in the measure, and it will depend on the way in which we are treated by the Government on that point whether I give them the support that I should like to give to the rest of the Bill. I feel that it is a very dangerous power to place in the hands of the Minister and of Committees on Agriculture who—we hope not—may be determined to turn the vice and by means of that power to eject the landlord, or the tenant, or both from the land. It is as if your Lordships were to find an Order issued that you were to live in every room of your houses, to have fires lighted all day long, and so many servants. You could not live; you would have to give up your houses. Just in the same way that power, if it exists as it is now, in spite of the appeals to the arbitrators, could be used to compel a man to employ so much labour upon his land that he positively could not live. Therefore that, to my mind, is one of the crucial points in the Bill.
I have tried to be as brief as I could and have left out a vast number of points on 1176 which I should like to say something, but I am not going into other and further details. I would only say in conclusion that I believe that if you reject this Bill on Second Reading you will relieve the Government from a pledge and you will disappoint a vast portion of the agricultural community of the help that they expect, and will leave them, with all the dangerous uncertainty of present prices, face to face with nothing to help them but the altogether obsolete and inadequate guarantees of the existing Corn Production Act. I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill, and in consequence shall have to oppose the Amendment of the noble Marquess.
§ LORD HINDLIP
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord who has just sat down has announced his intention of voting in any case for the Second Reading of the Bill—the unwelcome guest—without having waited to get some kind of assurance from His Majesty's Government that some notice will be taken of his protest and of the protests which will be made from other quarters of the House against parts of this Bill which some of us believe to be very detrimental, if not impossible. After the "S.O.S." to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, of the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading a week ago, I expected the noble Earl to come down here clad in a smock frock, with a cocked hat and sword, dragged in a harvest cart, escorted by a bevy of land girls; and probably drawn by blue jackets. I am somewhat suspicious of consultations between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Admiralty, because I think the consultations between the two Departments may lead the Minister of Agriculture to be more in favour of rigid control than he would have been otherwise.
Personally, I am still very much in doubt as to the real purpose of the Bill. The original idea was that it was going to produce more food and that the consumer would benefit. Now, apparently, the Government have dropped all their power to make a man plant wheat or oats. That seems to me to knock production of food on the head, certainly as regards the consumer. We are told that the Bill is to employ more labour. I am rather sceptical as to whether it will be successful in doing that. I think that will depend more upon the seasons we have in this country than upon any legislation. I do not know if the object of the Bill is to 1177 transfer something, as was suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, from the pocket of the landowner to that of the tenant farmer, but there is a point with reference to this Bill of which I hope your Lordships will not lose sight. It is more than a point in connection with the Bill; it is a point in the national finances of the country.
In the Estimates for the year 1913–14 those of the Board of Agriculture were less than £900,000. In the Estimates for 1920–21 they were very nearly £3,000,000, and if you add to that the expenses which have been incurred in various matters such as land settlement, forestry, the Corn Production Act and county committees, you will reach a total of over £6,000,000. On the top of this I understand that there are expenses with reference to flax growing in the country, and now we come to this Bill. In addition to these swollen Estimates you have snore expenditure from imperial taxation and local rates for the carrying out of this measure. The Minister of Agriculture in his speech said that a good deal of rhetoric had been used about the number of fresh officials who would be created, but that, so far as he was concerned, there would be very few, beyond special Commissioners and, I think he said, certain assistants to help the crop reporters at various times of the year. But the noble Lord the whole time ignored the expenses of the county committees
§ LORD HINDLIP
It is true they come under another Bill, but this is the Bill which is going to impose the duties on those committees and this Bill is going to be worked by those committees. I think I am justified in saying that. I have alluded to the swollen Estimates, and I hope I have not been out of order in doing so. The noble Lord spoke of the attitude of the House of Commons with reference to the Bill. I think he said that no large majority had been produced against it. That is perfectly true, but some very hard words were used against the measure in the House of Commons, especially against control of cultivation. If I may take one instance, I find that Colonel Mildmay on November 15 said—Honestly, and I think this must be admitted, farmers are aghast at the perpetuation of outside dictation as to the methods of cultivation, and 1178 rightly so when we remember the costly mistakes which were made on all sides during the war in connection with the Ploughing Orders.The National Farmers' Union, through their executive, have certainly given their support to this Bill, but I do not think the Union must be quoted as being in entire favour of all its clauses. I find that Mr. Cutts, a member of the executive—I am not quite certain whether he is President-Elect for next year—describes the Bill as "one of the most contentious pieces of agricultural legislation ever introduced." He added—The Farmers' Union had been watching the Bill because there was so much in it they did not want. There was a lot in the Bill that they knew would not be beneficial to agriculture, and it would have been far better for the Farmers' Union to have left it to the Government than to become a sort of godfather to something they did not want. The Bill in its administration would interfere with the freedom of the farmer and with the good of the industry, and he was dead against perpetuating such wartime measures in times of peace. The whole phase of agriculture had altered during the last few years, and there were thousands of farmers who were now their own landlords, which was a serious alteration.I think a very good alteration.
So far as I am concerned with the Bill, I am more concerned with the part of Clause 4 which gives the Government control over cultivation. The argument that the Government are entitled to assume control if they give a guarantee is a perfectly good argument. The man who can pay the piper is certainly entitled to call the tune. The noble Lord says quite frankly that in no circumstances can the guarantee bring profit to the farmer. To begin with, the guarantee will be based, I imagine, upon the average cost of corn-production in the United Kingdom, while the cost and yields will vary in different parts of the country. Again, by the time the farmer has grown his wheat—I do not say sold it, because that may take him some considerable time—I do not see that there is any guarantee that he will ever sell it. In this country millers take a great deal, I think two-thirds, of foreign wheat to one-third English wheat; they are very often full and cannot take the farmers' wheat, and if you are going to continue this control of cultivation and make farmers plough up pasture land in order to grow something which they may not be able to sell, you are not going to get many thanks from them. In that case, if wheat is held up for a considerable time before it is sold, and the 1179 armer has to wait until the Government chooses to pay the guarantee, I think it may involve him in very considerable loss, even if it is only the interest on his money while he is kept out of it, and the loss of his working capital for that time.
The guarantee can come to an end if the Government give four years' notice. If you insist upon retaining this control of cultivation, it is quite conceivable that the noble Lord opposite or his successor may issue control orders to plough up a great deal of grass land, with the result that when the guarantee stops the farmers will have lost their pasture, their land may be dirty and foul—they may have had bad seasons—and it will take them years to get the land clean and down again to good pasture. The picture that one can conjure up if this control is kept and acted upon is one which may for the farmer be a very black one. I should be very sorry, I admit, to see the control of good husbandry and clean land lost, but I think the Government should be content with that, and personally, unless the Government will give us some assurance that they will be content with the control of good husbandry and have no intention of continuing any ploughing orders, I shall find myself unable to do anything except vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
Certain people pay great attention and attach a great deal of importance to the guarantee. I think very likely the guarantee will be called upon a great deal sooner than people thought would be the case not many months ago, and when the taxpayer is called upon to foot the bill, and he does not find it produces a great deal more corn in this country, I do not think the guarantees will have a very long life. We must always remember that we are an industrial country. In introducing this Bill the noble Lord talked about the 4,000,000 acres that have gone out of arable cultivation since 1874. Those who talk of these 4,000,000 acres quite lose sight of the fact that the amount of land available in this country for any cultivation is not what it was in 1874. There have been towns built and railways and all kinds of things made, and, unless I am very much mistaken, in the Ministry of Agriculture Returns for last year I notice that no fewer than 220,000 acres of land went out of cultivation altogether in this country in one year. I believe that if the Government want corn grown in this country they 1180 can get it to a reasonable and certain extent, but I do not think that they are going to get it by control or enforcement of their orders. You must either embark upon a very much larger agricultural policy on the lines existing on the Continent, or you may, I think you probably can, be assured of a certain amount of corn grown in this country if you will enter into contracts with the farmers to grow you a certain number of quarters for a given number of year at a given price, based upon the cost o cultivation plus some margin, 10 per cent. or something like that, for profit. I think that along those lines something might be explored. So much for Part I of the Bill.
If I may I will detain you a few moments longer on Part II. I confess that I am not so vitally interested in Part II as personally I am in Part I. You have torpedoed the landlord. The landlord up to now has been the fount of supplies for the farmer. He has been the supply ship, so to speak, for the submarine. Now if Part II of this Bill remains as it is at present you will make the agriculture seas too dangerous for the landlord to sail his supply ships on, and when the submarine comes up in bad times you will find that the landlord's supply ship is empty, and that no relief can be given to the farmer from where he has always been accustomed to look for it He will be forced to go to neutral sources for supplies which will be found very expensive.
The alternative to this Bill we are told is nationalisation or fixity of tenure. The idea of nationalisation leaves me quite cold. If His Majesty's Government see fit to take steps to nationalise the land, they are of course quite at liberty to do so as long as the taxpayers and the voters will allow them to do it, but if they assume control of the land under a scheme of nationalisation they will also at the same time have to assume the whole of the liabilities that are at present borne by the owner. That in their present Bill they seem extremely unwilling to do. As to the other policy of fixity of tenure, I cannot regard it as a serious contribution to our discussions. Fixity of tenure has been tried and found wanting in the distressful country, and I cannot even now believe that His Majesty's Government are so bankrupt of ideas that the only alternative they can offer to this Bill is a system more or less akin to one which has been a notorious failure.
1181 The noble Lord said the other day that there was unrest and rumblings. That is perfectly true. The sales of estates, of which the Farmers' Union complains so much, have done a great deal to allay that unrest, and very likely they have done something to prevent an upheaval. As to unrest among tenant farmers I should think that in most cases they have been given the opportunity of purchasing their land, and what they are really out for now is the trade union idea of keeping the land so that they can have more or less the absolute control of it. They desire that nobody shall go on the land unless he is a member of the National Farmers' Union, that no young man who wishes to become a farmer, no person with capital or ideas who wishes to take a farm, and no person who wants to retire on to a farm shall be allowed to go on the land unless the National Farmers' Union give their consent. The sales of land have provided access to land, and the Ministry of Agriculture and local authorities have been able to obtain land without litigation and at a moderate price.
The Prime Minister, on November 15, in the House of Commons, also referred to unrest, saying, "This country is a little top-heavy; the percentage of people on the soil is a very small one." That is perfectly correct, but I do not think that this Bill is going to do anything to remedy it. I think it is going to do the reverse. The process of diverting the ownership of the soil from the few to the many has been going on for some considerable time, and there could not be anything more desirable than that the number of landowners in this country should be increased so as to insure the stability and prevent the further decrease of the rural population. The Prime Minister has no doubt taken up this Bill with the same enthusiasm and good faith with which he took up the land values clauses in the Budget of 1909, but I hope he has not forgotten that those clauses have been dropped. He listened to the voices of the charmers in 1909, and he is listening to the same interested class of advisers to-day, with the result that if Part II of this Bill is passed unamended it will be disastrous to the real ideas of the Prime Minister.
What the Prime Minister, I gather, wishes to see is a much larger portion of the population wedded to the land, sharing 1182 its fortunes and responsibilities. This Bill proposes that the State shall have full control and no responsibility. It proposes that the State shall be able to impose all kinds of Orders that may result in utter disaster without incurring any liability. The proper policy for the Government to take up, if they wish to carry out the Prime Minister's ideas, is to legislate in the interests of the occupying-owner, the person who is wedded to the soil and cannot escape his responsibilities. What this Bill does is to ignore the interests of the occupying-owner. It simply legislates in the interests of a certain class of persons who wish, so to speak, to avoid the matrimonial bond with the land, and only desire to enter into a kind of temporary matrimonial alliance from which they can escape at any movement should the prospects not exactly please them, or should they for some reason wish to give up their farms. They can obtain relief from any alliance that they have entered into by giving notice to the other partner, whereas if the other partner, the landlord, wishes to escape from his liability in the partnership he is immediately mulcted in heavy penalties and his position is made impossible. He can be called upon to erect new buildings and new houses; indeed, there is no limit to what he may be called upon to do. This will make it quite impossible for landowning as a business to continue, and it will have very injurious effects on the credit of the land. I cannot conceive of any one lending money on a farm that is let to a tenant when the tenant has only got to go to a county committee—it is true he has to go to an arbitrator—to get any kind of new building put up. If he succeeds in getting new buildings put up at very heavy cost it is quite conceivable that the greater part of the value of the land will disappear altogether from the point of view of the security of the mortgagor.
If the Government was content to keep control of the repairs of existing buildings so that a farm is kept in tenantable repair for the purposes for which it was let, then I think that is as far as they should go and that the Bill would not be objectionable in that part of it. But if they insist on keeping control of new buildings and also in mulcting the owner in such extremely heavy penalties as they propose under the Bill it will make the position of the landowner quite impossible, it will force more land into the market than has ever been forced before, it will increase unrest and have a very injurious effect on the 1183 agricultural industry. In conclusion, I sincerely hope that before the Division takes place to-morrow His Majesty's Government will tell us that they see their way to meet us in some shape or form on the lines I have indicated so that we may not have to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH
My Lords, I am afraid it is rather tedious to your Lordships when the arguments or criticism are all on one side. Up to the present I think no one, except my noble friend who moved the Second Reading, has said anything directly in support of the Government proposals.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH
Well, their support was very half-hearted. I would not trespass upon your Lordships' indulgence except that I have had as long an experience as most of your Lordships in the practical management of property. It is now thirty years since I first had an interest in the management of one of the largest estates in this country, and one which I think I am justified in saying has not a bad reputation, either among the tenants who are on it or with those who live by its side. Although I have only been a member of your Lordships' House for six years, for many years before I succeeded I had the practical control, or perhaps I may call it the position of managing director of the estate. Therefore, although I wish to be modest, like my noble friend opposite, and do not pretend to be a great agriculturist, I think I have had some experience of the advantages, the disadvantages, and the difficulties that there are in managing land and in getting proper results from it.
My noble friend opposite said quite rightly that this was not a question for your Lordships to consider in the light of self-interest. It would be quite misinterpreting him if I suggested that he insinuated in any way that that would be so. He also said there are obligations in the ownership of land, and I quite agree with him. From my earliest boyhood it has been a tradition in my family that the owner of the family property was always looked upon and should look upon himself as trustee for life, and, above all, that whilst he was owner he had a great responsibility and 1184 a great duty to the country and it was not his interests but those interests he had to have chiefly in mind. Although I admit that during my experience it has not been anything like as successful as I could have wished, I have endeavoured—as I believe most of your Lordships have who take an interest in managing land—to obtain the greatest production from that land that was economically possible, to employ on it as many people as was economically possible, and as far as possible to put the land to the best use to which it is fitted, it may not always be in agriculture but in plantations perhaps.
My noble friend opposite said that this Bill holds the field and he is quite correct. So does any other Government Bill, because it is quite impossible for any private member to introduce a Bill of this nature I think this Bill is rather premature. If we had waited a little longer until matters had become more settled it would have been better, but we know, and I think it has been one cause of a lot of trouble lately, that when any one is appointed Minister unless he produces some big measure he is supposed to be doing nothing. Your Lordships know very well—at least those who have sat on the Front Bench—that producing a Bill and carrying it through both Houses is not by any means the hardest part of a Minister's work, and that many of them are doing excellent work which the public never sees.
This Bill has been described as, among other things, the Farmer's Charter. I think the best name that can be given it is the Bad and Lazy Farmer's Salvation. I hope that others may gain by it too. Then there is the other point which has been alluded to, about food in war time. My noble friend said that in spite of their patriotism farmers in 1915 did not produce very much more food. I think I am right in saying—the noble Viscount will correct me if I am wrong—that his Committee on the necessity for greater food production was torpedoed because the Admiralty at that time stated there was no great danger to our supplies from submarine warfare, which simply knocked the bottom out of increased production in agriculture to a large extent at that time.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH
When we come to 1917 we hear a very different story. What happened? The Admiralty which informed the public that there was no danger from submarine warfare, in 1915 was, I think, the Admiralty that was in office before the submarine warfare commenced in its virulent form, and one of the great reasons why we suffered so much from that submarine warfare was that the Admiralty did not take proper measures of precaution to begin with. The noble Lord gave us an account of the number of ships sunk by submarines and the cost of sinking submarines. I have not the figures by me at the moment, but I have noticed that Ministers often produce these things no doubt in perfectly good faith though it is impossible to correct them, but it seems to me they are produced for very useful purposes. On the other hand, whenever information is wanted from the Admiralty or War Office or from any other Department for the public it is never forthcoming. If the noble Lord inquired very carefully at the Admiralty I think he would find that long before the submarine attack became very bad Lord Jellicoe and other Admirals knew perfectly well that it was coming and warned the Admiralty. I was then working at the Board of Inventions and Research under Lord Fisher, and I remember that I never really felt so hopelessly pessimistic or rather badly pessimistic during the war, as when I was doing that work with the knowledge that the Admiralty were not making proper preparations to meet that very great danger.
My noble friends Lord Ernle and Lord Lee were both largely concerned in meeting that difficulty. In his opening speech Lord Lee said he was quite prepared to stand by all that was done then, although obviously there were a lot of minor mistakes made. For one thing, a lot of land was ploughed which should not have been ploughed, and there were many failures. But that was bound to happen in dealing with a vast problem like that, and at very short notice, and with a great shortage of labour, and a shortage of horses and machines. But still a very great deal was done, and what I feel is required for the sake of this country, even far more than passing this Bill—even if it achieves its object of having more land under the plough—is that advantage should be taken of that experience, and that some 1186 plan should be carefully worked out, to be ready for use if an emergency came, by which the mistakes which were made in the past, largely because people had not information, and because there was not time to think things out properly, could be averted. Above all a great deal of information must have been obtained from this conversion of land from one kind to another, which was to a large extent an experiment. I think even those who had to carry it out locally on their farms could improve a good deal on what they did. I know that I myself and others tried, for instance, to produce more wheat and we made some failures in consequence, and it was probably worth the risk. But no production that we shall ever get in this country—because we cannot, I am afraid, produce enough to keep the country independent of foreign supplies—will ever be of any use if the Admiralty are going to neglect precautions against submarine attacks, or if the Government of this country is going to think more of politics than of the safety of the country. For if proper preparations had been made before the war it is quite possible—it is even probable—that we might have been saved those disastrous five years.
Now I come to the Reports on which this Bill is based. There was, first, the Report of my noble friend's Committee, commonly called the Selborne Committee, and there was also the Royal Commission on Agriculture. Your Lordships are probably quite aware that on the Royal Commission landowners were not allowed any representation. I myself communicated both with the Secretary for Scotland and with Lord Ernle, and I was told in both cases (and they very courteously gave the reasons) that no landlord, as such, was to be on that Commission. Here was a Commission appointed to deal with these agricultural questions, and the landowners, who had a far larger capital in agriculture than any one else, were not allowed any place on that Commission. Of course, if you have a one-sided Commission like that, and a Bill has to be framed on its results, it cannot be as fair as if it had been properly considered by an impartial or an equally balanced body. It leads me—and I think it will lead a good many of your Lordships—to think that these Commissions, and these Agriculture Bills, have a good deal more politics in them and a good deal less agriculture than their spokesmen are willing to tell us.
1187 There is another point which I think must be considered in the future policy of agriculture and production I think any of Your Lordships would admit that merely ploughing a large quantity of land is of no material use; what we want is to get production. How that production is got does not matter very much, though probably it will be in most eases by ploughing. But what I think has not been quite sufficiently recognised is that, to make agriculture successful, you must produce as much as possible for the unit of labour. What we have got to do if agriculture is to go on in the future—it cannot be subsidised for ever, or even for long—is to produce as much as possible for the unit of labour. That at the present time governs, and will in the future govern, the situation. And if by improved methods or different methods we can produce more per unit of labour more labour can be profitably employed. That is what we have to aim at, and what the Government and the Board of Agriculture are no doubt aiming at.
A great deal has been said about costing. That undoubtedly has been one of the many weak points of the farmers in the past; they have not quite known where the cost goes I urn quite certain that some farmers would often have been far better off without some of their land. Of course that is rather exceptional, because the ordinary Scotch farmer does not as a rule lose money on purpose. But I think a good deal could be done in the, way of new methods But is the Board of Agriculture going to help? If the Board of Agriculture either in England or Scotland, is going to lay down to the farmers how they are to cultivate their land they should be able to show that they know how to cultivate it themselves I am not aware whether the Board of Agriculture has any experimental farms in possession at the present time I rather think it has. If they have such farms, with free access to balance sheets, and accounts properly kept, and showing that they have made a success of production, then I think they are qualified to tell the farmer what he should do. But, until they have done that, I am afraid it will be a case of the blind, or the semi-blind, leading those who see fairly well.
Often on my own estates where the home farm has not been paying as well as it ought to be, I have said to the agent "This will never do. How can you speak to any 1188 tenant, saying he is not farming very well, if you are not making the farm pay yourself." I would give the same advice to His Majesty's Government—and it is not by employing a great number of officials that you will do it. One estate which I have in Scotland—a very large part of it is, of course, hill land, and I have sold some now, but it extends to rather over 150,000 acres—was managed, and efficiently managed, by an agent and one man clerk and two women during the war. I do not think a Government Department would ever reach that level. Of course, there were necessarily other people, foresters and clerks of works and so forth, and an efficient, capable staff for all the outside work as well. But one of the great things I think, if I may say so, in carrying out this Bill if it is going to be a success, is to have as few officials as possible, but to have them competent, and to interfere as little as possible.
As regards the other point of the cost, I cannot believe that the country will ever agree to giving a large subsidy to the farmers when the prices conic down. I notice in the House of Commons that Colonel Courthope estimated that if there was a fall of 20s in prices it would cost about £30,000,000, and Mr. Lambert I think calculated for the same fall it would cost £35,000,000. But if my noble friend's policy turns out successful and an enormously larger area is brought under the plough, instead of this £30,000,000 or £35,000,000 for a drop of 20s it will probably be somewhere between £50,000,000 and £100,000,000. Now even a very much smaller sum than that I am positive the country would not stand, and personally I do not think it is sound. Agriculture must in the future rest on its own legs, and I think, as far as Free Trade principles go, it would be an infinitely better policy—although I am not advocating it should he done—first of all to put on a protective duty. I think that is certainly, even to those who possess Free Trade principles, less objectionable than a subsidy.
As regards this Bill, to begin with the farmers were very much in favour of it, but I do not think they are now so much. I think in the beginning it was with the farmers the old case of the spider and the fly; they were going to walk into the parlour, but they now are fighting shy. Yesterday I received a letter from the secretary of the Farmers' Union in the county where I reside, which stated that 1189 the farmers were unanimously against the Bill, and suggested it should be Dropped. He gave various reasons against it, and one of them was that as far as compensation was concerned that would all be taken by the lawyers. With regard to Part I, if it can be successful I certainly wish it every luck, but I am not very hopeful that the result will be what is expected.
With regard to Part II, my noble friend in introducing the Bill said he did not think any good landlord had anything to fear from this Bill. I feel that the good landlord is the man who has to fear most from this Bill. In the past landlords and tenants have worked well together, they have been able to consider schemes together, and there has been a prospect of development, and of improvements being carried out over a series of years. Now as far as I can see the policy will be taken out of the landowner's hands, and he will simply be a rent collector with certain work to do. I trust it will not be so, but I feel that all this interference—that the fixing of rent by outside parties and doing away with private treaty between landlord and tenant—will make it a very different thing, and will prevent any one being able to take an interest in the work and in carrying out improvements in the future as they have been able to do in the past.
What has never been apparently recognised is this. It has been alluded to before by lay noble friend Lord Selborne and others. Nothing was said in introducing the Bill as regards the fixed or landlord's capital in the land. In nearly every measure that comes forward this is not considered. The only thing that is considered is the tenant's or movable capital. I contend that agriculture is the same as any other business in that there may be ups-and-down, but to make it successful there must be confidence. There must be a steady flow of capital to be invested in it. The tenant's capital and the tenant's exertion alone are absolutely useless; he could do nothing without the fixed capital of the landlord. I you are going to penalise the landlord in every conceivable way from a money point of view you will not attract people to put money into it, and you will not keep the fertility of the country in the state in which it should be kept. What has happened in the particular case at the present time? We will leave out the question of capricious turning out. After all you cannot legislate for two or 1190 three exceptions, and there are very few people except lunatics who will turn out a man capriciously.
What has been the position of the landowner and the tenant during the war? I am on exceedingly good terms with all my tenants. Many of them are great personal friends of mine as far as being tenants. During the war the farmers have occupied a somewhat exceptional position. They have been exempted from service, or probably a smaller proportion have had to serve than any other class. As regards the landowners, although many of them are old and may not have been able to take an active part, the proportion who have served is certainly as great as, if not greater than, in any other community. The farmer's wife has never had the anxiety which other wives have had about food and matters of that kind, and, over and above that, whilst he has been left at home to carry on his work the farmer during the whole of this time has been making large and increasing profits, whereas the landowner has been getting less and less every year. As you well know, before the war farms were assessed for Income Tax at one-third of their value. They are now assessed at double their value. The farmer's profit now is supposed to be six times what it was before the war, and I think I am right in saying—of course I have not the knowledge—that there have been comparatively few appeals against this Income Tax on double the rental. I have had a considerable quantity of land in hand, and I have no hesitation in saying I have had more money out of that than out of anything else in the last few years. I only wish I had some more. But is it reasonable, is it fair? here one man has been losing all the time, another man has been making money all the time. Yet when the man who has made the money, who has had the easier time, goes out of his farm he will get a lot of compensation, but the man who has been losing money all the time has to pay. Is it right, is it good for the country? I go beyond that, and I say that any farmer who has been farming for some years in this country, even if he was turned out capriciously, will have made so much money during that time that it is perfectly monstrous to give him these large increases in compensation. I am not against giving any one proper compensation for what he has done, but I cannot see that the present sitting tenants have any case at all.
1191 What does it come to? Even if they are not farming well it is practically impossible for a landowner to get rid of them. It may be said that a man is drunk, but it is sometimes difficult to prove that he is legally drunk. A man may he fanning badly but it is difficult to prove it. The whole of my policy has been, and also that of many of your Lordships, especially with small farms, to encourage the small man, the shepherd or ploughman, to take the smaller farm and gradually get on, and I am glad to say that on my property where there have been a considerable number of changes through many of the old fatuities dying out, in most of the eases their places have been taken by those whose fathers were either shepherds or ploughmen.
Just lately I have had to get rid of two tenants who were undesirable and who cultivated their farms badly. If this Bill had been the law I should have been unable to do it except by paying a lot of compensation. In one case I have been able to let the farm to a rising man, and in the other to a man who has been a shepherd on one of the big farms on my estate. The class of man who I have always found to be the best agriculturist and the best tenant will be shut out from a career by this measure. That is the great danger in the Bill. We do want progressive farming. The worst thing that can happen to this country will be that tenants who are not actually bad farmers but only moderate farmers should be absolutely fixed and the landowner unable to get rid of them because he cannot afford to pay.
One word about sales. Are not these sales on the whole to the advantage of the country? I have had to sell a large quantity of land. In Scotland I have sold to my tenants although not in every case. I have not sold by auction except in one case in England. But are these sales altogether a disadvantage? In one case I was able to sell land to 200 different people thus creating 200 small holdings. I do not think that is a disadvantage. I know very well how difficult it is for large estates to carry on at the present time, but what about the small man? He is compelled to put up certain things under this Bill. He may not have the money to do it; he has not the money to pay his tenant if he goes out. The only chance for that man is to sell, and it is most undesirable in the national interests that any one should hold land unless he has sufficient money to equip it properly. I am afraid this Bill 1192 will be very detrimental to these properties. I hope not, but that is one of the great dangers of these proposals.
We are always asked for alternatives. May I suggest this as an alternative to meet all these cases? It is obvious that farmers have made sufficient money to buy their farms. Any farmer who has not made money during the last few years ought to be turned out of his farm and never allowed to farm again. But the bulk of the farmers have probably not enough money to buy their farm and stock it and be free of debt. That is the difficulty. My proposal would be—voluntary land purchase. Let the Government create land stock, say at five or six per cent., advance a certain amount to the tenant with a view to purchase, but let the purchase he voluntary. I would not recommend that more than 50 per cent. should be advanced in the ease of a large farm or more than 75 per cent. in the case of a small holding. You would then still have a considerable guarantee, the country would be safe, and you could make the man pay 2 per cent. in order to wipe off the amount the Government has advanced. I believe such a scheme would meet a great many of the difficult cases where the tenant has not sufficient capital and where the landowner wants to sell but has not enough money to meet requirements if he does not sell.
Then there is the question of Government waste and extravagance. If you are going to pile up the rates you cannot expect agriculture to be prosperous; and every one knows that there is a lot of waste going on and that we are not getting value for our money. I know that the noble Lord has no control over that, but if he can cut down expenditure it would help this and every other scheme which is put forward for the benefit of agriculture. I do not think this is a good Bill. I do not like it, but the Government are responsible for it, and I therefore cannot see my way to vote against it. I hope they will accept Amendments and that your Lordships will insist upon Amendments being made. I am quite sure the noble Lord will realise that there is nothing personal against him. We quite appreciate the difficult position he is in, and wish him every success.
§ [The sitting was suspended at ten minutes before eight o'clock and resumed at a quarter past nine.]1193
THE MARQUESS OF LINLITHGOW
My Lords, in asking your Lordships to support the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Lincolnshire I desire to make it perfectly clear at the outset, and to do so with great respect, that I dissociate myself entirely from tiniest every word he has advanced in support of his proposal. May I, in a parenthesis, say that if your Lordships think fit to give this Bill a Second Reading (which I hope you may not do) I shall ask the House to cut out Scotland from the operation of the Bill. As this is really a Second Reading point, and as I shall delay taking action until the Committee stage, perhaps the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will appreciate why at this moment I inform, him that such is my intention.
Two stock arguments are usually brought forward when it is attempted to persuade your Lordships to give a Second Reading to a. Bill of this description. You are told first that you will be accused of consulting your own interests if you throw out the Bill. Nothing but the accumulated follies of half a dozen generations and the unbridled enthusiasm of the mortgagors of the Victorian age could persuade any one in these days to retain land as a security, because you are extremely fortunate, as your Lordships know to your cost, if you can secure a return of 2½ per cent. free income from land, whereas you may easily get 6 per cent. from Trustee securities. Then there is the other argument that it we do not take the Bill we shall get something worse. I very much doubt whether you can buy off the wolves by placating the jackals. If I may put the notion in topical language, I doubt very much whether you can prevent Lenin from becoming active by embracing Kerensky. So far is this measure goes, I would rather face up to Lenin than embrace Kerensky.
Surely it is our duty to consider the Bill from the point of view of whether it does, or does not, promise well for the agricultural industry in this country as is whole. To deal first with Part I, which is concerned of course with the principle of State-aided agriculture, the noble Lord in charge of the Bill told your Lordships quite plainly that he advanced two reasons in its support. If I understood him aright—and I listened to his speech with great attention—by far the more important was that by some such measure it is possible to increase the resistance of the country against the attempts of an enemy to starve us out. I desire for a 1194 very few moments to examine that proposition, and I venture to say that war experience is hardly a criterion in measuring the probabilities of the situation. In the first place, nowadays we have this cry for economy, which is gaining strength and is heard all over the land. Of course it is unlikely to entourage the payment of funds from the imperial treasury to the farming industry. Then, again, we have to remember that in the future there will probably be an active Opposition in another place, prepared to seize every opportunity of discomfiting the Government of the day, and the Government of the day will have to defend from time to time the payment of these guaranteed minima to the agricultural industry so far as cereal crops go. As one having sonic experience of a district where the industrial population is in close touch with the agricultural industry, I fear that farmers are unjustly unpopular people in these days. It seems to me that a particular industry when having a bad time has to put up with its misfortunes without sympathy, but that when it enjoys a. good time then every one is tempted to assail it. However that may be, I can assure noble Lords that among the industrial electorate farmers are not a popular class, because it is thought that they have profiteered during the war. I doubt whether the electorate would support an Administration which proposed to continue these guarantees in the future.
Then, would these guarantees result in increased production of cereal crops? It seems to me on the figures put forward by the noble Lord in charge of the Bill that there is some doubt whether that would be the case. I have been provided with figures which I admit are rather more formidable than those put forward by my noble friend. I believe they were published in the Journal of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in July, and they go to show that there was something like three-quarters of a million acres less under wheat in 1920 than in 1918. That is a rather more serious situation than was described by the noble Lord.
THE MARQUESS OF LINLITHGOW
However that may be, it is common ground that there has been a considerable reduc- 1195 tion since 1918, and my point is that the guarantees have been operative during all this time. It seems to me that what was effective during the war was the order to plough and the compensation paid where it resulted in loss. I cannot help observing, too, that the one crop the acreage of which has risen since 1919 is that of barley, in regard to which I believe there has been a rise of 127,000 acres since 1919, which gives the highest acreage under barley since 1904, though barley prices were never guaranteed. However, I do not desire to place more reliance upon these figures than they are worth.
As regards this question of increased production of cereals, from the point of view of national defence I know that the noble Lord opposite is fortified by the reports of various committees of the Admiralty, but it is only fair to recollect that those reports have been made on the question put to the Admiralty, "Would it be an easement to you from the naval and military point of view if crops were produced in this country?" It is not for the Admiralty to measure the advantage from the naval point of view against the disadvantage (if such disadvantage exists) from the purely agricultural point of view. I submit that it is your Lordships' responsibility to measure these contending factors, if contending they be. The hypothesis upon which the noble Lord builds his whole case in the matter of national defence is extremely speculative. We have to ask ourselves first, Will there be a war? and second, When will there be a war? We have to ask ourselves, Will conditions in the next war be comparable with conditions in the late war? Without being a Jules Verne it is reasonable to remind the House that aeroplanes are an improving factor in warfare, and that in the next war we may be far mere alarmed at the prospect of having our crops burned by infernal machines dropped from aeroplanes than, in twenty years' time, we may be of having our grain ships sunk by submarines. It may be the experience of the noble Lord opposite, or some one who will be holding his present Office, to move about the country ordering gas masks to be put on to the cows in the next war.
Against this extremely speculative case what have we to set? We have the obvious and indisputable disadvantages of introducing State aid into agriculture. I 1196 confess that I view with alarm the prospect of having these guarantees paid only for a season—for four years or whatever the period may be. It is only right to remember that what Parliament has done Parliament may undo, and that at the end of this period which has been fixed the whole situation may be reviewed. This measure may be reversed at any moment by a short Act of Parliament passed through both Houses. I view with alarm the prospect of an industry, which has had State aid for a season and has had its self-respect and its power of self-preservation sapped by a subsidy, being then left by a merciless electorate to live or starve as best it may.
Again, there is the point of view of agriculturists engaged in hill farming and in farming very light land, who will not after all get the advantages of this Bill, but who, on the other hand, will probably have to pay more for cereals which they must buy. They object most strongly to what they regard as partial treatment under this Bill. So far as my own knowledge goes, farmers are not in the least unanimous in support of this measure. I observe that the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture decided to recommend the rejection of the Bill by 41 to 18. Furthermore at a large meeting in the Corn Exchange at Kelso towards the end of last week, 103 farmers farming 78,478 acres decided to ask your Lordships to reject this measure. I have a list of one or two other small agricultural organisations in Scotland which have also passed resolutions against the Bill, and I am not without hope that there may be efforts during the coming week to reinforce the arguments against it.
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
I do not want to interrupt the noble Marquess, but I do not know whether he has received the telegram which has just reached me from the National Farmers' Union of Scotland unanimously supporting the Bill and calling upon the Government to pass it.
THE MARQUESS OF LINLITHGOW
Opinions differ, of course. I have not the advantages of the noble Lord, but I cannot think why the National Farmers' Union of Scotland have not thought fit to send me a copy of that telegram. I have not got it yet.
THE MARQUESS OF LINLITHGOW
As regards Part II of the Bill it appears to me that compensation for disturbance can only be well founded on the ground that a sensible number of tenant farmers are at this moment suffering under the fear of receiving notice to quit. I dislike talking of things that I do not understand, and I may say at once that my experience is purely Scottish in this matter, and no doubt my views are coloured by that fact. As far as Scotland goes, I can only say if you bring the question down to that issue you will have very great difficulty in getting any one farmer to say that he is in the least anxious as to the continuity of his tenure.
THE MARQUESS OF LINLITHGOW
In the gracious Speech from the Throne His Majesty's Government made out that they were appalled at the number of estates which were being sold. If ever there was a case of the cause being horrified and alarmed at the effect, this is one, and this Bill makes it more probable than ever that unfortunate landlords will be forced to sell. After all, disturbance in the sense in which the word is used in this Bill is nothing more terrible than a landlord taking advantage of a break in the lease. I have now some years of experience of estate management in Scotland during which time I have endeavoured to understand the point of view of my tenant farmers as well as my own, and in my experience it is honestly the ease that breaks are sought for by tenant farmers far more keenly than they are by landlords. It appears to me that latitude and not rigidity of contract is in the best interests of the agricultural industry as a whole.
I do not desire to go into the question of the obvious tendency, for economic reasons, of the payment of the sum paid as compensation for disturbance passing from the landlord to the incoming tenant. That is an experience which we have had in other Bills. If in the open market a tenant farmer comes forward in the present circumstances and offers a particular rent for a farm, knowing that under this Bill at the end of a period of years be is likely to be in the enjoyment of what I might call a fine from the landlord, if competition is active he is prepared to give the original rent plus the annual value of what he thinks his fine is going to be at the end of his 1198 tenure. The clogging effect of this measure on the industry is already obvious. I have a letter from a tenant farmer who desires to remain anonymous but whose letter is at the disposal of the noble Lord opposite should be desire to see it. Briefly, the story is as follows. A man bought a farm because he could not find a farm which he could take on lease. He borrowed money from his bank to buy the farm. The sitting tenant had, I think, two or three years to go on his lease, and he had agreed to leave at once. This Bill appeared on the scene, and what happened? At once the sitting tenant said, "No, I am not going; I am going to wait until this Bill passes into law and get the advantage of it, and get compensation from you who have bought this farm with a view of coming into it yourself." Now this unhappy farmer is left in the position that he cannot get into his farm, and has to pay interest to the bank on the money he has borrowed. Needless to say, he is not in favour of the noble Lord's Bill. It is no exaggeration to say that tenants value the good relations between their landlords and themselves, and they realise that this plan will tend to drive a wedge between them. To put it quite plainly, a proposal to transfer anything from one-twentieth to one-fifth of the present freehold value from the landlord to the farmer is bound to create differences of opinion and uncertainty.
The noble Lord in his Second Reading speech gave your Lordships a picture of great activity. He said—I have endeavoured to build a golden bridge between the two interests concerned, and in doing so have tried to steer a straight course between the Scylla of dual ownership and the Charybdis of nationalisation.It seems a little like the advertisements of the Disposals Board, but if the noble Lord suggested these two as alternatives nothing of the sort is the case. Again, if security of tenure is carried to its logical conclusion and becomes fixity of tenure it is, in fact, dual ownership and nothing else.
We are entitled, too, to examine the parentage of this Bill. It is common knowledge that. Part II of the Bill was the result of a meeting between the Prime Minister and the National Farmers' Union. At first (so rumour said) the promise of fixity of tenure was put forward, and ultimately this was deflated in favour of security of tenure, and that, I believe, is 1199 the genesis of Part II of this Bill. Your Lordships are perfectly entitled to remember the history of the right hon. gentlemen's antecedents in land legislation. You are entitled to remember that the legislative experiments of the Budget of 1909–1910, upon winch the Prime Minister rose to fame, have now joined some other experiments on the Parliamentary rubbish heap. And now that the right hon. gentleman has rejected the silly, as I think, economic theories of Henry George for the less demonstrative and more orthodox view of the duller exponents of the science of political economy, your Lordships are entitled to recollect how it was that Part II came into being. When I listened to the noble Lord in making his Second Reading speech on this Bill I was reminded of a picture that all your Lordships must have seen. It is a cold evening, and outside a village inn there stands a pony forgotten, bearing on his back the result of his master's bargain for the day. His master is within, and the lights of the inn of my vision were those of the Constitutional Club.
In truth, the country is weary of wartime legislation, and not prepared to accept at their face value either Bills or reputations made in war time. I say with all earnestness that you might as well attempt to resuscitate the agricultural interest on the thin and jejune substance of this Bill as to preach a good sermon on last night's whisky. It is not only a stale stimulus, it is the wrong stimulus. At the very moment when the noble Lord was advancing his theory of State control in agriculture his colleague, Sir Robert Home, was attacking that principle root and branch in Liverpool. I believe your Lordships and the country as a whole are determined to cut out this principle of State control of industry wherever you find it. You have it in this Bill, vulnerable, and to be struck at Strike at it without mercy.
§ LORD CLINTON
My Lords, the course of the debate has been concerned mainly with the first part of this Bill, and in particular with Clause 4. I make no apology for dealing further with this matter because it is a clause which I think has a very far-reaching effect on agriculture as a whole, and I want to draw it to the attention of tile noble Marquess who moved the rejection of this Bill. He suggested, I think actually stated—and in doing so did 1200 scant justice to your Lordships, because he said there was no one here to voice the interests of the farming tenant or of the labourer—that we should be actuated in our decision by the selfish interests of the landlord himself. That we know quite well is not the case, and the fact that we here pay so much greater attention to the first part of this Bill, which deals with agriculture generally, than to those other clauses which deal with the relation between the landlord and the tenant, is, I think, a fair contradiction of what the noble Marquess has suggested.
This measure is brought forward, as the noble Lord in charge of the Bill has very distinctly stated, keeping in view the Defence of the Realm and the provision for the State in cases of emergency. But I would like to suggest to him what I am certain he will agree with, that in order to increase production and get a better class of farming in tins country it is essential that you should gain the confidence of the farming community. You will not gain the confidence of that community by putting before them the possibility or the probability of their system and method of farming being changed at any moment, and that they may be forced to depart from that system to which they are accustomed, of which they have full knowledge, and in which their capital is invested, in order to comply with the order of any Minister who for the moment may be at the head of the Ministry of Agriculture and may conceivably have a passion for ploughing up pasture land and may ask them to alter their whole system of husbandry. The confidence of these people must be obtained if we are to get the essential work out of this clause.
It is quite clear from the speech of the noble Lord that Clause 4 was to be read in the light of a possible emergency arising when a vastly increased production would be required; but it is not clear to my mind that to bring about a change in the system of farming now and to convert a quantity of grass land into arable would have any effect upon the actual production at the moment an emergency may arise. When the noble Lord, as Director of Food Production, was responsible for carrying out that policy, which he did with very great effect, he was able to call to his aid a large amount of valuable pasture land in this country, land which had been under grass for generations, and 1201 he found in those lands a storehouse of fertility. There was an accumulation of plant food in those lands which was really the agricultural capital of the nation. He was able by a turn of the plough to set this free, and out of it to produce great crops with which he was able to feed the people of the country. Capital was employed for the temporary advantage of the country but certainly for the future loss, because somehow or other that capital has to be replaced.
I want the noble Lord to imagine the position of his successor who may be faced with a like emergency. He will not have this pasture land to fall back upon. He will have to deal only with land a large portion of which has been worked out and worn out, and partially exhausted by continual cropping. He can only get out of that land a sufficiency of corn to meet his emergency by a very liberal manuring. But the very emergency which prevents corn cooling into the country is going to prevent the import of manures as well (most of them are imported) and, if a course of cropping when we are able to feed our selves from abroad is to be adopted, I do not think there will be in the possession of the country a fertility which will produce the amount of food required in a state of emergency.
The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, feared, and I think prophesied, in a state of affairs which he could see coming, that practically the whole of the arable land might be turned back into pasturage. I do not share his views in any way. It would be a misfortune if that was the case. The best wheat land of this country will always be cultivated. It is true that much of the poorer land must go out of wheat cultivation because no possible minimum price that you can afford to give will ever persuade the fanner to keep that poor land going. Yet the corn land, which for that reason probably will be reduced, will always be the best land available for the purpose of wheat growing. It is no doubt exceedingly important for us to keep land under arable cultivation in order to reduce the quantity we bring in from abroad, but which is necessary for fiscal and financial reasons. But that can, I think, be obtained without resource to the extreme methods which are proposed in the Bill, without the Minister taking power to compel land to be broken up and frightening farmers with the idea 1202 that at any moment those orders may be given.
Under this Bill he takes power for a partial form of control to which nobody will raise any objection, and that is, the power to use for his purpose the rules of good husbandry in order to compel farmers to make the best use of the land now broken up. If those rules were complete and could be exerted in full force I have little doubt that we should find that the increase of food from the acres now under cultivation would be sufficient not to meet the whole country's requirements but to supply the quantity of corn we are in the habit of producing here. I do not want to expose my ignorance too much, but I would like to ask what really are these rules of good husbandry at the present moment? We knew what they meant some time ago. But when the noble Marquess opposite, in a fit of reforming zeal, began to speak somewhat disrespectfully of the rules of good husbandry and the rotation of crops, one recalled that the year 1908 practically did away with the rules to the extent that farmers were allowed to mis-crop or cross-crop in any way. That really struck at the root of what we believed to be the rules of good husbandry at that time.
Now they are somewhat meaningless, and I should like the noble Lord to consider whether it would not be wise to stiffen in the interpretation clause the meaning of these rules. At the present moment I think all we know about them is that the rules of good husbandry are interpreted, or amplified, or qualified by the custom of the country, but in many cases there is no custom of the country. In the South West of England and a great part of Wales no custom of the country exists. Consequently, there are scarcely any rules which will form a guidance. There is a definition of these rules in Clause 30 of the Bill, but that does not carry us any further than we are at present. If you cling to that definition and go no further, I think you are really stereotyping a system and a method of husbandry in this country which is often very low indeed and which, in the interests of food production and of every farmer, ought to be considerably raised. I attach considerable importance, for the purpose of this clause and of another clause to which we are coming shortly, to a better definition of what we require the ordinary farmer to do in his working of the land.
For one moment I want to go to Part II of the Bill, which is not so directly con- 1203 cerned with the important matter of the Defence of the Realm and provision in case of emergency, but has more direct reference to the relationship between the landowner and the tenant. It is a matter of common knowledge, I think, that the object of the National Farmers' Union, in asking for this measure was to stop all disturbance of a tenant and as far as possible to stop sales, and in support they suggested very extreme measures, which certainly led straight to fixity of tenure and dual ownership and all their accompanying evils. I should like to offer my acknowledgment to the noble Lord for the really firm manner in which he dealt with those suggestions. I think he fought an excellent fight, not in the interests of owners but in the interests of agriculture generally, when be declined to have anything whatever to do with measures of that kind. Throughout the negotiations which have gone on, as we know, in regard to this measure, I know that he has endeavoured and to some extent successfully to hold the balance fairly between the different conflicting influences.
I would claim, as I think all your Lordships would claim, that in offering compensation instead of fixity of tenure the noble Lord has offered something which will in no sense affect the notice to quit being given, or disturbance in any way, but which may perhaps be regarded as some quid pro quo by farmers themselves. As a matter of principle I am confident that to offer a money compensation for doing something which he has contracted to do is wrong. I think, as a matter of principle, that if a man makes a bargain he should be compelled to carry it out without any offer of compensation from anybody else, but I am unable to adhere closely to principles of that kind because I do think that the very foundation upon which that principle rests has been changed of recent years. I am quite certain that the sales of estates, necessarily to so great a degree within recent years, have fundamentally affected the whole position of land tenure in this country. At a period some years ago, corresponding roughly with the introduction of estate duties, land tenure in England while nominally a tenancy from year to year was in effect an actual fixity of tenure. By custom and practice it was practically fixed, and the tenant so long as he performed the contract of his lease, which was very roughly interpreted, remained the tenant on the same terms. But 1204 now the thing is really changed. Probably thousands of tenants within the last few months, or at all events the last two years, have had to choose between buying their farms or going, and many others are beginning to understand that their time may come—that with the increase of Imperial taxation, perhaps with an increase of tithe, which is certainly coming within the next five years, and the increased cost of maintenance, they will be affected in the same way as their neighbours have been.
This I believe is amounting to a state of uncertainty which is bad for agriculture, and if it is bad for agriculture I think it is undoubtedly a fit subject for legislation. But the compensation which is proposed under this Bill is really a very serious one. One year's rent may not sound a great deal but it is four or five years' net income, and while I have acknowledge the hardship which it may be, and is, to the tenant farmer to be turned out of his holding and his business, and possibly having to start life afresh, I am not at all certain that the noble Lord has really fully considered that the fact that a tenant is turned out usually or very frequently means that the owner is turned out also—that there is a hardship to the owner at the same time as there is a hardship to the tenant farmer. An owner, as a rule, does not want to sell. There is in this country a great love for land. It possibly is unexplainable, but it exists, and an owner inheriting land which has been in his family for generations regards it as part of his duty to pass it on to his successor. It is not from any wish to sell that he sells, but because of circumstances over which he has no control, and the noble Lord adds to that hardship this very serious money penalty.
The main reasons why I object to the form of compensation as laid down in the measure is, first of all, that it seems to me to be one which is unduly severe, and also because very frequently it will have to be paid to men who really have done nothing to deserve it. It is a wholesale compensation in many ways quite illogical, because it is not based upon any actual loss which the tenant has suffered. I think that it ought to be made quite clear that unless the tenant farmer has done something better than farm perhaps only just sufficiently to escape the censure of his agricultural committee he should not be paid compensation by the owner. I hope that may be effected by the stiffening of 1205 the rules of good husbandry which I have suggested. There are many other eases in which I think the position of the compensation will have to be considered, but more particularly we should put it into a more logical form, laying it down that an actual loss to the tenant must be proved before he is entitled to any compensation. I intend to vote for the Second Reading of this measure, but I shall feel myself quite free to deal with it in its subsequent stages unless we can get from the noble Lord such concessions as may be necessary, mainly in regard to Part I of the Bill, to make it clear that the confidence of the farming community may be restored, and that a man may be allowed individually to work out his salvation for himself, having full regard to the duty of making the best use of his land in the service of the country.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (VISCOUNT MILNER)
My Lords, the noble Marquess who moved the rejection of this Bill made a very direct challenge to me to which I should like very briefly to reply. He quoted some words of mine in the debate on the introduction of the existing Act three years ago. I have not had time to refer to what said, but I have no doubt the noble Marquess quoted me quite correctly. I fail entirely to see, however, what ground of complaint the noble Marquess has in what I said then, or in what I am doing now.
What I said was that the measure I was then advocating was an emergency measure, that it was due to war causes, and that for that reason it seemed to me that Free Traders, however strongly they held the doctrines of Free Trade, might without infringing their principles vote for it. Well, it is a temporary measure. The Bill which was passed then was passed for five years, and now we are coming forward with another proposal which it is in the power of your Lordships to accept or reject. How is the noble Marquess prejudiced by having voted for the previous measure in dealing with the present one? Why, he is proposing to reject the present one, and he is quite free. If anything I said then had in any way committed the noble Marquess to supporting more than that measure he might have complained of unfair treatment. Nothing of the kind. He is as free, as unpledged to oppose this measure as I am free on my part to support it. At the same time 1206 I am glad to take this opportunity of acknowledging—I think I did at the time, and I once more do so—with pleasure the fact that the noble Marquess and his friends, who hold the strictest doctrines of Free Trade with deep conviction, made a great and patriotic sacrifice when they supported the existing Bill three years ago. I acknowledge it and I absolutely absolve them from any obligation to continue in that road now that the war is over. I think that those of us who do not share those particular economic doctrines are free now, as we have always been, to support a measure based on a different principle.
§ VISCOUNT MILNER
The noble Lord, Lord Hindlip, appealed to the Government to promise that they would accept certain Amendments of the Bill in Committee and, as far as I can understand, the noble Lord's support of the Bill depends more or less on the assurances which we may give at this stage. I could quite understand that if the noble Lord was asking for those assurances from a Government which commanded a majority. It would be very reasonable for him to say, "If I help you now will you undertake to do so and so hereafter?" But what is the good of asking this Government in this House to promise anything in Committee? The House is perfectly free to pass the Bill to-night and to turn it inside out in Committee. In fact, that is a course which I think the House as a whole rather enjoys taking with Government Bills. Therefore I hope we shall not be deprived of the noble Lord's vote on the Second Reading if the Government is unable to give him any assurances. I am afraid I am not able to give them, neither can I give him the promise that anything will be done in Committee inasmuch as the Government, unfortunately as I think, is entirely unable to implement the promise, not having a majority or anything that looks like one.
As far as I can judge, what is going to happen is that noble Lords will on the whole think well of and give this bill a Second Reading, and that afterwards it will be subjected to very close examination, I Will not say severe handling, in Committee. As far as I am concerned, though I should be sorry to see the foundations, the main 1207 principles of this Bill seriously affected—about that I shall say a word directly—I think we are prepared—it is necessary that we should be prepared—to take a very conciliatory line when we come to the question of details. Quite apart from the wisdom of such a course, and the necessary prudence which in the circumstances we are bound to exercise, I for my own part have a very open mind about a good many of the details of this measure.
I have listened with close attention to the speeches, and on a subject of this kind I always find the speeches delivered in this House are very interesting and very instructive. Even from those critics of the Bill who I think have gone too far and made some rather unjustifiable statements—I sometimes listened to noble Lords and thought they really could not have read the Bill—even from the strongest critics I have heard something to-night which was, I think, instructive, and which may be useful in making the measure a better one than it is.
But in the few remarks which I shall make to-night I am not going to dwell particularly on those criticisms of details to which I have referred, and to which the noble Lord behind me will no doubt in winding up the debate, more particularly reply. I rather want to say a few words with regard to the general policy of the Bill, which I do not think is really adequately understood. If noble Lords will forgive me for saying this—and I am speaking on a subject which I have studied to the best of my ability for many years—I though I think the criticisms of detail which we have heard to-night front practical and experienced men have been very valuable, what I have missed in the debate as a whole, is a recognition of the gravity of the problem with which we are confronted. I do not mean to say that in a general way noble Lords do not feel the importance of increasing agricultural production. I suppose we all feel the need of increasing the output of any one of our great national industries. But, throughout, the tone of the discussion has appeared to me to imply that this is a question of more or less advantage. "Of course," it seemed to be said, "if we can improve our agriculture, so much the better; but, after all, we are an industrial nation and we must make the best of it. It is very difficult if we have to put ourselves out, very much, if we have to spend a great deal of money 1208 on maintaining agricultural production at its highest. Well, there are pros and cons, and perhaps it may be worth while, and perhaps it may not." In dealing with most economic questions I should think that a reasonable attitude of mind. I cannot feel that it is the right attitude in a matter where the life of the nation is concerned. This is not an ordinary economic question which can be measured in hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds: it is the existence of this country as a great country which is at the back of the effort to promote the highest agricultural development of which we are capable.
I will only put two points about it. On one of them, the question of defence, I am not going to dwell very strongly, though I may have a word to say in conclusion about that, also. There is another consideration which I should like to put forward, and which makes many of the arguments which we have heard—the argument, for instance, of the expense that may be involved in giving this guarantee—appear small, petty, and altogether negligible, compared with what is at stake in giving that guarantee. I believe all history will show—I do not believe that there is an instance to the contrary—that no nation can really maintain its greatness, or even its security, if a certain proportion of its industry is not agricultural, if a certain proportion of its population is not agricultural. I believe we are very near getting to a point where our agricultural industry will be entirely secondary, awl our agricultural population reduced to most dangerously low proportions. I need not dwell upon the social consequences of that, the effect upon the physique or upon the character of the people. There is nothing in the world so steadying as a strong agricultural population. I look with real alarm at the possibility of the agricultural people in this country, the people living on the land and by the land, being reduced to a perfectly inconsiderable and negligible minority.
There is another consideration I want to put before you, my Lords. I am arguing the supreme importance of getting the maximum production out of the land. This country is a great industrial country, and I quite understand that people in the main look to our trained commerce, our Manufactures, and so on, to maintain our wealth and prosperity. That is good.
1209 Bat what does that involve? It involves in an ever-increasing degree dependence upon foreign and distant countries for the raw materials on which our industry depends. We have always been dependent in that way, but to that dependence upon foreign countries for the raw materials of our industry, which runs into hundreds of millions every year, which have somehow or other to be paid for, we have now added dependence for the greater portion of our food supply, and we are for the first time heavy debtors to at least one foreign country.
In these circumstances the question whether we shall be able to continue to pay for all that we are bound to import is becoming to my mind the great economic question of the future. What is absolutely fatal in my view is to increase the adverse balance which threatens us with economic destruction by importing anything that we can by reasonable effort produce in this country ourselves. When I say reasonable mean by the greatest possible effort in a case where the life of a nation depends upon it. When I hear that it is a risky and a very serious thing that we may have to pay £10,000,000 or even £20,000,000, or even more a year—though I do not believe we shall—as a guarantee in order to keep up the productiveness of our soil, I wonder if people consider how many millions more we shall have to pay if the balance of trade is permanently against us, and if you have to add 25, 30, 40, or 50 per cent. to the value of everything which you have to import into this country, for instance, from the United States of America. That may exceed many times the cost of your guarantee, even if it were an expensive guarantee.
You may say, "That is all very well, but what reason have you for thinking that the agricultural productiveness of this country will be increased by these measures?" This is a Bill which aims above all at keeping land under the plough. What happened in the past when you allowed foreign competition to ruin British agriculture to such an extent that a large amount of land passed out of arable cultivation into grass land? At the time of the greatest prosperity British agriculture has ever known, in the early seventies (I am speaking of England and Wales but it would be equally true of Scotland) you had between 15,000,000 and 16,000,000 1210 of acres under arable and about 11,000,000 in permanent pasture. Then came the years of severe American competition. Arable cultivation ceased to pay and millions of acres, as a matter of fact about four million in this country, passed out of arable cultivation into grass land; and most of it not good grass land at all. The beautiful grass land of England, which no man in his senses would ever dream of ploughing up, had existed before, but most of this additional grass land was poor grass and merely an illustration of the impoverishment of the agricultural industry.
I remember years ago, at the time when agricultural depression had reached its lowest point, being called upon to give evidence before the Commission of which Lord Chaplin was Chairman. I was at that time in the Inland Revenue and I had to go, with my experts, carefully into the position of agriculture. We valued as best we could the land of England at that time, not in the landlords' or in the farmers' interest. We valued the land as you would value a thing which you were going to sell, and came to the conclusion that it had depreciated by a thousand millions in consequence of the agricultural depression. If you had sold England at the time I gave evidence you would have got a thousand millions less for the whole land of the country than you would have got some twenty years before. About 4,000,000 acres had passed away from the plough and dropped down to grass. No man in his senses is hostile to grass land where nature has fitted it for that particular form of cultivation. It is some of the best land in England, but nothing could be more deplorable, more wasteful, more ruinous, than where you have to allow thousands and millions of acres of land not particularly suitable to grass, but which are suitable for arable cultivation, to drop to grass simply because you cannot afford the cost of maintaining them. The one thing which is indisputable, which statistics prove clearly, is that taking the average of land its productivity as arable is enormously greater than its productivity under grass. I sometimes wonder to myself whether we should have had to deplore that enormous depreciation in the value of British land if, in those days when British agriculture was going down and down, instead of treating it as a mere commercial question, we had spent even a million or two a year, not to mention ten millions a year, in trying to counteract the fatal and depreciating 1211 effect of foreign competition on English agriculture at that time.
I pray that we are not going to go through that melancholy experience again, and I hope that your Lordships, whatever opinion you may have of the details of this measure, will most carefully consider the supreme importance of the object which we have in view, and give us your help in making the Bill one which will reassure the British farmer at a time when he is once more alarmed and nervous of the prospects before him in the coming years, when he is once more inclined to play for safety. In my opinion nothing could be more disastrous than that the British cultivator should be tempted to play for safety at the present time. The whole difficulty of this agricultural question is that the interests of the individual so constantly conflict with those of the community. The thing which is good business to the farmer is so often bad business for the State. It may constantly be good business for the farmer, and a right thing for him to do, to save money and to make a small profit by low cultivation at low cost. It may pay him much better than to try to get the most out of his land, running up at the same time enormous labour, but it can never pay the community to have land in a low state of cultivation when it might be in a higher state of cultivation. It can never pay Great Britain that its land should yield 50 per cent. or 30 per cent. of what it could yield, and therefore you have to devise some means to give the farmer some encouragement, which will lead him to adopt that method of cultivation which may not be most advantageous to him as a private individual, but which, in its results, is most advantageous to the community. That is the difficulty of the whole problem which you have to face. You may be asking the farming community to take a line which is not to the direct interests of the individuals concerned, but which, from a broader point of view, is in the economic interest of the country, and of course not only in its economic interest, although I do attach very great importance to that.
I commend to you once more the all-important question of protecting your trade balance by producing in this country everything you can produce, and not adding to the enormous weight of what you in any case must buy; but I also commend to you most strongly and earnestly the point 1212 on which Lord Selborne has dwelt, about the defence of the country. I have had somewhat bitter experience of this. I remember five years ago when I was appointed Chairman of a Committee which for the first time inquired into the steps that ought to be taken to promote the productiveness of the British Isles in view of the emergencies of war. That Committee was very evenly balanced, I think we were half of us Free Traders and half of us Tariff Reformers, but ultimately we all came to the conclusion that at whatever cost it was essential to produce more corn in this country. Then to my surprise, when the recommendations went forward to the Cabinet, the Admiralty, I think it was, found out that we had exaggerated the danger, and nothing happened. A year was lost. Two years later a measure which we had advocated in 1915 had hastily to be passed as a matter of life and death. I wonder how many millions were lost because we did not adopt that plan in 1915, how many shiploads of costly food had to be imported from America, not to mention the shiploads which went down, but which we had to pay for.
I believe it is an absolute fallacy to suppose that because after all we got out of that difficulty, because we escaped that danger, we can afford to run the risk of letting the great proportion of our land drop out of arable cultivation, in the conviction that at a given moment we can always fall back upon it. I think the noble Marquess rather exaggerated the effect, great as it was, of our effort in 1917–18. You cannot suddenly jump up from producing a quarter of the food you want to producing three-quarters in a year. We did very well, but we did not do that and it cannot be done. Least of all could it be done if we allowed to continue the process, which was going on so rapidly at one time and has now I am sorry to say recommenced, of putting land down to grass. It is all very well, but when the emergency comes where will be your population, your skilled men, your instruments? No, my Lords, there is a limit to the risks we can run in this respect, and I implore your Lordships, however closely you may look at the details of this Bill, never to lose sight for a moment of the supreme national object which underlies it.
THE EARL OF JERSEY
My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships by discussing the details of this Bill 1213 although I frankly admit there are many of them with which I cannot agree and which I would gladly criticise. My chief objection to the Bill is against the principles which its proposes to establish. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill told us that the Government had no intention of applying war methods to peace farming. I would ask him, "On what else are the principles of this Bill founded?" It is founded in the first instance on the Corn Production Act of 1917, which was itself a war measure, and it perpetuates that Act which would in other circumstances lapse in due course. Further, the very essence of this Bill is the Agriculture Act of 1919. This Bill proposes to set that Act on a permanent statutory basis and also to give much wider powers to the agricultural committees which were set up under that Act. I hope the noble Lord will not think that I speak in any spirit of hostility to those agricultural committees when I say that I cannot view them in peace time from the same aspect as that from which one viewed them in war time. During the war unity of control was as essential at home as it was abroad. Many of your Lordships served on the war agricultural committees and I think that probably I should be voicing the general opinion if I say that many of you gave effect to recommendations and instructions of the Board of Agriculture, as it was at that time, with which you were not wholly in agreement. We gave effect to them because we felt that it was not the time for criticism, that we had to trust our leaders whoever they might be, and that we must trust the Department which had charge of our food production. We further felt that the measures which they thought necessary at that time were fully justified by the stress of the emergency in which we found ourselves. Now, my Lords, we are free to express our views and are at liberty to say what we really feel on these subjects.
I would further suggest—without any possible reflection on the constitution of the agricultural committees—that during the war many farmers were prepared to give their time to serving on those committees as a form of war service, but I very much question whether in normal times as normal times gradually return we shall not find that farmers are less and less inclined to serve on these committees. They will wish to devote more time to looking after their own farms, and they will be less ready to 1214 interfere with the doings of their neighbours. The idea that agriculture in each county should be controlled by the greatest experts in that county is very nice in theory, but I am not sure that it will work out in practice. I am inclined to think that some gentlemen—I do not for a imminent refer to the noble Lord—who serve in Government Departments are apt to overlook the fact that it takes much longer to travel from one end to the other of an agricultural county than it takes to walk from Whitehall to the Strand, and that it is not only an hour or two but a whole day which has to be devoted to sitting on these committees. That fact cannot be overlooked if a man has to do justice to his own holding. I fear very much that if farmers are to be left on those agricultural committees they will find themselves more and more under the control of busybodies and bureaucrats. We shall all agree that we shall have to do everything we can to promote good husbandry. We are anxious to see that the bad farmer does his duty to his country and we are anxious to do everything to increase the food production. But I think we are justified in asking ourselves whether it is really necessary to confer such very wide powers on any Minister to attain this object.
The noble Lord who introduced the Bill said that it was not a farmers' charter. I most cordially agree with him that it is not a farmers' charter. If it is a charter at all, it is a bureaucrat's charter. I note that the Minister seeks powers under this Bill to terminate tenancies, over-ride contracts, and to insert in existing contracts any such terms as he thinks fit. Further, he can create charges on estates and do ninny other things which strike at the very foundation of the business institutions of this country if the principle is once admitted. It can be extended indefinitely and whatever else we may do, surely we ought to try to preserve the sanctity of contracts inviolate.
We shall no doubt be told that it is very improbable that these extreme powers will be exercised. We shall be told that it will be only in exceptional cases that the Minister will resort to such powers. As I said before, I prefer to deal with principles rather than with probabilities. When we consider the reasons which time noble Lord urged as showing the necessity for introducing this Bill, we shall probably agree with his premises. But, again, the 1215 question arises. Is it really necessary to introduce a Bill of this sort in order to attain those objects? I would go further and ask, Are we quite sure that the Bill will not in effect defeat its own ends?
The noble Lord urged that we should study before everything else the safety of this country, and that we should ensure security to good tenants. My Lords, I most cordially agree with him, but I would ask him one question. As regards the safety of the country he based his contention rather largely on instances which he quoted that since 1918 there had been a reduction of arable land in this country of 450,000 acres. I wonder whether he could tell us how much of that 450,000 acres was land which had been laid down again to grass because it was found to be unsuitable for arable cultivation. The noble Lord said in his speech last week and I am sure we agree, that he had no desire to maintain as arable land which was unsuitable to such purposes.
THE EARL OF JERSEY
I do not think the question I ask him is really such a difficult one to answer. I daresay there are records at the Ministry which would show how much had been already paid to occupiers of land in payment for losses they had sustained through breaking up their grass land under compulsory Orders.
Going a step further, can the noble Lord also tell me how much has actually been paid to enable occupiers of land to find grass seeds with which to reseed land which they then broke up. The point I wish to make is that if the Ministry actually provide grass seeds for re-seeding land which no doubt it was quite wise to break up at the time, but which was not suitable for permanent arable cultivation, it is hardly logical to argue that the whole of those 450,000 acres have been laid down to grass again contrary to the national interest. I do not expect the noble Lord to answer the question right away, possibly he may be able to tell us at some future date, but I should be very much surprised if a very large proportion of that 450,000 acres cannot be accounted for on the ground which I have suggested.
I should like to say one word also with regard to the cost of this Bill, if it passes. 1216 The noble Lord said he believed that there would only be three new officials called into being owing to this Bill, but I think he omitted to remind your Lordships that this Bill also would render permanent the Corn Production Act and the Agriculture Act, and that a very large number of temporary officials who were called into being under those Acts would now be placed on the permanent staff, and I hardly think that the cost to the country, should that be so, would be entirely negligible. With regard to security, for which the farmer so rightly yearns, I am sure that we should all agree that, where a man invests his capital and his labour in any enterprise, he is fully justified in asking for some assurance that he shall see the fruits of his labour. I should be the very last person to dispute such a proposition. But I cannot help asking myself whether the Bill does not take away with one hand what it gives with the other. How can there be any real sense of security when a farmer is perpetually threatened with state interference? We shall all of us, I think, agree that no man has ever done his best under compulsion, and surely it is possible to devise some means for giving that security without placing industry under the heel of the Ministry. The position really comes to this, that a Minister in future, instead of being a benevolent friend, as we have considered him to be in the past, will assume the role almost of a slave driver, continually looking out for delinquents.
But I do not wish to look at it from the point of view of any individual interest. Take the owner. No owner will in future know what obligations he may be called upon to fulfil in the way of carrying out improvements. It may be all right for the large landowner, but surely it will become very hard on the comparatively poor man who happens to own a certain amount of land. He really will be in a worse position than a shareholder in an unlimited liability company. And then the farmer. The farmer will never know how long he will be able to pursue in future the methods to which he has been accustomed—methods which may be perfectly reasonable. No doubt the noble Lord will say that the Minister will not in such cases endorse the views of the local committees. The fact will still remain that the local committees, under the powers delegated to them, will be able to indulge in vexatious interference, and to 1217 go on any man's land at their will. There cannot be anything but an atmosphere of insecurity so long as such powers obtain.
Frankly I regard this Bill as a very dangerous encroachment on the liberties of which we are so justly proud, and so rightly tenacious. I hope that the noble Lord will not think that our lack of faith in the Minister is in any sense personal. He has assured us, and we fully believe him, that as long as he retains his present office he will exercise every possible moderation. But once we pass a measure of this sort we may be pretty sure that the provisions are not likely to be modified, and other Ministers hereafter may not exercise that same gentle moderation. It is my honest belief that the guil less farmer has been ensnared by the crafty bureaucrat into accepting conditions the ultimate effect of which no man can possibly foresee.
Whether we consider the interests of the country or the interests of the individual I must admit that the Bill, to my mind, has very little to recommend it. I cannot believe that any measure of State control is of benefit to the nation, and I am convinced that the advantages to the majority of the farmers are illusory rather than real. No doubt some injustices may be remedied, but I wish this could be done without, placing the industry in a permanent state of servitude. I myself have sufficient confidence in the farmer and in the man who lives on the land to believe that he can be induced to do his duty to the nation without any such extreme measures of coercion. We have often read and heard that it is not the old type of landlord that the farmer fears, not the type of landowner who helped the occupier of agricultural land through all his difficulties through the latter part of the last century. It is the new type of landowner who has not learned his responsibilities. We are very glad to hear that, but it seems to me that this Bill is going to aggravate rather than to minimise those difficulties owing to the sense of insecurity which it will effect. It will drive the old type of landowner to put his land on the market, and it will bring about that very change against which the farmer is the first to admit that he wishes for protection.
Having said this, I will only add that I have come to the conclusion that I cannot vote against the Second Reading of this measure, for this reason. I should be very 1218 sorry if it were felt that your Lordships were in any way reluctant to give the fullest possible consideration to any measure which might conceivably be for the benefit of the community, or might possibly give the farmer that justice which we all wish him to have; but at the same time I hope that the Government will accept Amendments which may make this Bill tolerable, though I very much doubt whether it will be beneficial; and I certainly, if the question arose, would rather reconsider my vote on the Third Reading than see the Bill passed in its present form.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I will try as briefly as I can to state my main objections to this Bill. My first objection is on the grounds of economy. Last week we had a very important speech from the Prime Minister at the Hotel Cecil in which he stated that it was necessary to have private and public economy of the most ruthless kind. If he holds those views, I am rather surprised at his allowing a Bill of this kind to be introduced. For this Bill sets up three Commissioners in connection with the guarantees, who will naturally be paid salaries, and if the guarantees become effective a large staff will be required to go through all the claims, for I do not imagine for one moment that the Treasury would allow payment to be made for those guarantees unless they had been very carefully checked. And there would be staffs to be set up by the agricultural committees in every county of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Presumably those staffs will be supplied with motor cars at the public expense, and I believe that nearly every farm during the year will have to be visited by the agricultural committees in order to go into the question of ploughing up land, repairs, improvements and good husbandry. What the eventual cost of those staffs will be I would not like to predict, nor do I think anybody really knows exactly what the guarantees may cost us in the future.
I have read speeches delivered in another place, and the views held there are very greatly divergent. One Member I notice says they might possibly cost the country £10,000,000, another one estimates £35,000,000, and another £50,000,000 a year. But whatever the amount is, and I believe it may be very large, I want to know where the money is coming from to pay 1219 for those guarantees. It seems to me rather curious that we have had no expression of opinion from the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the possible payment of these guarantees. I believe they will become effective and in that case the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have a difficulty in framing his Budget. To my mind subsidies are bad in principle; and guarantees are nothing less than subsidies. We have had an experience of a railway subsidy and a coal subsidy, neither of which were encouraging examples. We have at this moment a bread subsidy. Every one hopes that it will soon conic off, but if it does only to be replaced by the cost of these guarantees the country will not gain very much. It is extremely easy to give an IOU but much more difficult to redeem it.
I come now to the question of control. The Prime Minister in his speech last week was equally emphatic on this point and held that the control of industry by the Government was extremely bad. A farmer may be under orders from the agricultural committee to plough up land. He may suffer grievous loss by so doing. The land may refuse to grow the crop, and under the Bill he will get no compensation as he used to under D.O.R.A. An outside body can order land to be ploughed up without any risk to themselves—the farmer has to find the capital and suffer the loss. A landlord will not know from day to day or week to week what he may be called upon by the committee to spend on repairs and improvements. In fact he may be called upon to spend more than the whole of his rent roll. That is, I think, quite likely in these days of the high cost of materials.
I notice that the Bill extends to Ireland. Why does it extend to Ireland? How does Lord Lee of Fareham think he is going to control the Irish farmers when the whole Government cannot control Ireland. There is a clause in the Bill which says that the tenant is to keep in repair and maintain the farm road. Why has that been put in? If the road is good enough for the farmer to cross with his carts why is it to be kept in good repair? Is it with the idea that the agricultural committee may use it for their motor cars Lord Ernle said that the Bill would reduce the value of land. Whenever an owner gets back into his possession a farm on account of a tenant leaving I am sure he will at once take the farm in hand and will not let it 1220 again. If he is a wise man he will sell it at once with vacant possession. In these days there are many purchasers who want to buy land with the idea of farming it themselves, but in the future we shall lose that class of purchaser as persons will not buy knowing the large amount of compensation they must pay if they give notice to the tenant to quit. Our successors will have to pay very heavy Death Duties, and if they have a difficulty in selling land I do not know how they are going to pay them. Will the Government take in payment of Death Duties the land itself? If they will, then they are offering a very short and convenient cut to those who are in favour of land nationalisation without compensation. I should like to ask the noble Lord in charge of the Bill two questions, because in reading the Bill I am not clear upon them. One is this—If a tenant refuses to pay his rent and receives notice to quit would he then receive any compensation when he left?
§ LORD DYNEVOR
Yes. I do not think that is alluded to in the Bill, but no doubt the noble Lord will look into the point. The other question is—If a landowner has to pay the outgoing tenant compensation—it does not affect my argument whether it is for one year or four years—will he be allowed to reclaim the amount from Income Tax as to repayment? He will have received a year's rent from the tenant and then he has to give a year's rent back—if it is a year's rent—to the tenant for disturbance. In the 1909–1910 Budget we were given a concession by the Chancellor of the Exchequer by which the landowner could reclaim beyond the statutory one-sixth or one-eighth on land and buildings for repayment of laconic, Tax. If compensation is paid to an outgoing tenant I do not think the owner ought to pay Income Tax on the amount. With these few words I wish to express the view that the Bill contains a great many most objectionable features.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, at this late hour I will not detain your Lordships more than a few minutes. The whole foundation of the Bill, as I understand it, is the question of the national interest, and it has been based on two grounds. One is in regard to our food supply in time 1221 of war, and the other is the argument of the noble Viscount, Lord Milner, that we should produce every atom of raw material that we can in order not to have to pay further money to foreign countries and so depreciate the exchanges.
Let me deal briefly with these two points. We are all accustomed to regard the last war as an example of future wars, but the first question we have to ask ourselves is, With what country are we likely to be at war? The last thing I am going to do is to pose as an authority on naval strategy, but, as I understand it, even with the long-distance submarine that we should have been likely to meet if the war had continued a little longer, the whole essence of submarine policy consists of bases close to our shores. Unless His Majesty's Government are going to suggest—which is the view I personally hold—that there is a danger of hostile submarine bases on the West coast of Ireland if you carry Home Rule, I do not see where you are going to get those hostile submarine bases, except on the coast of Europe nearest at hand. You have Spain in the first place, which is unlikely to wage war, and in the second place you have France whose interests are identical with ours, and I think every noble Lord will agree with Lord Derby in saying that an Alliance is necessary and most probable between the two countries. In the third place you have Germany. If we carry out the terms of the Treaty with Germany, I cannot see that for many years we have much to fear in regard to sub-marine attack from that country. Therefore, you really rule out nations close at hand which may attack us by submarines, and a large part of the argument for the Bill falls to the ground.
On the second point as to the economical question, all of us will agree that it is of vital importance that we should reduce our indebtedness to foreign countries and not increase it, but if the cost of producing cereals in this country is really heavy, and as many of us think bureaucracy is even more expensive than paying the foreigner for wheat, we may find the economic position even worse under this Bill than it would be without it. The whole foundation of the Bill rests on the composition of the Agricultural Committees. Under Clause 4 the Minister, after consultation with Agricultural Committee, is empowered to do all sorts of thinks in regard to enforcing proper agricultural cultivation. I think every member of 1222 this House will agree, including the Minister of Agriculture, that at any rate some of the agricultural committees are not composed entirely of individuals well versed in agricultural, and if that is the case the whole of the enforcement of good agriculture rests upon an extraordinarily shaky foundation. Unless the members of the agricultural committees really know what they are about they will only interfere with farmers to the detriment of agriculture in every particular.
I know that the National Farmers' Union think the effect of this Bill will be to give greater security, and on receiving a circular from them a short time ago I wrote and said I had had considerable opportunity of talking to landowners in various parts of the country, and that the unanimous opinion of landowners agreed with that of Lord Dynevor, that as farms fell vacant the owners would take them over and farm them themselves or else sell them; in other words, the effect of the interference in the Management of estates must sooner or later be to lead to the abolition of tenancies. Anyone who considers the question and gets business advice will, I think, agree that to take on a new tenant of whom you know nothing and give him rights of claiming compensation which may run into as much as twenty years' income from the particular farm—years' gross rental being nearly twenty years' income—will have cause for very grave hesitation. Either the owner will farm the land himself, or he will sell it. I am one of those who believe very strongly in the increase of peasant proprietors and those who farm their own Land, but I also believe there is room for both tenant farmers and those who believe very strongly in the increase of peasant proprietors and those who farm their own land, but I also believe there is room for both tenant farmers and those who farm their own Land. The effect of this Bill, although it does interfere with sales and depreciates the price of agricultural Land, will be to reduce the number of tenant farmers until they almost disappear.
There is one point which I should like to put to the noble Lord, and that is the question of one year's rent. Most of us, I think, would be in favour of paying the tenant, on his leaving the farm, everything that he can claim as real loss due entirely to his being given notice, but no claim is put forward to cover this question of the fine of one year's rent on the landlord. Lord Selborne quoted the hard case of the farmer's widow who lets a farm while the son is being educated and before he is old enough to take up the farming of his own 1223 land. That, case was put to the Prime Minister in another place, and he replied that it certainly was a hard ease, but that it was impossible to make laws to meet hard cases; and, after all, the reason for leaving the farm did not affect the case—when a tenant left he suffered loss. If that is the case I do not understand why, when notice to quit is considered inconsistent with good management, the compensation should be up to four years' rent instead of one year's rent. I cannot understand the landlord being filled four years' rent, and I understand less why that four years' rent should be paid to the tenant. I think that part of that amount might go towards the expenses of the Agricultural Committees. But if the reason for leaving the farm is not considered as having anything whatever to do with compensation in regard to hard cases such as the one quoted to the Prime Minister, I do not see why in a hard case, where four years' rent is payable, that rent should be payable to the tenant.
I am inclined to think that if the country becomes liable to pay a very heavy guarantee to farmers the country will be very much opposed to the Bill. The Bill, however, contains one principle which I regard as of very great value. For the first time, so far as I know, the State recognises its duty to agriculture, and accepts the, principle that a prosperous agricultural community is vital to the nation. It seems to me that the subsidy which may become payable to farmers may be set off against the farmers' dislike of control, and we may be able to get a benefit to agriculture based on different lines. I have often asked those interested in agriculture, "Why is it that a farmer in this country up to the period of the war was only just able to make both ends meet, and was barely able to struggle along, while that same individual, when in many cases he emigrated to Canada and took up land there in a very short time was able to grow wheat at such a price that he could send it thousands of miles by rail and sea and undersell the home producer in this country?" What is the answer to that question? I have put it to many agriculturists and have never got an answer that carried conviction to my mind. Some say that the farmer in Canada works harder than he does here. That is not true. The same individual worked hard here. The small farmer works very hard here. Then I am told that the virgin soil 1224 of Canada produces wheat more cheaply titan it can be produced here, where the soil has to be manured. It must be remembered on the other hand that the production per acre in Canada is very small. It. seldom collies to more than about 20 bushels per acre; whereas in this country it comes to a great deal more than that—at least 24 bushels, and usually considerably more. I submit that the actual manuring of land in this country is more than set off by the increased production which ensues. Is it a question of rent? Most of us know that the rent in this country barely pays more than 4 or 5 per cent. on the buildings and fences which have been erected and that the actual profit on agricultural land is often a minus quantity. When a farmer goes to Canada he finds he has to pay more for the fences and buildings he has to put up than in this country, and therefore it is not rent.
The burden which is placed on the land by rates is the next question. It is a burden which becomes greater every day. Rates are steadily going up; they are 14s. and 16s. in the £ now. If the farmer is put on an equality with the farmer overseas he will not only hold his own but will beat him. He will not want a subsidy, and it will not be necessary to keep prices up artificially in his favour; he will be able to hold his own without any assistance from the State. I do not like a subsidy and I do not think the nation as a whole likes a subsidy. I think the farming community as a whole—of which I am a humble member—does not like control. Therefore, I think both the State and the farmer will eventually make a compact by which we shall ultimately get a reduction in the rates on agricultural land. That, I believe, is the real policy which will enable the farmer to go ahead in this country. It is quite obvious that you can so regulate your rates that they will be lower for land under plough than for land under grass.
There is only one further point. It is curious that although extreme Radicals are strongly opposed to all taxes on raw materials, they have never been able to understand that taxes on land are taxes on the raw material of agriculture and the most direct tax on the people's food. Therefore, the more you can reduce either rates or taxes on agricultural land the cheaper food will be grown in this country. Once that is realised I believe people will be prepared to reduce rates and taxes on agricultural land, and so enable the farmer 1225 to be placed on an equality with the farmer in Canada and elsewhere, with the result that agriculture in this country will prosper.
There are several other points in this Bill to which reference might be made, but I will only mention one—the question of compensation for improvements. I submit that this is a point which should be more closely defined than in the Bill. There are specialised forms of agriculture, such as the growing of sugar beet and hops. Supposing a farmer takes some land and thinks he would like to have what is called a "gamble in hops." He goes to the agricultural committee and tells them that he requires a hop oast in order to dry his hops. The agricultural committee agrees that an oast-house is necessary for the purpose. The landowner is then compelled to put one up, which is a very expensive thing to do. After one or two years at attempts to grow hops the tenant finds that his land is unsuitable because it will not produce hops of the best quality, which alone will pay; so he gives up hop-growing, grubs them up and has no further use for the oast. The landowner who provided that oast finds that his land is not one penny more valuable as a result of all his expenditure. That would be unfair to the landowner, and most of the burdens on him would be of no advantage either to the State or to agriculture.
Although I dislike much of the Bill, the principle that the State for the first tune recognizes agriculture as a vital industry to my mind outweighs many of the objections, and consequently if the Bill can be amended in Committee, as I believe it can, in the various directions which have been suggested, it may still be of some advantage to agriculture. Therefore I am prepared to vote for the Second Reading, although it will depend on what happens in the further stages whether I shall be able to support the Bill through its stages to the Third Reading.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, debate adjourned until to-morrow.