§ Debate upon the Amendment moved by the MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE to the Motion that the Bill be now read 2ª—namely, to leave out ("now") and to add at the end of the Motion ("this day six months")—resumed (according to Order).
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
My Lords, in rising to speak in this debate I should like to say that I intend to support the Bill if to-night a Division is challenged on the Second Reading. My reasons for doing so are these. For a considerable period of time I was associated with Lord Lee as a member of the Ministry of Agriculture, and I can fully endorse and support every word that fell from him in his opening speech as to the importance of food supplies in time of war. In addition to having had some insight into the practical administration of the Ministry of Agriculture and the difficulties and problems associated with the production of food, I am what the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, called an owner-occupier producing food on a somewhat extended scale. My reasons for supporting the Bill, as I have said, are 1228 based on the importance of food production as a weapon in national defence.
The Minister of Agriculture reminded us of the difficulties and problems he had to encounter, and I would like to offer him my small tribute to the extraordinary success which attended his efforts. The problems were very great, the difficulties were overwhelming. I did not always quite see eye to eye with him and I had grave doubts whether mass food production could be carried out successfully in this country with an attenuated labour population. However, all those difficulties of labour which confronted us at that time have disappeared, and to-day in my judgment it is no hardship whatever on the agrarian community to ask them to plough up and retain under the plough those acres which were ploughed up during the war.
So far as I can judge, it is not absolutely necessary for the purpose of national defence that wheat, and wheat alone, should be grown. I imagine that any foodstuffs which can be consumed by the British population are of equal value to the production of wheat, and it might be found easier to import wheat from distant lands as it is less bulky than many other commodities which we might grow at home. Your Lordships will realise that during the last three years there has been a complete revolution so far as mechanical appliances are concerned. During the war the difficulty of getting horses and feeding them was overwhelming, but to-day, with the advent of the tractor, those difficulties are non-apparent. The value of a tractor is equal to that of six horses, and the value of a motor lorry is equal to about ten horses. Those problems, therefore, are no longer apparent to-day.
I need not elaborate the point of national defence. Noble Lord after noble Lord in the course of the debate yesterday, and on previous occasions, who have been associated with the problem of national defence have most vehemently and passionately asserted that one of the most important factors in the problem of national defence is an adequate supply of our home produce. In the course of the debate last night a noble Lord—I think it was Lord Stanhope towards the end of the evening —pointed out that he did not think that His Majesty's Government would be likely to be involved in any serious dispute with any foreign Power for many years to come, and that consequently the necessity for pre- 1229 serving an adequate food supply at home did not come into the problem of national defence. I venture to say that the greater the volume of food produced at home, combined with an effective fleet, the more are the hands of His Majesty's Government strengthened in any negotiations with foreign Powers, 'while the lack of food at home, and the knowledge that foreign Powers have of that shortage, must tend to weaken their hands. That is not the only point. It is possible—and this is a matter over which our Government cannot have control—that two friendly Powers upon whom we rely for our food supplies may, in the passage of years and by no means at a distant time, come to unfriendly relations with each other and declare war, so that the food supply on which we relied from them would be absorbed by their own countrymen and not allowed to come to our shores. We might therefore suffer serious shortage if these two Powers were to struggle with each other, and the food supply in these countries no longer allowed to come to us.
I desire to support the Bill also on the basis of finance. The noble Viscount, Lord Milner, last night dwelt on the importance of this subject. It is a matter of common knowledge to your Lordships that to-day our exchange with the United States is by no means satisfactory, and so far as I can understand there are only two sources of wealth on which we can draw. One is coal, with which I need not deal, and the other is the produce of the soil, where nature labours along with man to produce and maintain an adequate food supply. If we wish to improve our exchange with the United States the first thing we have to do is to produce the maximum amount of food at home, because it is only by a proper use of the soil of England that we can hope to redress the economic position. The noble Lord, the Minister of Agriculture, in the course of his speech, said that he identified himself with this measure which is before your Lordships, that his future career was associated with it, and that he pinned his faith upon its passage and its effective operation. For my part, as a considerable producer of foodstuffs in this country—I am almost ashamed to say it as your Lordships may regard me as a vulgar plutocrat—I hope between now said the next twelve months to produce a a sum total of food for the British people which will run into nearly six figures in terms of 1230 money. I believe that this can be carried out, provided, of course, that the direction is good and that the adverse influence of the climate does not exist.
There are only two contingencies which might arise that would in any way interfere with the possible success of this production. On the one hand, it may be that during the next twelve months the claims of labour may be so over-stated as to make the cost of production greater than the total value of the food; or, on the other hand, the noble Lord himself may be so pressed by forces which at present he cannot foresee as to indicate to him the necessity of underselling the farmer in the home market and not making operative the guarantee which is in the Bill. I do not believe that either contingency will arise. I pin my faith entirely on the noble Lord. I believe that he is master of the situation; that he will see this Bill through; and that he will be able to put into effect its various clauses. If only the community associated with the soil will back him up and stand by him to secure the mass production of food necessary, I have not the slightest doubt that the terms of this Bill will prove to be both useful and effective.
After all, the situation is this. John Bull owes a lot of money to Uncle Sam, and the only man who can pay that bill to-day is Hodge himself. The Duke of Buccleuch last night in an interesting speech told your Lordships, as I think some other noble Lords did, that he doubted very much indeed whether this guarantee of £40,000,000, or whatever it may be, would ever be paid by the British people, and I believe some noble Lords said that they did not think the Bill was either wanted or required by the community as a whole. That may or may not be true. All we know is that the Bill passed the House of Commons by substantial majorities, and that the members of the Labour Party supported it and desired that it should come into law. So far as the British people refusing to pay the guarantee is concerned I do not think any noble Lord in asserting that is likely to be accurate. The British people are shrewd enough to see that to-day every sovereign's worth of food produced in this country is circulated among themselves, whereas for every £l spent on food which they purchase from abroad they get only 13s. 5d. or 13s. 9d. worth in return. It is obvious, from the point of view of the British public that 1231 what they require to-day and for the next few years is mass production at home in order to reduce our foreign debt.
I turn to the social aspect of this problem, which was dealt with by Lord Ernle in one of those speeches which are always so intellectual and generally objective. He pointed out to your Lordships the importance of maintaining an adequate number of men on the soil, and said how important our village life was and how vital it was to preserve those men in and around our villages. I speak as a practical administrator, and I fail to see how you can maintain adequately in the future our village life, get the men to live in the village, and secure them an adequate wage for their livelihood unless they are employed in tilling and cultivating the soil in and around the places in which they live. Put the land on grass and you displace the men; preserve it under the plough and you have employment for them to-day and for all time. What is the alternative if von destroy village life? There is emigration. I do not suppose any noble Lord would venture to suggest that the villagers should emigrate. Then they can drift into the towns. Anybody who is at all familiar with urban opinion will know that if farmers and landlords allow agrarian labour to drift to the towns it will be said that the agrarian community do not know how to manage their affairs properly and that it is time for the State to undertake the work.
The third alternative is to place these men on the soil in the shape of small holders. Anybody examining into that problem on behalf of labour would say that it is better for the labourer to earn his £100 or £120 solid cash per annum than to risk his small and slender resources in a doubtful enterprise on the land of England. This, of course, applies with equal force to the urban population who are associated in making implements for agrarian use. The greater the number of tractor steam ploughs, binders, elevators, and all the various machines which are employed in agriculture, and especially in the tillage of the soil, the greater the number of men employed in our towns in those industries. Place the land under grass and those industries become jeopardised. On these broad grounds of principle I desire to support the Noble Lord in the measure which he has laid before the House.
May I for a few moments turn to some of the apparent disabilities which have 1232 been mentioned by noble Lords in the course of the debate, and which the application of the principles of this Bill will, it is said, inflict upon your Lordships' estates. In the first place I should like to deal with the question of notices to quit and the thorny problem of security of tenure; and if I may be allowed, might I draw a picture of the year 1890 and the picture as I see it in the year 1921? In the year 1890 I was sitting in mg office on September 29, waiting and wondering what number of farmers would send in their notices to quit. Sometimes ten, sometimes 15, sometimes as many as 20 would do so; and any noble Lords—and their must be many—who recall those days will remember that one had to go to the farmer and beg and implore him to take over the land on any terms he thought fit, and he did so on his own terms and on the terns of giving labour only 12s. per week it is quite trite that the rights of the individual were adequately preserved and safeguarded, and if you could only get a tenant you were perfectly entitled to turn him out, but the difficulty was to get the tenant.
Then what is likely to be the position in September, 1921. The produce of the soil will be guaranteed by a mimimum value promised by the Government, the farmer himself will be secure, the rent will be secure, and there will be no labour disturbances or difficulties in the village, for the labourer will be more or less secure in his cottage, and surely that is a point which is of value to your Lordships and to anybody who resides in the country districts. No disturbances, no ill-feeling, and no unemployment in the villages, and an impartial public authority will settle that odious question the raising of the rent. When I contrast those two situations I greatly prefer the probable situation in 1921. So far as I can see, having listened very carefully to the debate and having attempted to study somewhat the difficult clauses in the Bill, it appears to me that the price you have to pay for that change will not amount to more than one year's purchase. It is quite true that in exceptional cases it may mount up to four times that, but as a general rule the amount will not be anvil inure than one year's purchase.
I was caller so liaised yesterday in listening to the speech of Lord Selborne, of find that he drew a contrast between the farmer on the one hand who had pros- 1233 pered in the war and who got advantages under this Bill, and the landlord who got no profit out of the war and who received no advantages under this Bill. I could not help wondering that the noble Earl himself did not go straight to the root of the question and refer to that which is the major proposition—namely, the incidence of taxation on the estates of your Lordships. In the Finance Act of 1919 a fresh disability has been placed upon us—I do not complain; I merely note the fact—and the position to-day is this, that owing to the immense burdens imposed upon us in the name of Death Duties many estates will only last two generations, and in the course of a century the sum total of the wealth owned by members of this House will have entirely to be recreated if the descendants of noble Lords are to enjoy the same property qualifications and the same property as noble Lords to-day. That seems to me to be the major proposition. That is the governing factor, and one which we have to take into consideration in discussing the terms of this Bill. For what mast have occurred to the minds of the farmers? The farming community must have said with some justice, "These owners of property, in the passage of time, will have to liquidate their estates in order to discharge their obligations to the Government or the general community. We do not know where we stand, and we shall little to part company with our landlord sooner or later; therefore is it unreasonable and not right and proper that we should approach the Government and see that we get some security, some definite pledge, that the industry in which we are involved is one that can be perpetuated, and that we shall not be at the mercy and the victim of a taxation which has been placed upon our landlords."
I pass from the rather unpleasant subject of notice to quit to another which is equally difficult and involved—namely, the question of the raising of rents. There are quite a considerable number of clauses dealing with the raising of rent, but I want to point this out to noble Lords. I think that these financial matters should be done in relation to and in conjunction with the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself because the difficulty to-day is that, if the landlord raises his tenant's rent he inflicts upon the tenant a treble disability. Not only is the rent raised but the incidence of taxation on the farm itself is increased, and also the incidence 1234 of local rates. Therefore if any noble Lord wishes under this Bill to raise the rent of the farm he inflicts upon the tenant a treble disability. The noble Lord (Lord Lee of Fareham) should be able to tell us whether or not the arbitrator would take this fact into consideration. The real truth of the case is that tenant farmers should be made to go under Schedule D, which is under profit. If the tenant farmer was under Schedule D he would pay on his profit; and if the rent were raised, obviously the extra rent accruing to the landlord would proportionately come off the profits of the farmer, and therefore it would be kept in the industry itself. I do not deny that it is smacking a little of Sovietism to give power to the noble Lord to give notice to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to force all the farmers under Schedule D. I think that a considerable amount of the profits of the industry may be preserved in agriculture instead of being sequestrated to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Downing street.
There is another point which requires consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that is the question of repairs. The rigid assessment of repairs is very noticeable in the Bill, and I should like to know exactly how we stand with regard to what is called the maintenance claim. It used to be a fifth of the gross income of the landlord. I was assured by noble Lords last night that now any amount could be spent by the landlord and could be entirely placed under the heading of "maintenance claim." If that is so, it is no hardship on the landlord to impose upon him a considerable amount of responsibility in connection with repairs. But if I am wrong in assuming that is so, it may be that the. Ministry of Agriculture may force the landlord to spend more than the Treasury would allow him to deduct. Upon that point I should like to get some reply from the noble Lord. I could not have supported this Bill if I did not think it contained provisions for perpetuating and making really effective the control of our first industry by the State itself. Many noble Lords spoke last night as if there was still control in agriculture. As far as I can see, all that is done is that whereas formerly your Lordships and your agents controlled and managed your estates, power will now he exercised by a group of public officials. I ant not at all prepared to challenge the noble Lord and say that the 1235 old system was not the better one. But the old system has passed away.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
Under the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1908 your Lordships have not the power to control the tillages of any of your tenants. The noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, was responsible for that Act, by which he gave the tenants of England the right to farm as they liked, The control of the landlord and his agent was entirely removed, and your Lordships' tenants have been farming as they liked since the year 1908.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
The Consolidating Act was 1908. I say that that was the effect of the noble Marquess's Bill of 1908, and I asked the Ministry of Agriculture for some figures in connection with it. I asked what was the sum total of food produced in the five years before the Agricultural Holdings Act when the landlords of England and their agents controlled their estates, and what was the total of food produced for the five years subsequent to the Act of 1908, when the farmers themselves were allowed to farm as they liked. The figures given to me are very remarkable and instructive. In every case, apart from the increase in potatoes, the average yield per acre showed a decrease in every single commodity.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
May I interrupt the noble Duke? I think he is mistaken about the Act. If I recollect aright, the Act which gave the tenants control of cultivation was passed in the year 1906.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
May I explain that 1906 was the Agricultural Holdings Act; 1907 was the Small Holdings Act; and 1908 was the Act which consolidated all the Acts. I think, therefore, the noble Duke is right, 1908 being now the principal Act.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I do not think the right of the farmer to do 1236 as he liked came into operation till 1908. It may be that I might have taken figures for one year earlier, but I do not think, had I done so, that it would affect the figures. They conclusively prove that when there was control there was a greater amount of food produced, and that when control was removed the amount of food was less. What is much more serious is this. A considerable amount of the unexhausted improvements—the manurial value of the soil—were undoubtedly removed by the tenants themselves, but the figures surely show enough to prove the case for control; and the question is whether the control should once again be re-established under the landlord and his agent or whether it should be taken over by a public official. I am afraid that we have moved so fast that it would be impossible to-day to put back the hands of the clock, and we must rely upon the public authority to help and manage and control. The figures that I have given show that the effect of Lord Lincolnshire's efforts was the reverse of his intentions, and, whatever the noble Marquess said last night about the intentions of this Bill, it will at least destroy those effects.
Personally I welcome this Bill and its intention to control. I miss the opportunity that I formerly had of consulting the gifted and experienced intellects on whose authoritative judgment I relied so much for the direction of policy in administering many thousands of acres. In my humble judgment direction is vital, and I therefore cannot see why the farmers of England should object to receive the advice and wise counsel of those who, we presume, must know well. I hope, if I am permitted to do so, that I shall be allowed to avail myself of the advice of the members of the Council which the noble Lord is proposing to set up—the Council of Agriculture which was included in the measure passed last year, and the members of which Council I understand are shortly to meet together. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Fareham, will be able to assure us in the course of the debate that it is his fixed resolve and policy, and that it is the policy of the Cabinet as a whole, to make this control the expression of the deliberate thought and the wisest agricultural brains in England, and that it is not to be the haphazard judgment of an unreflecting successor in the Office which he holds.
1237 After all, control and direction go together, and it would be impossible successfully to maintain and develop the resources of the land of England unless the direction is right, good, sensible and intelligent. We rely upon the Government for that direction. We are right in doing so, are we not? We are entitled to look to the Government in the future for direction. I welcome that direction, and I heartily support the noble Lord if he will only give it to me. Few people seem to appreciate that even the Government itself sometimes errs in direction. Only the other day the Government promised to put 25 per cent. of English wheat into the quartern loaf, and for some reason or other which I do not know and which perhaps some member of the Government can explain, it has allowed that to be cut down to 15 per cent., the consequence being that a great amount of English wheat was flung on the market and millers were unable to take it. The farmers had to take it back into their barns, and 8 per cent. of their money is lying idle in consequence of lack of direction on the part of His Majesty's Government themselves only bring that to the notice of the noble Lord for this reason, that any lack of proper direction is resented bitterly by the farming community and is very likely to prejudice him in their eyes in any future rules, regulations, or orders which he desires to impose upon them.
One other point in this connection is that no work can be carried out properly and effectively unless it is part of a great general scheme. I would like to bring to the notice of noble Lords in particular the question of the adequate drainage of the land of England. There is a cleaning clause in the Bill dealing with drains, and I am rather at a loss to make out whether the obligation falls upon the tenant or upon the landlord. If it falls upon the tenant and he can show that he has already spent several pounds per acre in the employment of labour, it would be rather difficult to impose an order upon him to clear out all his ditches. If it falls upon the landlord and the landlord can show that he has spent one-fifth of his income in the maintenance of his estate, I think the noble Lord will find it rather difficult to impose a fresh burden there. It seems to me that the noble Lord would be well advised if he considered the possibility of having the whole of the ditches and hedges of England administered out of 1238 public funds. After all, what is it the Bill proposes to do? It proposes to recultivate the soil of England. The farmers are to-day spending £4 per acre on arable and grass land mixed and £6 per acre on arable land, and you are asking them to spend nearly £20 per acre in increasing the production of their land between now and the next twelve months. Is it wise, is it prudent to insist upon that policy unless you are sure that a great portion of the land of England which is to-day water-logged has the water removed from it and the soil upon which you desire these crops to grow placed in a condition to produce, them in as effective and fruitful manner as possible.
I hope that the noble Lord will not regard my remarks as being in any sense hortatory. I merely desire to point out as a practical man the great difficulties and problems with which he is faced, and that unless the soil is placed in a condition properly to produce these crops and the hedges are cut down so as to prevent animals and so on from getting at those crops—unless those two factors are dealt with, as I think they should be, on a national basis, I fear that some of the fruitful results the noble Lord expects from this Bill, and with which I desire to associate myself, will not be obtained.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
My Lords, I do not intend to follow the noble Duke through his speech except to say that I do not think that cutting down the hedges will make a very great difference. I shall try to confine myself to what I consider the really important part of the Bill—the question of expenditure. I had hoped during the course of this debate that some member of the Government would rise in his place and give your Lordships some sort of estimate, however rough and ready, as to what the charge upon the taxpayer is likely to be during the next few years, and also some estimate of the increase of food they expect to get by that expenditure. I was fortunate only a short time ago to hear a speech on this very question delivered by Mr. Lambert, who used to be Member for South Moulton and whom I have heard on this subject on more than one occasion. He put the case very strongly indeed, but he received no answer in another place, and we have heard no answer to it here during the whole of these debates. I think you Lordships would be well advised, before 1239 allowing the Bill to pass into law, to insist that the Government should make some authoritative declaration as to what it is to cost and what results are likely to be attained.
Speaking for myself, I can only say as a general proposition that as far as the Bill is concerned I have no faith in the success of an industry which depends for its prosperity on Government control and a subsidy from the taxpayer. Having stated that, I turn to some of those arguments which have been used in recommending this Bill to your Lordships and to the country. If I may say so, all the authoritative speeches which have been delivered in support of the Bill have been based purely on the grounds of national security and safety. The one thing that the noble Lord who introduced the Bill mainly insisted upon, both at the beginning of his speech and in the peroration, was national security and safety from submarines.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
I am not going to press the question as regards the alternative values of grass or pasture; I am only going to read this letter which was sent out to the agricultural committees at the time we were asked to plough up the land—The acreage now under plough is in many cases exhausted. On the other hand newly ploughed glass land is cleaner than most of the existing arable land. It is in a much higher manurial condition, and it is therefore capable of producing more corn within the next few years.That letter is dated November 5, 1917. I do not wish to labour this point, because all of us are agreed that if you want to grow good crops and it is a question of the fertility of the soil, you will get much better crops from such land than from existing already ploughed land. I believe that is admitted, and that is one principle which influenced the noble Lord in his Ploughing Orders at the time of grave national danger in 1917.
I am much impressed by the noble Lord's argument on this question, that our danger was from the submarines and that he wanted to put us in an assured position. But I want to ask the noble Lord this question if he founds his Bill on that claim. Was it because our land was in grass or 1240 greatly in grass or was it owing to our obsolete land system that these dangers occurred? I am perfectly certain if he looks into the matter he will find that it was not on account of those two causes that we were in dire peril of being starved out. I have dealt with the question of grass. As to the fertility of it, I believe it was a very valuable asset indeed in those days of trial. But there was another cause. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who spoke the other night, is the man who first attempted to arouse the country during the war to the danger of our position. The terrible danger that we got into in 1917 was not, in my opinion and from all the information I have received, owing to our obsolete land system or to the fact that a large amount of our land was under grass, but to the fact that the Admiralty turned down the advice given by Lord Selborne, who was President of the Board of Agriculture at the time. In 1915 Lord Selborne wanted to start this ploughing campaign. He foresaw the danger, and he said, "This war will go on for some years; we must try to produce more food at home. Now in the time to set to work to use the fertility of our grass land." What happened? If the information I have received is correct it was the Admiralty who turned that scheme down, and it was not until two years afterwards, in the year 1917, when our ships were being sunk by submarines at the rate of fifteen a month, that the Admiralty found out their mistake; and at vast expense—all honour to them—Lord Ernle and Lord Lee had to set to work on that hurricane campaign of trying to provide food for the people. I only quote that because I think it is an important factor when we come to deal with this question in a Bill which is to alter the whole system of land tenure in this country and to alter the principles of corn production. If it is to be based on the necessity of providing food for the people in emergency, then the whole facts of the case ought to be known. In addition to the mistakes of the Admiralty there was also a great mistake committed owing to our haphazard method of recruiting at the beginning of the war. I think myself that the noble Lord (Lord Lee) will agree with me. At the beginning of the war all the good fellows, the patriotic men, the strongest and the beat and the most skilled, volunteered and went out to do their best in France and all over the world.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
Yes, and saved the nation in doing it. And later on many of those skilled men were most urgently wanted at home to help in cultivating the soil. It was the same in other industries. Not only agriculture but munitions suffered. All this tended towards our troubles in 1917 and 1918, and it was not our land system which was at fault.
After what fell from Lord Milner last night I should like to deal with the question of national security. I feel that it would be presumptuous on my part to criticise anything, said by such a great financial authority as Lord Milner. I was a humble follower of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Milner when they attempted to place British agriculture in a preferential position compared with foreign agriculture by proposing a modest duty of 2s. on corn imported into this country. I am therefore very sorry that on this question of national security I must part company with Lord Milner. I thought he spoke last night somewhat lightly of 10's of millions, 20's of millions, and 30's of millions which might have to be found by the taxpayers in order to encourage wheat-growing in this country. The noble Duke also dealt with this question, and it is, of course, an indisputable proposition that every quarter of wheat, we grow at home saves the importation of a quarter of wheat from abroad. But I am not quite certain that that is sound financially. If I were asked to put money into this thing—and we are asked to put money into it as taxpayers—I should very much like to see some balance, sheet presented, and something more definite placed in the prospectus than was advanced by Lord Milner. Because, however desirable it may be that we should grow corn at home there must be a limit of cost, and it cannot be a business proposition to call upon the taxpayers to pay millions and millions of money to grow an article which can be produced at half or a quarter of the cost in another country.
Though I agree with a great deal of his argument, the whole time that it was being put Mote us by Lord Milner I seemed to recall another policy that was put before us only a short time ago and to hear an echo of the bulging corn bins of Russia and of the fertile plains of Mesopotamia and the Garden of Eden. If we are to get our corn 1242 and our oil from Mesopotamia and to spend hundreds of millions in conquering Mesopotamia in order to obtain that oil and corn, is it a good proposition to spend millions more here in order to get corn to compete with it? Let us have sonic declaration from the Government. Either let us embark upon foreign expeditions in Mesopotamia or make terms with the Bolsheviks in order to get corn from the bulging corn bins of Russia. I do not think that the country can afford to give huge subsidies to grow corn in this country and at the same time embark upon foreign conquest and expensive military expeditions in order to get under our control nations from whom we think we can get the corn. It is for this reason that I differ from noble Lords whose opinion I value very highly and who have placed the question of the security of this country in the forefront of their arguments.
I regret extremely that during this debate we have had absolutely no estimate of what the cost is to be, or of the results which are likely to accrue. Last week attended a good many nights here, and I was grieved indeed to hear of the financial difficulties of noble Lords from Ireland. They pointed out how impossible it was in Ireland to borrow money under the Irish Acts or to pay their taxes. We are suffering a bit from the same complaint here. When we are asked to spend money for the sake of national security I really think we should ask ourselves the simple question, Can we afford it During the next few months we shall have claims for the Army and Navy, we shall have claims for the Air Force, we shall have claims for the dye industry, we have had claims and shall have claims for public health—all brought forward in the interests of national security.
Before we go much further with this subject we ought to have some balance-sheet and know exactly whether we are going to get a quid pro quo for the money we have to spend. It may be said that that is asking a good deal from the Government, but there is one estimate which they could have given us, and that is an estimate of what they believe is the cost of the administration of this Act. I believe in another place this was brushed aside and the country was informed that the only cost of this Act was the pay of three Commissioners, who were to find out what the price of corn was to be. I 1243 believe that is the truth, but I do not think it is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because this Act is bound up with other Acts. It is bound up with the Corn Production Act and with the Agriculture Act, and those Acts cost a great deal of money. I can only say from my own experience that in every county of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland there will be agricultural committees, the members of which it is recommended should be paid their travelling expenses.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
The noble Lord shakes his head in negation, but I happen to be on the committee of a County Council which was appointed to draw up one of these agricultural committees under the noble Lord's Agriculture Bill, and we received a recommendation as to the formation of this committee, and there in black and white it is put down as one of the recommendations that these councillors should be paid for their attendance and their travelling expenses. What is more, it is only a few days ago that on an agricultural committee we received information that all the mileage allowance was to go down. All these things could be roughly estimated by the Government, and they could really give us some idea of what the staff in London is going to cost, what these committees are going to cost, and what the permanent officials are going to cost. If I may say sop during the war expenses as regards the cost of officials in the working of committees were not so great as they will be under this Bill. During the war hundreds of thousands of men did voluntary service on committees and never asked for a penny of pay and never received a penny of travelling allowances. That is not going to go on under this Bill it is perfectly certain. I do not wish to go into petty details about the matter. I can only say that I did protest against the members being paid for attending these committees as I said that education committees, which probably work a great deal harder, are not paid, and I thought it not proper that the agricultural committees should be paid. The point is that this is going to cost the country a lot of money seeing that there are all these officials attached to it, and I am quite certain that there is a growing feeling in the country against this control and 1244 all the expenses with which it is accompanied. I am perfectly certain that a good deal of this work could just as well be done by a good estate agent as by numerous visits from a number of inspectors and committeemen who are all buzzing about the country in motor cars at the public expense.
During the war it did not matter. We all made a push, and we all did it in the hope that in that way we were helping to beat the Germans. But things are different to-day. Money is scarcer, and there is a growing feeling of resentment among the people that these schemes should be continually brought forward, which simply mean added expense. My estimate of expenditure under this Bill is something between £200,000 and £300,000 a year as representing what it is going to cost the country. I do think there is a growing feeling of resentment among the people at having to pay these officials and having the burden of control when they see very few tangible results at the end of it.
I should like to pass from the argument of those noble Lords who support the Bill on the ground of national security to the other argument used to support this Bill which was brought forward so ably by Lord Ernle. I confess when I listened to him I almost cried. What did he tell us? I hope I am not misrepresenting him. He did not tell us that the desert was going to blossom like the rose; he sees things through different spectacles from those of the Prime Minister. He told us that the argument for the acceptance of this Bill was that we had better take it because we might get something worse. It is a sad look-out. He told us, "Take this Bill or worse will befall you."
I ask you briefly to consider what in plain English are the main provisions of the Bill. How do they affect the landlord? The landlord under this Bill will be told what rent he is to receive; the landlord under this Bill will be told whom he is to evict; the landlord under this Bill will be told what repairs and improvements he is to execute. The tenant under this Bill will be told what rent he has to pay; he will be told how he is to cultivate his land, and he will be told what wages he has to pay his labourer. The labourer is going to be told what wages he is to receive, and how many hours he shall work. Well, my Lords, it is pretty strong. When the 1245 noble Lord says, "You should accept this Bill because you may get something worse," I am doubtful if you can get anything touch worse. He said, "If you do not accept this Bill you may have nationalisation." That made, us all feel cold, and we had a shiver when he told us that. I often turn over in my mind, What is nationalization? I always imagined nationalisation to mean that the State stepped in, took a man's property, paid him compensation for it, managed it as it thought fit, and took the profits for the nation. It is what the Government have been doing in the past few years with the railways. I rather think it is what they have done with coal in the past year. Instead of paying a sum down they make an annual payment; they guarantee to shareholders in the railways their earnings of 1913.
But apparently under this Bill an arbitrator is to say what rent is to be paid, or you are to get a rent paid you, but not on the actual value of the land. That is nationalisation without confiscation—a nationalisation in which the Government may say how everyone is to carry on his business and how every labourer and man is to work, and pay no compensation whatsoever. This Bill, if I may point out, goes very much in that direction, because by the Bill there is an arbitrator who is to say what tent is to be paid. There is also a very dangerous clause in this Bill and one which I believe has never occurred in any system of nationalisation before. What does it say? It says that the owner of the property is not to be judge of what are suitable repairs to his buildings or land; he is not to be the judge of what is an improvement to his property. A third party, a Government agent, is to be judge of what repairs are necessary and what improvements are to be carried out, not at the nation's expense but at the man's expense whose land is nationalised. I never heard of such a proposition. It certainly is not done in the case of the railways, and I am not quite certain whether it was done in the case of coal. If I may say so, I believe it to be a purely new principle in nationalisation, for any system of nationalisation which has occurred up to the present has laid down the rule that either you compensate or confiscate. Having given compensation, and having said a man is entitled to so much for having taken away from him the management of his property, 1246 I never heard it suggested that he must after that find capital expenditure out of the income you allow him in order to carry out the improvements which the Government, through its agent, thinks necessary and profitable.
I can only say that if this Bill is to be recommended to us on the ground that should we not accept it we shall get something worse, it is a poor look out for any property owner in this country. I do not regard the land particularly, for if the owner of land is to be left no power over the management of his own property, land is not the only thing that is going to be confiscated. In spite of the dire prophecies of Lord Ernie as regards landowners, if the land is taken away without compensation I do not think that railway shareholders or holders of Government securities are in any better position than landowners.
I wish in conclusion to state what in my opinion should be our action as regards this Bill. I should like first of all to refer to its reception in the House of Commons. It was not anything to boast about. Although the noble Duke has stated that it was passed by substantial majorities it is really a significant fact that a measure, brought forward as the charter for agriculture, could only find some 160 members in the House of Commons to support it.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
Twelve, I think. Out of over 700 members only 160 voted for it. I recollect a stern fight in the House of Commons for a measure which did do agriculture some good—the Agricultural Rates Act—and I know perfectly well that there were a great many more than 160 members who supported it. A large number of the members of the House of Commons who have an interest in agriculture purposely abstained from supporting the Bill, and did not vote against the Third Reading, although they did not like it. I do not blame them. What was their position? If they had voted against the Third Reading the Bill would have been thrown out; it would have been killed. Our position in this House is different. We have no longer a power of veto. We can no longer kill a Bill. All we can do is to delay and revise, and in my opinion if ever there was a case when 1247 your Lordships should exercise the power of delay it is in connection with the present Bill. I will tell you why.
In the first instance there is no need for this Bill for the next few months. The only thing the Bill refers to, as regards the production of corn in this country, is the production of wheat and oats for next year. The maximum price has not been fixed. There will not be any more wheat put into the ground because the wheat is in already, or I hope it is. It will not affect that. In addition, you have the Corn Production Act still in effect; your Wages Board under that Act will continue, and I believe also that you have full powers under the Defence of the Realm Act. The greater part of the agricultural policy during the last four or five years has not been carried out under the Corn Production Act, but under the Defence of the Realm Act, and I believe I am correct that, as regards agriculture, the Defence of the Realm Act is still in force.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
Then I am quite right in my statement. What is the position? The position is this. If it is not going to be effective before next year you will not meet the difficulty which will have to be faced this winter and next spring. At the present moment there is absolutely no guarantee except the guarantee under the Corn Production Act of 45s. a quarter for wheat. That is the only guarantee. Wages are very high and farmers are practically unable to sell anything. It is not a question of prices; there are no offers. You can bring to the market your barley, your oats and wheat, but what chance have you of selling? What chance have farmers of selling their wool for the next year or two? It is not a question of prices. You cannot sell anything; and if that is to continue how will the farmer during the next winter and swing be able to go on paying these wages? If I am not mistaken the difficulty the Government will have to meet is that during the next three or four months they will have to do something under the Defence of the Realm Act to deal with the serious situation which will probably occur in rural districts owing to unemployment.
If we do not give a Second Reading to this Bill we shall, of course, be open to 1248 misconception, and it will be said that all the trouble has arisen owing to the action of the House of Lords. It will not of course be true. I say without fear of contradiction that if your Lordships decide to delay this Bill by refusing to give it a Second Reading it is the right and the straightforward course to pursue. Nobody wants the Bill, and a straightforward policy is always the best. If it is desired by the country, if it can be shown by next spring or summer that the vast expenditure you are likely to put on the country by this measure will bring adequate results, bring in your Bill, pass it through the House of Commons in two or three days and it can then come before your Lordships again.
We ought to pause, in view of the enormous financial difficulties with which the country is faced before we give this Bill a Second Reading. We have always been told, everyman who considers the financial position of the British Empire at the moment is always told, that if we want economies we must look to policy. Policy governs finance. That is perfectly true, and I appeal to your Lordships, now you have the chance in some way to direct policy and by that means to influence the finance of the country, to use your votes in favour of economy.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
My Lords, I should like to express my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, for the admirable speech he has delivered. He has relieved me from many things that I desired to say. On the other hand I do not pin myself to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. My view, after a careful consideration of the whole question, is that the agricultural world, threatened with a fall of prices which promises to become more acute, might suffer serious disabilities if this Bill disappeared, especially if the fall in prices should occur much more suddenly than we expect. If we could depend on prices continuing I should not have a moment's hesitation in moving the rejection of what I regard as one of the worst Bills I have ever seen introduced into Parliament. Although I give full credit to the noble Lord the Minister of Agriculture for his explanation and all the work and trouble he has devoted to this question, all the inquiries he has made, all the great efforts in addition to introduce a Bill which might meet the requirements of different parties and still pass into law; although I am fully aware of all that and 1249 although I am strongly convinced that the great object of this Bill and the great object of all your Lordships and of the House of Commons is to increase as largely as we can the production of home-grown food in this country, in order thereby to avoid great perils which otherwise we might not avoid, my own opinion still is that the Bill is of a character which I have endeavoured briefly to describe.
May I say a few words in reference to the appeal made by my noble friend? I think that the public and Parliament ought to be informed without further delay what the probable cost of this Bill will be. The noble Lord said two or three hundred thousand pounds, but so far as I can form a judgment, it will be infinitely greater than that. In these days, unhappily, so many Government Departments think in millions rather than in thousands that if the amount falls within the limits suggested by the noble Lord I shall be greatly pleased and much more surprised. I also wish now to refer, lest I should forget to do so, to the speech of my noble friend Lord Selborne, with which in great measure I agree. I think it was en admirable and a most temperate speech delivered on a very serious occasion. But I am reminded by the statements of various speakers in this debate that this Bill is founded largely on the Report of a sub-committee of the Reconstruction Committee. I have examined that Report. I do not mean to say that I hive read every word of it with the greatest care, or that I have followed the evidence which was given, but I have looked into it. I found that it was preceded by an historical survey on the agricultural position, conducted by one of the secretaries of the Committee, and I read that the years 1870–78 were not years of agricultural depression and that in those years a farmer who kept his land under the plough and grew wheat crops made fair profits.
When I read that I thought I must have gone off my head, because I remembered perfectly well that in the year 1879 I moved for the first Royal Commission on agricultural depression, which at that moment, and for some years previously, had reached the most alarming crisis. That Commission was granted at once. It was supported from the other side of the House, and seconded by the late Lord Brassey, and Mr. Disraeli not only immediately granted the Resolution which I moved but paid me the compliment of 1250 writing to say that he should take my Resolution as the reference to the Royal Commission. I have not brought the volume with me, but I referred to it this morning. We had to inquire into Ireland as well as England and we made a preliminary report in regard to Ireland. I find that in Ireland, in common with the rest of the United Kingdom, there had been the greatest suffering from the depression in agriculture in the years 1877, 1878 and 1879. Not only that, but turning for confirmation to a book called "The History of Farming, Past and Present," by a former Minister of Agriculture, who made an admirable speech last night, what I found was this—that there were various periods which could be called great crises of depression, and such a crisis arose—I wrote it on my shirt sleeve just, before coming down to the House—from 1875 to 1884.
if the Report referred to as one of the main authorities for asking us to support this Bill can be so inaccurate on such a subject as that of the awful depression—there is no other phrase for it—which occurred at that time, all I can say is that the Report rests upon very much more slender foundations than I should have thought could have been possible.
Now I want to say two or three words upon the different classes which this Bill must naturally affect. They are four in number. The first are the owners of landed estates; the second are the occupiers of the land; the third are the actual tillers of the soil; and the fourth are the consumers of the home-grown food. With regard to the landowners I think the question was dealt with by my noble friend Lord Selborne last night. I took his words down and they were to the effect that during the war the landowner got nothing but gave everything. Yes, so he did, not only in treasure but in blood. I shall never forget the day in this House when I heard the noble Earl, Lord Curzon, make that most moving speech in which he described your Lordships' House, after the innumerable losses of sons, relations, intimate friends and others, as a House of mourning indeed. No class has ever been so little recognised for what its members have done in the past in connection with this Bill as the landed class of this country; the great landowners in particular, who have succeeded to their estates upon which it is no exaggeration to say that the farmers, the tenants who occupy the land, 1251 the men who cultivate it, the tillers of the soil, were all more or less regarded in the days that I can remember, forty or fifty years ago, as belonging rather to the same family than to anything else. Between them all there was nothing but a feeling of the deepest friendship and regard, and yet no class in connection with this Bill is so harshly treated as they have been.
I come to the occupiers. You have done everything you can do for them. It is a very curious coincidence, but looking at the same Report one of the paragraphs which I came across was in relation to agricultural labourers. What it said was that they never were so well off in their lives. They are the only, class who have suffered nothing, and why? Because the prices of wheat, which I knew to my cost and which I am never likely to forget, have fallen front 62s. pa quarter. When I succeeded to my estates the prosperity of the county of Lincolnshire was something that I have never seen paralleled elsewhere. Every little shop, in every little village, in every small town, and in all the great county towns like Lincoln and Grantham, where these great agricultural implement factories were springing up every day, and were extending their works and selling their produce in all parts of the world, was prosperous. There was never anything like the prosperity which prevailed in those days, and as for the agricultural labourers, they were the most splendid fellows I ever saw in my life. In those days many ploughing meetings were held and prizes were given for agricultural work, and the pride these men took in it all was charming to see. The way they did their work was better than anything I have seen since, and indeed it is perfectly true that in those days the county of Lincoln was always held to be, what it was, the premier farming county in England.
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
Will the noble Viscount say what were the wages of the farm labourers in those days.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
I think they were 17s. 6d., and with the difference in the price of wheat they were infinitely more than compensated for any difference in wages. I remember the black day in 1879, in Lincoln market, when the quotation for wheat was 17s. 6d. per quarter, and it never rose to more than 22s. or 23s. for many years afterwards. The Government have done everything in the world that it is 1252 possible to do for the tillers of the soil but my apprehension is that this cannot possibly last, and for one reason alone which so few people not connected with agriculture understand or know anything about. They all forget that the great majority of the land in this country is poor or moderate land, and such land cannot be cultivated so as to grow corn in the way that this Bill proposes, except at a loss at the wages which are fixed by the present Wages Boards.
I am not going to dwell to-day upon the question, which I shall raise in Committee and make quite clear—namely, that a great breach of faith was committed towards the farmers. On February 23, 1917, the Prime Minister gave a definite pledge that no Wages Boards would be set up till after the war or until the prices in the Corn Production Bill had expired, and they are in existence to-day. I will give the noble Lord chapter and verse for the statement which I make upon this point, because I think it is very desirable that the facts should be known, for farmers are very often the subject of much abuse. What I want to say is this. The agricultural labourer, so far as I know him, and I have known thousands and thousands in my life, and the farmer as well, are all of them the best people in the world to lead, but they are the very worst people to try and drive, especially when they have the smallest suspicion that the people who are trying to drive them are people who really do not know and understand the business of which they have charge. That is too often the case, I fear, in many of the Government Departments, and especially in the new Government Departments which have been created within the last few years.
As far as I know anything about agriculture it is perfectly possible to fulfil the aspirations of the noble Lord who is now Minister of Agriculture, and I have every possible sympathy with him, in growing enough corn of different kinds, and especially if you take into account the fact that flour can be used for making bread which is made from potatoes and oats as well as from wheat and barley—it is perfectly possible that you may grow enough to make your country safe from any danger of famine, but it will be an extremely costly thing to do. It fell to my lot in the year 1882–3 to promote an agitation in which, after a year's very hard work in the North of England and elsewhere, I was successful in obtaining a Royal Commission to inquire 1253 and report upon the condition of our food supply in time of war. I do not know whether the noble Lord ever had an opportunity of reading or considering that question. If he has not, I should be very glad if he would allow me some day to come and talk to him about it. I have it at my fingers' ends, and I could probably save him a great deal of trouble.
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
May I remind my noble friend that he was good enough to draw my attention to it when we were both members of the House of Commons, and that I made a speech in support of it at his request, and he was kind enough to compliment me afterwards on having mastered the subject.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
I am delighted to hear what the noble Lord tells me, and I am going to press this upon him again. Now that I may say I have an ally on the point, I shall not waste the time of the House. One of the Reports made, every word of which I wrote myself, contained a provision made by one of the ablest men I have ever known, Mr. Marshall Stevens, who bought the de Trafford property at Manchester for £300,000, which is now worth at the very least £5,000,000. That shows that he knew what he was about. He made a proposal to His Majesty's Government to provide granaries on the Manchester Ship Canal. The largest ships were to come alongside elevators and pump the wheat into them, and it could be taken away again when it was wanted. To encourage people to use these elevators it was provided that the storage should be rent free. Your Lordships may imagine what that meant when the price of storage on the other side of the Atlantic was 3s. a quarter. My noble friend the Chairman of the Commission, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, told us one day in the course of examining a witness that so acute was the competition in wheat that the difference in price of a single cent made the difference between making a fortune or losing one. I came to the conclusion, and the majority of the Commission came to the same conclusion, that it was a perfectly feasible proposition, and if the opportunity has not been lost since then it is a proposition to be pressed upon the Government at the present time. They should use all the forces in their power to give effect to it. The cost was going to be trifling. The Report of the Commission states that to 1254 begin with the cost would be comparatively trifling, and would not add more than one-quarter of a cent. to what is annually spent at the present time on the national defence of the country. That ought to be an inducement to my noble friend, when he sees the Estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture going up by leaps and bounds. When I was head of the Department the Estimates were £230,000 a year, and during Mr. Long's term of Office they were £250,000. What are the Estimates to-day? How many millions do they run to, and what is done for agriculture more than we did at that time? Those are questions to which I think the public would like to have some answer. I have said a few words upon this subject which I hope will not be altogether without use. I shall not vote for the rejection of the Bill, but I shall do my utmost in Committee drastically to amend it. If we find that we cannot amend it as we think it ought to be amended, I at all events shall join with my noble friend Lord Ancaster in voting against the measure.
My Lords, we have had advice front three noble Lords as to the course which it would be wise for us to adopt regarding this measure. The noble Duke advises us to pass it as likely to be of a most beneficial character to agriculture, and from a very wide and general purview of the whole situation he anticipates evidently enormous gains. The noble Earl who spoke from the backbenches advised your Lordships to reject the Bill, and the noble Viscount who has just spoken, with his enormous experience in agricultural legislative matters, advises your Lordships that it is one of the worst agricultural Bills that to his knowledge has ever been introduced into Parliament, and I suppose he knows more about agricultural Bills than any one in either House. But he is not going to vote with the noble Marquess for the rejection of the Bill.
am going to take the liberty of advising your Lordships from an entirely different point of view. I am certainly not going to support the noble Marquess in rejecting the Bill. I think that would be, from a Party political point of view, tactically very unwise.
1255 It would be seized hold of by the Party of disorder in this country, who would make capital out of it, not immediately perhaps, but in the course of a few years when the opportunity occurred. They would make use of it to make any changes that were going to be introduced in the Second Chamber still more drastic than may be at present contemplated by His Majesty's Government. It would be dangerous at this moment for this House to reject the Bill. If the House of Commons had taken it into its head to reject it, it might have been a wise action, but it was not going to run its head into that noose; it thought it much safer to pass it OH to this House for your Lordships to take the risk of pulling the chestnuts out of the fire. I think your Lordships would be very unwise if you allowed yourselves to be taken in that trap. Therefore, from that point of view, I am going to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill.
I admit that if the Bill was going to be as unfavourable to the agricultural industry as apparently the noble Earl on the backbenches thinks, and as, I suppose, the noble Viscount thinks from his saying that it is the worst Bill he has ever seen, I would put that in the forefront before the Party political question, but I do not think that view is right; therefore I am prepared to vote for the Second Reading. Regarding the reasons for introducing this Bill, I should like to say that I have done what I imagine many of your Lordships have not done—I have read every single word of the evidence in the three volumes of the Blue-book of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, and I certainly rose from that perusal with no conviction that any adequate reasons had been brought forward for a change in the system of agriculture in this country unless it be, of course, from the point of view of the necessity of growing wheat. I could not find in it any real complaints of the ill-treatment of tenants or the tyranny of landlords. I waded through a very very voluminous mass of evidence in which there was an enormous amount of quite unnecessary repetition—
—involving a great waste of time. On rising from the perusal of those three volumes the effect on my mind was that we ought to be very well 1256 satisfied in this country with the arrangement of landlord and tenant and as regards the system of agriculture; that we grew on the whole as large crops as the climate of the country permitted; and that those crops were well adapted, having regard to the price, to the soils upon which they were grown. I understand that if the members of the Royal Commission on Agriculture had ever been able to agree to a Report, which they could not, they were to give the reasons for the Bill which has now been introduced. I cannot admit that the result of my examination of that Report justifies the Bill, though there may be other very good reasons for it.
I said just now that I was prepared to support this measure from an agricultural point of view—that is to say, I do not object to its passing from an agricultural point of view. I do not think it is going to make very much difference. The system of agriculture in this country rises superior to legislation, and it will proceed in its calm and methodical way despite all the laws you may pass.
I should like to tell again a story which I have told your Lordships more than once. I went to India a good many years ago, just after the Government of India in its paternal way had thought it was its duty to teach the Indian farmers how to farm and had sent for Professor Voelcker, an eminent agricultural chemist, as your Lordships know. Professor Voelcker travelled for a year all over India and studied many systems of agriculture in that vast agricultural country. On his way home he passed through Poona where I was at the time, and having known him at home he came to see me and presented me with his Blue-book, a fairly substantial volume. He said, "You will find a great deal of very interesting matter in that Blue-book but the gist of it is in the last paragraph." I looked at the last paragraph and there were these words—The Indian farmer knows very well how to farm. I have nothing to teach him.That was the result of trying to apply English methods to Indian farming on farmers who knew their business thoroughly well.
During the very long period I have had a seat in this House I have taken part in the discussion of, I forget how many agricultural Bills, but I suppose quite three, and I can honestly say that there is always this to be remembered about 1257 agriculture—that we cannot be dogmatic about it even in a small country like Great Britain, because the methods, the climate, and the soil differ so materially that one cannot speak positively except about that area which one knows intimately. I cannot detect, either as regards myself or my tenants or as regards any of my neighbours or their tenants, that those Acts have made any difference. As I said before, agriculture rises superior to legislation. My own opinion is that in another ten years if this Bill passes, amended as I hope it will be, you will find it has not made very much difference, that apiculture has gone on in very much the same way, that we are still superior to every other country in the production of flocks and herds and horses, and superior to nearly every other country in the world in the amount we produce per acre. Holding that opinion, your Lordships can understand why I do not mind the Bill passing and why I ant not afraid of it.
A great deal of what is going to be done under this Bill depends upon the agricultural committees, and I take the liberty of expressing the hope, very modestly and respectfully, that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill is going to be very careful about those committees. The Prime Minister has burned his fingers very badly over agriculture on more than one occasion, and he does not want the chickens to conic home to roost in the ease of the agricultural committees as they have done in regard to the land clauses of the Finance Act of 1909. If these committees are good committees—that is to say, committees that understand agriculture—they are not going to interfere very much with the good tenant. If they are bad committees—that is to say, committees who do not know much about it—they will cause trouble. I am told, on very good evidence indeed, that there are two county committees that have not one solitary representative on them who knows anything whatever about agriculture, and that there are some others on which the agricultural representation is very limited.
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
May I remind the noble Lord that one-third of the members of these committees are, in any case, appointed by me. I hope he does not suggest that none of my nominees in any case have agriculture experience, because I can assure him that it is the very reverse.
I do not for one moment distrust the noble Lord, but he is not going to be there for ever. Other noble Lords will conic after him, and there is no assurance that they are going to appoint agricultural representatives on these committees. If the committees are good committees they are not going to interfere very much with the system of agriculture in this country. They are not going to burn their fingers. But if they are going to be paid committees and if an order is going to issue from the Ministry of Agriculture or the Cabinet that they are to order ploughing regardless of what it costs to grow corn and are going to assume a tyrannical policy and order ploughing to a very great extent, then there is one inevitable result—that where it cannot pay to grow corn the farmer will be broke and will complain and it will come back upon Mr. Lloyd George. Mr. Lloyd George, as I said, does not want to burn his fingers a second time, or perhaps I might more justly say a third or fourth time, over an agricultural matter, and I venture very respectfully and modestly to suggest to the noble Lord that he must be very careful, if he has not been so already, as regards the personnel of these agricultural committees.
I ant not afraid of the good committees, because I have had experience of one. In the county where I reside we have a very good committee which has done most excellent work. They have prosecuted careless farmers in two or three cases with excellent results. They have taken over land—2,000 or 3,000 acres, I think—where it has been badly farmed, and they have shown what can be done by good farming. In both cases an excellent example. And that is what we want. We want to get rid of the bad farmer, and I am thankful for this Bill because it relieves me of the responsibility of getting rid of a very bad tenant. I report him to the agricultural committee, and they come round and, if they agree with me, it is they who have to take the responsibility of turning him off the land, not I. Or again, if a tenant is farming badly and you do not care to give hint notice, you bring in the agricultural committee again as a warning to hint that he has got to cut his thistles, or to do some agricultural operation which he has not 1259 been doing in the past, and which he ought to have done. And, in fact, you get a great deal of help from the agricultural committees if they are really expert. I am not afraid of them, and that is one reason why I am prepared to support the Bill.
As regards the probability of a very large increase in the cultivation of wheat, of course if the Cabinet or the Ministry of Agriculture are going to issue orders to these agricultural committees then you may see a very much larger acreage of wheat than you would under natural conditions. But, as regards the Costings Commission, three fortunate gentlemen—fortunate so far as their salaries are concerned, extremely unfortunate, I think, as regards the work they have to perform—are going to decide what is the cost of producing corn.
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM dissented.
Well, they are going to come to some decision which will enable somebody or other to say what the minimum guarantee should be. I understand from the Bill that the minimum guarantee will depend to some extent upon the cost of production of wheat and oats. It is on the costings of wheat and oats that the guarantee will depend. I said just now that this is a subject upon which we ought to be extremely modest and not to dogmatise, but it is the business of these unfortunate gentlemen to dogmatise. They have to lay down a price for the whole country, regardless of weather, regardless of soil, regardless of the cost of labour. What will they do? Of course they will average; what else can they do? They must average. And what does that mean? It means that the good soils will be favoured, and the bad soils will be penalised. Of course that must happen. Is that likely to induce a very large increase in the acreage of corn? I should doubt it. And that is why I think you will find, after a year's experience of the decisions of the Costings Commission, that is to say of the guaranteed price, that the agricultural committees will be very chary indeed of telling the tenant—certainly on poor soils, and I should say on medium soils—to increase his cereal cultivation. And therefore again I think you will find that agriculture will rise superior to legislation.
1260 There is one thing I cannot find out from this Bill—I do not think it is in it. I do not see any correlation between the Castings Commission and the Wages Board, and that is a serious matter. It is a very serious matter at this very day. This morning I see in the papers two most ominous statements. One is that the Lincolnshire farmers hay been advised by some Association—I think it is called the Holland Association—not to send their corn to market on account of prices. And I see in the same paper a statement that the Wages Board is going again into the question of prices, and I should imagine, from the prices that are mentioned, that that means they are going to consider whether wages should not be put up again. If wages are put up again and prices fall—and they have fallen recently, and they are falling—there is going to be trouble, and particularly for this reason, that the system of fixing wages is arbitrary. Of course, you may say it is six to one and half a dozen to the other—the farmers on the one side, and the working men on the other, with the unfortunate chairman who has to give the casting vote. He follows the line of least resistance, and, so far, has generally cast his vote on the side of the working man. I am not saying that he has done it unfairly, but that is our experience. If wages are going up again, and at the same time prices of corn are falling, there is going to be trouble.
I must confess that I think my noble friend, the Secretary of State for the Colonies lost a great opportunity soon after the Corn Production Bill was passed and the Wages Board established, when he did not in some way bring in the question of the index figure in the settlement of wages. It has already been employed in the case of the Whitley Councils. In the case of the local government employees of my county I had to go into a recent report of a committee which corresponded with the Whitley Councils. They had adopted the index figure system, which four or five years ago, on the introduction of the Corn Production Bill, I implored my noble friend Lord Milner to look into and try and introduce and correlate with the system of regulating wages. It is being adopted everywhere now, and where it is adopted it is giving satisfaction. It was not adopted in the case of the agricultural labourer, and that is why I say that at present wages are being fixed arbitrarily.
1261 The noble Lord just now put a question to my noble friend opposite as regards the wages in the years of which my noble friend was speaking. My noble friend was not very clear about the year which he meant, but I will take the years 1894–5–6, when wheat was sold as low as18s.—I think my noble friend said 17s. 6d. in the Lincolnshire market; I know I sold it at 18s. I said this at the time of the Corn Production Bill, and Lord Milner could not dispute it. In my own neighbourhood (and I am only speaking all through of my own experience in my immediate neighbourhood) wages were 14s. 6d. "Starvation wages," it would be said in many places in England, if you gave out those figures from the platform.
Eighteen shillings. Therefore the agricultural labourer was going home every week with seven-elevenths of a quarter of corn. I do not hesitate to say that with 14s. 6d. in those days the children's boots wore infinitely better than they are now, and I believe the agricultural labourer was every bit as well off in the 'nineties as he is now with his wages three times what they were then. That is the opinion I have formed, and I have asked a great many people who remember. They agree with me, so that I am confirmed in my opinion. I only throw that in because the noble Lord asked my noble friend opposite what were the wages in those particular years. As I said at the time of the discussion on the Corn Production Bill, it is not a matter of how many shillings and sixpences a man gets, but it is a question of how much he can buy with them. That is what makes the worth of money.
I honestly confess that I do not think this Bill is going to produce very much. I do not think it is going to do very much harm, and therefore I am prepared to vote for it for that reason. I think it would do a very great deal of harm to this House, possibly to one class of the three classes interested in agriculture, if your Lordships threw out the Bill, and therefore, following upon the advice which has been given by the three noble Lords who have already spoken, I should implore your Lordships to pass the Second Reading.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes, but I should like to say one or two words. The noble Lord who has just sat down has been talking a great deal about the wages board. What understand by that is that there is a desire for the moment to regulate in some way the wages of boys. That is really what is going on now. With regard to the wages board, no matter what happens it has come to stay; if you do not have a wages board you will have something else. As far as I am concerned I have taken a great deal of interest in it; I think it is one of the best things that has occurred for the agricultural labourer. You must remember this. You talk about wages having been 14s. 6d. in the county of Kent, but I fancy in the county of Norfolk where I live the wage was 13s. Now the agricultural labourer in my county gets £2 6s. per week, and I doubt whether he is any better oil at this present moment (because prices have not fallen yet for him) than he was in the 'nineties or even in 1914 when the war broke out, when I put his wage in Norfolk, including the harvest and hay, at £1 per week. I do not believe for one moment—and I have gone into the matter—that a married man with a wife and four children is one bit better off than he was when the war broke out.
The Government are talking about the price of corn having gone down, but I should like to remind Lord Lee of this. He made mention of the great loss of acreage of wheat in the past harvest. It is very natural. The control was taken off barley last year, and the price of barley last year was absolutely phenomenal. Everybody said, "We are not going to take much trouble about wheat; we are all going to grow barley." And they did grow barley, and those who threshed early and were lucky enough to get up the barley dry, have made an uncommonly fine price on the barley this year. But the Clerk of the Weather Office was not particularly kind to every district, and I believe there are in this country this year hundreds and hundreds of quarters of barley that are not decent pigs' food. Farmers are very funny people; they are always longing for the removal of control. Possibly if you had taken the control off wheat early in July every one would have put his land under wheat again. They always go for the last thing.
1263 Perhaps you will think it rather odd, and that I am rather cranky, but I shall vote for this Bill. I shall vote for it be-because, though I do not like it (I am perfectly honest with you) I think there are certain clauses that are very good. I like those clauses, and therefore as I would sooner have half a loaf than no bread I shall vote for the Bill. I quite agree that in the case of those people who take the Free Trade side it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth; and if you are going to put a subsidy on corn and corn goes down you will have to find so many millions to keep up this minimum. But I console myself because I do not think that part of the Bill will last two years; it will be wiped out simply because the people of this country will never consent to see wheat tremendously cheap by putting their hands in their pockets and paying a subsidy to the farmers. Upon whose shoulders will it fall? Upon yours and mine first. That is natural. You cannot help it. I remember that in the General Election of 1895 there was in my own county a great cry of "Speed the plough"—a sort of Protection under another name. My beloved father talked to me one day about it. He said, "My dear boy, you may live to see the artisan in this country tickled with the idea of putting protective duties on the articles he manufactures; but remember this—he will never protect his belly. The result will be that the farmer, and the landowner who lives out of the land, will be selling the produce in the cheapest market and buying everything he requires otherwise in the dearest." My father said, "It may come, but I do not think it will." Well, it came during the war, but I think that when you get a great war you cannot take any notice of that. It is a case of "needs must when the devil drives."
If this Bill is to be thrown out, which I hope it will not be, you do not get the opportunity in your. Lordships' House of offering Amendments, and there are, in my humble opinion, many Amendments that might be offered without wrecking the Bill. I look upon the Bill as though it had been hurried through the House of Commons. The noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, is not here, but he said that not many people voted for it—only 160. But there were only 12 who voted against it, so that that is rather a large majority. No doubt it was looked upon as a foregone conclusion. Looking back, there have been many other 1264 important things to be considered, particularly the Irish question. I think sonic of the clauses are rather crude. The clause that I shall move an Amendment upon is crude. I shall move to delete Clause 6, which is intended to give Wales a separate Wages Board. I do not intend to detain your Lordships with the reasons, because I shall have to give the reasons when I move the Amendment, and I think once is quite enough.
With regard to the other clauses, there is one which I think might be amended in some way. That is the clause in which there is the question of compensation. This is a rich man's Bill, and there are still plenty of rich men in this House. Under this Bill, if you pass it, this will happen. A landowner has a tenant who bothers and bores him. He talks to his agent and says, "Bother this man; give him notice to quit." The agent says, "You will have to pay £1,500 or £2,000." The landowner says, "Pay him and let him get out." There is no hardship to anybody; he can afford it. But just look at the other side of the picture. A man owns perhaps 500 acres of land. He lives perhaps in town, or at any rate he does not live on his land. He has other means, but he is not well off. He lets this farm and it is well managed by somebody for him. He has two daughters who are unmarried, and on his death he leaves his real estate to be sold and everything to be divided between the two daughters. The property is sold, but there is a great diminution in its value because one year's compensation has to be deducted from the price of the farm.
But there is another case, and still worse. A man has a small place and lives there. He has an only child, a boy, and the boy who really loves the place goes into some profession and continues in it. His father, finding as he gets older that he cannot look after the farm, lets it because he does not want his only son to lose his profession. The father dies and leaves the farm to the boy now grown up; he will have to pay a considerable sum of money to get back into the place where he was brought up and of which he has many cherished memories. For that reason I shall endeavour to perusade your Lordships, and I hope another place, that if a landowner really wants to farm the land, whether he be rich or poor, he shall only pay the compensation of 1906, always provided that he farms the land himself for at least eight 1265 years. That would be a guarantee of his bona fides. I do not believe there are many tenants who would object to a landowner going back under such conditions. I have rather a liking for tenant farmers. I have never turned a man out yet, and my father who managed his estates from 1847 to 1902 only turned out one, and he went bankrupt and practically turned himself out. I do not think there are any bad landlords in Norfolk nor are there bad landlords in your Lordships' House. The Bill may affect a few and prevent them creating some injustice.
There are clauses in this Bill which are very valuable. There is the clause which relates to keeping the land clear of weeds. There are a great number of weeds on the land at the present time. I have a lot, and it is a very good thing to keep them down as it gives an enormous amount of labour. I know what I am talking about as I had one man working on six acres of marigolds for over two months doing nothing else but weeding it out. It will give labour, and it is a very good thing to give employment in this way. The other clause in that which gives some slight protection to the agricultural labourer and his cottage. I can remember, and it is not so long ago, that men in Norfolk were living in cottages at a week's notice. It is the custom in the county. They cannot do it with me because I do not let one single cottage with my farms—I beg pardon I think there is one cottage. I let cottages to farmers under a separate agreement entirely, and if they choose to misbehave and bully any labourers I can give them six month's notice to quit those cottages. There has never been, except on one occasion, the least trouble about it. I do not think it should be permissible for any one to give the occupier of a cottage a month's notice just before Michaelmas. He should have at least three or four months' notice in order to get another place.
I must apologise to your Lordships. I did not mean to go on so long and I am afraid I am a garrulous old man thinking aloud. I am going to vote for this Bill although I hope it will be amended and prove not a terror but a blessing. I must say just one more thing. It does not do to think that because you own land you are monarch of all you survey. There are many of your Lordships, like myself, whose land has been held unbroken for 1266 centuries. Perhaps if my own ancestor had not done what the King wanted him to do he might have had his head cut off in which case I should not be addressing your Lordships, and the land might have been given away to some one else. In those days the King owned the land. That has disappeared and the land belongs to the Government of the country. They can make what laws they like. If you have a pure democracy they will wish to have a finger in the, pie and make certain rules and regulations. As to nationalisation, some land is nationalised now. It was George III who gave sonic of the Crown lands over. They are managed by the nation, and managed well. If nationalisation does as well I, for one, am not afraid of it. I thank your Lordships for having listened to me with such great patience.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, if Lord Harris is right and agriculture is always able to rise superior to legislation I ant inclined to say, Why stand we in jeopardy all the day long over a Bill of this kind? It is also a rather harsh commentary on the noble Lord who introduced the Bill and explained in such an admirable way the broad principles which actuate the Government in bringing it forward. Lord Lee of Farcham has made it so easy by placing before us the general principles that I propose to stick to general principles, and to explain why on general principles I intend to vote with the noble Marquess against the Second Reading.
I read carefully the noble Lord's speech, and I saw in one place he said that when he was carrying out the arrangements for ploughing and improving our position during the war he was so prepared to plough that in the stress of those circumstances he would have ploughed up the floor of your Lordships' House. Under this Bill, as I understand, he is not going to plough but he is going to protect the plough. The plough is going to be protected at the expense of the taxpayer and the consumer, and to an amount which is unstated and quite undefined. I associate myself with the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, in saving that it would be very desirable to know to how much money, both as to carrying out the Bill and as to cost of production, the taxpayers are now going to be committed. We know nothing about this, and I do not suppose that we have the slightest idea—for every county committee may take a different view as to 1267 how far they shall direct larger ploughing operations in the areas under their direction—what kind of amount of actual corn the taxpayer is likely to get hack for his money.
All we know is that we have got a bad climate here. I cannot say what the average is, but it is only in a certain number of years that yon can get a good harvest. You have generally tricky harvest weather, you have high wages, and I suppose you have also got to pay for piecework. Everybody knows that in the delicate operations of farming piecework is necessary, particularly with the defined day as regards hours. I do not know whether piecework will be calculated in the cost of production and wages. We know that you can import wheat from the Colonies at 2s. a bushel cheaper than you can grow it here. I have been brought up in Free Trade principles as well as in laissez faire principles, and that is one of the main reasons why I oppose this Bill.
In his speech Lord Lee said that it was needless for Line to labour the desire for a settlement of the whole question of agriculture. Well, I am not prepared in 'Dryden's lines to say—My flocks, my fields, my woods, my pastures take,With settlement as good as law can make.I cannot go so far as that. The noble Lord told us in another part of his speech that this is a horning question. He also said that the old system of agriculture under which we are living is a sort of Castle Dangerous which it is not really safe to inhabit. He tells us that home-grown wheat, exposed to all those vicissitudes and expenses upon which I have tried to touch, would be an element in our first line of national defence. I doubt very much whether any noble Lord of parts and experience in farming would be prepared to affirm either of the propositions which I Lava stated just now that the old system of agriculture has completely broken down and that we can grow wheat with such advantage here as to make it a first line of national defence.
I do not know exactly whence this burning question and this desire for settlement come. I believe it is from the National Farmers' Union. I do not know much about that union. I am sure it is composed of a very nice body of men. I 1268 have liked farmers all my life, but I sometimes wonder whether they are all farmers. Anyhow, one knows that it is a union, probably with a board room and committee rooms, mahogany table, good stationery, a comfortable fire and constant committee meetings; and one knows that in these circumstances you have one or two predominant members of the committee and a capable secretary who are the people who inspire the projects and impel the blows. If Lord Lee, who, as he told us, got a great deal of information from the National Farmers' Union—
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
From other umlauted and distinguished agriculturists in the other House. Of course, I quite recognise that the noble Lord got information from other bodies. I was only saying that a good deal of the information comes rather from bodies who are set in these comfortable circumstances and who deliberate on an agenda and draft resolutions, rather than perhaps from practical people who have had to deal with agriculture. So far as I am concerned I think that the settlement which agriculture wants—landlord and tenant—is non-interference, or, if you like the jargon of the day better, self-determination and fiscal autonomy.
In a very interesting part of his speech Lord Lee referred to the inter-dependence, proved by the war, of naval and agricultural considerations. I believe Lord Selborne associated himself with that view, but I think a good deal of the question depends also upon tonnage and free imports. There is no sort of doubt, as has been pointed out several times, that with our rates and taxes, with our high liabilities and commitments, any fresh charge on the taxpayer is likely to be viewed with extreme suspicion, as charges on the taxpayer always mean, carried right through the population, a slightly increased cost of living to the consumer. What will happen if, later on, this subsidy or guarantee (whatever you like to call it) of the cost of production becomes a consumers' question? Two or three days ago I saw the enormous amount of Canadian wheat which is pouring into the country. Let us assume that in two or three years' time a new Government is coming into office;
1269 that a plank of its programme at the General Election—a perfectly, legitimate plank, because what Parliament can put in Parliament can take away—is that all this has got to be swept away; and that the consumers are told, "If you will give us your vote we will get rid of this part of taxation and to that extent lighten your burden, and you will in addition probably get your food supplies a little cheaper." All this will go like snow before the sun. What 'becomes then of all that has been done to bring about this policy? I suppose we shall get compensation. I do not know how that is going to be adjusted, or to what sort of tune the taxpayer will be brought in to find the money to do away with what you are doing now. That is a point upon which I dam say we shall hear more later on. I do not propose to go into Part II of the Bill, because, as I said, my objections are to the principles of the Bill. If it gets a Second Reading, if you grant the premises and principles of the Bill, I have no doubt it is so ingeniously drawn that it will afford many opportunities for amendment; but I do not see very much difference between eviscerating the pre tint Bill, re-writing it here and sending it down to the House of Commons and throwing it out on Second Reading.
Another point which I should like to place before your Lordships is that the Bill proposes to establish a corner in wheat growing in a country which is not suited to wheat growing. It is proposed to give security of tenure, to provide for the settlement of highly-complicated and difficult questions, to force steorotyped methods of farming and stereotyped hours of labour on agriculturists, and to do all this by means of a State guarantee. All these things, the noble Lord tells us, are to act in combination and effect national insurance. Taking the metaphor of insurance, I think that unless you schedule the wheat-growing counties for the purpose of this Bill the premium which you will have to ask the working people of the country to pay is for a policy which they do not get back in value. That is one of the objections in chief which I have to the Bill. I do not know whether your Lordships have ever referred to Gibbon on agrarian laws, but I looked up last night what Gibbon has to say about agrarian laws. Agrarian laws only referred, I think, to the Ager Publicus—that is, to State property. Private property was rigorously excluded from them. What 1270 happens now is that all the private and independent relations of landlord and tenant, all the private and independent methods and systems of agriculture, all that we have ever understood by independent farming—all that now is practically to be put into an agrarian law, and I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, that this is a form of bastardised nationalisation. It is in those circumstances that I associate myself with my noble friend Lord Lincolnshire, and I shall vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
My Lords, I should like, if I may, to deal with one side of this Bill to which great importance seems to be attached by the Government, and which I think is one of the questions that have not been fully answered by those who, like myself, do not believe in this Bill—I mean the military question. The introducer of the Bill and Lord Milner have based a considerable portion of their arguments on the question of insurance and the question of national safety. Now, my Lords, may I submit this question. One hundred years ago it was a very good argument that an Army, or a nation with an Army, marched on its belly. To-day an Army marches on its belly, bat its belly has to be supported by iron and wood, and my point is that for national safety you have to insure not on wheat alone but on the other essential supplies which enable you to put your Army into the field. May I point out that during the war the ordnance trains which went up to the Front were in regard to iron six to one as compared with food, and in regard to wood were four to one. If you turn to this country the proportion of shipping required for timber and other war industries never got below 13 per cent. of the total shipping up to the year 1917. After that statistics have not been published.
If you have to insure, surely the business of the country is to insure the material which it is absolutely necessary to insure, which can be insured cheapest, and which it is most difficult to import in time of war. I do not think the wheat supply fulfils one of those conditions. Wheat in the first place is a comparatively easy matter to ship. It is not so bulky as timber, nor is it as compared with iron ore, It is a matter which you can improvise, 1271 because the more grass land you have in the country the greater is the potential agricultural efficiency which you have stored there. Secondly, as regards the other materials, such as iron, you have got to bring it over in certain cases from a greater distance, and as regards timber the bulk is a matter of considerable importance. What about the cost? So far as we have known of late, either in this House or elsewhere, we have had no definite statements of what this bonus is going to cost. The estimates vary from £5,000,000 to £35,000,000. In timber alone for £25,000,000 you can assure yourself for a period of three years. I would submit, in regard to the question of cost, that as regards the matter of insurance you have selected the article which is probably the most expensive of the three essential matters which you require in war time.
As regards national insurance, what nation is it that is going to come against us? It must, for the purpose of submarines, be someone that has a sea-board. It is not going to be Spain. Surely it is not going to be France? Holland did not show any great powers of war during the Great War. Belgium is not likely to be in a position to attack us, and as for Germany, have we not the peace Treaty? Lord Milner said that you could not improvise your wheat supply at a moment's notice. I agree, but we are going to have more than a year's notice if Germany gets her submarines up again. I dare say that some of your Lordships will remember that before the war I got up in my place many times and said it was absolutely certain that we were going to have a war within a certain number of years. There were many signs that it was coming, in for instance the deepening of the Kiel Canal and other preparations which were going on. And I am sure that noble Lords on the Defence Committee will accept the statement that from 1906 the party working under Lord Roberts professed absolute certainty that the war was coming. Before there is a menace we should have to wait until submarines have been created by the enemy, and one does not order submarines like boots at a store. They have got to be made, and things have got to be organised. If we defend this argument on the question of insurance, we should organise upon those things which you cannot improvise in one, ten, or twenty years—upon those things which you must organise ahead.
1272 Then, have we got to the last word on the question of getting our wheat supply assured even if war is declared? I am not sure that the Channel Tunnel, which would open the whole of the ports of the Continent, would not be a much better insurance than what is talked of here. Submarines are talked of here, but believe that super-submarines run to several thousand tons, and they might be used for importing wheat. Then again surely we are not going to commit the same faults as we committed at the beginning of this war, when the Navy possessed only about 700 mines. Surely we are not going to be caught napping with this lack of preparation again. Finally comes the question of what other means of insurance can be made. I have listened with great attention to the arguments that have been put forward, and I must say, although being a person who has often been accused of being a pessimist, that to-day the arguments in regard to this form of insurance move me in the least. I would like to say one word, if I may, on another phase of the question. We have heard a great deal said—I think very rightly said; it is one of the main arguments of the supporters of the Bill—regarding the importance of what is called security of tenure, or, to use the better phrase of Lord Ernie, "continuity of tenure." Personally, I am whole-heartedly a supporter of continuity, or security of tenure for the tenant. I think that it is absolutely necessary, in view of the sales of land which are going on all over the country, that the tenant should be safeguarded. There have been cases of great hardship, and many of those cases would never have occurred if landowners were not in the position that they are forced to sell their land. Under the circumstances, I think that security is necessary for these tenants.
But very little is said by the Government on another question which is connected with the increase in food supply, and that is the question not only of security for the tenant, but also security for he individual who puts capital into a farm. The landlord's capital, compared with the tenant's, is certainly as two to one. £15 an acre is considered a big sum for a tenant to put into a farm as capital, but the landlord's capital in the same farm will be £40, £50, or £60 an acre. Do we want to stop this flow of capital into the land? I sat for four years on a Royal 1273 Commission on housing in Scotland, and we had specially to go into the question of rural housing. I think that there were two Conservative members of the Commission, the remaining ten members being Radicals, and most of them were opposed to the landlord interest. Yet there was not a single member of that Commission but came time and again and assured me that he had no idea of the cost of keeping up landed property, or of the amount of money that had to be put into farms to keep them going. In this Connection, I have visited the farms of the Duke of Buccleuch and of several other noble Lords who are present to-night, and I can certainly say that in the case of a great many of those estates the land is purchased by the landowner, in the form of his buildings, sometimes twice in a century. I ask again, is it worth while stopping this flow of capital into the land?
I agree that it is a good thing that individuals should buy their farms. It gives greater security to the country if the land is more divided, but the sale of farms is seldom good business for the tenant. There are a large number of tenants who cannot afford the money to buy their farms, and I think that until they have had sufficient time to enable them to get money to purchase their land, it would be the greatest calamity if, by a Bill such as this, it were made impossible for landowners to keep their farms. If a great deal more land were forced into the market I think that it would be the greatest calamity that could befall the country at the present time. I am convinced that this Bill will dry up the stream of money that goes into equipping farms. People will not be dictated to as to how they are to conduct their farms. They would sooner sell then. I speak with a certain amount of experience in this matter. I am a landowner in the North of Scotland, where our tenants, who are crofters, have fixity of tenure, and I can assure your Lordships that the amount of money which is being put into the crofter holdings is astonishingly less than used to be the case under the old system. I am satisfied that when this system is applied to farms, exactly the same thing will be found to be the case. I have spoken to your Lordships on more than one occasion with reference to this question, and I assure you that the clearing of the Highland al people is going on 1274 faster to-day than it has done at any time.
You are not going to have clearance in this case; you are going to have poorer agriculture. These farms will be carried on by some one, but they will not be carried on with the same amount of efficiency. Is this the time, when everything costs so much more than it did before, to retard the industry of agriculture? I say No. To conduct a farm successfully there must be security and continuity to the tenant, capital put in, and work conducted with efficiency. I do not believe that the average agricultural committee, constituted as it is, is going to add very much to the efficiency with which the industry is run. I do not believe in Government control. I do not think Government control has proved a success or is going to be more successful in farming than in other matters. As far as I am concerned I would like to see a portion of this legislation passed. I would like to see the tenant having continuity and security, but, I do not like many other matters that are in the Bill, and I join with the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, in asking the Government to delay the Bill and to try again.
I think that several advantages are to be gained by delay. In the first place, you will see how the wheat market is going on. You will see also how the cost of living is going to work out. I believe we are much too close to the great war, that the waves of rise and fall in all commodities are too great and too rapid, that we are not sufficiently far off to be able to stand back and look at the picture to see what we ought or ought not to do. I believe that nothing will be lost by waiting one or two years while we look at the question. I also believe that if that policy of standing off and looking and waiting to see what is going to happen in the cost of living and so on is carried out, some measure ought to be brought in at the same time to safeguard the present position of tenants because I think that such have been the changes in the ownership of land since the war that the tenants ought to be properly protected.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I have several times expressed my admiration of the courage of the Minister of Ariculture. I desire very particularly to express admiration 1275 of his courage on this occasion in introducing such a very revolutionary Bill, for whatever may be the merits of the Bill—and merits it certainly has—I do not think any one will deny that it is a revolutionary Bill and will have very far-reaching consequences upon agriculture in this country.
I should like also to express my own satisfaction at the sympathy—I believe the genuine sympathy—of the Prime Minister in coming to the aid of our once extremely depressed agricultural industry, and if there were no other reason which would justify me in voting for the Second Reading of this Bill it would be that we have now for the first time since the days of Lord Beaconsfield a Prime Minister who has interested himself in and is deeply in sympathy with the needs of the agricultural industry. But I cannot help regretting that this sympathy was not shown some ten years ago, when some of us were crying in the wilderness for some much smaller measure of attention than the Government are now giving to the industry, because if that sympathy had been forthcoming it might possibly have averted the war altogether and would certainly have substantially reduced its duration. My only fear now is that, whereas we used to complain of the cold shoulder, we may have reason in future to complain of a warm embrace which, like that of the grizzly bear, may prove uncomfortable and anything but salutary.
Having served at the Ministry of Food during the most acute period of the submarine peril I ant bound to confess, realising as I do the gravity of that peril, that any reasonable measure that can be adopted to prevent its recurrence in time of emergency is deserving of the sympathetic attention of your Lordships' House. This Bill can only be justified if in fact it is likely to produce a large increment in the output of home-grown essential foods. I was interested to hear both the noble Lords who last addressed the House express some doubt as to whether we ought to stake our whole national security in the matter of food upon wheat to the exclusion of other foods. It may rather interest your Lordships to know that in the year 1917 there was considerable doubt entertained and expressed in the Ministry of Food on this subject. In fact, matters reached such a crisis as the result of considerable argument that some of us raised the cry "Pigs and 1276 Potatoes" as a cry worthy of consideration by way of supplementing, as we thought, the exaggerated claim for wheat, because at any rate those two commodities have the very great advantage of its being possible to reproduce them very rapidly and of supplying a very large bulk of extremely nutritious food at short notice.
The Prime Minister is evidently of the opinion, and I am not sure that the Minister of Agriculture is not of the same Opinion, that it is going to be quite possible for us to become self-contained in the matter of our food supply. I believe that to be wholly inpracticable. I noticed that the noble Viscount, Lord Milner, referred yesterday—if I may venture to say so I think erroneously referred—to the claim that for a short time forty-two weeks of the total annual food requirements of the country were in fact raised or had been raised upon British soil. That is the figure of food production which was put forward, I think, two or three years ago. That figure could only have been arrived at by bringing into account as human food the whole of the food, whether oats or otherwise, that had been raised and necessarily raised for the 'requirements of live stock. I think even the noble Lord opposite will admit to-day that we did not in fact reach anything like that percentage of our own food requirements as the result of the cultivation of our own soil.
I think it was in the year 1911 that I ventured to suggest in the House of Commons that if we ever reached as large a proportion as 40 per cent. of our own food requirements from our own soil we should be doing all that we could reasonably expect, at any rate under known methods of husbandry. I ventured to make the same suggestion, I think it was in the year 1915, and curiously enough on each occasion it was received with ridicule or doubt as to its veracity. On the first occasion it was received with ridicule because it was regarded as a gross over-estimate. On the second occasion it was received with ridicule because it was regarded as a gross under-estimate. I still hold to the same view, having studied the subject for many years, and I believe that if you manage to raise anything like 40 to 45 per cent. of your full requirements in the matter of bread-stuffs from British soil you will be achieving the most that you can possibly achieve, at any rate in the light of present day knowledge.
1277 I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he has devised any scheme which will secure for our food requirements the maximum amount of bread-stuffs of which our soil is capable, because otherwise it seems to me that we are likely to embark upon the unfortunate practice of ploughing up land in every direction all over the country, regardless of soil and climate, in the hope of being able to provide the maximum amount of bread-stuffs for our own needs. I regard that as an extremely dangerous, a very unsystematic, and a very unscientific policy and, so far as the West of England and Wales and a large part of Scotland are concerned, it is likely in the long run to result not in a net increment of food but, in my judgment, in a very serious diminution of it.
May I, in passing, refer to the division which took place in the House of Commons on the Third Reading of this Bill? I think Lord Ancaster has already alluded to it. I have taken some trouble to analyse the personnel of the Division List, and, as far as I can ascertain, of the many experienced agriculturists in the House of Commons who took part in the various discussions on this Bill only four voted on its Third Reading. And as regards the remainder, constituting the majority of 161, one-third of the whole were members of the Government and their Parliamentary Secretaries, and another one-fourth were members of the Labour Party, who are supporting the Bill—at any rate some of them—for totally different reasons from those of obtaining a maximum food production. At any rate, that indicates to me that there is no very great enthusiasm for this Bill even on the part of the House of Commons as representing the public.
But I am bound to say that I am going to support this Bill on Second Reading in the hope that it may be very substantially amended in some very important details, particularly as regards control, and I do so because it contains this very valuable provision for a guarantee against serious loss in the case, at any rate, of two of our more important crops. I advocated a guarantee, as the noble Lord knows, for some years before the war took place. I made a very careful calculation in 1912—of course, reckoned in the light of the then costs of production and in the light of the differences between the market price of wheat for many previous years and the 1278 price which would be sufficient to induce wheat-growers to grow the crop at a reasonable profit; and certainly my estimates show that the cost to the country of such a guarantee would not be anything very serious. I now think, although the costs of production have gone up enormously, that the sort of estimates which have been presented to your Lordships during the last two days, as regards the bill that may be ultimately thrown I upon the public, are somewhat exaggerated.
There is one element of doubt, and to it Lord Harris just now referred. That arises in consequence of the fact that, rather unfortunately, the wages of agricultural labourers, under the system inaugurated by the Central Wages Board, do not depend upon, and have no specific relation to, the cost of the production of the commodities upon which their work is employed. I am bound to say that either some alteration must be made in that respect, or, if not—and I think it is the better alternative—it would be much better, now that there are two very powerful organisations of agricultural workers in existence, to scrap the Wages Board altogether and leave them, as in the case of other industries, to fight out their own salvation in the matter of wages, as they are perfectly well able nowadays to do.
We have been told that the reason why this rather drastic control is contemplated by this Bill is that there must be some quid pro quo. It has been repeatedly mentioned in the House of Commons, and I think was mentioned by the noble Lord the Minister of Agriculture in his opening speech. I cannot for the life of me see why there should be any other quid, so far as the general public is concerned, than the production of the wheat which is likely to result from this guarantee, and the security which the nation will realise in respect of its food supplies as the result of that production. I think I may say of those of us who have claimed in the past to be protectionists or tariff reformers, that we are passing down a somewhat slippery slope if we are going to admit that, wherever you provide protection, whether by bounty as in this case, or by an import duty for the benefit of any British industry you are going, as a necessary corollary, to institute Government control of the internal methods of conducting the industry. In my humble judgment it is going to break clown the faith of many protectionists if 1279 that is going to be the necessary result of introducing a protectionist system in this country.
May I apply it to a case which is somewhat familiar to me? In my part of the country we produce tin plates on rather a large scale. The tin plate industry has for many years past been put forward by the tariff reform school as a case which is specially deserving of the consideration of His Majesty's Government in this respect. Is it going to be suggested that, because you are going in future to protect the tin plate industry against unfair foreign competition, therefore the Government will be justified in saying to tin plate manufacturers what plant they shall employ, what machinery they shall employ, whether, in fact, tin plates shall be their ultimate product, or whether it is not more in the public interest that galvanised sheets shall be turned out instead? That is an exact parallel to the case contemplated in this Bill. You are saying to farmers that they shall not produce what they are best qualified to produce, what they have the machinery and equipment to produce, what their land is best fitted to produce, but they shall produce something else because it is more necessary in the light of the country's requirements. If you apply that to any other industry and make drastic Government intervention in the internal affairs of that industry a condition precedent upon the affording of the protection which that industry demands, to my mind it breaks down the whole case for tariff reform as applied to the industries of this country.
The Selborne Report has been referred to, and the noble Lord opposite quite rightly mentioned that I, among others, signed Part I of that Report. But that Report, at any rate Part I, advocated encouragement of every possible kind to the farmers of this country to grow the largest possible amount of wheat, but it did not advocate drastic compulsion, least of all in the case of those farmers who are deemed to be farming according to the rules of good husbandry. I for my part warmly welcome Government interference, through the county committees or otherwise, in the case of farms which are being grossly under-farmed to the detriment of the owners of the farms and, still more, to the detriment of the nation. That is in my judgment permissible intervention I think most landowners will throw up their 1280 hats with delight to realise that in future they are likely to be relieved of a very serious responsibility which the Agricultural Holdings Act, at any rate as usually interpreted, has stood in the way of their exercising in days gone by. I very much fear fettering the agricultural industry for all time with control that goes beyond this very limited scope.
I have myself been an instrument for a time of Government control, and the experience has taught me that it involves three very serious evils—first of all, the lowering of the standard of commercial morality of those upon whom it is exercised; secondly, the destruction of enterprise and self-reliance; thirdly—and this applies particularly to the agricultural community—it operates with dangerous and unfair uniformity. May I say, in passing, that of all British industries in my judgment agriculture is the least susceptible to successful Government interference. May I remind your Lordships that no such interference has ever been attempted in any other country in the world, except possibly Russia, and now for the first time in freedom-loving Britain.
The control contemplated in Clause 4 as the Bill was originally drafted was obviously intended to promote the production of breadstuffs and breadstuffs only. Now, apparently, by an Amendment which was made I think on the Report stage in the House of Commons, it is with the object of increasing the arable area, quite regardless of the food value of the crop which the farmer may choose to grow, whether onions, cabbages, or indeed daffodils. All he has to do is to turn a certain amount of his grass into arable in order to satisfy the express requirements of this clause. Following, if I may venture with respect to say so, the extremely interesting speech of the noble Lord opposite, Lord Ribblesdale, may I remind him that about four months ago I extracted from the Minister of Agriculture an official statement which showed in fact what were the chief wheat-producing counties in Great Britain and what was the proportion of the wheat which those counties produced. From that I derived the interesting information that out of a total of 86 counties in England, Wales, and Scotland, under normal prewar conditions eight counties only, situated on or near the East Coast, produced more than half the total wheat output in the 1281 United Kingdom. I do not trouble myself with oats, became you cannot rank oats on anything like the same footing as a food for human consumption—first of all because a large proportion of it is required for feeding our livestock; secondly, became according to the latest figures 90 per cent. of our oats requirements are already being produced in this country, and therefore there is no need for any great incentive to produce oats; and, thirdly, because the milling extract in the case of oats is so low as a means of manufacturing bread as really hardly to be worthy of consideration when ranked alongside wheat. What I suggest is that you are going to obtain a larger amount of human breadstuffs by intensifying the cultivation of those counties which have proved according to past experience to be best suited both in the matter of soil and in climate for the production of that particular crop. If, as the Royal Commission on Agriculture have in fact suggested in the last paragraph of their Report, you are going to insist on every county producing a particular quota of breadstuffs, you are going in fact to do a very unscientific thing, and in the long run I am quite sure you will not materially augment the supply of our human breadstuff requirements.
As my noble friend Lord Clinton said yesterday, we must bear in mind that a very large proportion of the wheat which was raised in the very favourable year of 1918 was raised as the result of feeding the crop upon the accumulated fertility of many years, in some case of some centuries, represented by the upturned turf of the landowners in this country. Surely that turf is in times of emergency a very valuable national asset, and as I think the noble Lord pointed out, the larger the arable area—and it applies particularly to our much used-up soil in this country—the larger the amount of artificial fertilisers you are bound to provide in order successfully to cultivate it. The bulk of those fertilisers come, and always will come, from other countries across the seas. As your Lordships well know, we get our nitrates from Chile, our potash largely from Stassfurt, and to some extent I am glad to say from Alsace and Lorraine, and our supplies of phosphates come very largely from the phosphatic rock which is found in North Africa. We have never found adequate substitutes in this country for any of those fertilisers, and so far as one can see, never 1282 will. As we have to provide ships to carry this large quantity of fertilisers from over seas, surely there is some virtue in having good turf which we can use in times of crisis in place of those fertilisers, even though it be at very serious financial expense to the landlords of this country. It is very difficult to make an estimate, but I reckon that the landowners have provided in this respect an amount of fertility representing something like £50,000,000, for which they have not received a single penny. It is my very strong conviction that if the noble Lord opposite will only tighten up that particular clause which refers to the rules of good husbandry it ought to be wholly unnecessary, in order to achieve his professed purpose, to insist upon any measure of control beyond the maintenance of rules of good husbandry in every county throughout this country.
May I say, in passing, that this is the view, after a considerable discussion, which is held by the Federation of County Agricultural Executive Committees, over which I have the honour to preside, and which consists mainly of the representatives of the very instruments of control which were employed during the war. It is only fair to add that during the last three months they have been reinforced, and reinforced with great advantage, by representatives of the new county agricultural committees which have been coining into existence; but both before that recruitment and after, the Federation of Agricultural Committees carried a unanimous resolution to the effect that control beyond that which would ensure good husbandry was undesirable, and they expressed the hope that the noble Lord would eliminate any further measure of control from his Bill. Great faith is placed by the National Farmers' Union, and apparently by the noble Lord in charge of the Bill, in the discretion of the county agricultural committee. I think he has to admit that, in many counties, but for the weighting of the scale with his own nominees the county committees would be wholly unsuitable to perform the task with which they are entrusted.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
I say that you are bound to admit it. May I ask whether it is not true that in the county of Mon- 1283 mouthshire there was only one practical agriculturist on the original county agricultural committee as appointed by the county itself, that a very large number of persons from the coal mines and the tin plate and steel works found their way on to the committee as being persons interested in agricultural land, and that but for the noble Lord's intervention this particular body would have been wholly unqualified for the delicate task they have to perform It is all very well for the noble Lord to treat this as a personal matter. I hope he will not treat it as such. So far as he is concerned we trust him. If it is left to his good judgment the weighting of these committees with suitable men, in cases where they are not previously appointed, will be good, and we can rest satisfied with the result. But he is not always going to be in the position he occupies to-day. A time may come when a gentleman of very different political, social and economic, views may occupy the position and the weighting of the scales, which is being done to-day in the interests of reinforcing these committees with practical men, may take place in a very different direction, when it is sought to plough up the land and cultivate cereals not with the idea of a greater output of food but with a view to the larger amount of labour employed regardless of the cost.
I hesitate to take up your Lordships' time further, but in consequence of what Lord Ribblesdale said I want to make some reference to the guarantee in its actual operation. The guarantee, as I understand, is based upon figures which were supplied by the Royal Commission as representing the average cost of production throughout the country. It is not unfair to suggest that if you take certain counties in the Midlands—Shropshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire, or even Wiltshire—the average figure may be perfectly fair and may either bring to the corn producers a fair margin of profit or at least save them from serious loss. But if it is a fair figure for these counties it is too large a figure for the east of England, the best wheat-producing lands in the country, and much too small to operate advantageously in the west of England where the climate and soil are so unsuitable to wheat production. You cannot devise an average figure that is going to leave the farmer with the same amount of loss on his wheat growing all over the country. If it is fair for the east it may result in a serious loss in the west. If it is going to give large profits to wheat 1284 growers in the east—I do not object, as long as the nation gets its food (it is in the east you are going to get the greater production), but I do say this, that by adopting such a course you are going to render your scheme far more vulnerable in days to come when the guarantee materialises and the bill has to be paid.
I hope that the noble Lord will allow us in some small measure to rectify the drawbacks to be found in the Bill, and on the subject of compensation for disturbance I want to ask whether, in seeking to stabilise through the medium of higher compensation for alleged loss the position of the tenant farmer, he does not, in fact, make the relations between landlord and tenant unsettled and unsatisfactory, and lacking in that human sympathy which has operated in the past; whether he does not make the position of the tenant farmer more unstable than it has been in the past to his own detriment and to the detriment of the country.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I give your Lordships an assurance that it is with extreme reluctance that I venture to say even a few words at this stage of the debate, when I know you are anxious to hear the reply of the noble Lord in charge of the Bill. There are, however, one or two points that I want to place before you in order to justify the vote I propose to give on the Second Reading. I have listened to nearly the whole of the speeches, and I have never, throughout a somewhat long experience of this House, listened to so large a number of speeches from so many different quarters, from noble Lords with various political antecedents, in which I have not agreed with something that has been said. I think it will be a very great calamity if this House were to reject the Bill on Second Reading, or, after we have done something in the way of amending it, the Bill should fail.
The outstanding points in favour of this Bill have been well put by Lord Lee and Lord Milner last night. They are to make sure that there will be as large an amount of cultivation of the land of these Islands as is possible, that we shall continue to maintain as large an agricultural population as we can, and that we shall do everything in our power to produce as much of what we require at home as we can. It is quite true that the Bill is open to criticise, but 1285 my answer to that is this. If you reject this Bill, what is going to be your policy? Is it to be a reversion to the old system of laissez faire and all the evils which have been mentioned to us to-day? There are great dangers and considerable evils. This is no new question with me. I have had considerable experience of landowning. On that part of the estate to which I succeeded from my father there is not a single farm which I have not in the course of my occupancy let three times upon a nineteen years' lease. That is a considerable experience in the management of an estate.
I was also, as Lord Chaplin mentioned, Chairman of the Commission twenty years ago. During the course of that inquiry I became deeply impressed with the dangers which this country might run under certain circumstances. It was then established beyond all doubt that there were periods, particularly one period, of the year in which we had only a very short time supply within our Islands, whether homegrown or imported. Towards the end of the summer it was almost a matter of a week or two whether the supply was sufficient to carry us on until the harvest began. The Commission, of course, consulted the Admiralty, and what coin forted us a good deal was the declaration of the Admiralty, which according to the conditions then existing was probably correct, that these Islands having such a large coast line could not satisfactorily be blockaded. But since that time in recent years the submarine danger has developed. I think that makes it absolutely necessary that we should prepare well for the future and take care that we do not run the same risks which we undoubtedly did in the later years of the war.
Of all the systems I have heard suggested for getting over these difficulties I go so far as to say that the system of guarantees which is in this Bill is open to the least objection: As is obvious, it involves a certain amount of control, not only in the interests of the tenant and of the labourer, but in the interests of the consumer. If a guarantee involves control, I wish I could be equally sure that control will involve a guarantee. What I am afraid of, if this Bill passes and hereafter the guarantee is attacked, is that those who are interested in the land may lose the guarantee while control and Government interference will continue. That would seem to me to be a very great 1286 danger. It is a danger for which you must calculate. The population of this country being largely industrial it is plain that if the world-price of wheat falls much below the guarantee, two points will be made against the policy of the guarantee—that it costs too much, and that it is keeping up the price of bread. I hope that in Committee the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will make it clear that if we are to have a system of control as a balance for a guarantee, that control will not last longer than the guarantee, without the direct sanction of Parliament.
No one interested in agriculture wants this Bill as it stands. Some people want sonic parts of it, and some other parts. I regard it really as an implied contract between the various parties, mentioned by the noble Viscount who spoke earlier, interested in the land, the owner, the tenant, the labourer and the consumer. Therefore, I hope that if, in the interests of all these classes, we are to have the control which is in the Bill it will be made absolutely clear that those of us who are interested in landowning shall not be made the victims of control if we lose the advantages of the guarantee. That is all I am going to say about Part I.
As regards Part II, I wish to say that those of us who come from Scotland must consider its application to Scotland. We are in a difficult position. This is an English Bill, drafted for England and applied to Scotland only by one clause and a schedule. I do not pretend to understand it. I frankly say that the drafting seems to me so obscure as to require a great amount of skill to ascertain the real legal effect. One question which I would ask the noble Lord is this—Is it intended to destroy our leasehold system in Scotland or not? If this Bill passes as it stands, I understand that the leasehold system will have to go and will have to be replaced by something else. What will it be? The noble Lord, I know, does not like the idea of dual ownership. Fixity of tenure, security of tenure, and so on, have also been mentioned. I agree that there should be absolute security for the tenant fur everything he has put into the land. Our leasehold system gives him that. It is a bargain between two men, the landlord and the tenant, and it seems to me wholly wrong to alter that bargain during the currency of existing contracts and to 1287 give the tenant advantages and compensation for things which he has promised to do, while if his tenancy is to end at the end of his lease, as I understand it, he is to have compensation for the very things he has bargained and promised to do. I may be reading the Bill wrongly, and I will not say much about it, but wait till the Committee Stage. It seems to me, however, that in a rising market the tenant of the future will be perfectly secure, and in a falling market he can go, and the landlord will be liable to the loss in both cases.
Clause 8 is a long and difficult clause, and compensation for disturbance is not applicable to a leasehold system. I was going to criticise Clause 11, but I understand that it does not apply to Scotland. All I have to say in conclusion is that much in the Bill seems to me to mean that the landlord will have no interest in ownership in the future and had better get out of it on almost any terms he can. But, as I have said, I shall vote for the Second Reading, though I hope that in Committee we shall be given full consideration and an explanation of what is really intended for the future of Scotland.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ernle, yesterday made a speech in support of this Bill to which I listened with great interest and with great pleasure. I listened with great interest because he has admitted knowledge of the subject, and with great pleasure because of the qualities which are always shown in his speeches—qualities which I am glad to think have found expression in a more permanent form, which enables a busy man like myself to enjoy his leisure, forget his anxieties and refresh his mind. I do not possess those qualifications, but perhaps your Lordships will permit me, in as short a time as that within which I can compress my remarks, to express my opinions upon this Bill, not from the point of view of a person who possesses or professes any knowledge whatever of our agricultural industry, but from the point of view of a man who has some little knowledge of sonic of the urban conditions that exist in this country and thinks that he knows, and to sonic extent can measure, sonic of the feelings by which the vast communities in those urban areas are actuated.
The noble Lord said in effect that he thought this Bill was as good a Bill as could be introduced by a Coalition Government.
1288 It was a pale and tepid compliment, but I think it is true, and the reason that the noble Lord gave is true. It is because a Coalition Government is unable ever to carry out the real policy of any one of its component parts. It is always attempting to reconcile conflicting views, to stabilise opposing forces, to adjust outstanding differences, and to pursue the way of compromise, instead of pursuing the course which either one party or the other honestly believes to be the best to follow. The result frequently is that instead of getting movement and progress you get something that either is a state of rest or a movement in a direction which no one thinks is right. It is not always the case that the middle path is the safest. If your road forks on each side of a bog you had better take one course or the other, and not pursue the path in the middle. The noble Lord thought that this Bill reconciled forces which were expressed on the one side in a passionate desire for nationalisation of land, and on the other, as I understand it, for a continuance of our present system without interference or alteration at all. Does any noble Lord think that this Bill is going to appease the demand for nationalisation? I agree with the noble Lord—I think that the demand for nationalisation grows in strength and volume, and I had almost said in ferocity, from day to day. But where does it find its expression? Not in the country areas but in your crowded towns, and the real reason for it is this, that there are men in those towns, thinking, sober, earnest men, who so revolt against the conditions in which they are compelled to live that they believe that the system of land tenure is responsible for their difficulties, and think that by throwing the whole thing into the hands of the State the difficulties will disappear.
I will not waste time in representing how great and grave those difficulties are. Many of your Lordships know them well, and you know perfectly well that honest artisans in our great industrial centres to-day are compelled to live in conditions in which the sense of decency and self-respect can hardly be maintained. To me it is a miracle that so many of our fellow-subjects have been able to encounter and overcome those difficulties, before which I believe many of us would have utterly failed. That is the feeling at the back of it, and I have never heard of any great demand for nationalisation from tenant 1289 farmers, and but little from agricultural labourers. If there were any from agricultural labourers it would be a demand which took the form of asking that they should have some share of the land themselves, and this Bill does not give them an inch. The consequence, so far as nationalisation is concerned, of attempting to reconcile your opposing forces is that you have adopted a measure which does not reconcile them in the least and will not delay by one single hour the time at which these men will press forward their claims for consideration.
The real part of this Bill to which I propose to address myself, because it would not be right to go through the whole of it is Part I. The Parts are really interdependent, but Part I is the essential portion for this purpose. That again, as has been pointed out by more than one speaker, is a part which is evenly balanced—the guarantee on the one side and control on the other—and the extent to which you effect control must necessarily be affected by the extent to which you exercise the guarantee. It is unfortunate for the Government that they are liable to attack on both flanks—by those who object to the guarantee, and by those who object to the control. I do not know how you attack on both flanks, but I object to both. I am not sufficiently acquainted with military tactics to know whether an attack on both flanks at once is possible.
With regard to the guarantee, I pass by the economic discussion as to whether it is justified or not. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill said his main justification was national defence, and that was supported by Lord Selborne, and it was referred to by more than one other speaker. I cannot pass by Lord Selborne's speech without expressing the appreciation, from my own knowledge, of the courage and foresight which he showed in regard to our corn supplies in the earlier part of the war. But although I appreciate thoroughly what he did then, and although I regret that I together with others were unable to accept his view, I find myself quite unable to accept the view of either of the noble Lord or of the noble Earl that this is essential for our national safety. I thought Lord Lovat gave reasons why it was unwise to concentrate your whole attention upon food supplies—reasons which admit of no answer. It is of no use having your food supplies guaranteed if your instruments of 1290 warfare and of transport break down; and we depend, I was going to say just as much, or it may be even more, for overseas work upon such matters than we do upon corn.
Further, what is the extent to which this guarantee will give us national security by preserving the food supplies? Before the war it was calculated that from 20 to 25 per cent. of our cereals were home-grown. I think I am right in that figure. In other words, we know that it used to be said that if you went away on Saturday at midday and returned on Sunday night you might, if you confined your feeding to that period, live entirely on home-grown supplies, but you could not extend your meals beyond the Sunday evening. It is suggested by the noble Lord—and I understand this is an outside figure—that this Bill may increase your food supplies 50 per cent. I think that I am right in saying—and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, will correct me if my memory is wrong—that it used to be thought that 25 per cent. was the extent to which you could reasonably increase your food production here at home.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Then I have made a mistake. Does the noble Lord suggest that the 50 per cent. which was produced under the spasm of the war is a percentage which he hopes to maintain?
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I only wanted to know. Then it is so. The food supply of this country, it is thought then, can be increased 50 per cent. by this Bill. That means then that there will still be left 63 per cent. that must come from overseas. In other words, you have added somewhere about five weeks in the year to the food supply, and if that is essential in the national interest surely by far the better way to effect it is to have granaries and store your five weeks' corn. No one would object to that if it were undertaken for national purposes, as part 1291 of national service. Before I pass from this matter I should like also to point out to the noble Lord, the Minister of Agriculure, that his zeal for the national defence led him, I think, into possibly a pardonable error as to the extent to which we should have shipping difficulties in importing our corn. He said that the amount of 4,000,000 which we raise in the country would require 857 ships of 5,000 tons each to bring it. Surely the noble Lord is confusing ships and voyages. I think that is obvious. You multiply your 857 by five. It is an excusable mistake, but it makes a very large difference, because a ship does not make only one voyage in the course of the year, but it well may make six or seven voyages.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Of course. Does the noble Lord suggest that every ship that is going out and coming in is to be sunk? If so, there is an end to the whole thing. Your remaining 63 per cent. will not come in. But of course the, noble Lord did not mean that. I only wish to point out that it is possible that One's zeal in these matters may sometimes lead one astray. That, however, was a small diversion from the strict path of reason which would be permissible to the noble Lord.
I pass to the economic objection to this provision. What is it? It is that you are attempting by State control to compel an industry that is now in the hands of certain people not to be conducted as the interests of that. industry demand but as the exigencies of the State require, and that has to be determined by something in the nature of Soviet committees which are to be set up from county to county to tell the people whose livelihood depends upon the agricultural industry the way in which the State wants them to use the material at their disposal. I think it is quite plain that nobody could suggest that any such provision could be applied to any other industry, because if so there is the end of society as we understand it. The Soviet system would have been established, not indeed in all its horrors but in its absolute effect. That is exactly what a Soviet Government does. It sets up committees in all industries, and compels the people to obey their directions as to the way in which the industry is to be carried on.
1292 Suppose it was found that cotton was a very important thing for us—and indeed it is—and that there were difficulties in the cotton trade owing to the increased charges for labour or other causes. Suppose that the cotton trade was flagging in consequence. Would anyone come down and say that it was essential you should have the cotton trade first of all guaranteed by a State guarantee, and then controlled by a Department of experts? I cannot see why the people who have charge of the agricultural industry should be assumed to know nothing whatever about it. Therefore, unless it is required in the national interest, I think that it is a very dangerous provision indeed to introduce.
But the danger does not stop there. Another danger has been mentioned by more than one noble Lord, and particularly by the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, whose speech I am sure your Lordships heard with the greatest possible attention. The noble Duke pointed out, what indeed is the literal truth, that directly this guarantee begins to operate and you call upon the national purse to subsidise the agricultural industry, the demands and clamour in the towns for the repeal of the Bill will be such that I do not believe any Government will be able to withstand them. What is the result? You will then have introduced all your machinery, compelled the breaking up of the land against the will of the people concerned in it, promised them guarantees, and then, instead of your promise being fulfilled, other Governments who succeed you will dishonour your bond, and the Bill will be once more torn up. That I regard as a very serious and dangerous thing. I feel quite satisfied that there is not a single member present to-night who, knowing the tone and temper of the big industrial centres, will deny that that not only is a possibility but that it is the most certain probability that you can have to face. The truth is, of course, that directly this guarantee proceeds to operate, from that moment you tax every other industry for the benefit of one. That is a position which it is extremely hard to justify. Although it appears easy to satisfy another place, it would be impossible to satisfy large industrial communities upon the ground that has been heard in favour of this Bill—namely, national defence.
Let me say a word about this question of guarantee. I know that in objecting, 1293 as I do, to this I object upon grounds which are not the same as those of many noble Lords who object to it equally, and I think most notably the noble Viscount, Lord Chaplin, from whom I differ with considerable uneasiness. I object to this Phil also because it is an interference with the principles of Free Trade. I know that it is said that Free Trade is a shibboleth, and I would wish to state that though I am, and always have been, a Free Trader, I have never so regarded it. I have never thought that Free Trade, or any other economic law, is like a law of nature. I have never believed that it applies with equal force and with equal reason to all communities. My belief is, having regard to the peculiar conditions of this country, to the absolute necessity for its dependence upon two domestic sources of supply alone, coal awl iron, that the way in which you may best promote its prosperity and wealth is to avail yourselves without let or hindrance of the activities of other races, of the genialities of other climates, and the fertilities of other soils.
Let me now pass—and I do so with reluctance, as there is much more that I should like to say—to the question of the controls that this Bill is going to introduce. I do not think that they have been adequately considered in the full and interesting debate to which your Lordships have listened. What is it that this Bill proposes to do? In the first place, the Minister is to be entitled under Clause 4, if he finds that the provision of food can 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 under cultivation, to serve on him notices, and from those notices all kinds of terrible consequences follow, ending with the termination of his tenancy if he does not obey the directions that he is given. Let me ask your Lordships to consider what that means? A piece of land may very well be improved by a method of cultivation which would require an expenditure which is absolutely outside the power of any tenant farmer to provide. It may none the less be true that if you could provide the money, and if you could improve the cultivation you would possibly make the farm more productive than it is. The wretched man who is in occupation of that piece of land, as far as I can see, is liable, first to notice, and then to eviction. For what reason? Because be is poor.
1294 There is no other reason. If he had the money he could do it.
The real thong, I think, that this Bill overlooks from first to last is that what agriculture has suffered from more than anything else is the difficulty of obtaining sufficient capital by the tenant farmers to work the land. Everyone knows the hazard and the danger of the business, and unfortunately tenant farmers, suffering from the bitter experience to which they were exposed in the last few years of last century, when they lost all their little gains, have been extremely reluctant, if they had money, to embark it upon this form of enterprise. Therefore, if you call upon these men to provide money you will call upon them to do something that they may be wholly unable to do. If your object really was to improve the cultivation of land it would have been much better to have established some system of land banks or some place at which farmers could have obtained credit as they can in Italy upon their reputation, and upon the successful cultivation of their land.
When the occupier has recovered from that shock the next thing you find is that if he has unreasonably neglected to execute the necessary works of maintenance he is liable to another notice, and then he is liable to be fined £20 and £l a day while they remain unexecuted. "Unreasonably neglected to execute the necessary works of maintenance." Works of maintenance are very heavy. Will "unreasonably neglected" mean be satisfied that he has not the money to do it? Is that what is meant? I do not think so. I do not think that this Bill anywhere considers the possibility of the man against whom these notices are served being literally unable to comply with them. And if not, what is the man to do? He may suffer from very bad harvests. People up in the North of Scotland this autumn might have seen a sight which saddened me. They might have seen the big rivers carrying down sheaf after sheaf of oats that were all already to be taken away, because at the very last moment a flood had come and swept away the harvest of many of the farmers by the riverside.
Let us take a man like that, who has lost all the profits of the year and may be unable to execute what he ought to do under the terms of his lease. What happens now? It is passed by for the moment; he is asked to do it when he can; he is 1295 given a little time and a little encouragement and, it may be, a little help. Under this provision he may have notice served upon Trim and be fined £20 and £1 a. day for every day he does not do it. It, is not only that, but when his tenancy is ended I find that the Minister may make an order for adjusting the relations of the landlord and the tenant. I should think they would be extremely difficult to adjust. That is as far as the tenant is concerned. What happens to the landowner? There are a large number of orders made that may be served on him, and in addition there is this advantage that he will enjoy—Where it is represented to the Minister by an agricultural committee that the owner of any agricultural estate…cultivates or manages the estate…in a manner inconsistent with good estate management and so as to prejudice materially the production of food thereon…orders may be made, and a receiver and manager may be appointed to manage his estate for him, and he is to go on managing it until he has put it all right. I want to know who is to bear the expense?
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Then what is the provision in the Bill which enables this man to specify that this estate is one of those that cannot be run at a profit and on which he cannot possibly make both ends meet, and there is a loss. I want to know where it is to be borne.
LORD BUCKM ASTER
Is it to be a charge upon the estate? If it is to be a charge upon the estate, is it to have precedence of the existing mortgagee's charges? I have no affection for mortgagees, and I do not expect any one has, but I think that a mortgagee ought to know where he stands, and I should like to know whether the expenses under this Statute are capable 1296 of being imposed upon the property to his prejudice. I really think those are matters—and there are many others to which I could refer—which are sufficient to satisfy your Lordships that Clause 1 of this Bill, though it is said to stand upon two legs, stands upon two legs each one of which is broken. It is rickety on both its supports, and it is not such a Bill as. I submit, should receive the approval and commendation of this House.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
At the bottom of this is, I believe, the fundamental economic unsoundness of the position in which we stand. The reason why this Bill has become necessary is that economic laws have been broken everywhere owing to the war. And unless we take steps slowly to restore them, although they may not act with absolute certainty and at once, yet sooner or later they surely will act, and as you defy them from one industry to another you will prejudice the total propserity of this country. You cannot support an industry by compelling it to make payments that the fair profit of the industry cannot support, and if it be found that there be any form of carrying on any trade with is economically unsound, it is to the national prejudice and the national danger that you insist on that way being adopted. In many ways I expect all of us have become socialists; we may even have become Communists. But the Socialism which I support is not the kind of Socialism which is introduced under this Bill. The Socialism in which I believe is a Socialism which consists in a better understanding as between every class of the community, the one with the other; a little more allowance for mistakes that are made on each side; a little less readiness to pounce down on a man who may be farming a little badly or doing a few things that you think a little wrong; a little more consideration for human weaknesses and a little less Government control. I believe in benevolence, but the benevolence I believe in is the benevolence of men and women for each other, and not the benevolence of any Government Department.
§ THE MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE (LORD LEE OF FAREHAM)
My Lords, I have listened with great attention to, I think, every single word which has been spoken in the course of this debate, and 1297 perhaps the remark with which I agree most cordially, although I was not in agreement with the whole speech, was one made by my noble friend Lord Chaplin when he said that he had every sympathy with me in toy present position. I can assure your Lordships that I need all that I can get, in view of what I ventured to say in my speech in introducing the Bill—that—I was aware, painfully aware, that it was not a Bill which could be exactly described as popular in your Lordships' House.
But whilst many and severe criticisms have been made I need hardly say I have no complaint whatsoever about any of them, or indeed of the attacks, and I am naturally- very grateful for the considerable measure of support which the Bill has received from many influential quarters in the House. But whether the speeches have been for or against the Bill I hope I may say without disrespect that they seem to me to have shown great knowledge and experience, a deep sense of responsibility and, with possibly one exception, great seriousness. I am sure that the noble Marquess who moved the rejection of the Bill will allow tic to reply briefly to his speech, because he said comparatively little about the Bill. He talked a great deal about pre-war Party politics, about the wickedness of a Coalition, about the peculiar simpleness of a late hero of his, the present Prime Minister, and deduced from all this—it is true in rather more elegant language than he had previously used to the Bucks Farmers' Club when he said that; the Bill was "rotten "—that it was a thoroughly bad Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster, who has just sat down shares his view that it is a bad Bill, and apparently largely on the same ground that it is not a Party Bill—that it is a Bill which does not represent. the sort of traditional policy of one Party or the other, and that, because it is a Bill produced by a non-Party Government, which does not have to regard all these Party considerations, therefore it tout be a bad Bill. I venture to say that prima facie that is one of the great credentials of this Bill—that it is produced at a time of non-Party Government, and that, it seeks to do what is considered right as the result of the lessons of the war, without any regard whatsoever to the effect upon this or that Party in the State.
But the noble Marquess wants to see the Bill knocked on the head (that was his 1298 phrase), and a few days ago he saw a good sporting chance of that consummation being reached to-night. I hope he has not been depressed by the number of noble. Lords who have risen in their places—it is true very often to criticise the Bill, but to express what seems to me the sober and wise view that it would be a wrong thing, when a Bill is brought forward with this measure of responsibility on the part of the Government, that it should be summarily thrown overboard without consideration. I think that possibly the reason why the noble Marquess's advocacy in that respect seems to have failed with your Lordships is on account of what I really thought was the most remarkable statement that he made in his speech, when he said, "What chance has any reasonable Amendment, in the interests either of the tenant or the labourer, of being accepted in your Lordships' House? What chance has any Amendment which does not reflect the interests of the landlord of being accepted here?" That seems to me to be a very uncomplimentary and extraordinary suggestion. I totally disagree with it, and, whilst I am prepared for all things when the Committee stage of this Bill is reached, I am quite certain that your Lordships are not going to examine this Bill from the narrow point of view of your own interests only, and I am sorry the noble Marquess should have acquired such a pessimistic estimate of human nature as the result of his political experience.
I noticed that he expressed particular dissatisfaction with the provisions of the Bill because they did not afford real and complete security of tenure to tenants. And he expects to take with him into the Lobby in consequence of this all your Lordships who think that the present proposals in that direction go too far. In fact, so strongly did Ire speak on this subject that he admonished me several times not to venture to call the proposals in Part II of this Bill security of tenure. We do not call them security of tenure, because they do not give, and are not intended to give, security of tenure. And I am very grateful to my noble friend, Lord Clinton, for his recognition that security of tenure, in the sense of fixity and dual ownership, is a thing to which I am irrevocably opposed, and which I have done my utmost to keep out of this Bill.
The noble Marquess dismissed the whole Bill in a very scathing way. He said it 1299 was bad for agriculture, dangerous for the public, and repugnant to Liberal and Free Trade principles. I am not naturally concerned with the latter, but that indictment, as it proceeded, impressed me once more with the great flexibilty of mind and elasticity of judgment which has been one of the secrets of the noble Marquess's great influence with his party in the past. Because I cannot help recalling that only this year he did me the honour of attending a meeting which I was asked to address in his own neighbourhood. He also did me the honour of seconding a vote of thanks to me after I had explained, I am afraid at great length, what it was that the Government proposed to do in the way of legislation, and this is what he said—They all had reason to congratulate themselves on having had the opportunity of listening to the comprehensive, far-reaching, and courageous statement of policy which Lord Lee had made to them. A great thing it was for a man to speak his mind, and it was also a great thing for a government to have a policy. They had been told that afternoon on the highest authority that there would be a guaranteed minimum price for cereals that it was not to be a temporary war measure, but a permanent one. He was also pleased to hear Lord Lee's declaration on the question of fixity of tenure, which would put hope and confidence into the hearts of tenant farmers.I do not blame the noble Marquess for changing his mind, but I do not feel that I have got to deal with convictions which are so deep and immovable that I need devote any further attention this afternoon to his speech.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
That was not all that I said. It is what was in the report, but I think the noble Lord will do me the justice to remember that I told him that, if guaranteed prices or anything like Protection was introduced in the noble Lord's scheme, I should do the very best I could to throw it out.
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
The noble Marquess's recollection is very much better than mine. I do not recall any statement of that kind. At any rate, if that was his opinion, even though I did not gather it from his speech, I quite admit that he is trying to make it good to-day, and to that extent he is consistent. But, coming now to the debate generally, there seem to me to stand out of it amongst the critics three chief anxieties: first of all, with regard to the cost of the guarantees; secondly, with regard to the possibility of ploughing orders on a large scale under Part I of the Bill; and, thirdly, with 1300 regard to the effect that the scale of compensation for disturbance in Part II might have upon the landowner. I hope I have clearly stated the three main objections that have been put forward to the Bill, and, of course, I shall have to deal with this at a later stage in Committee in great detail.
But I should like to deal with these criticisms and with the speeches which have been made upon them, briefly and broadly this evening. I have been challenged more than once, notably by the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, this afternoon, who made an extraordinarily powerful speech. I did not agree with it, but everybody must admit the powerful way in which he stated his case. He said that it really was not fair that no kind of indication or estimate should have been given to Parliament of what the possible financial liabilities might be under this portion of the Bill, and also, of course, a secondary matter, with regard to the cost of administration. I feel that it was a little hard to make that statement in view of the fact that a White Paper was presented to Parliament by command of His Majesty on June 10, in which the fullest information, so far as it was possible to procure it, was laid before Parliament. That White Paper, Command Paper 741, gives all the information that is necessary to enable any noble Lord to arrive at the cost of the guarantees if, but only if, they are prepared to prophesy what the price of wheat and oats will be in 1921–22 and subsequent years. We give the scale, but the rest is in the region of prophecy.
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
I am coming to that. It refers also to the cost of administration in connection with this question of guarantees; but I think that the question of the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, went a little further. He wanted to know what was the estimated cost of administration, it is true not under this Bill, but under the related Bill which set up the county committees. With regard to that we can give a fairly close and, I hope, an inclusive estimate. The total annual expenditure which we estimate in connection with the Ministry of Agriculture operations of the county committees is £160,000 a year. The cost under this Bill of the three Commissioners is estimated at £2,000. So that the total is £162,000.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
May I ask if that includes the expenses of wages boards throughout the country?
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
I am not sure, but I will inquire about that. I am sorry that point did not occur to me. I thought the noble Lord was referring to the operations of the county committees. However, I do not think he will find that the amount is very great compared with the other figures for which he was asking in connection with the cost of the guarantees. He asks, Can one afford to run the risk of the financial liability of these guarantees? Lord Buckmaster spoke about the "clamour" that would arise in the towns if any guarantee was made, but I think it only right, if you are going to consider the question of whether you can afford it, to ask Can we afford the present charges to which we are being subjected by our reliance and our dependence upon food supplies from overseas, and particularly from. North America? I do not think the towns which are going to clamour, or even your Lordships, have any idea of the extent of this liability at the present time. I give only one illustration. At the present rates of exchange the increased cost to us from the operation of exchange alone of every quarter of wheat that we import from North or South America is more than the total cost of that quarter of wheat before the war. If, as we know, our total imports of wheat from North and South America average between 15,000,000 to 20,000,000 quarters, we are actually paving to-day, owing to the difference of exchange alone, something between £25,000,000 and £30,000,000 which we would not have to pay if that wheat had not to be imported. I only say that this should be put against the liabilities which we might incur if these guarantees came into force because we grew the wheat here at home. Lord Buckmaster tried to pin me down, I thought, to a statement, or the expression of a hope, that we might be in a position to produce the whole of that wheat here.
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
I never suggested any such thing, but I say it is worth while to reduce our dependence upon foreign sources of supply to the utmost extent that is possible, not merely as a measure of national defence but as a measure 1302 of economy and of fiscal soundness. No doubt I shall have to deal more fully with that on a future occasion, but I hope your Lordships will keep those two liabilities in your mind when you come to a decision with regard to the wisdom or otherwise of this method of insurance by guarantees.
Now I come to the most contentious point which arises under Clause 4. My noble friend Lord Selborne, and I think the Duke of Buccleuch—and, if I may say so, no one listened with greater admiration to his speech than I did last night—both took the line which somewhat surprised me, that this Bill if carried into effect in its present provisions would fix the indifferent farmer—I think that was Lord Selborne's phrase.
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
I was referring to the Bill itself, but I will show why I connect it with Clause 4. He said that it would fix the indifferent farmer, and that it was the bad and lazy farmer's salvation. I find it rather difficult to follow that argument, particularly if Clause 4 of this Bill is not emasculated, because that clause gives power to the county committees to make it really impossible for the bad and lazy farmer to continue in business; and if Lord Selborne sees in the later clauses of the Bill a danger in that connection I hope I shall get his support in not giving up the more important powers to control husbandry contained in Clause 4 of the Bill.
I was particularly interested in what Lord Clinton said with regard to this question, because it seemed clear to me from his speech that he did not think the provision which would deal with good husbandry went far enough. I think he used the words, "the occupier must make the best use of his land in the interest of the country." Of course, that is the direct negation of laissez faire which is the policy of Lord Buckmaster, but I think it is the right policy. I am quite convinced that some powers more far-reaching and more effective than those that are contained in the good husbandry subsection of Clause 4 are absolutely necessary. At present they are contained in paragraph (b) of Clause 4 which I know is perhaps the most contentious clause in the whole. Bill and will be no doubt minutely examined. With regard to that I at prepared to consider 1303 proposals which do not interfere with what regard as the essential part—namely to see that grass land, when necessary, is improved, and, if arable is laid town to grass, that it should be properly laid down. So long as matters of that kind are safeguarded I shall be prepared to consider the objections which have been expressed so forcibly but with a good deal of misapprehension as to what the powers of the Bill are with regard to a Ploughing Order. I am under no misapprehension as to the feelings of your Lordships with regard to Ploughing Orders. They have been expressed very forcibly by many who have supported the Bill generally, and when we come to the consideration of the clause I hope to be able to allay many of the fears expressed.
I must remind your Lordships that there are 46,000,000 acres of cultivated land in this country. Of that area 20,000,000 are under the plough now, and another 20,000,000 consist of permanent grass, of such quality that no one but a lunatic (except when the life of the nation was at stake) would think of ploughing up. That is where your stored fertility in time of war comes in. But there is a balance of grass land which is not doing its duty, and cannot do its duty as grass land, which might do its duty better under another system. That is all I have in my mind, or that any county committee which knows its business would consider for a moment.
On this point may I refer to what I conceive to be a profound fallacy that has been evident in the course of the debate, that in time of war you can rely upon improvisation for increasing your production of cereals. We thought that in 1916 and the early part of 1917. Then all agricultural authorities said, "What is the good of ploughing up any of this grass land? It will only be eaten up by wire-worms." I agree there is a great risk when you plough up grass land that you may lose your first crop by insect pests. It is because we realised this during the war campaign and also realised that in some counties there were practically no farmers with any arable experience, no appliances, no skilled labour, that it does not do to rely upon improvisation in time of war. It is a broken reed to attempt to lean upon.
With regard to Part II of the Bill, a criticism was made by Lord Selborne and re-echoed by other speakers that the pro- 1304 visions leaned too far in favour of the occupier as distinct from the landowner. Lord Selltortie I third: used the phrase, "It, sways the beam in too mach in favour of the occupier." I can assure your Lordships that I had no such intent in framing the measure, but I quite admit that we have had our eve principally upon the occupier of agricultural land because he is essentially the food producer. Do not let it be supposed for a moment that our proposals are altogether satisfactory to the occupier. I had a letter only two days ago from a very sensible correspondent, as I thought, who said, "There is one thing I have ascertained that God cannot do, and that is satisfy a farmer." I think there is sonic truth in that. Certainly, have not succeeded in this Bill in satisfying the farmer.
I was rather sorry that Lord Chaplin, in the course of his speech, seemed to think that we had deliberately brought in a Bill which was a great hardship to landlords, a class which has done, as he said, and I entirely agree, inestimable services to the State not only during the war but in the discharge of their duties for many generations past. The difficulty, of course, is to preserve a fair balance. I agree with Lord Selborne when he said that the tenant is entitled to full security for capital legitimately invested in his holding. That is precisely what we are endeavouring to effect by means of these proposals. We might have brought in a Bill to give him fixity of tenure, but for reasons which I have stated we were unwilling to do so. But our intention was to give the tenant full security for capital legitimately invested, and no more. If the Bill does not carry out that intention your Lordships will be very well qualified to point it out when we come to that clause in Committee.
With regard to the method and scale of compensation, I recognise that there is no logic in it. We do not profess that there is any logic. After all, there is very little logic in this country; it is much more a characteristic of our neighbours across the Channel. But we suggest it as on the whole a fair and convenient compromise. I noticed with interest last night that Lord Crewe preferred the rough rule of thumb we had put into the Bill, the one year's rent, rather than a more general phrase giving full compensation for everything. I gather that Lord Clinton prefers 1305 the more general phrase. It is entirely a question of the balance of convenience. If you have the more general phrase, nearly every case practically will be the subject of litigation, which will perhaps not be a great injury to the big man but will be very hard on the small man. I believe on the whole that the words proposed will be more acceptable to the great mass of tenants and owners affected. It is a matter which can be debated. With regard to Lord Chaplin's suggestion that this Bill was one of hardship, do not believe there is anything in it which is going to be hard on the good landlord. On the contrary, in many respects he will have much to gain.
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
I will accept them from whatever channel they come. I suggest that the landlord derives many advantages from the Bill, particularly with regard to the question of fixing rent, and the matter which Lord Harris brought forward so forcibly when he said, "I attach great value to the power of the committee to get rid of a bad tenant for me." He said, "It relieves me of an unpleasant responsibility." There are other provisions, such as compensation for deterioration of a holding, which I think are of real value to the landlord.
It is quite impossible, particularly at this late hour, to attempt to reply to all the speeches which have been made and I hope that many of your Lordships who have spoken will acquit me of any disrespect if I do not reply to all the points put to me. I will endeavour to do so in due course. But I must refer to one which was made by my noble friend Lord Lovat. I found it difficult to follow leis argument. As understood him he said it is no good making this country less dependent on foreign sources of supply for food unless you also make it independent with regard to wood and iron. This Bill is an agricultural Bill and deals with food. It would hardly be in order for it to have dealt with wood and iron. I know that my noble friend is deeply and rightly interested in the question of forestry, and perhaps some day he may be successful in getting the claims of forestry dealt with on some principle of this kind, in which case I 1306 shall no doubt be found supporting him. In the meantime, to say that it is no good trying to do anything about food because in time of war you might not have trees—
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
I thought the noble Lord was going to correct me. If he does not accept that, I must have misunderstood his argument. That brings me to the last word I wish to say. It is with regard to another general criticism which has been made by some speakers in the course of the debate, that these proposals do not contribute anything to the safety of the country in time of war. I was sorry to hear some of the things said on that subject. Last night the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, derided the lessons of the war and spoke about "last night's whisky." "Are we to shape our policy under the influence of last night's whisky?"
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
I do not want to follow the noble Marquess too far into his metaphors, but there is another statement in vino veritas. It is only two years since we were faced with this peril, and to say that because our measure is largely based on the lessons of the war as we understand them, therefore we have, so to speak, the fumes of stale whisky in our head, is not I think a very powerful argument.
During the debate I have been asked again and again, With what country are you going to war? What is the particular war and what is the particular country against which you are preparing these proposals? That seems to me a peculiarly ridiculous question to ask. We are not preparing for war against any particular country, but we say that it is our bounden duty to make this country as little exposed as possible to dangers of starvation from wheresoever they may come in the case of a future war, and that, in addition, we should do anything in our power to prevent any return of the appalling agricultural depression which followed other great wars in the past owing to lack of State interference. We recognise that you can do it 1307 only by incurring a financial risk. I claim that that risk is infinitesimal as compared with the cost which we might incur if we did not make preparation, and any money that is spent goes into the pockets of our own people instead of those of foreign producers across the sea.
Are those who disagree about the importance of this measure as a national influence, and who, I must point out, have no responsibility themselves for national defence at the present time—are they really going to take the responsibility of setting their judgment against that of the Government of the day with regard to a danger of which we are aware, and are they prepared to force their view as against the Government by rejecting this Bill on Second Reading? As my last word, I do appeal most earnestly to those of your
§ Lordships who may not see eye to eye with us with regard to every detail of our agricultural policy, as expressed in this Bill, at least to recognise that we are making a disinterested effort to interpret the lessons of the war as we understand them; that we are not influenced in the faintest degree by any political or Party consideration in putting the proposals forward; and that we have been actuated by a single-minded desire, in such way as we could and with such experience as we possess, to assist in safeguarding this country against the risks to which it was exposed in the last War.
§ On Question, whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?—
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 123; Not-Contents, 85.1309
|Birkenhead, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Farquhar, V. (L. Steward.)||Fingall, L. (E. Fingall.)|
|Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.)||Greville, L.|
|Chilston, V.||Harris, L.|
|Bedford, D.||Falmouth, V.||Hastings, L.|
|Marlborough, D.||Finlay, V.||Hawke, L.|
|Somerset, D.||Goschen, V.||Hylton, L.|
|Hardinge, V.||Islington, L.|
|Hood, V.||Kenyon, L.|
|Abercorn, M. (D. Abercorn.)||Knollys, V.||Killanin, L.|
|Ailsa, M.||Milner, V.||Knaresborough, L.|
|Bath, M.||Peel, V.||Lee of Fareham, L.|
|Camden, M.||Wimborne, V.||Ludlow, L.|
|Dufferin and Ava, M.||Manners, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Abinger, L.||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Northampton, M.||Addington, L.||Monson, L.|
|Annesley, L. (V. Valentia.)||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Armaghdale, L.||Monteagle, L. [M. Sligo.)|
|Abingdon, E.||Balfour, L.||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Belper, L.||Newton, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Bledisloe, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Chesterfield, E.||Boston, L.||Oranmore and Browne, L.|
|Chichester, E.||Bowes, L. (E. Strathmore and Kinghorn.)||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Curzon of Kedleston, E.||Ormmathwaite, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Penrhyn, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)||Queenborough, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Clinton, L.||Ranfurly, L. (E. Ranfurly.)|
|Grey, E.||Cloneurry, L.||Ranksborough, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Clwyd, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||Colebrooke, L.||Rayleigh, L.|
|Lonsdale, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Roundway, L.|
|Lovelace, E.||Cozens-Hardy, L.||Sackville, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Cranworth, L.||St. Levan, L.|
|Lytton, E.||Crawshaw, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Dawson of Penn, L.||Sempill, L.|
|Mount Edgcumbe, E.||de Mauley, L.||Somerleyton, L. [Teller.]|
|Onslow, E.||Decies, L.||Stanmore, L. [Teller.]|
|Plymouth, E.||Deramore, L.||Stuart of Wortley, L.|
|Powis, E.||Dewar, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Sandwich, E.||Douglas, L. (E. Home.)||Teynham, L.|
|Scarbrough, E.||Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.)||Walsingham, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Stanhope, E.||Ernle, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Strafford, E.||Erskine, L.||Wigan, L. [E. Crawford.)|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Faringdon, L.||Wyfold, L.|
|Argyll, D.||Russell, E.||Hothfield, L.|
|Portland, D.||Shaftesbury, E.||Incheape, L.|
|Richmond and Gordon, D.||Spencer, E.||Kilmaine, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Westmeath, E.||Lambourne, L.|
|Wicklow, E.||Lawrence, L.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Legih, L.|
|Lincolnshire, M. (L. Great Chamberlain) [Teller..]||Allendale, V||Lovat, L.|
|Bangor, V.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Middleton, L.|
|Linlithgow, M.||Cowdray, V.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|De Vesci, V.||Mowbray, L.|
|Aneaster, E. [Teller.]||Gladstone, V.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Aylesford, E.||Haldane, V.||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Bathurst, E.||Parmoor, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Anslow, L.||Phillimore, L.|
|Coventry, E.||Bellew, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Devon, E.||Berwick, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Graham, K. (D. Montrose.)||Blythswood, L.||Ribblesdale, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Buckmaster, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Innes, E. (D. Roxburghe.)||Byron, L.||Ruthven of Gowrie, L.|
|Leicester, E.||Cawley, L.||Saltoun, L|
|Lichfield, E.||Chalmers, L.||Savile, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Denman, L.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Derwent, L.||Southwark, L.|
|Mayo, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)|
|Morton, E.||Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)|
|Nelson, E.||Farnham, L.||Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)|
|Portsmouth, E.||Forester, L.|
|Reading, E.||Gainford, L.||Sydenham, L.|
|Roden, E.||Harlech, L.||Whitburgh, L.|
|Rothes, E.||Hemphill, L.||Wrenbury, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of whole House.1310
§ House adjourned at ten minutes past eight o clock.