§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE rose to call attention to the agricultural situation; and to move for Papers. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I have no doubt it will have been noticed by all the members of your Lordships' House who are interested in agriculture that there has been a Notice on the paper for some weeks standing in the name of Lord Bledisloe. Lord Bledisloe, however, is a very busy man. He was asked by several people to bring this Motion before the House to-day, but was unable to do so. He accordingly asked me if I would initiate in his absence a debate on the Question that he had put down which was to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have any definite plan or policy in relation to the agricultural industry.
§ A great deal of water has flowed under the bridges since that was put down, and, no doubt, the Government has indicated its policy. Therefore, I venture to put the matter forward in rather more general terms and to call attention only to the agricultural situation, especially after the crisis that has been gone through in the 959 Eastern counties. I will ask one question only which I have submitted to the noble Earl the Parliamentary Secretary, and that is to ask not what the Government intend to do for tenant farmers but what they intend to do for the labourers. We all know that a good deal has been done for the tenant farmers in the last fourteen or fifteen years. From 1906 to 1912 the Government of the day brought in twenty-one or twenty-two Bills, all of which, with the exception of one, were placed on the Statute Book. The farmers thereby obtained freedom of cropping, compensation for winged game, and compensation for disturbance which was as near to security of tenure as the House and the country at that time seemed inclined to go. A Road Board was established, the Farmers' Union was initiated, and the Government of the day did all that it possibly could legitimately to assist that union. Then the terrible war broke out in 1914, when the profits of the farmers were very great, and altogether during the whole of that time since 1906, I think I may fairly say, there has been a boom in land.
§ We have had the removal of the embargo on Canadian cattle, which was a great boon to the graziers for the fattening industry in East Anglia, and the great Agriculture Act of 1921, when the farmers were promised 96s. a quarter for wheat, I forget how much on oats, but at any rate forty odd shillings a quarter, and nothing on barley. The House will remember that the Liberal Party in its entirety thought, and rightly thought, that that was a threat to Free Trade, and we all fought it, if I may quote Mr. Lloyd George's latest expression, "with our decks cleared." And now, although a duty was refused in 1921, we are told that a duty of 2s. on imported malted barley is going to be introduced. Whether that will be of any service to the farmers I do not know. We know that the great brewing firms use nothing but the best barley, the best that can be bought in the market, and during the last two years which have been bad years very little English malting barley has been sold. In fact, I believe that the great firm of Bass did not buy a single quarter of barley that was not of foreign production.
§ I want now to see what has been done for the labourers. Something has been done for the labourers too. Mr Asquith 960 gave them old age pensions, and the fear of the workhouse—which Cobbett used to call the "British Bastille"—has been to a certain extent removed from the agricultural population for ever. The great and glorious Agriculture Act of 1921, which passed through both Houses, promised for ever a wages board and 46s. a week minimum wage to all agricultural labourers in this country. One can easily imagine the joy of the agricultural labourer when he went home to his cottage, and told his wife what had happened. "Well," he said, "it is all right now. When I am too old to work I shall get 10s. a week, and so will you, and up to that time Mr. Lloyd George has promised us a guaranteed minimum wage of 46s. a week. So determined is he that this shall be carried into effect that I am told that in the Bill it is laid down that if any future Government is cruel and inhuman enough to repeal the Bill, it will be four years certain before the repealing Bill will come into operation."
§ The then Minister of Agriculture, Viscount Lee of Fareham, as a reward for this Bill, was promoted to be First Lord of the Admiralty, and his Flag-Captain, Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, was raised to the supreme command of that amphibious office, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen was the man who, in an admirable and courageous way, got the Bill through the House of Commons. He was entirely in favour of the Bill and yet when he came into power the first thing he did was to repeal it in six months. To the farmers he gave a sum of £15,000,000, or £16,000,000, or whatever it was, as a sort of recompense; but the agricultural labourers got nothing, and they were thrown back on the inexorable law of supply and demand. I ask your Lordships to think for one moment of what the feelings of the agricultural labourer must have been when he went home to his cottage and told his wife what had happened. She would probably have said: "Well, after all, that is very bad news, but they have left us the wages board." "Oh, no, the wages board has gone, too."
§ As I have said before, the agricultural labourer was left to the inexorable law of supply and demand. After that, wages naturally fell with a rattle. Of course they did. Wages that were 46s. a week 961 fell by a guinea, and in the eastern counties the standard wage of the agricultural labourer was 25s. a week gross, not net, because, of course, he had to pay 2s. or 1s. 6d. a week for his cottage. I admit that that is very little for a good house and garden, but still it came out of the labourer's income, which was thus reduced to 23s. a week. Twenty-three shillings a week to feed a man, his wife, and, perhaps, two or three children! I do not think there is anybody in this House or out of it who could say that that is a living wage.
§ Wages fell to 25s. a week for fifty hours. People talk very glibly about agricultural matters. We talk about a horse being measured by hands and men by feet. It is very difficult really to bring things down to lbs. avoirdupois, and to know really what weight and size mean. Live weight is so much, and dead weight is so much more or less: I do not know, and I think very few people in this House know, what is the difference between the live weight stone and the dead weight stone. Therefore I think it might be of use to consider for a moment what fifty hours a week really mean. People say: "Fifty hours a week! That is nothing; anybody could do that." But it means that a man has to be on the job on the land at seven in the morning and that he has to work nine hours. He has an hour off for dinner in the middle of the day, and that brings him down to five o'clock: so that he works from seven in the morning until five in the afternoon, and, as I said before, he has to get to his job and home again. Twenty-five shillings a week gross for fifty hours was the custom of the country!
§ But worse remains behind. Some little time ago the East Anglian farmers said: "We cannot possibly pay that; we shall have to cut your wages down by one shilling a week to 24s. But what we should like best would be to give you 26s. a week and for you to work four hours a week more." What does that mean? The men broke off at twelve on Saturdays, when they had a half-holiday. I am speaking under correction, but I believe that that half-holiday was initiated first in the County of Norfolk on the Sandringham estate. Four hours' work more a week means getting rid of that half-holiday altogether; it means four hours more work on the Saturday. That means nine 962 hours a day week in and week out all the year round without the customary half-holiday which men employed in factories and shops generally have. You do not wonder that the men refused to accept that proposal. Had I been an agricultural labourer I should have refused it and I think any member of this House would have done the same.
§ They refused that proposition and then came a deadlock. You may call it a strike, or a lock-out, or whatever you like, but what happened was a cessation of work, and that cessation of work took place at a very critical time of the year, just as the spring corn was being put in. Everybody knows that barley is the main crop of Norfolk, so that meant a loss of many thousands of pounds. Then a very remarkable thing happened. One man came to the front, and I think I may be permitted to express the gratitude that everybody connected with agriculture feels to that man. The Bishop of Norwich came forward. He did not want to interfere in any way. He never offered hic advice. What he did was to try to bring the men and the farmers together, and he offered his palace as a place in which they might meet. I think it is impossible to exaggerate the debt that all classes and creeds owe to the right rev. Prelate for his action in this matter. And may I be permitted to say that it is owing to him and to men like him that we are able to keep the Church of England flag flying and foremost amongst the Christian Churches of the world. He is not singular in that work. There are hundreds of clergy who are doing work which is as great and as good as that which the right rev. Prelate did.
§ But matters drifted on. Week followed week. The men and the masters did not seem to be getting any closer together when the Minister for Agriculture, or perhaps it was the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, had an inspiration. They sent down that well-known Labour leader, Mr. Harry Gosling, to see what he could do. Many of the members of this House who have served on the London County Council know what wonderful work Mr. Gosling did on that body during the time the Progressive Party was in power, in the 'nineties and the first three or four years of the present century. He and his colleagues, Mr. Will Crooks, Mr. George Drew, Mr. J. Taylor, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald and many others, worked 963 hard for the Progressive Party, and the wonderful unobtrusive work they did for the citizens of London ought never to be forgotten. But Mr. Gosling, if I may be permitted to say so, has done more than that. During the great war he was the leader of the industrial flying squadron of workers, who worked in khaki uniforms and were transferred from one part of England to another in order to augment, the labour where work was congested and where it was impossible to keep a large number of men continuously because there might be times when there was no work for them. It is impossible to exaggerate the help that that flying squadron was to the Government and the country in the days of England's peril.
§ In this particular matter that we are now considering Mr. Harry Gosling's help was, I think, all the more valuable, because he knows nothing about agriculture. He is the President of the Thames Lightermen's Union, and he looked at the matter entirely from an outside point of view. He went there with a perfectly open mind and did the best he could. The parties got very close indeed—there was only one shilling, or something like that, between them—but they could not quite manage a settlement. Why, I do not know. I do not suppose anybody knows. Perhaps it was that the tenant farmers, not unwisely, thought that there might be some help for them in the Budget, and decided to hold their hands until they saw what assistance might be given to them.
§ The parties were, however, very near to a settlement but could not quite reach agreement. Then Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, the Leader of the Opposition in the Commons House of Parliament, was called in, and, with his wise counsel, an arrangement was come to, the agricultural bugles sounded "cease fire" all down the line, and peace was proclaimed. I do not want to be pessimistic, but it is rather like the Peace of Versailles. It is a patched-up peace, and a peace that cannot possibly last. It is impossible that a peace should last when labourers in any part of the country are kept working in any industry at a wage which everybody agrees—the farmers of Norfolk themselves agree—is not a living wage.
§ I think the farmers see that they cannot sit still and leave things as they are. In the county in which I live the farmers 964 have attempted to lead John Bull by the nose, and they have started a scheme at Buckingham by which they are able to sell bread made entirely out of English flour at the price of 7d. per quartern loaf. As everyone knows, bread in London, and I believe all over England, too, is sold at 9d. the quartern loaf. These farmers in Buckingham offer home-made bread at 7d. the 4-lb. loaf, which is a reduction of 30 per cent. on the price at which bread is now sold in the open market. That does not mean 30 per cent. on the year's turnover. It is not like investing your money in a brewery, or in some great concern which pays 30 per cent. at the end of the year. It means 30 per cent. on every loaf of bread every day that bread is sold. The farmers in Buckingham have been fortunate enough to get six or seven bakers to make and distribute this bread in the neighbourhood. They have sent me a loaf to try. It seems to be of extraordinarily good quality, and, I repeat, it is 30 per cent. cheaper than bread sold in the open market. I received a letter from the secretary of the Farmers' Union to-day. He tells me—and I am not surprised to hear it—that the orders and inquiries that are pouring into Buckingham are phenomenal.
§ The Norfolk farmers have made their proposition, but it is a somewhat old-fashioned one, and one that most of us know very well indeed. They ask for a reduction of rent. Some Norfolk landowners, I am told, have agreed to that, and that has eased the situation for a time. But Mr. Noel Buxton, who knows what he is talking about, gave an illuminating statement in the House of Commons of what had happened on the other side. He said that he knew a very large property where the farmers went to the agent for a reduction of rent, and the agent said: "You can take the farms or leave them. I am not going to reduce the rent because I can let the farms with the greatest of ease, and not to run to grass, but as rotation farms." The agent said further: "I shall not require from you a year's notice, but I will take six months if you like. I can let all these farms to-morrow." That, I believe, is perfectly true. I was speaking the other day to an agent who lives in Mount Street, and he told me that he had a farm to let—not a good farm; there was 965 nothing extraordinary about it, he said—and had received thirty applications for it. It seems incredible that there should be one set of persons who are most eager and willing to take at a certain rent farms which are occupied by another class of persons in the same business who are unable to make a hand-to-mouth existence out of them.
§ I have to thank your Lordships very much for listening to me, and I should like to say this in conclusion. We are told that there is no possible remedy for this; that there is nothing to be done; that farmers cannot pay any more—it is not that they will not pay, but that they cannot—and that there is nothing more to be said. We are often told that owing to agricultural depression the prices now realised by a farmer for his agricultural produce are less than the cost of production. That is true; it is certainly true as regards wheat. Owing to our land system, to our overtaxation, to our method of cultivation, and, perhaps, to many other reasons, English farming in some counties cannot pay a living wage. But Norfolk is not England. There are other parts of England where good wages are paid, and where farmers are able to pay a living wage, but in East Anglia no doubt a very serious state of things exists.
§ We hear of all sorts of quack remedies and are told that what is called this newfangled Socialism will be able to effect a cure. Socialism is always called new fangled; but is that quite a proper description of it? The Buckinghamshire farmers are putting a cheap bread on the market. In mediæval times the Courts of Assize determined the price of bread, and heavy penalties and punishments were inflicted on individuals, rings, or companies who attempted in any way to rob or defraud the people. We have an example, too, in our self-governing Dominions. Many of us have been to Canada, Australia and South Africa, and we know how agriculture is carried on there. Therefore, when I hear people talk of what is called this new-fangled Socialism there always comes to my mind a statement, a very remarkable statement, made by a young barrister, Anthony Hope Hawkins, about forty years ago when he was fighting the hopelessly Tory constituency of South Bucks. He is now known all over the world as Anthony Hope, but he is as good a speaker as he 966 is a writer and would have made a considerable name had he gone in for politics. When he was speaking at Wycombe to the chairmakers there on working men's questions he said—and I have never forgotten his words, which I have quoted frequently—that if it can be proved that there are living amongst us in any trades, men and women and children whose existence is so bad either in respect of housing or sweated prices, or in other matter, that life is not worth living, then where private enterprise and co-operation have failed the law ought to step in.
§ We are face to face with that position in East Anglia. It is a very serious position, and one which will have to be faced and tackled. I go further and say that if it can be proved, as I think it can, that in one part of England such conditions prevail that men and their wives and families have to work on the land for wages which do not guarantee a proper existence, then it is a question for the Government to settle. Where private ownership, private enterprise and co-operation have failed, then, to repeat Anthony Hope's memorable words, the law of England must step in.
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
My Lords, I have been deeply touched by the very kind reference of the noble Marquess, and by the kind way in which the House received that reference, to the little I tried to do in connection with the Norfolk agricultural dispute. Really, I did very little, if anything at all. I merely provided a central house where discussions could take place, in which I myself took practically no part whatever. I should like to disabuse the House of any idea that I have been the prime mover in the solution that has been reached. In any observations I make I must also be very careful not to lose in London such reputation as I have gained in Norfolk that I have been neutral in all that I have done, for any steps that I took in order to bring farmers and men together would have been useless if I had been in favour of one side or the other at any point in the negotiations.
The first of May is rather a delicate day on which to discuss Labour problems. As I came from the railway station to-day I saw placarded on several vans carrying groups of happy little children, the motto, "Justice, and not Charity," and it struck 967 me that we wanted both justice and charity; that is to say, justice and good will. But we want a further thing. We want accurate information derived upon the spot, and I often feel that those who live in towns are so far removed from the actualities of country life that they are almost incapable of forming a just opinion, backed up by good will and right information.
It is not necessary to speak at any length as to the supreme need of the success of our agricultural industry. We knew it during the war, and it was splendid to see the way in which all parties co-operated to help us in that time of very special need. I know it is said that in time of peace that is not, the case, but I cannot believe that upon a long view of the situation we can count upon being able to dispense with agriculture at home in time of peace. As foreign countries grow and develop, so will their populations and their manufactures grow in such a way as very likely to make it impossible for them to go on supplying us with the wheat which we are at present able to import from them. It may be, therefore, that not only in war time but also in time of peace we shall be driven to rely mote upon our own cultivation. Further, if our agricultural industry fail, I suppose it must mean a great growth in unemployment. At present it employs a very large proportion of the population of the country, and if farms are to be put down to grass and so managed that labourers are not required, I suppose the men will go into the towns and swell the unemployment there. Our agricultural industry is sometimes discussed by those who live in towns as if it were only one among many, one manufacture of something that might be more or less of a luxury, but any information on the subject is certainly incomplete if it does not recognise that our agricultural industry is vital to our life. We must eat to live, and our agriculture is bound up with the provision of our food.
I am not able to speak—and I do not wish for a moment to go beyond my province—of the whole of Norfolk. By a curious ecclesiastical arrangement some years ago a great many parishes in the west of Norfolk were taken away from the old diocese of Norwich and transferred to the little diocese of Ely, which was then reorganised. These Norfolk parishes were merged in the diocese of 968 Ely to make up a respectable number of parishes in that little diocese. That happened some ten years ago, and I must confine my observation to those parts—and they are far the greater part of Norfolk—with which I am familiar. Looking closely at the men's demands it appears to me that they want guaranteed work for those who turn up; they want work provided, not chopped up into hours, but a day's work for those who ask for it. Then, of course, they ask for a living wage; and when we think of their wage we have to think of the way in which they have been influenced by seeing the growth in the wages given to those who are employed under other bodies, such as railway porters, village stationmasters, and so on. All those facts have entered the mind of the agricultural labourer. As the noble Marquess has said, he has a hard day's work to do, and it is difficult for him to understand why he should receive less than a man on the line, who, perhaps, is doing a lighter day's work on a wayside station than he himself does in the fields.
I am sure the noble Marquess hit the nail on the head when he suggested that these men ask for leisure. In our towns there is always early closing once a week, and the agricultural labourer desires some of the leisure that is enjoyed by other workers, though, of course, it is not so easy for him to obtain it in the regular way of business, when his movements have to be to a large extent controlled by The beasts for which he is responsible. But this is a point upon which the agricultural labourer feels very strongly, and I am sure that it ought to be impressed upon those who live in our towns. Further, there is a wonderful love of the country among our agricultural labourers which I think those engaged in factories do not understand. Farmers and men—of course, I am speaking of the best farmers and the best men; there are awkward people in all positions of life—work side by side in their love of the country, and consequently there is a link that joins them together. That is by no means the case with those who work in factories, where all pass in at one door to work for a master who may live at some distance and may not even understand every detail of the work that is done and the machinery that is used in the factory. In Norfolk one cannot help wondering—and I suppose the same question may arise 969 elsewhere—how much good and how much harm is done by outsiders. Of course, the men need their union, as the noble Marquess has said, to voice their requirements and their needs, and yet as soon as a union goes to work it does appear to me to some extent to spoil that general loyalty to the country and that love of the land of which I have just spoken.
With regard to the settlement that was recently achieved in Norfolk, I should like to say one thing very emphatically. Your Lordships would be surprised to know how much good work was done by the Press. Over and over again the representatives of the London and local Press were in my house, and everyone should be thankful to them for the spirit in which they set to work to maintain good fellowship and good will. Now and then they made useful suggestions, and, far from attempting to inflame the minds of one side against the other, they were most eager and anxious that some agreement should be reached. I think they were really as much distressed as I was myself when, having one day arrived very near to an agreement at my house, we all had to break up and say that a shilling, or an hour, or something of that kind, was between us, and had created an impassable rift.
Agreement is, of course, a very much better thing than anything like imposed terms, but agreements in the country bring their difficulties with them, and I am sure this point is not easily apprehended by those who dwell in our towns. Town industries, as I have said, are much more concentrated and more closely organised, but in the country, when the area is a large one, as it is in Norfolk, it is difficult for the labourers, on the one hand, or the farmers, on the other hand, to join together and to hold closely by one another in regard to agreements. One aspect of that is that it is difficult for them to be as faithful to their unions as is possible in some of the towns. Where people live far away from the headquarters it is only natural, and I think one can scarcely condemn the human nature in it, if men and farmers are inclined to break a little aside from what was settled in some town, and go and work somewhat apart on their own. But there are other considerations which make it difficult for a fixed policy to be worked in a central way in the country.
970 Again, and I suppose this applies to the towns as well as to the country, it is most unfortunate, I think, that when an agreement is reached language is used that is not perfectly clear. What is hindering a complete agreement in Norfolk now is one word "victimisation." It starts with Latin, goes on with Greek, and, I suppose, ends in English, and it is a word which may be very differently interpreted. Some say that all the men should be taken back at once. But supposing the strike has taught a farmer some other method which requires fewer men? Or suppose the men should say: "All or none. If you will not take all back, then none of us will come"? You see how the use of a clumsy word like "victimisation" colours the whole situation, and leads to a kind of fresh bitterness, because people object to it more, and because a second quarrel over an agreement is worse than a first quarrel before an agreement is reached.
Do not suppose that in Norfolk everybody is quarrelling. That is not so, for what has struck me all through is the generous spirit men and masters. From the beginning they have recognised, in most cases, that they are fellow sufferers. If it were not for boring your Lordships I could tell you of cases of kindness on the part of the masters, and of loyalty on the part of the men, which make very good reading, and cause one to believe more and more in the goodness of human nature. They have differed professionally, if I may so call it, but as men there has been much sympathy between them.
Now an agreement was reached thanks to the Government's proposals, and I most earnestly hope that no question about "victimisation," or anything of that kind, will be exaggerated in London, in such a way as to put any hindrance in the way of the Government in carrying out the proposals they have already made. Something of the kind, I think, might be attempted, but I hope it will be given its right value when matters are being discussed in London. I know it is said—and here I am too ignorant to offer an opinion—that when relief is given in the form of rates, in the end, because the land will be let for higher rentals, the money will get somehow or other into the pockets of the landlord. I do not believe that that will be the case, but I hope 971 that, during the debate, it will be made quite plain to the country that the relief in rates goes to the farmer and enables him to do more for the men. I have seen much of the farmers during the last few weeks, and they have repeatedly said that half any relief which they get shall go straight to the men, for they need it.
I know it has been said that the farmers had a good time during the war, but they cannot pay their men out of happy memories, and I hope that noble Lords will inform me, and others, how a system of combination will lead to the kind of reformation which is required. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for pressing for the need of this domestic information on the subject, and for saying that there is need for sympathetic understanding of the situation. I do not believe it can be solved by exact rules. We need to widen our horizon, and not always to be the slaves of systems which may have worked well in times gone by. It is true that poor farming, as we know it in Norfolk, cannot support the four sets of people dependent upon the industry. Of course, it would be highly improper for me to interfere, or to make suggestions, where expert knowledge is needed, for personally, unlike a good many churchmen, I do not think that the Church should be, what its Divine Master refused to become, "a judge or divider" in financial disputes. What I press for is extended knowledge, and sympathy with the situation, and not a free and easy condemnation of those "stupid farmers" and those "ignorant labourers." That does not describe either party. They are good fellows at heart, and they mean to work together. I believe that a sense of fellowship counts enormously in settling any dispute. Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me for having spoken at this length, because I feel that on these benches I represent a Church which stands for fellowship and good will.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
My Lords, I think it would perhaps be convenient if, in the course of the short speech that I intend to make, I first dealt with a matter which has been disturbing not only the agricultural interests but others—namely, the late strike amongst agricultural labourers in the County of Norfolk. The noble Marquess who raised this question, and also the right rev. Prelate 972 who has just spoken, referred to this matter at some length, and it is only right that at the outset I should say a word or two upon it.
I should like at once to join with the noble Marquess in congratulating the right rev. Prelate on the part he played in that dispute. The right rev. Prelate, I think, tried rather to belittle his own efforts, but I am sure that all right-minded people consider that his highly praiseworthy action during the strike contributed much to bringing the parties together, and to arriving at an agreement. It is something, after all, that a common meeting place should be found, that a neutral should be there to look after the inward and outward comfort of both parties, and, if I may say so, to do his best to ensure that a feeling of friendship should permeate the atmosphere; and that both parties should feel that they were in the right rev. Prelate's house in order to try to reach a friendly agreement. I therefore feel certain that everybody must realise that the part which the right rev. Prelate took was a very important one, and must hope that on any future occasion when troubles arise, the disputants may have as good a neutral to whom to go in their hour of need. I am sure we were all much gratified when, about ten days ago, we read that the Norfolk strike had been settled.
The right rev. Prelate referred in his speech to the question of victimisation. I feel it my duty to say something on that subject, so that there should not be any misunderstanding, and so that noble Lords should not leave this House believing that everything is quite satisfactorily settled. Unfortunately, that is not the case. From the latest news that I have had, on by far the greater number of farms in Norfolk peace has been restored, and the men have gone back to work. But there are a few farms where this question of victimisation has been raised. Some farmers found it impossible to take back the whole of the men when the agreement was signed, as they had not work for them to do. I understand that it was distinctly placed in the forefront of the negotiations that, if this sentence about victimisation was placed in the agreement, it must be understood that the farmers could not promise to replace all the men, as they might not need them; that all that was referred to was that, where outsiders had been 973 brought in to do the work, they were not to stand in the way of those who had been originally employed, and that those who had been on strike would be reinstated in their own jobs, so far as there was work for them.
I think that was clearly laid down, but, unfortunately, on certain farms there has been a demand that all should go back or none. There are a few farms where this policy is still being adopted. From the latest reports the number of these farms is gradually getting less. I think that further negotiations on this question are to take place to-day, and I sincerely hope that the whole matter may be amicably adjusted. I thought it right to mention that, because the right rev. Prelate referred to it, and I agree with him that it is always rather disastrous when absolutely clear language it; not laid down in agreements of this kind. It is, however, a difficulty which, I think, can be got over, and I have no doubt that, by good will between the two parties a completely satisfactory solution will be arrived at.
Having stated so much, I hope I may be pardoned now if, in answer to the noble Marquess, who particularly asked what the Government intend to do for the agricultural labourer, I briefly recapitulate the intentions of His Majesty's Government as regards agriculture. I hope that, when I have stated those intentions, I shall be able to convince the noble Marquess that those measures—as is the hope and opinion of His Majesty's Government—will do something not only to help the farmer but also the agricultural labourer. I am sure we are all agreed that if agriculture is to prosper it is absolutely essential that landlords, farmers, and labourers should work together, so far as possible, for one common end,—namely, to make agriculture a flourishing industry. But I think that all classes engaged in agriculture have always felt that, in order to enable us to do that, we must have fair terms, and we should not be unduly handicapped.
The first proposal that I should like to deal with is the question of granting credit facilities. As your Lordships are aware, a Committee was appointed to inquire into this subject, and it presented a Report. I understand that that Report is being acted upon, that a Bill is in 974 course of preparation, and will be presented to Parliament at a very early date, which will give greater credit facilities—both long and short credits—to those farmers who require them. We can only hope that this may help out of their difficulties some of the farmers who are in need of capital, and especially those farmers who purchased their land at high prices during the last five or six years.
As your Lordships are aware, in addition to this Committee to inquire into credit facilities, there was also another Committee appointed, consisting of three economists, who were to investigate the methods which have been adopted in other countries to increase the prosperity of agriculture, and to report as to the methods which could be adopted in this country. There has been, I believe, a certain amount of criticism passed on this Committee because in their Report they did not make a very long and detailed examination of the state of affairs in foreign countries, or, at all events, did not set it before the public, but issued their Report making certain recommendations, which perhaps was only the second part of their duty, and did not deal with the conditions of agriculture and the remedial methods adopted in other countries. I am the last person—and I think agriculturists should be the last, persons—to blame them for doing that. They said—and quite rightly said—that agriculture at the present moment is certainly not in a flourishing state; that it needs some assistance, and that, if anything is to be done, it should be done quickly. I have every reason to believe that they have already very closely inquired into the state of affairs in other countries, and examined what legislation and other means they possess of dealing with agriculture, and that at a later stage they will issue a fuller Report on this matter.
In the meantime, they have, I think very wisely, issued this interim Report, so that it should be possible for the Government to consider their recommendations at as early a date as possible. I am pleased to say that His Majesty's Government have done that, and have been able to adopt a great many of the recommendations of that Tribunal. One of these recommendations was that there should be a large reduction in railway rates on agricultural produce. They 975 stated in their Report that if the railway companies were unwilling to reduce their rates the Government should give some guarantee. That was, perhaps, hardly a wise suggestion, because it was rather a temptation to the railway companies to keep up their rates if they thought the British taxpayer was ready to pay if they did not lower them. But, fortunately, largely through the efforts of agriculturists, including many Members of the House of Commons, and by means of a meeting with representatives of the railways, a very large reduction in the freights on agricultural produce has been obtained. I expect most noble Lords have read the details of the scheme. The reduction, I believe, comes to something like 16 per cent., and is to take effect to-day. I sincerely hope that this may be the means of enabling agriculturists to get their produce to the large markets at cheaper rates.
Secondly, the Tribunal proposed that the grants under the Agricultural Rates Act, 1896, should not be one half of the rate in 1895, as fixed by the Act of 1896, but should be an amount varying from year to year, and equal to one half the rates falling upon agricultural land in the preceding twelve months. The Government have not accepted the recommendation as it stands, but they intend, pending proposals for dealing with the whole rating question, to introduce a Bill during this Session to reduce the assessment on agricultural land from one-half to one-quarter, making good the difference by an Exchequer grant. The total amount for England and Wales which will be covered by the Exchequer grant for rates is about £2,750,000, which, together with the grant of £1,300,000 which is still being paid under the Agricultural Rates Act, will make a total grant of over £4,000,000 per annum. This, I think your Lordships will agree, will be a very substantial help to the farmer. In addition, the Government propose that the Road Fund surplus, amounting to about a million and a quarter pounds, should be devoted to the relief of the rates for the upkeep of rural roads. If those sums are added together it will be found that a total of £5,300,000, the greater part of which, almost the whole of it in fact—because the whole of the road grant will not go to the agricultural ratepayer—will now be 976 obtainable for the relief of occupiers of agricultural land. I think that will be a very valuable and substantial relief.
In the opening part of my remarks I stated that I have always taken the line, so far as agriculture is concerned, of asking for fairness of treatment. In regard to this question of local rates, we have always believed that the occupiers of land and, in certain cases, the owners of land, were placed in a most unfair position in regard to the contribution which they had to make, because practically the whole of the raw material of industry was subject to rates and, therefore, bore a heavier burden than many of those engaged in other occupations. We always felt that we were suffering under a severe handicap in that we had this large proportion of rates to pay. I believe this concession will be a step in the right direction, by reducing the cost of production. After all, if we are to compete satisfactorily in the world's markets it is by lessening the cost of production that we can do it, and we shall be helped very much if we are relieved of a heavy burden which many of us who are engaged in agriculture think that we are unfairly paying.
Before I pass from that subject, I should like to deal more specifically with the question of the noble Marquess as to what we are going to do for the labourer. The right rev. Prelate stated that it was already being said that this relief in rates would merely go in allowing the landlords to increase the rent. The noble Marquess will no doubt remember that exactly the same thing was said when that sum of £1,300,000 was obtained by Mr. Chaplin, now Viscount Chaplin, in 1896. A very large number of those who were associated with the noble Marquess in politics in those days, not only in the House of Commons but all over the constituencies, said that this was a very wrong action to take and a very bad policy to adopt, because the whole of the money would go into the pockets of the landowners. From all that is known of what happened afterwards I do not think there is a single bit of evidence to prove that one penny of that grant of £1,300,000 went into the pockets of the landowners. On the other hand—these things, of course, are absolutely impossible to prove as a matter of fact—there is very strong evidence which goes to show that a large 977 portion of even that slight relief in the rates went to help the agricultural labourer.
I can only give your Lordships my experience of my own part of the country, but in the years 1895 and 1896 the wages of agricultural labourers were 13s. 6d. for a week of, I think, fifty-two or fifty-four hours. As soon as the Agricultural Rates Bill was passed the wages of the agricultural labourers improved not rapidly but steadily, and, as we all know, just before the war instead of some figure between 13s. and 14s. a week being a very common wage for agricultural labourers, it had risen to something between 18s. and £1 a week. Unfortunately, there are no absolutely reliable figures that I can find to bear this out, but there are figures which support the arguments that I have used. I find that the first Inquiry by the Board of Trade concerning agricultural wages related particularly to 1898, but from the information then obtained it was estimated that the cash wages of ordinary agricultural labourers in England and Wales rose during the period 1895 to 1898 by 11½d. per head; they rose by a further 4d. in 1899, and a further 8½d. in 1900, making a total rise of about 2s. per head during the period 1895 to 1900. The Agricultural Rates Act was passed in 1896. All that evidence, though, of course, the figures were not kept so well and so accurately as they are at the present moment, goes to show that which I should think many noble Lords know from their experience of that period—namely, that after the passing of the Agricultural Rates Act there was a small but steady increase in the wages of agricultural labourers. I hope that this more substantial relief which His Majesty's Government are giving at the present time may have a like effect and that a large portion of the relief in rates will go to help the labourer to get a better wage than he has at the present time.
I do not like to leave this question without referring for one moment to a matter which has not been referred to in the course of this debate but was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, at the opening of the Session. He said, and I think quite rightly said, that what was perhaps one of the heaviest charges on agricultural land at the present moment and a check to good farming and to improvements 978 being carried out, was the heavy burden of Estate Duty. I rather agree with him. I hope that His Majesty's Government may be able still further to consider this point and make some reduction in that respect. The only point on which I feel doubtful is that I expect the same burden falls very heavily on other industries as well. That, if I may say so, only shows the danger of a capital levy. I suppose the Death Duties are the most convenient way, from the payer's point of view and the Exchequer point of view, of raising money by a capital levy. After all, if a capital levy is raised in the form of Estate Duties, it is only raised on a portion of the population. Consequently, everybody has not to find the money at the same time and, therefore capital is not so much affected as to cause a great depreciation. But, even raised in that form, there can be no doubt in my mind (and I thoroughly agree with the noble Lord) that such a capital levy does take a very large amount of capital out of the land, just as it does out of any other industry. A great portion of this capital used to go back in the form of improvements.
To pass now from the question of rates. The next point was the question of barley. The Agricultural Tribunal proposed that an Excise Duty of 10s. a quarter should be imposed on imported malting barley, to be collected at the brewery, distillery or malt house, with a preference of one-third on barley imported from the Dominions. The Government propose to accept this recommendation, and it was part of the arrangement concluded with the brewing industry before the introduction of the Budget that this duty should not involve any rise in the price of beer. A Bill giving effect to this recommendation will, I hope, be introduced in the course of this Session.
On that point I may be permitted to say that during the last year or two the barley-growing districts have suffered more than any other agricultural districts in England. I confess at once that I come from a barley-growing district and perhaps agriculturists from other districts may take a different view. I think that last year the potato growers suffered worse. The potato growers undoubtedly have had a very bad year indeed, but against that they have had some good years. For a large number of years potato growers were 979 making good profits. Though I am very sorry that they have a bad year owing to the enormous surplus of potatoes grown in this country, I do not think, on the whole, that they have suffered as the barley-growing districts have suffered. Moreover, the barley-growing districts stand in rather a different position, barley being practically the only crop they can grow except turnips. Farmers, therefore, have to depend on their barley. Oats and wheat do not grow well in barley-growing districts, and if you let the land down to grass it is twenty years before you can get anything approaching a moderate bit of down-land. Further, if you try to plant seeds they also fail. I think the proposals to give this 10s. a quarter duty on malting barley, which will not put up the price of beer, will give the English barleygrowers a preference in the market, and give some help in those districts of England where help is most needed.
The Tribunal also suggested that the Hop Control should be abolished, and that in its place a duty of 20s. per cwt. should be imposed on imported hops, with a preference of one-third in favour of hops brought from the Dominions. The Government do not propose to adopt this recommendation. A little time will be necessary to ascertain what will be the probable future consumption of beer. As your Lordships are aware, the present control will continue until 1925. The Government recognise the claim of the hop growers, so that before the expiration of the control the whole question will be dealt with. We had debates at an earlier period of the Session regarding this question, and no doubt before the Control comes to an end in 1925 His Majesty's Government will be able to inquire into this matter.
I come now to another important matter which also affects the labourers' wages, and that is the question of the wages boards. The Tribunal made certain proposals regarding these wages boards which the Government have been unable to adopt, but the Government have taken what I consider an important step. They propose that the findings of the conciliation committees—which, as your Lordships are aware, consist of an equal number of employers and employed, with a chairman added, if the parties like to have a chairman—should be registered. 980 Therefore, when an agreement has been arrived at between the two parties concerned people will have to conform to that agreement. The difference it will make will be this. If a farmer in the district is not paying the wage which has been agreed upon, the man can sue that farmer and recover the agreed wages. At the present time, unless these agreements are registered, any farmer who likes to do so can go outside the agreement, cut the wages, and not pay those which have been agreed upon. What has been done by the Government is an advance to meet the demand of the labourers, and in that respect I hope it will work satisfactorily.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
Yes, a man can recover the money in the courts if he has been paid a wage below the agreed minimum. In addition—I believe that this decision has only lately been come to—I understand that His Majesty's Government intend to give help to co-operation in the matter of milk depots, bacon factories and things of that description. With regard to the recommendation that State assistance should be given to co-operative milk depots, bacon factories, etc., I may say that the Trade Facilities Committee are prepared to consider applications, and that in suitable cases they will be ready to advance loans. That should be of some assistance where the required capital is not forthcoming to start on co-operative lines.
I hope, from the résumé, that I have given of the Government's intentions, that it will appear that something is being done that will relieve the situation. I know that a large number of agriculturists are perpetually demanding subsidies and Protection, but I believe those remedies are outside the sphere of practical politics. Even in my Parliamentary life I can recall the very modest proposal that was made by Viscount St. Aldwyn, when he was Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, to place a shilling Registration Duty on wheat. The immediate effect was that the Government could not win a single by-election, and I think the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer in the next year, or the year after, repealed that shilling Registration Duty. When I look 981 back on such facts as those I sometimes feel that those of my friends who press upon the Government to embark upon a policy of Protection really have not considered whether such a policy would be accepted by the great populations of this country.
The right rev. Prelate wished us to inform the town populations of the needs of agriculture, and of the state in which it is at this time, but I do not believe the populations of the towns would ever consent to any charge that would be likely to raise the price of bread. Without embarking on the somewhat dangerous proposals of either Protection or subsidy, His Majesty's Government have brought forward a programme which, though some people may say it contains only palliatives, will, I think, do something to put further heart into agriculturists, and I hope that with better seasons and with all classes in the industry pulling together, agriculture will be more successful than it is at the present time.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, when I came to this House to-night I never thought that my noble friend Lord Lincolnshire was going to touch upon the strike that has occurred in my county. I greatly regret that there has been any talk about that strike. I always remember the words of the old song, that it is folly to remember and wiser to forget. The strike has taken place. I hope that it is finished, and that it will leave no kind of ill-feeling behind. Then my noble friend Lord Ancaster came forward, and he seems to know what I know, that the dispute is not entirely settled. Perhaps I can explain to him why it is not settled. Every farmer does not belong to the Farmers' Union, and those farmers who do not belong to that union say: "We have nothing to do with them, and, therefore, we shall do what we like." It is a matter of great regret to me that every farmer does not belong to the union. I wish he did; and that every labourer belonged to the Labourers' Union. Then you would have an absolute settlement. So long as you have a number outside these bodies so long will you have some of them kicking against any decision. My own tenant did, and I told him that he was bound by it. He said he was not and that he was going to send in his name that night.
982 The right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Norwich apparently objects to the word "victimisation." I think it is an excellent word. It means that a man shall not be made a victim for having struck, and that any man who has employed a substitute is bound to give that substitute a week's notice and take back the man who had struck. There may be exceptions. If a man has been using extra labour and that extra labour has struck, then, no doubt, he is not bound to take back more men than he usually employs. I say without fear of contradiction that the difficulty did not arise from the labourers. I held a meeting on March 25 in my park, at which Mr. George Edwards, the late Member for South Norfolk, was present. He told that meeting that they had asked the Farmers' Union to have a truce for two or three months; that things should go on as they were, and that in the meantime a settlement should be effected. He said that they could not get an answer from the Farmers' Union until the Monday, and if they did not get an answer the men would have to come out. The answer of the Farmers' Union was that they would not have it at any price.
If they had accepted that offer the thing would have been settled in a fortnight; but the Farmers' Union hung on. And what for? I will tell you; I will let the cat out of the bag. They could have settled the trouble a long time ago, but conciliation committees in Norfolk are absolutely written off. I said so in your Lordships' House. I said that they would never work in my county unless by Act of Parliament. My noble friend wishes to have a wages board. I deplore the loss of the Central Wages Board. I believe in it. I believe in some minimum being fixed. The trouble began in the summer. In October wages were to be 25s. a week, and in a speech I made I publicly stated that I intended to be "boss" in my own show and should set my own minimum. I paid 30s. a week for an eight-hour day. In the winter time the labourer cannot work more than eight hours because there is not sufficient light. In the summer time they wanted an increase of wages or else an eight-hour day. It is indeed no victory for either side. The present arrangement is 50 hours and 25s. per week; but the labourers have what is the most important thing: they have a Saturday half-holiday. I have 983 given a Saturday half-holiday for some time, but it is not universal in Norfolk. I believe in an eight-hour day. I have adopted it ever since the railway men got it, and it has answered most satisfactorily.
I wish to congratulate the noble Earl who has spoken for the Government on his great declaration for Free Trade. That is the way to help the labourer. If you have Free Trade and never put a tax on food this country will go on and pay her way, and I hope the taxes on sugar and tea and all the commodities of life will be taken off. That is why people were able to live before the war, low as the wages were then. In 1850, the year Mr. George Edwards was born, his father had 9s. a week and brought up a family of four children. How it was done I do not know. Wages have always been low, and very low indeed in the county of Norfolk. I hope someone can answer the question why it is that in every other county labourers are paid higher wages than in Norfolk. And also why it is that, although a farmer in Norfolk tells you that he cannot pay a living wage, when there is a farm to let you are inundated with applications? I gave a tenant notice to quit last Michaelmas because of his atrocious farming. I shall have to pay him compensation, but he will be cheap at that, and I have had I do not know how many applications for the farm. I have let it with the greatest ease, certainly at a lower rent because times are hard, but I could have let it at the same figure if I had wished to do so. I hope the offer of the noble Earl will be accepted in good spirit. So far as I am concerned I think it a most generous offer. I am perfectly certain that the Party to which I belong are indeed grateful, and I hope the labourers will benefit in their wages when it becomes an accomplished fact.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just sat down has asked a question: Why is it that in some counties farmers are able to pay higher wages than in others? Surely it is because the particular product for which they are responsible is slightly more marketable than that of those areas where wages are low. He also asked a second question, which I confess I cannot answer: Why is there still a demand, or supposed to be a demand, by farmers, for a farm when it becomes vacant? That 984 is not the experience of those who live in the corn growing districts in the South of England. If a large corn growing farm falls vacant it is extremely difficult for the owner to get any applications at all under existing conditions. No doubt those connected with the East of England will be able to furnish an answer to the second question of the noble Earl.
I am sure all your Lordships, whatever may be your own personal interests or political sympathies, will feel deeply the lot of the agricultural labourer not only in the East of England but throughout the country, and you will feel no less sympathy with the lot of many or most of the farmers in this country under existing conditions. Nothing is more noticeable about this most unfortunate and deplorable strike in Norfolk than the fact that there was no real bitterness engendered as between employer and employed. I doubt whether there has ever been an industrial dispute in which there was less allegation of unfairness on the part of the wage receiver as against the wage payer. That was because both alike recognised and faced the fact that it was the economic condition of the industry, and not the attitude of the employer, which was mainly responsible for the critical condition in which the workers found themselves.
The noble Earl who speaks for the Government has adumbrated certain remedies, or so-called remedies, upon which the Government are prepared to embark. I most frankly welcome, as does the noble Earl opposite, any contribution towards the alleviation of our extreme agricultural difficulties at the present time. Whether these particular remedies can be fitted into a comprehensive national plan is quite another matter. I gravely doubt whether the wisest way to approach these agricultural problems is to deal with them in a piecemeal and patchwork fashion such as in times of crisis has become the policy of successive Governments in this country. But we take them for what they are worth, and we must, of course, be grateful for them.
As regards the credit scheme, I rather fancy that the farmers who have recently bought their farms at the top of the market will demand rather more generous terms under the Government guarantee than have been publicly announced up to the present, if they are 985 really going to find any great advantage in the Government credit scheme over such facilities as are at present afforded, and have for some time been afforded, by the banks. As regards the wages boards, I am not quite convinced that the mere giving of legislative force to the decisions of a conciliation committee or wages board will of itself be of any great benefit to the agricultural worker. We all know that in certain counties the conciliation committees have been very reluctant to work under present conditions, and I am rather inclined to think that the prospect of legislative enforcement following their decisions will operate to make them still more reluctant to come to an agreement which will be enforced against one party or the other.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
But the very fact that the Government are going—to use a popular phrase—to "butt in" in the administration of the industry when once, under certain conditions then prevailing, a settlement has been arrived at, will, I am inclined to think, prevent that settlement being so easily arrived at as under existing conditions.
The proposed duty upon malting barley is no doubt a suggestion of the Tribunal which has been agreed to by the Government in order to meet this crisis in the Eastern counties, but I must utter a small word of warning and tell your Lordships that I am not at all sure that the farmers in the West Country are going to accept with as much enthusiasm as those in the East this proposal in relation to malting barley, because it is almost impossible to convince them that if you do anything to enhance for the time being the price of one species of barley—namely, malting barley—you will not at the same time, as a direct economic result, enhance the price of grinding barley, which is of such immense value in the West of England, particularly for the feeding of stock. That, at any rate, is a criticism which will have to be faced, and no doubt the Government will meet it successfully when it is put forward.
One proposal which I think we can all acclaim with enthusiasm is that the agri- 986 cultural ratepayer is at last going to be relieved from the excessive burden which falls upon his shoulders at the present time. In this connection I sincerely hope that it is not going to defer unduly the date, which must sooner or later come, when the whole system of rating in this country is to be entirely overhauled and put upon a totally different basis from that upon which it rests at the present moment, and when all these services of a national character, to which numerous Royal Commissions and Departmental Committees have frequently referred, must be lifted from the shoulders of the ratepayers and ultimately placed as an even burden which all sections of the community must bear alike without putting an excessive and undue load upon-those who happen to occupy real property.
My real purpose in rising this afternoon was to ask whether the Government cannot take the difficulties of our premier industry a little more out of the field of political controversy and attempt to settle this great problem upon national lines. Our late Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, speaking at Manchester two days ago, referred to the reform of our land system as the first duty of Liberalism. I do not quite know what he meant by the reform of the land system, but I am quite sure that pronouncements such as that, without any explanation of what is intended, are apt to make our great foundation industry of agriculture more than ever a shuttlecock of the politician. Surely, the only way effectually to reform our land system is to give definite encouragement to agriculture and treat it with common fairness.
I see it stated in a good many journals, apropos of the Government proposals, that the townsman is to be asked to shoulder some of the financial burden in order to benefit the agriculturist. I would venture to suggest that in this country, alone amongst the countries of the civilised world, the agricultural community has shouldered for a long time burdens that the urban community ought, in fairness, to shoulder to a far greater extent than at the present time. Surely it is not by setting up wages boards, still less by the assisted emigration at a cost of £45,000,000 of the cream of our agricultural population—that is what our overseas Dominions want; they do not want the population of our towns—that the 987 salvation of agriculture is going to be obtained, but solely by bettering the economic conditions of the industry.
What is the present condition of the agricultural industry? Less food is being raised at home to-day, both bread-stuffs and meat, for the requirements of our population than was being raised before the war. In spite of that magnificent effort that was made by our farmers, in spite of the supposed new era, to which Lord Lincolnshire so often referred, upon which our rural community were to embark for the beautifying of the countryside and the betterment of life generally in country districts, the migration of that rural population is continuing at a greater rate than ever before, and we are raising less food from the soil of our country. A very remarkable Return was given in the House of Commons in February last, which shows that whereas in France 42 per cent. of the population is agricultural, in Germany 35 per cent., in Italy 58 per cent., and in Belgium 22 per cent., only 8'8 per cent. of our population consists of agriculturists of any grade.
I think your Lordships must agree with me when I suggest that the fact that, after the bitter and alarming experiences of the war, no more than 8 per cent. of our population is engaged in agriculture, implies a very precarious position for this country. I need hardly suggest to you also that so long as we raise only some 20 per cent. of the whole of our breadstuffs at home, and no more than about 55 per cent. or 60 per cent. of our meat, we shall probably be nearer to starvation when the next war comes than we were in the year 1917, and we were pretty near then, as most of your Lordships are aware.
I mention these points solely in order to urge upon the Government that these problems must be considered from a national standpoint, and not from the point of view of either the landowners, or the farmers, or the labourers; in other words, it is for the benefit of the nation that you must increase the agricultural population and your home-raised food output. I believe, in spite of the ignorance of the urban population, to which the right rev. Prelate referred, if the Government boldly went into the urban centres and proclaimed the dangers from 988 which the country suffers, because these conditions are still existent, you would find that the townsmen were prepared to do their part and shoulder the necessary burdens for the relief of our premier industry. I notice that members of the Government, when they make big speeches in urban centres, very rarely refer to the condition of agriculture and the importance to the country of the prosperity of agriculture. Might I venture to suggest that if all our cards were laid on the table, and the leaders of all Parties were invited to come to some general agreement as to what should be the foundation principles upon which, in future, our agriculture should be maintained, not for the benefit of any particular agriculturists but for the benefit and ultimate salvation of the nation, you would find, even in our towns, less ignorance on agricultural topics, and a far greater readiness to do their part, whether by taxation or otherwise, to render our agriculture more vigorous, and our agricultural labourers a more contented community than they are at present?
§ Loan HASTINGS
My Lords, this debate hinges on the Norfolk strike. As I happen to be a farmer on a large scale, and my home is very centrally situated in the area which until recently was the strike area—though I am happy to say that it left all my own employees unaffected—perhaps I may be permitted to intervene for a few moments in the debate. Lord Lincolnshire, after giving an interesting résumé of what has been done for the farmer, asked, very pointedly, what was going to be done for the agricultural labourer, and he laid stress upon the promise made to the agricultural labourer of a rate of wage very much higher than that which he receives to-day. I think it would be well to realise, now, that the condition of the labourer in Norfolk is not so lamentable as it pleases some persons to point out. Do not let it be supposed that I think a wage of 25s. or 26s. a week is an adequate wage to pay highly skilled labourers, as are the agricultural labourers in Norfolk, but, in comparison with the wage paid before the war, and in comparison with the cost of living before the war, you will find that the position is very similar to that which existed eight or nine years ago. In fact, the agricultural labourer is 989 no nearer a starvation wage now than he was then, and it would surprise most townsmen, unacquainted with agriculture, to see how well the agricultural labourer and his wife and family manage to do upon the wage now being paid to them. Of course, it is a very great credit to their powers of management that it should be so.
It has been asked how it is that farmers are still clamouring for farms, when they continually cry that it is impossible to pay a higher wage to their labourers. Your Lordships will remember that there were very good times for farming three, or four, or five years ago, and there were a number of farmers whose business sense outweighed the sentiment which prevailed with the majority. Those farmers seized the psychological moment for getting out of business. They withdrew their capital, which had increased two or three times, and invested the money at twice the rate of interest which they obtained a few years before. Those farmers now believe that agriculture has reached bedrock. They have much larger resources. Hope springs eternal in the farmer's breast, and he believes that now is the time to come in. He gets in cheap, and he hopes for the best. Whether the demand is likely to continue I am not able to say, but the demand is reacting to the disadvantage of the sitting farmers, because it makes it difficult for them to move from place to place, and it leaves them open to the charge of not speaking the truth when they say they cannot "do" on their farms, when everybody knows that there is a great demand for farms.
The various measures of relief which are being proposed by His Majesty's Government, and which I should very much like to see materialise, will, one may reasonably hope, act largely, and as time goes on more largely, to the adyantage of farmers as a whole, but, of course, you cannot expect that the serious condition into which agriculture, certainly in East Anglia, has fallen, is going to be ameliorated immediately by the passage of these measures of relief. Whether the conditions which prevail now will continue to prevail must be subject partly to that which none of us can control—namely, the weather—and partly to world prices. I do not think the Government, to-day, can do more than remove from agriculture 990 unfair burdens, such as we know press upon it, but I believe that this, and other and much larger questions, with which we can hardly deal, are going to spell prosperity or disaster for agriculture in the future, and agriculture, in common with other industries, has got, of course, to see it through.
This matter of the relief of rates, which, of course, is of vital importance, although it is only being dealt with in a rather piecemeal fashion—and in company with Lord Bledisloc and others I should like to sec it dealt with on a more solid basis—is going to be of benefit to the one class which Lord Lincolnshire wished to see helped—namely, the agricultural labourer. So far as we are able to work out the figures it will mean that the ordinary arable farmer in East Anglia will be enabled to add 1s. per week to the wage of the standard number of men he employs. I would not like it to go forth that he will pay 1s. per week more, but it will prevent the wage from falling 1s. per week, and I have not the slightest doubt that 90 per cent. of this rate-relief will find its way into the pockets of the agricultural labourers. As to the suggestion that it will go into the pockets of the landowners, I cannot imagine how anybody can dream of that, although I might well, as a landowner, ask why the landowner should not have some benefit from this relief in rates. After all, the State has taken enough from him and it would not be any particular hardship to anybody if he were allowed to get a little of it back. But in this particular case I think there is no question whatever that by far the largest proportion of the relief will go to the poorest class engaged in the industry, the agricultural labourer.
The Parliamentary Secretary was kind enough to remind your Lordships of a speech I made in this House, in which I ventured to say that if relief was ever to be given to the property-owning class the proper way to give that relief was by looking into the Succession and Estate Duties. It is those Duties which have really brought the agricultural landowner almost to the dust, and which have disabled him from providing that capital which is the very breath of life to agriculture. That is the thing which has to be tackled some day or other. But these minor reliefs are not going to help the landowner much, if at all.
991 The noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, forecasts a Bill to deal with credit facilities. I have doubts whether your Lordships will be able to deal with that Bill at any stage, but, at any rate, it will be waste of time now to discuss it inasmuch as none of us has seen it in print. As for other matters, relief in railway rates is undoubtedly a very important concession, but it does not go far enough. We are immensely grateful to those active Members of another place who have enabled agriculture to benefit so immediately from those concessions, but we hope that they will go further and enable us to move our produce at cheaper rates even than now. As to the barley tax, of course I have heard rumours of these things before, but my noble friend Lord Bledisloe rather terrified me, as an East Anglian, when he suggested that opposition to the barley tax will not be confined to the urban population, but may even come from the West Country. I trust that that will not be so, and that he will think better of these terrifying threats at a later stage.
I fancy that these agricultural problems with which we now have to deal will become more soluble as the result of the ventilation which agricultural subjects have been given in the public Press in recent months. I am hoping that, as a consequence of these unfortunate occurrences, the interest of the great bulk of our population will have been to some extent aroused. I trust, too, that in future legislation Governments will not insist upon endeavouring to drag rural communities hand in hand with industry, treating them as if they were one, when they are absolutely separate. Agriculture cannot bear, it never could and it never will be able to bear, the burdens which a prosperous industry in the urban sense is able to bear; but if, in the future, agriculture is left to compete as best it may with the weather and with prices, and is not harassed by restrictions, by over-taxation, by burdensome treatment of every kind, imposed, as it has been, by the Government of the day, I have hope for agriculture. If, on the other hand, we are to carry on in the future as we have been compelled to do during the last ten or twelve years at least, then my hopes for agriculture will wane, and, for myself, I shall take speedy steps to remove myself to some more profitable sphere.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I think the thanks of your Lordships' House are due to the noble Marquess who initiated this discussion. We had from him—and no one is better qualified to give it than he is—an interesting exposition on the subject, dealing specially with the position of the agricultural labourer. Your Lordships have also had a series of other speeches, all of them of special interest. The noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, spoke as one who has taken a leading part in connection with the strike in Norfolk, and we have had a speech from one who is an acknowledged expert on all matters connected with agriculture, Lord Bledisloe. The noble Lord who has just sat down spoke with special knowledge of the problem as it exists in East Anglia. And we had, above all, a most interesting speech from the right rev. Prelate who played so honourable a part in trying to bring about an earlier cessation of the dispute in Norfolk. What I thought was specially interesting in the illuminating speech he made was the clear indication that it is only within the last few years that his mind has really been turned to the practical problems of agriculture. We had in his case the highly cultivated intelligenoe, trained upon other subjects, directed now towards a subject which has only attracted his interest in comparatively recent years. The conclusions to which he came have for that reason a special value.
It is difficult on an occasion like this, and in your Lordships' House, to speak upon the details of such a dispute as that. We cannot really deal with the question whether there should be a shilling more or a shilling less in wages, an hour more or an hour less work in a week; we can only deal with the principles underlying these matters. But though we cannot easily discuss details, we are generally agreed upon the principles which ought to be applied to the agricultural industry. We all desire that the agricultural labourer should have a living wage, and that he should have a larger amount of leisure than that which he used to enjoy in the later years of the last century. The advent of the Saturday half-holiday is a most admirable feature in our country life, and I am not at all surprised that, in the course of the discussions that have taken 993 place in the conciliation committees with the representatives of the men, they really attached more importance to the hours which should be worked than to the shilling more or less that should be paid in wages. I was specially glad that the noble Earl who represents the Ministry of Agriculture should lay emphasis, as he did, upon the fact that the agricultural labourer is a skilled worker, because if he is to be a good agricultural labourer he must be highly skilled.
I confess I was unable to share altogether the optimism of the noble Lord who spoke last in regard to the relative position of the agricultural labourer, as he is to-day and as he was before the war. I cannot feel so sure as he was that his position is so good to-day as it was before the war. My own impression is that he is worse off. When you take into consideration the expenses, the higher prices which he has to pay for so many goods which he wants, and in many cases the increased rent which he has to pay, it is impossible, on the whole, to say that the agricultural labourer in this country is even as well paid as he was in the days before the war when some of us thought he was inadequately paid.
I listened, and I am sure all y our Lordships listened, with special interest to the speech of the noble Earl who represents the Ministry of Agriculture in this House, but I confess that, from the point of view from which the noble Marquess who introduced this discussion put his question, I felt a good deal of disappointment at the reply which he gave. The noble Marquess specially raised the question from the point of view of the agricultural labourer. I have here a list of the various improvements and alterations which the Government, according to the noble Earl, are prepared to introduce in order to benefit agriculture. While I would not deny for a moment that indirectly the agricultural labourer may indeed gain some advantage, it seems to me that, generally speaking, it will be in a very indirect manner indeed that he may expect to gain very largely.
In the first place there is to be an increase in the credit facilities to farmers, and, in the second place, there is the reduction in the railway rates on agricultural produce. I confess that that is a matter upon which there is some confusion in my mind, and I wonder very much 994 whether it would be possible for the noble Earl to ask the Ministry of Agriculture to lay upon the table of this House Papers showing exactly the amount of reduction which has been made and in respect of what classes of goods it has been made. My own impression is that it is not so much upon agricultural produce that these reductions have been made as upon other things which are concerned in agriculture as, for instance, agricultural machinery. It may be (and I think it is the case) that there has been a reduction in regard to feeding stuffs, but I certainly think that what would be a far greater advantage to the agricultural interest in this country would be a reduction in the railway rates in the carriage of milk to the greater cities of England.
I suppose there is some Paper available which contains those facts, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, if he replies, will be able to tell me, perhaps, in which Parliamentary Paper I may find an exact catalogue of the articles of agricultural produce upon which a reduction has been made. I think I am right in saying that in the rate for milk there has been no reduction; so that for farmers who depend very largely upon the production of milk there has been no advantage, and that is so with regard to a good many other agricultural producers, it seems to me. I heard it said by a farmer the other day that, while nothing he produces got the advantage of a reduced railway rate, he found there was a reduction in the railway rates on steam engines and agricultural machinery which he did not require because he had all that he wanted. Therefore, though this reduction in railway rates is urgently demanded by the agricultural interest, I feel sure that there has not yet been realised that full reduction which it is hoped eventually to get with the assistance of His Majesty's Government.
I welcome, of course, the reduction in rating and in assessment of which the noble Earl told us. I welcome also the fact that many rural roads will be taken off the county rate and that assistance will be given from the Exchequer. I listened with much interest to the figures given by the noble. Earl in regard to the way in which, in the course of the later years of the last century, while relief was given to agricultural rates, there was at the same time an increase in the average 995 rate of wages for the agricultural labourer. I confess that I was not convinced, though it may be my own fault, that there was any real connection between the two sets of figures, and I should have been glad had the noble Earl been able to supply some connecting link between them. I have every confidence in the figures which he gave us, but I am not yet prepared to say that the one is the consequence of the other. Nor do I feel perfectly certain that the result of any further reduction in the assessment will necessarily find its way into the pocket of the agricultural labourer, as was hoped by the noble Lord who last spoke. Indeed, if agriculture is in so parlous a condition, and the tenant farmer is so badly off as we are led to believe, I cannot help feeling that he will find very little at his disposal which he will be able to transfer to any other quarter.
Then there was the 10s. a quarter on malting barley, again a somewhat indirect advantage to the agricultural labourer. There were the milk depots and the bacon factories which, I think, may safely be placed in the same category of very indirect assistance. There was a further statement which I was delighted to hear from the noble Earl but which, I am sorry to say, I was not able entirely to follow, with regard to the registration of agreements on wages, and their enforcement upon the farmer, who was to be made to pay, as I understood, the rate of wages which was agreed upon, and the power which was given to the agricultural labourer to recover any amount in respect of which his wages fell short of the agreed amount. So far as I understood it, and it was my own fault if I did not understand it perfectly, it seemed to me to be an admirable provision; but I was not sure whether it would be necessary to introduce further legislation upon that matter. If it is, I can assure the noble Earl that he will get every assistance from this side of the House which he can possibly require.
I was glad to hear the noble Earl throw aside as an impossible method of assistance any way of protecting the agricultural industry. He was evidently of opinion that nothing should be done by way of Protection in order to assist agriculture, and to-morrow, I suppose, we shall, if only indirectly, return to the same 996 question. I confess that there is one matter on which I did not find a complete answer to the question which was asked. The question was this: How is it possible to pay higher wages in some parts of the country while it is not possible to pay them in other parts of the country? The answer suggested by the noble Lord who sits behind the Front Bench opposite, was that it was because the agricultural produce in one county was different from the agricultural produce in another. So far as that goes, I think it is a very good answer indeed, but it does not, surely, entirely answer the question, when both in East Anglia and in, say, Northumberland or Scotland, they are producing the same article. Therefore it is that I cannot help feeling that we need to investigate still further that really interesting but rather complicated problem.
It is a matter of common knowledge to your Lordships that agriculture in many parts of England is able to pay higher wages than it does in other parts of the country. I would even venture to say that it is not unlikley that where higher wages are paid to the agricultural labourer the farmer himself probably gets higher profits also. Agriculture is probably more prosperous where higher wages are paid. If that is so, and I think as a general proposition it is not wholly untrue, then I think that we still await sonic enlightenment on the subject. We might very well hope that as the result of further investigation we might be able to do something more for the agricultural labourer than has been suggested by His Majesty's Government in the discussion which has taken place this evening. The impression which, unfortunately, remains on my mind is that, except indirectly, His Majesty's Government does not propose to do very much for the agricultural labourer, and that the assistance which they propose to give, excellent as it is, no doubt, in the directions which they propose, will take some time at any rate before it filters down to the less fortunate agricultural labourer.
§ VISCOUNT LONG OF WRAXALL
My Lords, I do not know whether my noble friend will allow me to intervene for a very few moments before he replies. I did not intend to do so, but my interest 997 has been aroused by the tendency which obviously governs noble Lords opposite. I venture, with great respect to the noble Marquess who initiated the debate, and the noble Earl who has just sat down, to suggest that the last thing that is really in the interest of agriculture is to dwell upon the necessity for aiding one of the three classes concerned in it. Agriculture, as many of the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate have pointed out, is in quite a different position and is quite a different industry from any other in this country. But it is like all other industries in this, that only by aiding it as a whole will you benefit those concerned in it, whether employers or employed. I submit with great confidence that the Government are pursuing a right course in the present difficulty by aiding the industry as a whole, and not proceeding with a view of assisting one particular section of those engaged in it.
What is the alternative policy to that of the Government which is suggested in the speeches delivered from the Front Bench opposite. The noble Marquess, in concluding his speech, made a suggestion which I confess I am surprised has not received some further comment in this debate. It is through my own stupidity, no doubt, but I do not quite know what he meant by his concluding reference to some remarkable words used by Mr. Anthony Hope forty years ago. Apparently, he considered that if the present system of agriculture is not successful in doing all that is required for the labourer somebody else should take the place of the existing employers. He said the law. I presume he meant the State. All I can say is that. I think he will find that the labourers will be the last people in the world to thank anybody for suggesting that their existing employers should be displaced, and in their place the State should be put. I do not think that is going to help them very much.
What is the other alternative? A wages board. The noble Marquess wept bitter tears over the fact that the Central Wages Board had disappeared, and I think he also regretted the fact that His Majesty's Government did not propose to adopt the suggestion which has been made, and have four different wages boards. I have no personal objection, on political or other 998 grounds, to wages boards if they are going to produce harmonious relations between those employed on the soil and those who employ them, and if they are going to tend to an improvement in the position of the agricultural labourer, but I entreat your Lordships, and those who advocate this policy as the panacea of the labourer's woes, to look at this from a practical point of view. Noble Lords opposite—no doubt, it is very desirable and very laudable on their part—appear always to be advocating the agricultural labourer's case. It may be only a coincidence, but it is a fact that the agricultural labourers happen to be the most numerous class. There are more heads of labourers than there are of farmers or squires, but I dare say that has nothing to do with the strong desires of noble Lords opposite that the labourer should be given special advantages.
What do we all know as practical men? Are noble Lords opposite advocating philanthropy, or are they advocating good government in the way of putting agriculture on a sound foundation? If philanthropy, well and good. I am sure they will give a lead themselves. But is it going to benefit the agricultural labourer if you set tip a wages board Wages boards presumably—I assume this is the consequence which noble Lords opposite desire—will decide that a higher rate of wages shall be paid than the employers in the neighbourhood feel they are able to pay. What follows? You have done no good. The man who is ready to employ twelve labourers will reduce the number to eight, because unless you increase the amount that he gets from the industry in which he is engaged at the same time as you raise the wages he must reduce the labour he employs for the production on his farm. It is a matter of common sense. If philanthropy is to be introduced that is another thing altogether, but that is not a matter for the Government or for your Lordships' House.
I was discussing this question the other day with a farmer whom I have known all my life, and who is about my own age. He occupies a mixed farm, and is an extremely good farmer. Although he has suffered, as others have, from the present depression he is a man who is quite contented, and who has enjoyed a fair measure of prosperity. I see it was 999 stated in a speech on Saturday that the difficulty is to be overcome by increasing the productivity of the land. I think Sir Rider Haggard disposed of that in his letter in The Times to-day. But this tenant farmer said to me: "What nonsense it is to talk about rent in connection with the present difficulties." I think he said his farm was between 300 and 400 acres and that he pays very little over £1 per acre for it. His rent, I believe, is about £425 or £450. He went on to say: "My wages bill the year before last for this farm was £1,350, and last year it was £1,100."
Let us look at these facts as they are. If your wages bill is three or four times larger than your rent what good on earth are you to do by talking about security of tenure, or dealing with the profits, as they are called, which the landowner gets? At this moment the men who are suffering most are those who have bought their farms and are their own landlords. It is idle to say that either rent or security has anything to do with the difficulties, because the men who suffer most are those who are absolutely secure, being owners and having no rent to pay, unless it be for money that they have borrowed. One reason of my intervention in this debate is that I deprecate the suggestion that the State should be called in to manage or farm the land of this country, for that appeared to be the only alternative, other than wages boards, of the noble Marquess who introduced this subject this afternoon. I also deprecate the suggestion of the noble Earl that the Government are at fault because they are not doing something directly to put money into the pockets of the labourer. I submit that the Government are doing what is right in the interests of the industry in giving their aid to the industry as a whole.
I hope that this relief to rates will be followed by a root and branch examination of the whole question. To-day, we are doing exactly what we have been doing for the last sixty years. We are trying to find that most elusive thing, personalty—personalty which escapes its share of taxation I believe every year by a clause put into the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. Personalty was made liable for taxation as it now exists in the days of Queen Elizabeth, and it has escaped because it is so elusive. There 1000 is only one way of finding it, and that is the way the Government have adopted of taking money out of the Imperial Exchequer and removing some of the burden from those who pay too much. The farmer pays a most scandalously unjust proportion of the rates in his county and of Imperial Taxes as compared with personalty. There is a double injustice to the farmer because the realty upon which he pays is really his capital—his stock-in-trade by means of which he conducts his business.
Further than that there is a great fact which was brought out in that very important Commission presided over by the late Lord Balfour of Burleigh—an Inquiry which he conducted with marked ability for which we owe him great gratitude. In the Report of that Commission it was pointed out that not only was there fundamental injustice in the incidence of the tax, but above and beyond that there was the fact that the tenant farmer receives as a rule only the most indirect benefit from the money which he has to pay in rates. Let any noble Lord ask from his own personal experience what are the benefits that the tenant farmer derives from water supplies or drainage or sanitary systems or things of that kind. They do not touch him, yet in very many cases, unless a special area is created farmers have to make their contributions to those things.
I hope the Government will not rest content with this Grant in aid, valuable though it is—I think it will give enormous help to the occupier—but that they will pursue this question still further in the light of the Report of Lord Balfour's Commission, which probably gave us more help in finding a solution for this long standing injustice than any other Inquiry that has been held. I apologise to my noble friend below me for having ventured to intervene for the reasons I have stated. I would only add, as one who comes from the South-West Country, that I thank the Government warmly not only for the considerable Grants in aid, which will be of immense value, but also for approaching this question not in what. I regard as a dangerous spirit of aiding one particular class but from the point of view of the industry as a whole. I am satisfied that if you put money into the pockets of the tenant farmer you have no need to incite him to do his best. 1001 Really he is just as favourably inclined to the labourer as anyone in your Lordships' House, and I am satisfied that the way to help the labourer is to help the industry, whether it be through the owner or the occupier.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I am grateful to the Government for promising this relief on local rates. It will be a great help to the farmers and small holders in that part of the country from which I come—namely, Wales—where the rates are much higher in proportion to the cost of running the farms than they are on the large arable farms in England. In 1921 the rates in Wales became higher than in most places. There were many areas where they rose to between 20s. and 30s. in the £. Most of these areas certainly were urban, but these urban areas contained a good deal of agricultural land. I am glad to say that they are falling now, but they are still very high in many places. I am also grateful to the Government for the £1,250,000 given to maintain the upkeep of rural roads. I rather regret that the Investigation Tribunal did not hold out more hope, or snake a suggestion, that the importation of flour should be prohibited. I should like wheat to come here in the form of wheat. It would be a great help to the milling industry, and also to the feeders of cattle and pigs as it would give them all the offals they require. As a natural corollary of that I should like the exportation of offals to be forbidden.
We have received, from the agricultural point of view, certain relief. The assessment on Schedule B has been reduced; there is no Excise duty levied on sugar produced in this country, and the maintenance allowance under Schedule A has been extended. This latter one gives a slight help to landowners to spend a little more money on the maintenance of their property. Now we are promised an increase of credit facilities, a reduction of railway rates, a reduction of local rates, a grant for rural roads, and, I hope, the marking of imported agricultural produce. I am not altogether satisfied. In fact, like Oliver Twist, I should like to have another helping. I hope that His Majesty's Government will reconsider their decision as regards, granting a general licence for the importation of potatoes which was 1002 recommended by the Tribunal. It certainly seems hard on farmers and allotment holders to grow potatoes and then find that they are practically unsaleable owing to the great dumping here of excess crops in some other country. Agriculture is unlike any other industry. It cannot close down temporarily. It must go on and be run even at a loss. Once the land goes out of cultivation it can only be got back at a prohibitive cost. We all regret the drop in the wages of the agricultural labourer. The farmer wants to pay his men the best wages he can. The outlook is not so very bright, but I believe there is still a chance for agriculture and that it may yet afford a living to many a man and woman. At the same time I do not think there will be any great fortunes to be made in it.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, the Government have no reason whatever to complain of the reception which their agricultural policy has received to-night. We were, of course, prepared to receive the kindly words of the noble Viscount, Lord Long of Wraxall, who speaks with great authority, and the other agricultural authorities who sit behind us. There has been very little criticism from that quarter. The noble Lord who has just spoken mentioned one or two points. He regretted that there was no promise of legislation dealing with offals. It is exceedingly difficult to carry out such legislation. The authorities at the ports tell us that it is very difficult to identify offal absolutely and distinctly from the coarser forms of meal, and that is a great administrative difficulty in the way. As regards the licence for potatoes it is perfectly true, as I know to my own cost, that potato growers had a very bad time last year and that there was a sudden import of foreign potatoes which had a very disadvantageous effect upon prices. But the fundamental reason why potatoes were so unprofitable was that there was an enormous harvest of potatoes in this country, a great increase in the supply, and at the same time a falling off in the demand. The two things produced a slump in the price, of which all have been the victims.
The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, criticised our proposals a little. He thought the assistance we were giving to 1003 agriculture was too indirect, that the relief on railway rates was not sufficiently developed and not sufficiently extended to all agricultural commodities. These are very mild strokes from the noble Earl. We did not wince under them at all. The noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, made a very fair and excellent speech in opening the debate, but he said nothing very severe about our policy. His speech was really confined to a regret that we were not giving an absolute promise of a compulsory wages board. Does he really think that a compulsory wages board is going to increase the prosperity of agriculture? Wages hoards do not produce wealth; they do produce friction, and that is not quite the same thing. On the whole, His Majesty's Government are perfectly satisfied that so far from improving the condition of agriculture the establishment of wages boards would only make It worse.
I turn for a moment to the most interesting speech of the Lord Bishop of Norwich. I feel that he has earned, as many of your Lordships have said, the gratitude of the community by the action he took in Norfolk. The spirit in which he addressed your Lordships was well worthy not only of your Lordships' House but of the particular Bench from which he speaks. The most gratifying account he gave of the absence of bitterness from the strike warmed all our hearts. If all industrial struggles could be carried on in that spirit how much better it would be. I could not help being pursuaded that the mildness and good feeling shown during that strike was in all probability largely due to his own action.
What alternative do we produce to a compulsory wages board? We produce the policy which has been set out at length, and which I am not going to repeat, by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture. Was that, ineffective? Even in Norfolk it was effective. I do not know whether your Lordships heard a, phrase which fell from the right rev. Prelate. He stated that it was the announcement of the policy of His Majesty's Government which was the final reason for the healing of the dispute. Is that a light achievement? Does it, not convince your Lordships of the confidence with which this policy is 1004 regarded—not merely, be it remarked, by the farmers, but by the labourers also—that the mere announcement of it has tended, along with the other efforts which were being made, to the restoration of peace?
I do not say for a moment that we have been able to come up to the full demands of some of my noble friends. My noble friend who has just sat down announced himself to be an Oliver Twist in these matters, and Lord Bledisloe, whom I do not see in his place at the moment, also showed that his hunger was not absolutely assuaged. But I am not altogether sorry that we have fallen short of these extreme demands. In agriculture, as in most other things, what is required is a policy of moderation. Anything like an extreme policy would hold out hopes which cannot really be gratified, and would also have the effect of alarming susceptibilities in other parts of our population which in the end would re-act upon agriculture and would do it no good. But I do not regret that kind of criticism. After all, a present this year of £6,000,000—that is what it means—to the agricultural industry is not a small matter. It is a very substantial benefit indeed, and on the whole my noble friends showed themselves duly grateful.
Something was said about the proposed tax upon malting barley. I confess that I had expected that it would receive the stern reprobation of the great apostles of Cobdenism who sit opposite me. But no; they were not prepared, in the present condition of agriculture in the Eastern counties, to condemn this proposal. I have been very much encouraged by that reticence on their part, and I am now inclined to the opinion that this proposed tax will be received with almost unanimous approval by all sections of political opinion. It is not, of course, designed as a remedy for agriculture as a whole. It is designed to help the Eastern counties especially, and not only the Eastern counties, but those parts of England which are adaptable for growing this kind of barley. This is not unnatural, for it is in the Eastern counties that this heavy blow has chiefly fallen; and that we, in the great emergencies with which the unfortunate agriculturists of those counties are met, should come forward with a special 1005 remedy for them, is, I think, to be defended on every ground of common sense.
I do not want to paint too gloomy a picture of agriculture. I think that would be a mistake. Taking agriculture over the country as a whole, I do not say that it is exceedingly flourishing, but in all those counties where the farmers expect to get their profit, not from corn but from meat, they have not done very badly. The grass counties, if they have not made a fortune in this last year, cannot make any great demand upon our pity. They have not done badly. If, by the assistance of this duty on malting barley, we can help these special counties which have been particularly hard hit, and if, by the general reduction of rates and the other benefits to the extent of £6,000,000, which my noble friend has explained to your Lordships, we can help agriculture as a whole, I think we may claim to have achieved a thoroughly workable and laudable agricultural policy.
It is true that we are not going to propose compulsory wages boards. The noble Earl opposite asked me a question as to the proposal which we are making, and, if he will allow me, I may, perhaps, say a word or two upon that point. The proposal is that whore, in the existing voluntary bodies, farmers by their majority agree upon a particular minimum rate of wages, which the labourers have also voted by their majority, then the rate is fixed so as to be compulsory upon the minorities in either case; so that the farmers, acting as a body, act together, and the labourers, acting as a body, act together; and when they agree, then it shall be compulsory. That is the proposal. It is not a compulsory wages board in the sense in which that term is generally used, but there is that element of compulsion. The object, of course, is to prevent those crotchety persons—perhaps crotchety, perhaps deserving of a worse epithet—who will stand out from the others and try to get an advantage over them. That is the object, and I think compulsion to that extent may be defended and will do nothing but good.
Further than that His Majesty's Government are not prepared to go. What we hope, what we long for, is that by these measures some little help may be given to agriculture; that in the pro- 1006 vidence of God, with good seasons and better prices, we may pass through these bad days; and that the general prosperity which will result for that great industry may help, not the squires, not the farmers only, but all classes who are interested in the land
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My Lords, I should not otherwise have ventured to say a word in conclusion, but I ask your Lordships' indulgence in making a very few remarks on account of something that fell from the noble Marquess the Deputy Leader of the House on the question of wages boards. I hope he will not think that I am a very crotchety individual, but I am entirely in favour of wages boards. I will tell your Lordships why. I do not for one moment say that wages boards will bring wealth; far from it. What I do say is that under present conditions we ought to have wages hoards, so as to prevent this terrible and grinding poverty which exists amongst some of the working agricultural labourers in certain parts of England.
After all, the Government are flirting with wages hoards. What did the noble Marquess himself say? He told us that we are going to have conciliation boards, and if this happens and if that happens, if this man agrees and the other man agrees, then, and then only, will the decision become law. It is really flirting with the whole question. If you are going cherry-biting you had much better swallow the cherry at once. If you are in favour, as you say you are in favour, of wages boards, do not skate round the subject. Do not say that you are in favour of the idea, and yet get away from the reality. I am told that. Mr. Noel Buxton is going to bring in a Bill in another place on the subject of wages boards, and I hope with all my heart that every member of the Party to which I belong will back him up in that endeavour to help the agricultural labourer in the terrible difficulties in which he finds himself at the present moment.