THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, when this Motion was last under discussion the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, did me the honour to come over and ask me to move the adjournment of the debate. I am perfectly aware that I can deal only with the subjects of Lord Parmoor's speech, because I have a very wholesome dread of being called to order if I go beyond those subjects. Accordingly I shall keep to what the noble and learned Lord said and not transgress beyond the matters with which he dealt. The noble and learned Lord informed us that he has farmed for fifty years about fifteen hundred acres. Has he done that for his amusement or profit? He went on to say that the position was critical. My experience in the matter is that when the farmer has his family to help him they do very well, but if they have to employ a lot of labour—and labour is very dear at the present moment—then it is a very different matter.
The noble and learned Lord next quoted from the Daily Mail. That is a most interesting paper and I always peruse it most carefully. In this matter it is mostly pessimistic and loses no opportunity of abusing His Majesty's Government, whether they do right or wrong. I suppose that this sells the paper. Then the noble and learned Lord referred to a White Paper. I take it that your Lordships have read that White Paper, but I am not quite sure whether you have all done so or not. The noble and learned Lord said that the White Paper gave most excellent reasons why neither Protection nor a subsidy was a possible remedy at the present time. The noble and learned Lord then answered himself. He said that these remedies are discussed at market ordinaries and really are the remedies to which a large number of farmers are looking forward. Is the noble and learned Lord in favour of taxing the food of the people?
§ LORD PARMOOR
I do not know if I might be allowed to interrupt the noble Earl. That is not what I said. I said that what they discussed at the market ordinary was Protection, to which I was entirely opposed.
THE EARL OF MAYO
I tell him that I certainly am not. If the farmers are going to have a subsidy, the people who will pay for it are the people who eat the food that the farmer produces. Then the noble and learned Lord talked about the Rooks and Rabbits Bill. He knows as well as I do that under the Hares and Rabbits Act the farmer has the right to kill every hare and rabbit in any place he chooses, and he does it most consistently.
THE EARL OF MAYO
As for the rooks, there is an old saying about them. I can, not quote it in picturesque language—it has been put into rhyme—but it is to the effect that when the farmers sow there is one for the worm, one for the bird and one for the vole. I believe that is right, but if it is wrong I beg to be corrected. Then the noble and learned Lord proceeded to quote the Prime Minister, and referred to a book published by Professor Orwin and Mr. Peel, written two years ago. That is rather out of date. Things have gone rather more quickly than the noble and learned Lord is aware. He then referred to a report by Mr. Thompson, who says that for over thirty years—that is, from 1892 up to the present time—the area of cultivated land has shown a persistent decline. I think we all knew that perfectly well. Naturally the farmer, under the present conditions of labour and with the large amount of wages he has to pay, cannot possibly keep on tilling the land. Mr. Thompson is quite right on that, although we all knew it long ago.
Then the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, quoted Lord Irwin and Lord Ernie and also referred to the estate of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. He said:—There is no doubt that if there is one estate in this country which fully confirms the views of all those who desire the extension of State management and State ownership it is to be found in the history of the magnificent management by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of their estate of 240,000 acres.That is not management by the Government or public management or public administration; it is management by the 1112 Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who can take very good care of their property. They are pretty hard masters. I know a farmer down on the borders of Wiltshire and Berkshire. In his farm the house and barns should have been included in the purchase, but this farmer had to pay for the barns separately. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners would not let him off. Once they had got the money they stuck to it. It is all very well talking about the splendid management of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, but they are very hard masters indeed. This farmer has been hampered ever since, although he works very hard himself. The noble Lord also mentioned the Duchy of Cornwall. Lord Clinton dealt with that question very clearly and forcibly, and I shall not pursue the matter any further.
Then we suddenly found ourselves landed in the mud of the Cambridgeshire Ouse and the Hertfordshire Ouse and we stuck there for some time, but off we came and off the noble and learned Lord went to Denmark. I must say he is most versatile, because he also went to India and Canada. Then he brought us back to the mud of the Ouse, and afterwards, I think, he touched on a bit of South America. I know Denmark very well. I have been there and I have seen agriculture as carried on there by the Danish farmer. The real truth of the matter is that in Denmark, although no doubt lately they have suffered, there are farmers' guilds. If a farmer belonging to the guild sends in bad stuff such as bad eggs, or bad butter, or bad pigs, he is warned. The second time he is told that he cannot send any to market, and the third time he is kicked out of the guild. That very soon makes the farmer very careful what he does send to market. The Danish farmer sends out a great deal of stuff and to this country too, although of late Denmark has suffered from over-speculation, not by the farmers but by the speculators in their capital.
The noble Lord also mentioned a book by Mr. Prewett from Oxford. Now at last I find myself in agreement with the noble and learned Lord. I agree that, if you spend a million advertising Imperial marketing, you ought not to neglect the home question. I also agree with the noble and learned Lord as to the raiding of the Road Fund. There 1113 have been most violent protests made against that raid, but I doubt very much whether it will ever happen again. The noble Lord concluded by saying of his subjects:—At any rate I have dealt with as many as the patience of your Lordships would allow me to deal with.I concur absolutely with the noble and learned Lord in that matter. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord is going to a Division. If he is I shall vote against him most decidedly and for the reason that if he had stuck to this country I should have had no complaint whatsoever. But he has not stuck to this country; he has wandered all over the world. Why did not the noble Lord stick to this country? Because in my opinion he had a very bad case to argue about and therefore he had to wander about the Empire looking for reasons, for arguments and for precedents. India, indeed! I have been to India twice and have been all over India. I know what the rains can do there. I know what dry farming is for I have seen it. I do not think I need weary your Lordships' patience any longer and I shall find myself, I hope, in the Lobby with His Majesty's Government.
§ LORD OLIVIER
My Lords, I fear that this adjourned debate has about it somewhat a taint of mortality or at any rate of anæmia. I attribute that to the very exciting debates which we have had in this House on the subject of the constitution of the House and which brimmed over to this afternoon and became a discussion on procedure, which appears to have drawn a much larger audience. When my noble friend brought his Motion forward it seemed to me to be one that should engage the attention of this House and one which might have created a certain amount of interest and discussion, because it called attention to the condition of agriculture, which all your Lordships agree is a subject of great concern owing to the unfortunate condition in which agriculture is at the present time and the importance of that industry to our national life. We had a statement from the Government, but unfortunately the debate went off into a discussion or criticism of some future policy of the Labour Party and a long discussion on nationalization 1114 of the land, and also cross-questions addressed by Lord Strachie to Lord Parmoor with regard to what the Labour Government would do in connection with that subject—all exceedingly remote from the immediate question of the condition of agriculture which was before the House.
There are one or two points on which I would like to speak in connection with that subject. While I think that the question of the future of land-owning in this country is one which we ought to bear in mind—what line of policy it is necessary for the nation to pursue—the precise details of the Labour Party's scheme are not a matter for discussion this afternoon. I come, then, to the question of the general land policy because it is a matter upon which Lord Bledisloe made a remarkable speech a few years ago at the British Association. To quote from my own version, the noble Lordsomewhat flustered the rural land-owning class by Warning them … that unless they justify their position by taking the lead in the improvement of foot production they will be recognised as mere idle receivers of rent"——
§ LORD OLIVIER
The description continues:—unprofitable to the nation, and will rapidly provoke an effective demand for the nationalisation of land property.It is a very curious thing that whereas the noble Lord urged the landlords to take immediate and practical interest in their estates, he was immediately attacked in The Times by Major Pretyman, the President of the Land Union, who—quoting again from my version—declared.… that rural landowners now receive practically no agricultural rent, the whole of such income being absorbed in rates, taxes, and cost of management; that they are incapable of efficient intervention in the farming of land, which they had much better leave to the farmers, and that their function in agricultural economy is and has been to provide and apply the fixed capital required for the equipment and improvement of farming property, including the housing of labourers. He asserted that interventions by landlords posing as 'agricultural supermen' in agricultural management have usually been disastrous failures.1115 It was a pretty quarrel, and it seemed to me clear from the two sides, who spoke on behalf of landlordism, that they acknowledged that the landlord system in this country, for one reason or another, had ceased to exercise, or to have the possibility of exercising, any useful function in the agricultural industry of this country.
On that platform the Liberal Party, who I see crowding the Benches in this House this afternoon, and the Labour Party take their stand, and they say: "Yes, we agree that economically the function of the land-owning class, except for the purpose of farming as farmers their own land, has passed away, and that they are not in a position to capitalise holdings, and are not in a position or capacity to tell their farmers how to farm their land, because the farmers have decided to farm on their own lines. Therefore the only alternative is to say that if the landlords occupy a dying agricultural position, what is the use of maintaining them? Let us substitute public authorities, capable of financing agriculture and seeing that it is kept up to the mark." That is the policy of the Labour Party.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
The noble Lord really must not suggest for one moment that the contention of the Labour Party is at all consonant with any policy that I have put forward, either at the British Association or elsewhere.
§ LORD OLIVIER
I will leave the noble Lord with that statement. I was challenged by Lord Harris, in view of my Indian experience, to say that in India agriculture is better conducted under the ryot system than it is under the system of zemindari tenure. That was one of the questions recently asked of one of the witnesses who gave evidence before Lord Linlithgow's Commission. And he said "Yes." It does not come to very much, but as Lord Harris asked me that question I have replied to it. The Government of India is not interested in the matter particularly because they have not taken the view that it was their position to act as landlords. They made the Agricultural Department a part of the Revenue Department.
I will pass from that point and come to what I think is a really practical aspect of the agricultural situation. Looking at 1116 the things from which agriculture is suffering, we have two suffering classes—the labourers and the farmers. The, ordinary agricultural labourer does not care twopence about the nationalisation of the land except in so far as it is nationalisation on the lines constantly advocated by Lord Lincolnshire in this House. The agricultural labourer wants good wages, which we have endeavoured to provide for him, and if he wants to get out of the wage-earning class he wants a bit of land for himself. He wants independence and, although he may be told it is economically unsound, he is willing whenever he can get land to take it up. In hundreds of cases he does exceedingly well and, although it is a hard life, he prefers getting his freedom even at the cost of harder work. Whatever Party wishes to do well for the agricultural labourer ought to do its best, and I do not think the present Tory Government are inclined to do their best, to push forward the system of land nationalisation for which Lord Lincolnshire is continually speaking—namely, providing public land to be rented to labourers, giving them a piece of land on which they can keep a cart and horse and do a little market-gardening and a little carting, all the odd jobs which these small holders do and by which they do prosper and prosper continuously.
§ LORD OLIVIER
I can only say to the noble Earl that in my own parish I can show him half a dozen small holders who have their carts and horses. I do not know where they got them; I suppose they get them on credit and pay for them by instalments. But they do get them, and they prosper, and are able to work their holdings.
With regard to the farmer, we have not had very much comfort for the farmer from any Party whatever, and it is extremely difficult to give him any comfort. Some little time ago everybody was urging the farmers to help themselves by co-operation. I do not think that anybody who went to those farmers who have put their money into co-operative societies would at the present time find a very enthusiastic response from them, because I am afraid that the enterprises that have 1117 been set up, the Agricultural Co-operative Wholesale Society and other co-operative societies, are at the present time in considerable difficulty. It is very discouraging. So, finally, we come to what is really always the cry of the farmer—namely, that prices are not high enough. That brings you to the two things which we constantly hear of. One is, "Give us higher prices by Protection," and the other is, "Let us get higher prices by stabilisation," which is the process which commends itself to the Labour Party. My noble friend Lord De La Warr made a very admirable speech, as I thought, in the last debate on this subject, and it is to that line of policy that His Majesty's Government, although they are perhaps averse from it, ought to give consideration, as being not simply a Labour Party fad but a thing which is in consonance with the whole trend of modern commercial organisation, and of exchange and trade.
A good many years ago there was a man of considerable, genius, Mr. David Lubin, who, having had considerable experience of the wheat trade in America, came to the conclusion that in order to secure stability of prices far the farmers, whether in America or elsewhere, it was necessary to begin to organise the whole wheat trade of the world. He was a Jew with very wide idealistic conceptions, but his idea roughly was that you will never get the farmers out of the constant rut of good prices one year and a great slump the next unless you get the whole of the wheat trade of the world organised with a proper intelligence department; and in order to create that intelligence department he promoted the foundation of the international Institute of Agriculture at Rome, in which we have a representative. We have seen in other industries, like the coffee industry and the rubber industry, that, in order to protect the producer against the constant discouragement of the unforeseen dropping of prices, the production of those industries has been centralised, controlled and stabilised. I quite agree that in regard to the coffee industry and the rubber industry that is an easier thing to do than in the wheat industry. But, if you cannot constantly maintain for the farmer a high price for his corn, the next best thing to do for him is to maintain a constant price as far as possible, because the waste and loss entailed on the industry by farmers 1118 going bankrupt, owing to unexpected drops in prices, is much greater than the hardship that will be imposed on that industry by having a somewhat lower stabilised price than the price which farmers can expect to have in some years. But that lower price would be kept constant over a series of years by a wheat-purchasing and wheat-organising board, which would deal with the whole production and import of the country, as was done during the War.
On the matter of principle it seems to me that it is well worth while for those who look forward in the agricultural industry to see whether our progress must not be on the lines of organisation—not only the control of internal agriculture, but State organisation in the interests of the nation by the stabilisation of prices, which it has been found necessary to introduce in other large industries. The Canadians have their wheat pool, in which they stabilise the price by carrying the wheat producers over the bad season and giving them the benefit of what is got in the better season. If Canada can by its wheat pool equalise and stabilise year by year, so that the industry is not constantly disorganised and the holdings constantly changing ownership, it is not beyond the power of English organisation to do it in this country. Consequently I say that the Labour Party's policy is not chimerical. It is based on a definite theory and belief that, as the progress of the world goes on, and the consolidation of capital goes on, it is possible and it is necessary in the interests of the community to take care that the weaker workers in the farming industry shall not drop out, owing to fluctuations of price caused by speculation, uncertainty, and lack of knowledge from one year to another.
The proper line of advance lies in some kind of stabilisation of price and not in Protection, because by Protection you stabilise price at the expense of an enormous number of consumers. You raise the price of the whole of your wheat and only two-fifths of it is produced by the home producer whom you wish to benefit. It is the most expensive way you can adopt for keeping farming going. Under stabilisation the burden is distributed. The consumer over a number of years may possibly pay a litle more on the average than he pays now, but it is a national 1119 benefit, and a very much less costly benefit than Protection if it will ensure to our farmers a constant basis of expectation as to what their budget for the next year, based upon wheat-cropping, is going to be. That is why I think the contribution made by my noble friend Lord De La Warr last month was really valuable and substantial, and I trust that the consideration by noble Lords and by the country generally of the Labour Party's ideas on agriculture will not be biased by any little, pernickety, captious question which could be applied to some particular detail of a financial scheme for the expropriation of landlords. I say that the practical proposals of the Labour Party are really based upon a practical attention to what is necessary for the farming industry.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
My Lords, the debate seems to me to have been of a singularly rambling and unsatisfactory nature, very devoid of anything in the nature of practical proposals, but I suppose it is no simple matter to bring forward any practical proposals, for it seems to be universally admitted that anything in the way of Protection is extremely difficult. But there are two or three points which are universally discussed by agriculturists, and I do not see why something in that direction should not be done. The first is that the contracts for the Navy and the Army should not be given to foreign meat firms. I am aware of the fact that the tenders were considerably cheaper than could be got in England and, theoretically, I suppose it is a sound thing to buy in the cheapest market. At the same time I do not know that it always pays and it would be a matter of great gratification to British farmers if, at all events for a portion of the year, more was done in the way of purchasing in the English market for our home supplies. That would considerably help local markets. Everybody says that the presence of Government buyers always has a very stimulating effect upon the cattle markets, particularly towards the latter end of the year. I know it is a very sore point indeed with the farming community that these contracts have been taken from them and allowed to go to the Argentine. If it does cost the Government more to purchase in the home market the question is, is it not worth it? 1120 It must be a very serious loss to the country, and to the Government indirectly, to have the farming industry depressed, and even if we do have to pay a little more for our supplies of meat for the Army and Navy I think it would be money well worth spending and well spent.
Another question that has been very often discussed is this: Why cannot our foreign wheat be ground in our home ports and so provide employment at home and give, in addition, a large amount of cheap offal for the feeding of cattle? If that were done the farmers would be very considerably helped. I cannot understand why it would in any way raise the price of bread or food for the people, which, of course, is the one thing you want to avoid. There is no denying the fact that if the importation of foreign flour could be checked in any way or prevented and all foreign wheat was bound to be ground in our home ports, it would give very large employment to our milling industry and a considerable amount of employment generally. I would like to know what are the Government's views upon this question and whether something cannot be done in those directions.
THE MARQUESS OF NORMANBY
My Lords, it is not often in your Lordships' House that the privilege is asked to be allowed to address you for the first time by a man who is over eighty years of age, but I do ask of you this favour to-day, and I ask it not merely because the subject before this House is one of the greatest concern to all who share with me the heavy personal responsibility of a landed inheritance, but because the subject is one that concerns the life of the country in which we live. I am not one of those who say that if British agriculture dies then Britain dies, because I believe that whatever may be the sickness which to-day seems to be sapping the strength and vigour of British agriculture, the pluck and the common sense of our sons and of our daughters will restore this vital industry to its fullest strength and vigour. Nevertheless, facts have to be faced.
It has been said, and in a degree I believe it to be true, that British agriculture to-day is worse than it was after the Franco-Prussian War. The noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, who originated this 1121 debate can, as I do, cast back his mind to that time and he will agree with me in saying that it was a very bad time indeed. There is no doubt that war dislocates the industries of all nations and that it takes time, very much time, for the re-establishment of pre-war conditions, if indeed they ever are re-established. I believe, however, that a great deal—I do not say all—of what we are suffering from to-day in British agriculture is the effect of causes which have not been allowed enough personal consideration. I can go back in a clear memory to sixty-seven or sixty-eight years ago when to my home in North Yorkshire there used to come—and I believe I am right in stating came also to other parts of England as well—troops of Irish labourers to scythe hay and to sickle and scythe the wheat, the barley and the oats when they became ripe. I can recall the nearly two foot of stubble that used to offer splendid covert for the partridge but not too pleasant walking for the sportsman. And yet, to-day, I find many of those same fields in grass laid down for pasturage for cattle and for sheep.
You can read, to-day, speeches of politicians—and I have one speaker perhaps more than others in my mind—who declaim roundly against this conversion of plough land to pasturage and ascribe the cause to the indolence of the farmer, or to his professional ignorance. Speaking as I am able to do from the knowledge that I possess in my own district the cause is perfectly intelligible. The cost of production to-day to the farmer of his grain crops or even of animals for the butcher is out of all proportion to the price obtained for the produce by the producer. Here is fact number one. In 1854 the price of English wheat was 72s. 5d. a quarter as against 68s. 2d. for imported foreign wheat. Your Lordships will notice there a difference of 4s. 3d. in favour of the foreign wheat, and steam had not then been adapted for the sailing ship. My own estate lies on the sea coast about three and a half miles from the old seaport town of Whitby. In my childhood's days I can remember well when Whitby was the head centre of the whaling fleet of the North Sea and, a little later, of the herring fishing fleet. To-day, however, for very simple reasons, Whitby is this no more. The whale has moved to Icelandic waters and the her 1122 ring, for some unknown reason, has migrated to the North of Scotland. I can remember when the sailing ship was the only means of ocean transport and then came the adaptation of steam to the sailing vessel. We had then the early paddle wheel steamers and next the screw steamers, but to-day what represents transport on our seas is the creation of the last seventy years.
What has taken place was utterly unimaginable in the days of my childhood. This is the result. The remotest land is brought into easy trading distance of our Island. In the present day the steamship, because of its power of steam propulsion, has refrigerators which make it perfectly possible and perfectly safe for distant lands to send their frozen meat or their chilled meat to compete with home-grown and home-fed meat and other commodities. Prior to the coming of the steamship, meat that was imported from Europe was only salted meat. The invention of the refrigerator, however, and its application to railway wagons and to steamships, has brought about a very easy trade in food with the United States of America, the Argentine, Australia and New Zealand. To-day is it not an indisputable fact—and this I label as fact number two—that to a very large extent our people in this country are living on food imported from other lands which, to a great extent, we are quite capable of producing for ourselves? For instance, the statistics of 1925—I have not been able to obtain last year's figures—show that £186,000,000 was spent on foreign food products. We spent £53,000,000 on butter, £16,000,000 on cheese, £39,000,000 on beef, £7,000,000 on pork, £51,000,000 on bacon and ham, £5,000,000 on potatoes, £8,000,000 on apples and £7,000,000 on preserved fruits and jams. In addition to this, we spent £15,000,000 on imported live cattle, and I understand that what are called imported store cattle from Canada are not really store cattle but are fat beasts and are bought by the meat salesmen for killing purposes.
The safeguarding of British industry ought never to be allowed by thoughtful or patriotic men to degenerate into a Party political question. It ought to be felt by every Englishman as a personal concern. It sometimes appears from the speeches of statesmen and from Acts of Parliament dealing with agriculture as if the men who spoke and those who were 1123 responsible for the framing of those Acts of Parliament imagined that there was no difference whatsoever between different English counties, either in the acreage of farms or in the various customs and usages regulating agricultural work. Take, as an instance, the wages board. I have been told that it is not so much the fixing of wages that is objected to as the fixing of hours of work per week. Whilst the farmers in Our Northern counties are not so much affected by this, I understand that the farmers in the Midland and Southern counties are affected. In the North the farm hand is usually hired for a term of six months at a figure which includes board, lodging and overtime, whilst in the Midland and Southern counties he is mostly engaged by the week. That was apparently entirely unknown to those who framed that legislation.
Again, speeches are made, by statesmen and others, about the settlement of men in large numbers on small farms and small holdings. Please understand that I am not saying, or wishing to say, a single word against the settlement near towns of men for dairying or poultry-farming, but I do fearlessly declare that the creation of a large number of small farms is no remedy whatever for the present unemployment or the present agricultural distress. I have some right to express an opinion on this subject. I myself have some 64 farms in North Yorkshire, 3½ miles from the town of Whitby. The area of the largest of these farms is 380 acres and that of the smallest is five acres. I have fifteen farms under 50 acres, twenty farms of from 100 to 150 acres, nine of from 150 to 200 acres, two of from 200 to 250 acres and one of 328 acres. The rent of agricultural land in my part of the country is 25s. an acre. I understand that in Cumberland, Westmorland and North Lancashire the farms are similar to those in my part of Yorkshire and are held, as farms are held in Yorkshire, on yearly agreements. Our chief work is in dairy farming and in rearing and fattening beasts and Sheep for the butcher, and to this end what is grown on the farm is chiefly used or consumed on the farm itself.
What is my experience, the experience of thirty-seven years since my father's death? In ordinary times and so long as the weather is good and market prices 1124 are fair, a man on a small holding such as I have described is only just able to make a living. If the reverse is the case, if prices are bad, if seasons are bad, then the rent audit shows the position. The only possible way in which, so far as I can see, there can be any success is the one to which my noble friend Earl Beauchamp eloquently alluded in a speech which I heard him make last year; that is, in co-operation and combination. When I asked his Lordship how it was to be done he shared ignorance with myself. For thirty years I have advocated co-operation and combination among my own tenants, but there is something in the Yorkshire farmer's mind and constitution which makes him strangely distrustful of his fellow farmers, and until this can be overcome—and I think that we are gradually becoming a little more accustomed to the idea of co-operation—there can be, I am perfectly confident, no possibility of co-operative work among farmers.
I should like to say one word about a proposed remedial industry—that is, that farmers should take up the more intensive cultivation of beet for sugar. Germany is held up as a sort of object lesson in this matter for the imitation of British farmers. I should like to ask your Lordships whether any of you know if it is true, as I have been told, that the work in this industry in Germany is carried on by women's labour imported from Poland and paid a few coppers a day as wages. The root of the present difficulty in regard to British agriculture is: first, our insular position, which makes it more easy than if we were on the Continent to treat us as a dumping ground for all the other countries in the world; and, in the second place, our having to compete against produce which has cost in its production lees in wages than are paid here, and which comes probably from lands where rates and taxes are comparatively low and Land Tax, it may be, wholly unknown.
What is the sum of my remarks? It is that much of to-day's agricultural depression is the effect of quite natural causes. The Great War is one, the increased facilities of sea transport are another and there is also the heavy burden of taxation, which must and does affect, if not directly then indirectly, all classes of the community. I feel that the 1125 great aim of all who would to-day help agriculture must be directed first towards lowering the cost of production, then towards the establishment and encouragement of more efficient marketing in country districts, and finally, if possible, towards an attempt to get the farmer to understand and appreciate the value of co-operative working. I know, perhaps, better than anyone in this House the working classes of this country. The best years of my life have been given to them. For eighteen years I had charge of a colliery parish with four pits, and I had three thousands artisans besides the colliers. When I hear thrown at the Government the charge of having added the incubus of the eight-hour day, I cannot help saying that throughout those eighteen years every man that went down the pit worked eight hours a day, and in all my experience I have never been called to attend the bed of a man sick through overwork. May I say in conclusion that whatever is done must be done disinterestedly and not with any thought of self and, above all, not purely or only for Party? The first consideration in this subject ought to be the country, and next its people. I apologise for having been so presumptuous as to address your Lordships on this subject, and I thank you very kindly for the courtesy with which you have heard me.
§ LORD ERNLE
My Lords, I am sure that I express the feelings of everyone in this House when I say that I have listened to the speech of the noble Marquess with the utmost interest and that his reputation as a landlord, and previously as a parish priest, is known in every part of the country. The noble Marquess said that co-operation was a principle that he wished the farmers would learn. May I say that on this great question it is a principle that I wish the Parties would learn? At this present moment, in our over-industrialised country, we are lop-sided politically as well as industrially, and it is a fact, disguise it how we may, that the agricultural factor is negligible in our politics and that the reason why Party after Party has done so little for agriculture is that, each in turn, they dare not alienate the mass of their supporters by really giving substantial assistance to agriculture.
Does anybody suppose that in Denmark the peasant would have reached his present position if he had not been a potent 1126 force in political life? Does anybody suppose that the peasant proprietors in France would have maintained their present position if that were not the case there? The United States of America present us at this very moment with a most curious problem. Up to the last Census the rural population was numerically the largest in the United States, and even the last Census showed that it represents 48 per cent. as against 52 per cent. of urban population. At this moment America, as we all know, is trying to accelerate her speed in the race for industrial supremacy. She is tempted to introduce into her country cheap food products from other countries. Whether she will be able to resist that lure of industrial supremacy—whether, that is, she will be able to maintain her agriculture even in the low position that it now holds—will really depend upon whether she takes the example, and I think I may call it the warning, of England and will not entirely sacrifice agriculture to industrial supremacy.
We have listened, I think, to three expositions of Party principles. The Labour Party have cooed "The Red Flag" softly, as suits the acoustics of your Lordships' House—so softly that it has been almost a lullaby. The Liberal Party, through the voice of the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, whom I see below me, have expressed their policy by singing the Radical land hymn of hate in a note that reminded me very much of the late Signor Caruso. On our side I do not know what ditty we have been singing. I should presume that it is "The Roast Beef of Old England," but it has been sung to so slow a movement that it has resembled a funeral dirge. As I listened to these various policies, I could not help thinking how very near we really were to agreement. If you call nationalisation by a bad name like nationalisation you damn it. Of course the distinction between nationalisation as advocated on the Labour Benches and that modified form of nationalisation which simply means taking over badly farmed or derelict land, is that the Labour Party are against the rights of property while the Liberal Party are going to assume, or rather to exercise—for it has always existed—the old right of the State to resume possession of land which is improperly farmed. 1127 Now the noble Lord who introduced the debate referred a great deal to the report of Mr. Thompson. There was one important point which he never allowed to escape his lips. Mr. Thompson makes an estimate of the total capital value of agricultural land in this country. His estimate is £815,000,000.
§ LORD ERNLE
Then I beg your pardon. I am afraid I have only had the noble Lord's speech read to me and I have not been able to read it myself. Mr. Thompson also gave the figure of the total assessed Income Tax on agricultural land at, I think, £36,600,000. If you allow ten years' purchase of the assessed Income Tax rate, that gives you for your £815,000,000 of capital value the large sum of £360,000,000.
§ LORD ERNLE
Ten to fifteen is the figure that is often used. It may not hive been the noble Lord that used it. That, is a very important point. We may in this House perhaps modify statements that are made outside the House and I should think that that would be a most liberal allowance to the rank and file of the Party opposite which supports the Labour policy. It is a matter which certainly ought not to be left out of account in considering this policy of nationalisation. The noble Lord, Lord Olivier, my old colleague at the Ministry of Agriculture, made an appeal to us to accept the policy of stabilisation of prices. But that task is being done and done on a much bigger and more comprehensive scale by international bodies like the Conference at present at work at Geneva. The standardisation of prices by international agreement is the thing to aim at and not the local stabilisation of prices in this country alone. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, used, as an illustration of the excellent work of the stabilisation of prices, the work of the Wheat Commission during the War. He is quite right. The Wheat Commission did most excellent work. It was presided over by Lord Crawford. The noble Earl also spoke of the extremely small amount of expense which it involved——
§ LORD ERNLE
—but the noble Earl ought to remember that during the War you had an immense amount of voluntary work, that Lord Crawford was assisted on that Commission by some of the ablest men in the corn trade of the country and that they accepted no reward for their services. But, if I may use the illustration supplied by Lord De La Warr for another purpose, what happened? The Wheat Commission were buying wheat at 100s. or 120s. a quarter; the loaf was standardised at 9d. That was all done for the benefit of the consumer. Where did the producer come in? He was pinned down the whole time to 72s. a quarter and whereas he would have had the advantage of the world price of 120s. he was by the operation of this buying board, which we are asked to introduce, pinned down to 72s. a quarter. I do not say that that would necessarily happen again, but what puzzles me is how you are going to benefit the producer beyond the fact that you are going to prevent him having very violent fluctuations in price.
It is obvious that the proposal is really for the benefit of consumers and consumers are by far the largest number. The producers, from that lop-sided condition that I have alluded to are sure to go to the wall. What advantage does it offer to the British farmer at the present moment when the real secret of his distress is, of course, that costs of production have altogether outrun the profits that can be made on the whole of the produce? The noble Lord, Lord Olivier, said he knew the agricultural labourer. He does know him, and I know him, too. May I tell your Lordships the view of a very intelligent agricultural labourer of the Labour Party policy? What he said was—I shall not give it to you in the patois of the country—"They mean to mark us with a broad arrow and set us down under the whips of paid agricultural committees to raise food for the urban population." I cannot help thinking that that is the view which will prevail very largely among them.
Now, if I may turn to the Liberal Party, I was very glad to see somewhere or other the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, express his approval of the 1129 Report of the Commission of 1917. I think he expressed his approval of some of the proposals offered by that Commission, Lord Selborne's Commission, of which I was a member. It was very satisfactory to me to hear that that formed part of the Liberal policy. My satisfaction was flattened out by a remark which fell from the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, the other day, when he said that you could always find a precedent for any Folly in the Reports of Commissions.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
I did not say "for any folly." I said "for any proposal the Government put forward."
§ LORD ERNLE
I think the noble Marquess meant the same thing and it therefore rather flattened out my satisfaction at the approval of the noble Earl. There is, however, a common principle with all of us and that is the reasonable multiplication of small holdings. The noble Lord who has just addressed us spoke of the Yorkshire hills. I do not think anybody in his senses would think of having many small holdings in that very bleak and inhospitable climate. It is common knowledge to all of us that small holdings make for the happiness of the countryside, that they are a ladder of thrift and industry, that they minister to a man's natural pride in calling no man master, and that they act as a spur to his labour because his own hand reaps that which his own hand has sown. All that is agreed. Why cannot we agree about the rest? The question of tenure is really of not much importance. I believe we are all agreed that what is wanted is continuity of tenure, which will give a man a sense of security, and therefore I do hope that Parties may be able, as an instalment of that co-operation by which, as I believe, you can really help the farmer, to form some joint plan for increasing the small holdings of this country.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I am sure you will wish me to say how much we value the last two contributions to our debate. They furnish yet another proof of the fact that there are many experts in this House on many different subjects, and our satisfaction at listening to the debate will only be tempered by the reflection that the noble and 1130 rev. Marquess who made his maiden speech should have waited so long before making it. We should have been, I am sure, only too glad if he had taken an earlier and more frequent opportunity of joining in the debates in this House. The speech from the noble Lord who spoke last, and who speaks with almost unrivalled authority, was a plea for agreement. I wish I could feel sure that that was within immediate reach. Of course there are subjects on which we all agree. We are agreed as to the need for co-operation, and we are agreed in regretting that co-operation does not make as great advances in this country as it is making in other countries. I believe myself that something more might be done at the present time by the employment of some of those very skilful buyers who buy at the present moment for large dealers. If they were engaged by the co-operative societies I believe they might do a great deal more to help the co-operative societies than those societies, by themselves, are able to do at the present moment.
Again, there is some measure of agreement between the noble Marquess and myself as to the way in which so much food and stock come into this country. I regret it in so far as the land of this country is not being made use of to the fullest extent. I want to see this land made as productive as it can be with the help of modern science. If I am asked to say, on the other hand, that I regret to see all these articles for consumption by the people coming into this country, there I part company with the noble Marquess. If these articles of food come into this country they come in for some good reason. They are paid for not by gold, but by articles of manufacture made in this country and sent out in order to pay for these goods as they come in. That is also my answer to what was said by Lord Denbigh on the Army contract for meat, and I would support the noble Marquess and the Government on the action taken in that matter. I wish the noble Marquess to understand that I welcome more imports coming into this country because the more that come in the more articles are made in this country to pay for them, and although meat coming from the Argentine is not immediately paid for by locomotives going from this country, indirectly it is. Nothing comes into this country without being 1131 paid for by goods going out, and goods going out contribute to the employment of the people in this country.
I turn from that to say that it is always with a sense of very real difficulty that I speak about agriculture, because of the immense variety of agriculture in this country. We have just had an instance of that in what was said about small holdings in Yorkshire. What is suitable for one part of the country is not suitable for another; and this country is also so different from other countries. For instance, in so many countries from which we get the larger part of our wheat supply you may travel for days and days on a railway journey and see day after day practically the same scenery. You might not have moved during the night. In this country it is entirely different, and you can hardly go 100 or 200 miles without finding yourself, if not in a different climate, at any rate on a different soil. Take the country in Gloucestershire, which is well known to the noble Lord and myself. There you have a country in which there are three entirely different kinds of agriculture. There is the Forest of Dean on the west, there is the rich meadow valley of the Severn in the centre, and the beautiful uplands of the Cotswolds in the east.
Then, again, on every farm you find differences, and I am not sure that we fully realise the changes which can be brought to bear upon agriculture by the introduction of motor machinery. The unit of the farm was the amount of land which could be covered by the plough and two or three horses during the day. That has been revolutionised by the advent of the motor-plough, which can cover so much more land during the day, and it is uneconomical if you do not put your plough to the full use. I believe that just as there are places where you want more small holdings, so there are places where you want larger farms, on which the motor-plough can take up a longer line without being interrupted by hedges and ditches.
There is yet another subject upon which I am afraid we all agree. Some figures have been published in the Report issued last month, on the Agricultural Output of England and Wales, by the Board of Agriculture. It is rather melancholy reading. In fifty years the total area of land under cultivation declined by 800,000 1132 acres. Arable land declined by over 4,000,000 acres and since 1921 by nearly 500,000 acres. Farm crops are down, raw meat is down, and cattle is much the same since 1925, though at one moment during the War it went up. Sheep are down and in twenty years the value of the food production is the same as at the beginning of that period. We ought to note in passing how much less money is put into agriculture in this country as compared with capital invested in agriculture abroad, and also we should note the way in which agricultural holdings are down. Small holdings are down in number, and so also are allotments, and on these subjects I do not propose to give the exact figures, because they are to be found in the Report.
In these circumstances, and in view of these figures, it is not surprising that various political Parties are anxious to put forward their remedies. The recommendations of the Government are to be found in the White Paper issued last year. It is an interesting document and we all agree with the matter which they put in the forefront of their policy—the question of credit. I agree that it is of great importance. Then we come to the question of the Drainage Royal Commission, of which the noble Lord was Chairman. I confess that if the terms of the reference had been a little different I think we might have expected different results. Next there is the question of the marketing of agricultural produce, and as I look at the hoardings it seems to me that the advertising is being done for the benefit of the Colonial at the expense of the home producer. Then there is the Merchandise Marks Act. I have never been able to see how the advertising of Danish butter by compulsory marking under the Merchandise Marks Act is going to help the British producer. We find a very amusing item in the policy of the Government. They claim that the policy of making grants from the Road Fund has resulted in a considerable relief to the burdens falling upon the occupiers of agricultural land and they say this policy will be continued and extended as far as funds permit. But unfortunately, since then, the Government of which the noble Marquis is the representative in this House have raided the Road Fund both last year and this year, so that I am afraid we 1133 cannot expect the farmer to get much relief in the future in that direction. Then we come to the sugar beet industry. I still think that it is difficult to see why the Cornish farmer or the Lancashire cotton spinner should help to pay a subsidy to the beet sugar growers and manufacturers in the Eastern counties. That, however, is a time-worn controversy into which I will not now go.
There is, however, one method which I hope the noble Marquess may perhaps use in helping agriculture and that is in preventing the artificial increase of the cost of living to the agricultural community. We do not want either the farmer or the agricultural labourer to find that the things which he buys cost him more while the things which he sells command no higher price. And everything that is done under the Safeguarding of Industries Act or any measures of Protection by the Government, whether they mean them as Protection or whether they merely mean them as luxury taxes—everything in that direction which raises the cost of living to the agricultural community is a hardship upon that community, because we are all agreed that nothing can be done either by subsidy or by tariff to enable the agricultural community to receive a higher price for the goods which they sell. It is perfectly obvious that if they are to pay more and more every year, even on such things as motor tyres and similar things, these things, though they may be a small matter in themselves, come to a great deal in the end. Take things which seem to be the finished article but which are not really—the crockery which is part of what is necessary to help to furnish their cottages—if they have to pay more for their crockery it is obvious that you do not help them by raising the cost of the things which they have to buy. I venture to say to His Majesty's Government that there is there a very real field in which they might usefully labour in trying to reduce the cost of living to the agricultural community for all the things which they need. The more they do that the more they will help them.
Then we come to the programme which has been issued by the Labour Party. I must confess it seems to me that the difficulties of that policy appear to arise from the fact that it has been framed not so much to restore agriculture but in an attempt to fit the agricultural in- 1134 dustry within the scheme of the Socialist State. There is no industry so individualistic in its character as the farming industry and therefore it is that their scheme seems to me to fail. The general provisions of their policy subordinate the recommendations which they make about agriculture to a collectivist philosophy, and the details are framed in such a way as to eliminate the independence of the individual and to foster the trade unions and the importance of the trade union officials. I cannot think that a scheme which is started with an a priori design to gratify a certain theory will really prove to be a practical solution of a real difficulty.
The Labour policy is not only content to speak of the nationalisation of the land, but it is also anxious to nationalise a number of other undertakings through which it operates. All the agricultural land in the kingdom will ultimately be bought up by the State. And here I wish to make a short distinction between the policy laid down by the Labour Party and that which was originally contained in the Green Book for which my friends are responsible, and which has since been greatly modified in the present policy of the Liberal Party. Our suggestion went no further than the vesting of ultimate ownership in the State, while leaving to the occupier, who on his side was hound by certain conditions as to a fixed rent and good husbandry, the status and freedom of an owner-occupier. The Labour proposal gives the State all the duties of a landlord, and would keep the tenant in as complete subjection to his landlord as he is at present. In other words, the whole agricultural work of this country would be ultimately controlled from Whitehall largely by the influence of the agricultural committees, upon which there was to be a large representation of the Government.
It is quite clear that the object of the Labour Party is to nationalise the farming industry. In the words of its own pamphlet,The Labour movement stands for the re-organisation of agriculture as a social service.It further states:—We contemplate that county agricultural committees will in suitable cases cultivate land themselves on a considerable scale, though, of course, such public farm- 1135 ing will not entirely supersede tenant farming, which will for long continue to be the normal method of tenure and cultivation.But it is thepublic utility companies or forms of collective or co-operative farming for cultivation of large tracts of landwhich will be developed. It is evident, I think, that the ultimate elimination of the tenant farmer is the real goal of the policy.
Then I turn to the other industries which would have to be nationalised and that, of course, is one of the results of a policy of this kind. It is so difficult to confine your policy to one single industry, which industry is inter-locked with others in a hundred ways. And therefore, as we read the full proposals, we find that the import of meat, the import of wheat, the milling industry, bakeries, dairying and milk supplies, the brewing industry, the railway system, and agricultural insurance will all ultimately be controlled and nationalised. The practical difficulties of transferring to the State the immense and delicate commercial transactions involved in those industries have never been completely understood, and there would be most acute international difficulties if any Government were directly responsible for all international trade in foodstuffs.
I turn to the position of the farm worker. It is here, I think, that one finds the clearest traces of the collectivist tendency of the policy in the comparatively small opportunities which will be given to the worker upon the land for freedom and independence. He is not promised the right to have land of his own, as he is promised in the Green Book and in the policy of my friends. Anything like the Proposal of the statutory half-acre is omitted from the scheme, and is, indeed, quite alien to it. And there is no adequate ladder set up for the farm worker, whose best hope of succeeding would be to become a trade union official and join the bureaucracy which would control the agriculture of this country. The trend of the policy is shown by such phrases as these:It is undesirable that the cultivation of the land be generally developed under the system of small farming.And again—While the system of private occupation of agricultural land prevails, there are good reasons for making provision for farm workers to obtain small holdings"—1136 but only, of course, while the system of private occupation continues. Again—Allotments and small holdings cannot provide a complete solution of the general problem of the farm worker's low standard of life or of his low social status.Then I call your Lordships' attention to the agricultural committees, as proposed by the policy of the Labour Party. What they propose is to have on these committees a minority of representatives of the labourers' trade unions and the farmers' union, and a majority of the representatives of Whitehall. That is why I said just now that they would be too much controlled from Whitehall.
Then we have the policy explained by Lord Olivier in his very interesting speech on the subject of State trading. I venture to say that the experience we have had of State trading during the last few years is that it has not been so universially successful as to induce us to follow it at the present time. The noble Lord opposite mentioned the Wheat Commission. Let me mention some others. Between August, 1914, and March, 1923, £27,000,000 was lost on State trading in sugar. After the War the Government re-controlled bacon, hams and lard and lost £6,300,000 and another £3,500,000 was lost in other re-control contracts. In selling £1,849,000 worth of re-control currants £960,000 was lost in 1920–21. There are a number of similar instances of the same kind, and they are all the less to the credit of the idea of State control because there was a monopoly at that moment for the people who were trying to make money in this way. But not even with the help of the monopoly which they enjoyed were they able to make State control a conspicuous success. That appeal to experience is, I think, one which will naturally make us very suspicious before we embark further on that line.
I turn now to say something on the subject of Liberal policy to which reference has been made by the noble Lord who last spoke. I may say, at any rate, that we began with no preconceived idea. A very elaborate inquiry was set on foot, committees were appointed and very valuable reports and statistics were got together. As a result a policy was arrived at which has been submitted to a number of practical people. In those circumstances I should venture to read to 1137 your Lordships as shortly as I can the policy itself. Its chief aims are in the first place to provide an alternative for the landlord-tenant system in those districts where, in practice, it has broken down. I need not explain, because it is so familiar to your Lordships, how and where it has broken down. For lack of capital the landlord is unable to do for his tenants what he has been accustomed to do in the past. Then we propose to give the cultivator a guarantee of such security of tenure as will encourage him to make the very best use of his land, with the assurance that he will reap the full advantage of all he does to develop improved husbandry. We are anxious to attach a much larger population to the land by giving the labourer and the small cultivator a stake in the soil and providing a ladder of opportunity by which the family of the labourer may hope to rise to a better position without leaving the countryside. These things are very often matters of common intention, but we have not been able to secure their adoption in the past. Lastly, we want to encourage better production, the fuller use of land, the more efficient marketing of produce and the development of rural amenities.
The method by which this will be done will be by setting up an elected committee in each county and they will be the authority for carrying out the various reforms proposed. They will control the credit and with the credit they will be able to allot the land which falls into them so that it may be used in a manner which, in that particular district and according to the knowledge of those who live on the spot, is best suited to that particular area. The committees would provide an alternative to the present system where it has broken down by taking over all the land which is offered to them and all the land which falls in, and they would administer it in the interests of good cultivation. Security of tenure would generally be given by a system of cultivating tenure, the practical effect of which is to put the farmer in the position of owner-occupier. The county agricultural authority would also take special steps to provide adequate housing for land workers, and to place at the disposal of all land workers who desire it not less than half an acre of garden land. It will take over the duties of county councils with regard to small holdings and provide small holdings for all competent 1138 land workers who ask for them. No doubt they would also take over that land which the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lincolnshire) spoke of on the original day of this debate and in regard to which he introduced a Bill earlier in the Session—that land which is now administered by the Ecclesiastical Commission and also by the various Colleges.
One of the greatest handicaps on production to-day, we are all agreed, is lack of credit and it is to these county authorities that we should expect the agricultural community to look in order that they may get the credit which they need. We should hope that they would also be able to do something in, regard to one of those things which, I think, is of most importance and that is the idea of dealing with and marketing agricultural produce. I think they would really be able to stimulate co-operation in this matter. It will be seen that in none of these proposals is there an effort to make unnecessary alterations in the existing system. Where the existing system is working satisfactorily it will be loft alone, but where credit is wanted credit will be supplied. Steps will be taken to provide a larger supply of contented labour and to encourage rural industries and provide amenities.
These are the main lines of the policy which we venture to put before the country. I believe for my own part, as is so often the case with Liberal proposals, that these are between the fears of those who are so timorous that they will not even adventure upon reforms for fear that the reforms may go too far and produce ill in their own turn and the theoretical suggestions of unpractical people. These proposals of ours are based upon inquiry. We believe they would provide an opportunity to secure a great measure of substantial encouragement for agriculture and prosperity for all those engaged in it. In those circumstances I ought to say before I sit down that naturally I shall not be able to go into the Lobby with the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, if he divides the House on this subject.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I regret very much that your Lordships will have the trouble of listening to me for a very few minutes upon a subject which I am not nearly so well qualified 1139 to deal with as my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture (Lord Bledisloe). Unfortunately he exhausted his right to speak on the first night of the debate and it is not possible for him to reply to the very interesting speeches to which we have had the pleasure of listening this afternoon. But in one respect the Government are fortunate, because they have not got only one Opposition but two Oppositions and the two Oppositions are always in the habit of cutting each other's throats. Therefore, generally, it is only necessary for us to wait, after a speech has been made from the Labour Benches opposite upon almost any subject, and we shall be quite certain that before very long a noble Lord will rise from his seat above the gangway and point out all the objections to the speech made on behalf of the Labour Party and destroy that Party's argument in a way which we could not rival ourselves. That is a very fortunate circumstance.
Therefore there is not really very much for me to say. I can leave Lord Parmoor to deal with Lord Beauchamp and Lord Beauchamp to deal with Lord Parmoor. But, as the noble Earl who has just sat down has delivered a very important speech, perhaps I ought to say one or two words in answer to it. The noble Earl, of course, belongs to the most rigid form of Cobdenite Free Trade and there is no deviation from that original faith which he will accept for a moment, unless it is proposed by his leader, Mr. Lloyd George. I waited with interest and a certain amount of amusement to learn how the noble Earl would reconcile some of the proposals of the Green Book with the rigid faith of non-intervention by the State in which he was brought up and for which indeed in the greater part of his speech this afternoon he pleaded. Of course it was perfectly clear to anybody who listened to the noble Earl that according to the Liberal prescription for the ills of agriculture the State is to interfere to a very great extent. There are to be these wonderful committees, which are to arrange everything and are to be a sort of beneficent Providence to the whole of the countryside.
I confess I cannot listen without a certain feeling of impatience to the kind of observations which the noble Earl and his friends make in compassion for the 1140 shortcomings of the landowners of this country. They say: "These poor landowners, after all, no longer can do their work. They are ruined." Why, it was these politicians who set out to ruin them. We are old enough to remember very well that it was not an accident that land was so badly treated fiscally in this country. It was done by the deliberate policy of the Liberal Party. They did it in order to destroy the power of the landowners and to drive the land into the market if they could. That was avowed by their leader. Now they come with crocodile tears, pitying the poor landowner for having suffered the fate which they themselves intended for him, and saying how unfortunate it is that he cannot any longer do his duty when they themselves intended to make it impossible for him to do his duty. That is the real history of Liberal legislation in respect of land.
We occupy quite a different position. We have no desire whatever to change fundamentally the fiscal policy of this country, but we do admit that there are certain departments of State intervention which might usefully be followed, and one of those departments is that when you are dealing with an industry, whether the agricultural industry or another industry which is in special difficulties, owing to causes over which those concerned in it have no control, you can give it temporary assistance. That, of course, is the whole policy of safeguarding which the noble Earl has attacked. It is also the defence of the policy of the subvention to the beet industry of this country. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, who sits beside Earl Beauchamp, agrees in repudiating the help which has been given to the beet industry in this country. Earl Beauchamp said he was entirely against it. I should rather doubt whether noble Lords who take a special interest in agriculture and sit in that quarter of the House would agree with him. It is not intended, of course, to be a permanent contribution from the State to the cultivation of beet, but it is intended, if possible, to start the beet industry in this country upon fair terms and with a fair prospect of success.
In other respects we have done our best to help. The noble Earl said that our claim to have helped agriculture out of the Road Fund had been contradicted 1141 by the recent policy of the Government. The Road Fund is so very wealthy that it can afford to help the Treasury in the manner which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has suggested and at the same time to help the rural roads. The figures are so enormous that it is able to do both, and under the policy of the Government it has done both. We have given, in spite of what the noble Earl says, a large sum of money to help the rural roads. Therefore it appears to me that that particular point falls altogether to the ground.
There are other redeeming points in the situation. I am going to say a word in a moment or two as to the general condition of agriculture, but there are certain redeeming points which we can regard with satisfaction; notably, the rate of wages of the agricultural worker. The rate of wages is far higher than it was. I venture to say, and I am very glad to be able to say it, that the agricultural worker is better off than he was before the War. I believe it is calculated that the real value of agricultural wages has doubled since before the War. At any rate, the rate of wages is very much higher than it was, and I think that probably noble Lords who live in the country will confirm that from their own experience. That is a very satisfactory thing.
There are other features in the position of the agricultural worker which are satisfactory, and notably that he has a much better chance than he had before of obtaining a small holding. The policy of the Government in regard to cottage holdings is a direct attempt to provide what nearly every noble Lord who has taken part in the debate has held out as a desideratum—namely, opportunity for the increased occupation of the land by the agricultural working classes. The provision of both cottage holdings and small holdings has been promoted by the legislation and administration of the present Government. Then, again, take the case of co-operation. Noble Lords in all parts of the House have been rather inclined to say that co-operation has failed. I do not believe that is the case, though I do not pretend to be an expert in this matter. There have been certain failures, of course, but broadly speaking the co-operative movement is making progress in the farming industry. 1142 In some cases it has reached a very large measure of success. There may be a temporary set-back—we are passing through a very bad time—but, looking at the thing broadly, the co-operative movement, in the farming community is moving forward and is moving forward satisfactorily. All these points are favourable.
The noble Lord, Lord Olivier, in the earlier part of this evening made a very interesting speech urging us to do more for stabilisation. Undoubtedly everybody will admit that the more stable prices can be made the better for any industry, and especially for the agricultural industry. But when the noble Lord points to other countries, and points to Canada in order to show what can be done in the way of stabilisation of wheat prices, I think he should not forget that the stabilisation which has been such a success in Canada has been carried out entirely by private enterprise. The State has nothing whatever to do with the wheat pool in Canada. It is a vast enterprise, but a vast enterprise depending entirely upon private effort. That is really the broad distinction between the policy which we have and the policy of the Labour Party and to some extent the policy of the Liberal Party.
There is a faint tinge of the Labour Party policy in the Liberal policy. It is a kind of milk-and-water policy which the Liberal Party professes. The broad difference is that we do not believe in substituting State action for private enterprise. We have observed in our experience of State action that wherever we have seen it we have found it to be unbusinesslike and unremunerative. I do not mean to say that it is always ineffective. Sometimes it is effective, but at a very high price. We have yet to learn of a State enterprise that is carried out on a large scale and is at once effective and also economic, and for that reason we pin our faith to private enterprise; not that there should not be State intervention in certain particulars or that certain assistance should not be given and certain alterations in the law made to help forward private enterprise, but broadly that the foundation and strength and motive of a movement should be private enterprise.
1143 It is because we take that view that we look with great suspicion upon the noble Lord's proposal to stabilise prices by State action, and we also look with great suspicion upon any scheme for the nationalisation of the land. We see before us a vision of an enormous bureaucracy set up by State action, which is likely to absorb a great deal of money and produce very insufficient results. For these reasons we cannot accept either the prescription of the Labour Party or the prescription of the Liberal Party. But I do not hesitate to say that we view the present condition of agriculture in many parts of the country with the greatest regret and no little anxiety. Undoubtedly it is very bad. I do not think it is reasonable to draw the inference that, because during the last three or four years the position amongst the farmers has been bad, this condition is likely to be of a permanent character. We hope that, with the measures that we desire to adopt and which we shall, no doubt, add to as time goes on, things may be helped, and, above all, we rely upon individual efforts of the farming community, whether among the landowning class or among the farmers, and we believe that by hard work they may weather the evil day without resorting to the kind of prescriptions that our opponents propose.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, we have heard a number of very interesting speeches to-night, but before I come to the two speeches which appealed to me to have far the most constructive worth—those of the noble Marquess, Lord Normanby, and the noble Lord, Lord Ernle—I want to say a word or two upon the two last speeches. Perhaps the most curious speech that I have ever heard, on account of a mental attitude which it is almost impossible to follow, was that of the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp. The noble Marquess was quite right in one of his remarks. I have not spent so much time in criticising Liberal policy as he has spent in criticising Labour policy. Let us consider that speech for a moment. The noble Earl says that he has no pre-conceived ideas, that he is a Cobdenite and a Free Trader without any heresies. I cannot think that the noble Earl has no pre-conceived ideas. His pre-conceived ideas have led him to oppose three great advances in 1144 agricultural protection and prosperity which, I claim, have been chiefly due to the Labour policy.
First among these is the sugar beet industry. Who started that industry, in the sense of giving contributions in order that it might have the advantage of support against foreign competition? Why, the Labour Party. The noble Earl might have been in power for years and he would equally have opposed any possible chance such as this of starting a new industry to the advantage of our agricultural districts. I appeal to any noble Lord on this point. We have often heard stated in this House what has been the charter of the advance of the agricultural labourer during recent years. It was the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, which I had the honour to conduct in this House and which was an Act of the Labour Party. No single Act of any kind has done so much to stabilise the position of the agricultural labourer in this country, and to give him a certainty which he did not possess before, as the Act framed by the Labour Party itself. If I may utter a word of praise to the noble Marquess, let me say that I quite agree that we could not have got it through this House without his kindly co-operation. It was from another part of the House that we got our opposition. The people without pre-conceived notions were very anxious indeed that there should be no interference with supply and demand, which too often means almost a state of slavery for the labourer. I say without any hesitation that the best Act that has been passed in recent years for our labouring population in agricultural districts is that which came from the Labour Party. I notice that only the other day in Cornwall the Prime Minister, in very honest and honourable language, referred to it as one of the great advances that had been made in recent years.
Then we come to what is called stabilisation, and in some respects I entirely agree with the noble Marquess. Stabilisation is a long word, like nationalisation of which I have had to speak, but it is not an impossibility. It has been carried out by private enterprise, and it can be carried out still more effectively by private enterprise assisted from public sources. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, looks upon stabilisation as a heresy, and declares that he has no heresy and no pre- 1145 conceived ideas but is a Cobdenite Liberal. He says: "Away with all these proposals! Never mind how much individuals or a particular industry may benefit. Do not bring them to me, for they are too heretical even to consider." I wish to say only one further word in criticism, for it will be far more pleasant to deal with the speeches of the two noble Lords opposite. The noble Earl parodied, as I think unjustly, the proposals of the Labour Party—parodied them, in a way that is not unusual in his criticism, by taking out certain passages that appeared to tell in favour of the argument that he was pressing for the moment. I listened very carefully to the Liberal policy and to a very great extent I agree with it, but for the life of me I cannot see what is the difference between what he called elected committees, better protection, a ladder towards a larger population on the land, the taking over of land where necessary for public purposes and so on, and a large part of the policy of the Labour Party, except that I think we are consistent and that we accept the responsibility and duty of carrying these principles to their logical result.
Not to detain your Lordships too long let me come to the very notable speeches of Lord Ernle and Lord Normanby. I want to make myself in harmony with the views of those two noble Lords. What is the common factor between both of them and myself and the Labour Party in looking for the best means of assisting agriculture at the present moment? Lord Ernle put it correctly, and if he listened to my speech—I know listening to my speech must have been a tiresome business and no one could blame him if he lapsed occasionally—he would see that the whole basis of the proposition I put forward was the promotion of the system of small holdings. I put it forward on the recommendation of two very eminent men, Professor Orwin and Mr. Peel, both of whom agreed with the theory of the Labour Party. You can always, of course, destroy a policy by trying to press it too far and by suggesting impossibilities.
Professor Orwin puts forward nationalisation. Nationalisation is no new term. It has gone on, as the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, has pointed out, almost since the flood; it has gone on at any rate for many, many years in this country. He put it for- 1146 Ward as the basis on which you could obtain in its best form the small holding principle. I do not wish to go into the reasons he gave because I referred to them on the former occasion. If you want credit, which is necessary, you will not get it while the land is in the hands of private landlords. If you want assistance in a great variety of ways, you can only get it under State ownership, because State ownership means a maximum of individual control on the farmer's part and the minimum of interference on what is equivalent to the landlord's part. That is because the tenure does not depend upon the contract between the two parties but it is carried out on the lines of the general principle which, when once laid down, conduce to a minimum of friction and to a maximum of economy under the head of estate management.
Let me come to one or two of the incidental points which are the essence of the small-holding principle. In the first place, I do not believe you can have a successful small-holding scheme without the education of the farmers of this country in the direction of co-operation and combination. In Denmark, as is pointed out in connection with the great scheme for adult education there, they attribute the prosperity of their smallholding scheme to the spirit among the small farmers there of co-operation and combination, and they say that the farmers there have been educated in that direction at the adult schools to which they go between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. We cannot shut our eyes to that fact. We want co-operation and combination. I recognise that that is one of the difficulties here. Farmers are isolated individualists to a very large extent. In a place like Denmark you find that the spirit of co-operation and of combination has been cultivated by education and that they attribute the prosperity derived from the smallholdings more especially to that source. Neither Lord Ernle nor Lord Normanby would differ from me on the importance of combination and co-operation. That is one of those common factors that I would like far more realised as regards our agricultural industry and the agricultural question.
It is no good being angry with the Labour Party and shouting words like nationalisation. What we want to do is 1147 to come together and to be constructive on such points as those which I have indicated. We might learn a great deal from members on that side with their experience if they would talk to us instead of criticising us. I have read most carefully the policy of the Labour Party; I have also read most carefully the book of Professor Orwin and Mr. Peel. In essential principles they agree. You can choose a phrase here or there which sounds uncomfortable, but, when you come down to fundamental principles and fundamental ideas, there is practically no distinction between what those eminent research workers are in favour of and what we of the Labour Party are in favour of at the present time. There are one or two other matters on which I hope we shall have the advantage of the assistance of Lord Ernle and Lord Normanby in stirring up the Government to do something. Take the case of marketing. Everyone knows what an extremely important thing that is, particularly in many districts. What has happened? Instead of helping the farmers in this country, you are spending about a million in advertising Imperial farming products. I am not speaking against Imperialism, but I say it is grossly unfair to spend a million of money in advertising competitive products, having regard to the conditions in this country, when at the same time you do not pay a similar amount in order to push forward the marketing prospects of our own farmers.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
I hope the noble Lord will permit me to intervene at this point. I am the only member of this House sitting on the Empire Marketing Board and I sit there as representing British farmers. I can say with perfect confidence that the Empire Marketing Board are doing a great work at the present time, a work which is acknowledged by the farmers themselves, as may be seen in the last issue of the great farmers' journal of this country, in advertising British produce at least as much as produce coming from other countries. Out of the grant made by the Empire Marketing Board for the express purpose of improving agriculture in this country the Ministry of Agriculture are issuing—and it has never been done by any previous Government—a series of Orange Books on almost every 1148 imaginable branch of farming in order to enable farmers to understand the principle of marketing and to get a better price on our own markets.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I would like to ask a very pertinent question of the noble Lord. How much of this million pounds has been spent upon the advertising of what I may call competitive produce, and how much has been spent in assisting farmers in this country?
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
The question is going to be raised as a special subject of debate in this House next week. I may say that I have not got the statistics with me, but no less than £40,000 has been allocated to us at the Ministry of Agriculture for the express purpose of advancing the marketing of our home products.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
I have told the noble Lord that I am not in a position at the present moment to give him statistics as to the actual cost of advertising British farm produce on the same lines as Colonial produce, but those figures will be available next week.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Until those figures are available it is utterly impossible to make certain that the British farmers have had fair treatment as regards these marketing facilities by advertisement. We all know the advertisements which are to be seen about, and I have never seen myself any which were not in favour of the Imperial producer. Do not let it be thought that I am against him, but I do say that the British farmer ought to have equal advertisement, and that the conditions of agriculture in this country certainly make fair treatment as between imported produce and home produce a first necessity.
Now let me come to other matters, and I hope that the noble Marquess will agree on these too. Take the question of rates. This is a matter which was also referred to by the Prime Minister in Cornwall, and naturally and necessarily. Proposals to relieve farmers from rates in the sense of having proper differentiation between Imperial and local expenditure, has never been carried out. I say that there is no road in this country, except perhaps some 1149 by-path, that ought not to be paid for by other moneys than those derived from agricultural rates. That would be in effect nothing more than carrying out a proposition which was laid down by a Royal Commission as far back as 1902 or 1903. Then again, as regards the Road Fund, is what is being done fair? The Road Fund ought in its entirety, in the first instance, to be devoted to expenses incurred on roads at the present moment, largely owing to motor traffic, if the farmers had that advantage which they ought to have. Yet twice the Road Fund has been raided, and what the future will be as regards the finances of this country no one can prophesy.
Lord Normanby gave the price of wheat at the time of the Crimean War. I am old enough to recollect that just after the Crimean War wheat in our district rose to the highest we have ever had it—namely, 84s a quarter. We cannot have a return to those times, nor ought we to have because of what it means to the poor consumer. I rejoice to think that no one in this country has had a larger experience of small holdings, or been a more effective administrator, than the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire. I do not know for how many years he held the reins at the Ministry of Agriculture. I do not want to go back to what he said, but he stated succinctly that he was in favour of the proposals for small holdings which I indicated in my opening address, and I hope he will be here to support us when we divide, in order to show that we are not satisfied with what the Government have done. I must, however, press on in order to conclude my remarks.
There are just two further matters which I should like to mention. They are these. Mr. Baldwin, the Prime Minister, made a speech in Cornwall, and immediately afterwards there was a letter from the National Farmers Union, commenting on what he said, to this effect:The most curious omission is that it contains no reference at all to what was once in the forefront of the Government's agricultural police—namely, proposals for increasing credit facilities.You will never increase credit facilities until yon have nationalised the land. The 1150 letter goes on to say this, speaking of the Party on which they chiefly rely:It is true that Mr. Baldwin, speaking at Taunton on October 17, 1924, stated that he was not sanguine of any such conference [of owners, occupiers and labourers] …. But these convictions did not prevent his stating in his election address that he regarded it as 'vital that the great basic industry of agriculture should not merely be preserved but restored to a more prosperous condition as an essential balancing element in the economic and social life of the country.'I entirely agree with that view. It is the same view that I put forward, and it was put forward almost in the same words by Lord Ernle. What has been the result? Will any one who really knows the conditions in our country life say, for one moment, that that promise has been fulfilled? I do not underrate the difficulties, but as a matter of fact in every single direction the difficulties have been enhanced, to the disadvantage of agriculture.
Then I could not help seeing this resolution proposed by a Cambridgeshire member at the Conservative Party meeting:This meeting considers that the depressed condition of agriculture has created among agriculturists a considerable feeling of disappointment with the Government's agricultural policy, which is doing harm to the party"—I care about the harm to the country—and wishes to bring the matter to the notice of the Prime Minister, and begs that the greatest sympathy may be shown to those engaged in the industry.That resolution was carried by, acclamation. What is the position? The noble Marquess, I admit, had not much time in which to do it, but he has not indicated any new policy. He has not indicated that even in these conditions, as they stand, there is going to be a real guaran tee of fair and equal treatment. And so, when the Division comes, for my part I shall vote in favour of my Motion, really regarding it as a Resolution against the do-nothing policy of the present Government, although beyond all others they are really aware of the very serious condition of agriculture at the present moment.
§ On Question, Whether the Motion for Papers shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 5, Not-Contents, 43.1151
|De La Warr, E. [Teller.]||Arnold, L.||Parmoor, L. [Teller.]|
|Cave, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Mar and Kellie, E.||Forster, L.|
|Mayo, E.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.}|
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Midleton, E.||Gainford, L.|
|Morton, E.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)|
|Marlborough, D.||Onslow, E.||Knaresborough, L.|
|Northumberland, D.||Powis, E.||Lamington, L,|
|Sutherland, D.||Wicklow, E.||Mildmay of Flete, L.|
|Dufferin and Ava, M.||Bertie of Thame, V.||Newton, L.|
|Normanby, M.||Elibank, V.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Airlie, E.||Bledisloe, L.||Sempill, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Carew, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Clarendon, E.||Dynevor, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Douglas, L. (E. Home.)||Templemore, L.|
|Iveagh, E.||Ernle, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Fairfax of Cameron, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.