§ LORD BLEDISLOErose to call attention to the large and steadily increasing area of waterlogged land in England and 882 right to say any more, but this Bill has been put off a great many times, and I should prefer that we finished with it now and allowed the Amendments to be made in another place. If your Lordships think otherwise I should be prepared to move the adjournment of the debate and to give Notice to leave out those two clauses on the adjourned debate. It would be then understood that the Bill would pass without opposition. I should not care to put it off and then find that some other question was suddenly brought up. If it is understood that when those two clauses are left out the Bill will pass without opposition, I shall be glad to move the adjournment of the debate. I gather that silence gives consent and, therefore, my Lords, I shall move that this debate be adjourned.
§ On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read a third time?—
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 18; Not Contents, 24.881
|Beauchamp, E.||Arnold, L.||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Atkin, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Russell, E.||Banbury of Southam, L. [Teller.]||Sandhurst, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V. [Teller.]||Charnwood, L.||Sudley, L. (E. Arran)|
|Ullswater||Clwyd, L.||Tenterden, L.|
|Hemphill, L||Thomson, L.|
|Hailsham, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Plymouth, E.||Askwith, L.|
|Stradbroke, E.||Bledisloe, L.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Cranworth, L.|
|Marlborough, D.||Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)|
|Elibank, V.||Harris, L.|
|Airlie, E.||Strathspey, L.|
|Clarendon, E. [Teller.]||Salisbury, L. Bp.||Templemore, L. [Teller.]|
|Cranbrook, E.||Worcester, L. Bp.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Onslow, E.||Wharton, L.|
§ Wales resulting from defective arterial drainage, and especially from barriers formed by detritus and sea-silt at the mouths of our rivers and estuaries, with consequent decrease in the productive capacity of the agricultural land of this country, as disclosed by the Report in 1927 of the Royal Commission on the Land Drainage of England and Wales; and to 883 enquire whether the Government propose, by the employment of unemployed miners or otherwise, to take early action to arrest the injury caused thereby, or in any other ways to act upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lord, I have been impelled to put down this Question for your consideration partly because no debate has taken place in either House of Parliament upon this subject since the issue of the Report of the Royal Commission in December, 1927, and certainly no action has been taken ostensibly upon that Report, and partly and mainly because its subject matter so vitally affects the welfare of the agricultural industry and the problem how best to remedy, or at least to mitigate, its present unhappy plight. I may remind your Lordships that this Royal Commission, over which I had the honour to preside, had an extremely strenuous and intensive task, and, contrary to the experience of most Royal Commissions, presented its Report within a period of nine months from its appointment. The terms of reference to the Royal Commission took for granted the serious and urgent need of improved land drainage in the interests of greater and more profitable production, and merely invited us to report upon the state of the drainage law and its administration. We found both the law and its administration to be in a truly chaotic state. We found there were no fewer than 361 different drainage authorities with various powers and with various degrees of energy in exercising those powers, and with no sort of contact or co-operation between them even in the same catchment area, and yet, in spite of the existence of all these authorities, we found that there were many badly drained or waterlogged areas with no drainage authority at all. I happen to live in one of those myself where the land—and very good land it is—is deteriorating seriously, and under the existing law there is no one landowner or farmer who is able to avert the damage which is caused by the negligence of the others.
§ Our recommendations—I am merely going to summarise the more important of them—included inter alia:—
§ Firstly, the consolidation and the amendment of the general drainage law of the country.884
§ Secondly, the formation of a Central Drainage Authority for each catchment area—by "catchment area" I mean the area which is drained by the waters of any particular river, sometimes quite improperly described as a watershed—with power for the county council or a county borough council in certain areas to execute minor drainage works.
§ Thirdly, the rating of uplands as well as lowlands, in varying proportions, as, owing to the modern conditions of life and methods of carrying water underground, the former, that is the uplands, presented to the latter a seriously augmented task of water disposal. I do not want to stress that point at the present time, but it was, of course, the great controversy which arose over the drainage of the Ouse, and, in fact, the most important matter which our Royal Commission had to consider was as to whether the so-called uplanders as well as the lowlanders should bear some reasonable charge in respect of the task of getting rid of the water in their catchment areas.
§ Fourthly, the abolition of the jurisdiction of all subsidiary drainage authorities over the main channels of the rivers.
§ Fifthly, the abolition of Commissioners of Sewers and all obsolete or moribund drainage authorities. I may say, in passing, we found there were a great many that could be so described.
§ Sixthly, the basing of all rating of land for land drainage purposes upon annual value and not upon acreage, which is the normal basis of rating in this country.
§ To act upon all these recommendations will no doubt take some considerable time, and I understand that the Ministry of Agriculture is engaged now upon some preliminary survey with a view to legislation being embarked upon in the next Parliament, but, in the meantime, the state of the agricultural land of this country is in this respect going from bad to worse, and, as I want to emphasise in this debate, for reasons which only the Government of this, or indeed of any country, can abate effectually. The main purpose of my raising this Question at the present time is in fact to try to emphasise Government obligation in this matter of land drainage as distinct either from the obligation of a public authority 885 like a county council or the obligations of the actual owners or farmers within an area requiring to be drained.
I am not going to impose upon your Lordships many paragraphs of this Report, but I should like to read four as bearing particularly upon the problem I desire to present to you. Under the heading "Need for Land Drainage"—this, not being really part of the reference to the Royal Commission, was not dealt with at any length—paragraph 53 on page 21 of the Report reads as follows:—
During the Great War special attention was drawn to the serious need for land drainage in many parts of the country… As the period of the War lengthened and the necessity became apparent of raising from the land of this country as much as possible of the food required for the population, the problem of land drainage emerged as one of great urgency.
Then, in paragraph 54, the Report proceeds:—
…the desirability of providing for the proper drainage of the agricultural land of this country was fully appreciated long before 1914; the emergency measures necessitated by the War merely focussed general attention upon it. The Select Committee of the House of Lords of 1877—
please note, fifty-two years ago—
'reported that considerable damage was being caused in various parts of England by the prevalence of floods and that such floods had been more frequent and of longer duration than was formerly the case. The Committee considered that if the channels and outfalls of rivers were properly cared for, any water flowing into those rivers from their respective catchment areas might reasonably be expected to be discharged by them in sufficient time to render unlikely any serious damage to agricultural lands by floods.
I want particularly to emphasise the words in that paragraph "if the channels and outfalls of rivers were properly cared for" as being at the root of the drainage problem of this country.
The Report goes on, in paragraph 55, to state:—
We are cordially in agreement with this view, which unfortunately was not then embodied in any Statute, and we fear that the position with regard to land drainage has steadily become worse since the Report of the Select Committee was presented… With the heavy fall in the prices of agricultural products and the splitting up of estates during the last few years, the serious water-logging of land may lie expected to become even more prevalent, unless adequate steps
are taken to ensure that drainage operations, in many cases of an extensive character, are carried out efficiently and economically.
I want to read in addition the two last paragraphs of the Report, but I will not read the whole of them. Paragraph 141 says:—
…the recommendations which we make are directed…to the prevention of the further deterioration of land which is at present used for agricultural purposes. In the absence of proper drainage land is bound to deteriorate; the land lines cold, germination fails or is delayed and the period of growth is extended. The health of the community suffers and the rateable value of the land affected seriously decreases. It is desirable also to attack the problem of drainage before serious damage has been caused to the land, as long-continued neglect always involves considerable loss and relatively higher ultimate expenditure. We cannot disguise from ourselves the fact that the permanent deterioration through continuous flooding or waterlogging of large areas of land now in use, involves in any country the loss of a valuable national asset.
There, again, I should like your Lordships to note that we lay stress in this Report upon the fact that the land of this country, in whosever hands it is and for whatever purpose it is used productively, is a valuable national asset. The Report goes on:—
In many continental countries this fact is recognised by the State and a State contribution rendered available by way of augmentation of the fund provided by such local drainage rates as can be imposed without constituting an excessive and inequitable burden on agricultural land. The principle involved can readily be justified in this country …
The last paragraph I want to read is the last of all in the Report. It says: —
The arguments in favour of national expenditure upon land drainage are particularly strong as regards the effective clearance of detritus and sea-borne silt at the mouths of the estuaries and larger rivers and the preservation of sea walls and embankments against the excessive and violent encroachments of tidal water. Even more cogent is the claim for such expenditure where the deepening, widening or stabilising of the outfalls of main rivers is involved, particularly those flowing into sandy estuaries. We are, therefore, strongly of the opinion that until the State is prepared to accept due financial obligations with regard to such works as those above indicated very little progress can be made, even under the scheme which we have adumbrated, towards the realisation of the ideal of an efficient system of arterial drainage.'
Now I want quite shortly to refer to the fact that during the last few years two Land Drainage Acts have passed through Parliament.
§ The last Act, that of 1926, threw the whole burden of land drainage, so far as the county council areas were concerned, upon the county councils themselves and removed it from the shoulders of the Government. Under the former Act of 1918, as well as under the more recent Act of 1926, various drainage schemes have been put in hand by county councils all over the country, as well as by other statutory bodies, but the discontinuance of Government grants towards the cost of county drainage administration some three years ago involved in many counties the discharge of a very useful official known as the county drainage officer and the consequent abandonment of much useful work upon which the more enterprising counties had embarked. In fact, owing to the discontinuance of county land drainage enterprise three years ago, a good deal of expenditure that was previously undertaken by the county councils has been wasted, because the water courses that were then to a large extent cleared have since silted up. Minor sporadic grants were made from the Exchequer a few years ago following the War period for small drainage schemes conducted by county councils for the relief of unemployment, and more recently, largely owing to the difficulties in the coal industry, similar schemes for the employment of unemployed persons, mainly miners, have been put in hand.
§ I learn from the Ministry of Labour through the medium of the Ministry of Agriculture that there is contemplated a prospective cost of something like £300,000 in the employment of unemployed miners and other unemployed persons upon land drainage schemes, seven of which, I believe, have already been put in hand. I want to submit to your Lordships that much of this money will be wasted unless the problem is tackled, and courageously tackled, at the right end, which is, of course, as the excerpt from the Report that I have read indicates, at the mouths of our rivers and estuaries, where the work must obviously and necessarily be undertaken, not by private individuals nor even by drainage boards, but by the Government or by public authorities at the public ex- 888 pense. In many, if not most, of these rivers there is accumulating a great bank or barrage of mud, sand or silt, composed partly of detritus washed down from the hills and the upper reaches of the catchment area, and partly of sea silt driven up by the force of the tides. This, as in the case of the great Mississippi about two years ago, is not merely raising the bed of the river and the tributary water courses throughout the whole catchment area and compelling the erection and maintenance of river banks above the natural level of the adjoining land, but it is raising the whole water table of the agricultural land throughout the lower reaches of the catchment area, containing normally its most fertile land, with the result that the soils are becoming cold and stagnant, germination is delayed, and there is an ever-increasing growth of rushes, sedges, mare's-tail, mosses and other water-loving plants.
It is no exaggeration to say that, owing to the neglect by Parliament of this problem since the Select Committee of your Lordships' House reported very urgently and seriously upon it over fifty years ago, a good deal of the land throughout this country—and, if I may say so, particularly in Wales—which grew good crops of food and other land produce, is not growing any crops at all to-day. I have in front of me quite an interesting leading article in the Welsh Gazette of January 31 last, adumbrating this debate. It runs as follows:—
Many acres in the fertile vale of Aeron, which within flying memory produced rich harvests, to-day bear no crops other than rushes. Too much valuable land in the Clarach Valley also is becoming a profitless swamp. Hundreds of acres on the confines of Borth Bog have gone out of cultivation for want of proper drainage"—
I ought perhaps to mention that all this is referring to the County of Cardigan—
and parts of the valleys of the Teify and Dulas have greatly deteriorated in value as agricultural land through the same cause. These areas, and others like them in the County, could be restored to cultivation by drainage, and measures could be taken to reclaim a wide expanse in the estuary of the Dovey. The problem of unemployed land should concern us as much as the problem of unemployed men, if only because the one has a bearing upon the other.
Apart from those cases where, owing to the lack of efficient drainage, land that formerly produced crops is not produc-
ing them to-day, it might quite clearly be demonstrated that a large area of land in this country which used to produce a large output of economic land products is to-day producing a greatly reduced output as a result of the waterlogged and semi-waterlogged condition of the soil.
§ This fact is reflected in the comparative yields of our chief crops during the last fifty years, as is shown in the official Crop Returns. I do not want to trouble your Lordships with the detailed figures, except to tell you that during the last fifty years the yield per acre of wheat in this country has merely risen from 15.7 cwts per acre to 17.4 cwts per acre, or 5 per cent. as contrasted with France, where there has been a percentage increase of 37; with Germany, where the increase is 46 per cent; and with Belgium and Holland, where the increase has been even more striking. I want particularly to refer to Belgium and Holland, because these are two countries in which most extensive land drainage operations have been carried on, as your Lordships will know, during the last forty or fifty years. In Belgium there has been a percentage increase in the yield of wheat per acre of 75, as compared with our 5 per cent., and in Holland of 61, the variation in Holland being from 13.4 cwts. per acre in the years 1871–4 (more than fifty years ago) to 21.3 cwts. in the years 1925–7. The same thing applies to Denmark and other countries, and it applies also to every ordinary farm crop that is commonly grown in Western European countries. I am not at all sure that it is fair to instance wheat particularly, because, as your Lordships will realise, owing to wheat being found so unproductive a crop in recent years, a large area of land that was not particularly well fitted for wheat production is no longer used for that purpose, and wheat production is to a larger extent restricted to those areas where the land is reasonably good for the purpose.
§ You find a still better illustration in the case of potatoes, a food crop that is grown in all those countries and in every part of this country. Here I am sorry to have to say that during the last fifty years the average yield per acre has not increased at all in this country, whereas in most other countries the increase in the yield is considerable. I think one 890 may reasonably say that, bearing in mind the greater availability and knowledge of the use of fertilisers during this fifty-year period and the enormous improvement as the result of breeding and selection in the yield capacity of our chief food crops, not to mention the spread of agricultural education, we might reasonably have expected, not that the standard of production or output would be stationary, but that it would have been immensely improved in this country during the last fifty or sixty years. That, in fact, as I have shown your Lordships, is not the case. The two great and growing defects of the land of this country are undoubtedly lack of proper drainage, and acidity, or sourness, or want of lime, and the latter is largely attributable to the former. In every area where you have a large rainfall and a defective drainage system acidity is becoming more and more marked, and the need for lime is becoming ever greater.
§ Farmers are being repeatedly urged to work out their own salvation. Various remedies are being put forward for improving the present parlous state of the agricultural industry. There is no more hopeful effort in this direction than that which is being made by the publication of economic reports by the Ministry of Agriculture, and I venture to think that the present Minister of Agriculture and his colleague who represents the Department in this House will go down to history as great pioneers of the marketing of agricultural produce in this country. We have in the Press to-day the last of these economic reports, showing how by orderly and organised marketing of wheat and other cereals the farmer ought to be able to obtain much better value for his best samples of these crops. It is all excellent work, but it is not fair to ask the farmers to work out their own salvation, even with such assistance as the Ministry of Agriculture is able to afford, when all the time there is a basic defect in the raw material of their industry, or, if you like, in the factory which produces their output, which only the Government can remedy.
§ This is the proposition which I desire to submit to your Lordships to-day; that all these patchy, piece-meal, sporadic and isolated attempts to improve drainage conditions, if carried on without first 891 cleansing the channels and outfalls of the rivers, and removing the obstructions at their mouths, are largely wasted labour and uneconomic expenditure, and that if that expenditure is charged partly or mainly to the farmer or landowner it is difficult to justify. It is of no use to patch up an old house or point its masonry, if its foundations are weak and threaten the collapse of the fabric. The foundation of this problem is the choking of the mouths of our main watercourses—our rivers and estuaries—with obstructions which only Government work and Government money can effectively remove. To solve the problem effectively you must begin at the sea and work upwards, dredging and removing accumulated silt as you go, throughout the whole of the catchment area. Thus only can you obtain continuously a free flow and lower the whole water table of the catchment areas of the main river and its tributary streams. What is exactly happening throughout the whole country to-day, to put it quite shortly, is this, that the water table, the level of water in the land throughout the whole country that is in any sense subject to this defect, is slowly rising, with the result that the land, if not actually waterlogged, is getting less capable of effective and adequate productivity, and less able to respond to the lessons of science, and less able to produce the food and other produce out of which the farmer has to make his living. It stands to reason that if you choke up the mouths of our rivers and estuaries you are holding up water which in the result raises the water table in the whole of the catchment areas.
§ I can illustrate that very well from our own experience in Gloucestershire, where we have been trying for some time to get over this difficulty without assistance of the kind which I am suggesting that the Government ought to give. We are finding the task really impracticable. Only quite recently the river Avon, the Warwickshire Avon, has been tackled by the joint efforts of the Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire County Councils, and they are met with this difficulty. They contemplated a scheme under the Land Drainage Act of 1926, which throws at least part of the cost upon the owners within the affected area. The owners complain with some reason that this charge is being thrown upon them 892 when the real trouble is taking place lower down, where the tributaries join the Avon and the Severn, where there was a great collection of wrack, detritus, silt and rubbish which it was not part of the business of the local drainage authorities to remove.
§ In conclusion I want to ask whether some of this money which is now available from the public purse, and particularly for the benefit of unemployed persons, cannot be directed to the more effective solution of this problem. I am told through the Ministry of Labour that unemployment benefit has amounted between January 15, 1913, when it was first established, and February 2, 1929, to no less a sum than £370,000,000, of which the Exchequer has contributed out of the taxpayers' pockets £104,700,000. The effect of this "dole" has been in many cases, as I am sure your Lordships will admit, to reduce the inclination and incentive to work on the part of these unemployed persons, and to destroy their self-respect and indeed their physical efficiency. Moreover, it makes many agricultural workers, and no doubt many other low-paid workers in other industries, discontented and less enthusiastic about their work. With 27s. 6d. for a man and wife, with an extra allowance for each child, it does not require a very large family to bring into the home of the unemployed man more than the minimum wage of an active agricultural worker. That does not put very much premium upon the industry of the agricultural workers in a district where there are a large number of "dole"-supported unemployed, and all the time there is work of real national value which needs doing, and work for which the miners especially are particularly well equipped—the reclamation or drainage of land once fertile and productive, but now growing gorse or bracken or scrub, or which is waterlogged and marshy, full of rushes and no doubt attractive to some sportsmen as being the resort of snipe.
§ It is often stated that the reclamation of land is not an economic proposition—that the necessary capital expenditure upon it would never yield a fair rate of interest. I venture to suggest that there is no other country in Europe where this view is held. In all others with which I am acquainted, and about which we on the Royal Commission enquired, produc- 893 tive land is regarded as a valuable national asset, and even if expenditure upon its continued productiveness does not yield a fair return upon capital, it is deemed to be justified because it is a valuable national asset. And surely there is no country, in view of our "dole" system, where it is so impossible to justify this contention!
§ I put down a Motion for Papers. I do not want to embarrass my noble friend by asking him for any returns which he is not in a position to give, but I am going to ask him whether it would be possible to discover—what I have applied for to other sources and been unable to get, and what, I think, only the Government can produce—a return showing what is the estimated average reduction of agricultural output per acre since the year 1900 from any given area, such as that of the Ouse, which is subject to waterlogging. I ask for that return for this reason. We know perfectly well that there is a serious reduction in the productivity of land in these areas, but not even Rothamsted, with all its accumulated knowledge, can give any reliable information on the subject. With the crop returns available to the Ministry, I think it ought to be possible for them to be able to choose any typical waterlogged area, such as those in the Ouse catchment area, and show by comparative figures of, we will say, twenty-five years ago and to-day, what actually is the extent of the reduced productiveness in those areas due to waterlogging. Secondly, I want to ask what land drainage schemes are now in progress and in prospect; thirdly, what amount of unemployed labour is, or will be, employed on such schemes; and, fourthly, what proportion of such labour is normally employed in the coal mines. I beg to move.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I only rise for a few moments in order to say how grateful all of us who are interested in the development of our agricultural land should be to Lord Bledisloe for his work in presiding over the Royal Commission on Land Drainage, and for bringing up the question to-day. We should welcome it all the more, I think, because it shows that he has to a certain extent changed his mind since the issue of that Report. At the end of that Report the Commission does quite 894 definitely say that in its opinion the state of agriculture is such that it is probably undesirable to attempt any very great development for the moment. Now, with the appearance of this Motion, I think we may take it that the noble Lord has changed his mind, and considers that, in view of the circumstances in which the country is placed at the moment, it is now time to go forward on a really progressive policy.
To put the problem very briefly, it is this, that on the one hand we are told by an official Report, the Report of a Royal Commission, that there are very nearly 2,000,000 acres of land in this country which are deteriorating in value, if not actually going out of cultivation, as a result of bad arterial drainage. On the other hand we have hundreds of thousands of men out of work, many of them, particularly miners, peculiarly suited to this kind of work, who are unable to find employment, and who are, in so far as they are being supported at all, being supported very largely at the public expense. The problem, therefore, is this: Have we as a nation, or have we not, sufficient directing intelligence to unite these two problems, and make one contribute to a solution of the other? Actually no scheme for this purpose was put forward by the Royal Commission, but what the Royal Commission did was to lay down a basis of organisation by which a national drainage scheme could be put afoot. The noble Lord has already told your Lordships what the main recommendations of the Commission were—the compulsory setting up of catchment area authorities for every catchment area, the widening of the areas' basis, and the alteration of the basis of rating, so as to make it easier for agriculturists to face the problem.
But really the way in which the whole problem should be dealt with is so obvious that we have to ask ourselves what is the difficulty which is holding us up. The moment we think, we realise that the reason for postponement put forward by the Royal Commission does constitute the real difficulty, that is, that the state of agriculture to-day is such that all of us recognise that it is very doubtful whether it can face any increased burdens at the present moment. Now undoubtedly, if on the present basis of the law we were to proceed with a forward policy in this matter, it would 895 mean a very real hardship on countless owners and occupiers of land. Agriculturists cannot do the job themselves. They also would be unable to pay any charges that were laid on the land if the job were done at the expense of the State, if those charges were based on the actual cost, because we have probably got to face the fact that this matter is not going to be solved on what you may call economically profitable or balance-sheet lines. Moreover, very few local authorities are in a position to put up very much money.
Therefore, we come to this, as the Royal Commission say, that in the main this charge has to be faced by the State, and it can only look for recoupment from the land through charges on the increased value of the land which is caused by this State expenditure. I am assuming for the moment the existing system of land ownership, because we do not want to introduce into this debate any questions of general policy. I am assuming that we are faced with an emergency, and are looking for an emergency way of dealing with the question. Having said that, and having said that the State has to put up the money and has to look for its recoupment, such as it can get, by placing charges on the land to the extent of the increased value introduced into that land, we have then a right to demand, to insist, that the State, or the drainage authorities, should be given compulsory powers to put in hand the work that is needed, and to make these charges on the land. And they should also, as is said in the Report, be given, where necessary, compulsory powers of purchase. It is inconceivable that national work of this importance should be held up, as it can be held up under the existing law, by a comparatively small group of owners who may occupy a key position in a drainage system. We fully admit that property has its rights; it has rights to fair compensation; but we cannot and will not allow it to hold up necessary national developments.
The land of this country is going to waste. The man power of this country is going to waste. We have to keep that central fact in mind in tackling a problem of this character. The noble Earl may say, of course: "You are asking us to start on a very big scheme. You have to remember that we are coming to the 896 end of our tenure of office, and it is not likely that we shall be able to put it into force." The noble Earl is probably right in thinking that the same people will not be sitting on the Treasury Bench for a very long time. At the same time, I would point out to him that he sits there not purely as a Party representative, but as a national representative, and if he is willing to put into operation a scheme which we consider sufficiently drastic we shall have the very greatest pleasure in carrying it to a successful conclusion.
One word on a matter which is not completely relevant to the subject of arterial drainage—the question of the land drains already existing on private owners' lands. To-day I think it is generally recognised, having regard to the price of labour and material, as being out of the question to go in for any extensive system of new land drainage effectively. It would probably cost more than the freehold of a great deal of land at the present moment. So far from actually developing we are going back. Such is the state of agriculture to-day that we are all cutting down every single cost that might be called unproductive, though what particular cost is unproductive and what particular cost is productive it is sometimes very hard to say. But it is undoubted all over the country that the old ditches and old water courses are neglected. During the last century, particularly about half way through that century, a great deal of drainage was done by our ancestors. Those drains had their openings upon these old ditches and water courses. These ditches are getting blocked up steadily year by year. These pipes are becoming silted up and are ceasing to take the water off the land. I speak from experience, because we have been doing this work ourselves and have been astonished to find that what must represent to-day thousands of pounds had been spent on draining the land forty, fifty and sixty years ago.
I want to make this suggestion to the Minister. Would it not be possible for the Ministry to undertake an educational campaign and to make a great appeal to the landowners of the country to do this work this summer, and, if possible, to put forward work that ordinarily they would be rationing out from year to year? Could they not 897 make an appeal, either themselves or through the Central Landowners' Association, or through the Lords-Lieutenant, to all landowners to take on, according to the size of their estates and their demands, one, two, possibly on some large estates a great many more miners during the four or five months that we always hope for in the summer? I suggest that they should represent to the Ministry of Labour that it might be well worth while to pay the fares of such men both to their destination and back. After all, we were prepared to give assistance, some of it in the form of a loan and some in the form of actual grants, towards transferring men to Canada for the harvest. If we are prepared to send men to Canada surely we are prepared to spend money on giving these men work, and work that badly needs doing, in our own countryside. Many will probably stay. There are very few estates in this country that cannot always find work for a really good man.
In many of our counties we know that there is a shortage to-day of really good labour. And, mark you, many of these miners would constitute really first-class labour. They are used to the job, as the noble Lord has told us. They are accustomed to the use of the pick and shovel. Many of them were born in the country. Many of them are not removed more than one generation from life on the countryside. Surely it would be a much more productive way of helping the miners than mere charity. I submit that it would be a small but a very real contribution that we might make to this problem. But of course we come back to the main point raised by the noble Lord in his Question, that unless the Government can help us by opening up the arterial drainage of the country it is very little use anybody attempting to do much for his land because it will only send more water down to the lowlands and make things worse.
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF STRADBROKE)
My Lords, the noble Lord who moved the Motion referred to the fact that there had been no discussion of the question of land drainage since the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission. I welcome, therefore, this 898 opportunity of saying on behalf of the Government how very highly we appreciate the fine work that was done by that Royal Commission. The noble Lord reminded us that they achieved their work in a very few months and published their Report within a year of their appointment. I doubt not that the speed and expedition with which the work was carried out was due in great measure to the able manner in which the Royal Commission was presided over by my noble friend. I feel also that he must have added greatly to the knowledge he already possessed of the drainage system and the drainage of the land of this country from having held the position of Chairman of that Commission.
The noble Lord made a very interesting speech and covered a great deal of ground. It only remains for me, therefore, to reply to the Question he has placed on the Paper. I am grateful to the noble Earl opposite for his speech and his suggestion regarding the making of recommendations to private owners to employ individual miners or small gangs of miners to work on their estates. I have no doubt this matter has already been considered by a great number of people, but although the work may require to be done, it is not always so easy to find the money to pay for the work. There are also many difficulties in the way of transferring men from one part of the country to the other. Still, one is always grateful for any suggestion made, and I am sure it will receive the attention that it should properly have.
The comparison the noble Lord made with regard to the production of crops in this country as compared with other countries, I confess was not satisfactory. We do not seem to have kept up in the race of trying to produce the most we can from the land, unless it can be said that fifty years ago we were a long way ahead of all these countries and that to-day they are only catching us up. Still we all do feel that there is a general air of depression hanging over agriculture, and so long is that exists I am afraid people will not put forth their best efforts to obtain the best results. But we, on our part, are most anxious to help agriculture in every way we can, and I can assure the noble Lord that the Ministry are working along the lines of the recommendations of the Royal 899 Commission over which he presided. They are, in fact, preparing the ground for that legislation which will be necessary to put into effect those recommendations. The noble Earl opposite [Earl De La Warr] may be assured that whoever goes to the Ministry of Agriculture during the next few years will find that the work is being prepared in order to carry out these recommendations, not with the view of helping any political Party but solely with the object of doing the best we can for the agriculture of this country.
With regard to legislation on the lines of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, they recommended the compulsory creation of catchment area authorities representative of county councils and other bodies within the area. Before we can proceed on those lines it will be necessary to define the catchment areas, and to have them clearly marked on the map, so that it can be known which are the authorities that should be approached and which have the right to express opinions and levy rates for the purpose of drainage of the land. To do this preliminary work requires the employment of a very special staff of experts with technical knowledge, and the lines on which this staff are working are:—(1) delimitation of the watershed of catchment areas; and (2) the demarcation of the boundary line which divides the upper levels from the lower levels for the purpose of distinguishing between the rates to be levied. The Royal Commission name over a hundred catchment areas in this country, and our view is that it is necessary to take a survey of some twenty of the most urgent and the largest areas before anything can be done in the way of legislation. With regard to those areas, in three catchment areas the lines of demarcation both as to the catchment area and as to the division of the upper and lower levels have been completed. Eight other catchment areas have been surveyed and their watersheds determined, and two other areas have been surveyed to mark the dividing line between the upper and the lower levels. To complete the survey of these twenty or so catchment areas will take at least another eighteen months or two years. The Royal Commission recommended that provisionally a line should be set up by the Ministry of Agriculture showing what the level was to be between the 900 lower and the upper levels in order that preparations could be made for the carrying out of legislation, and the Minister of Agriculture has decided that eight feet above flood level is to be the limit of demarcation between the upper and the lower levels for the purpose of rating.
You will see, therefore, that there really has been no avoidable delay, and I think the noble Lord will see that the matter has not been pigeon-holed, but that we have been going along as well as we can to help forward the objects we have in view. In the meantime, the Ministry is well aware that in many parts of the country urgent remedial measures are called for. The noble Lord knows very well—I think he referred to the fact—that Government grants were made available in 1926. Under this programme, 19 schemes have been completed, 35 schemes are in operation, and 10 other schemes have been approved but have not yet been started. The total amount of money available by way of Government grants to these schemes was about £400,000. Among these schemes there is an important one approaching completion which has consolidated the position at the mouth of the river Rother at Rye and has conferred great benefit on the agricultural land. That is a point which I think the noble Lord was specially insistent upon—that the mouths of the rivers should be cleared. Another scheme is in progress at Littlehampton to preserve the mouth of the river Arun, while a third scheme is in contemplation for taking the river Welland out to deep water. At present it discharges on sandbanks and is therefore silting up. There are also two other important schemes in progress within the Ouse drainage area. These two schemes will cost something like £45,000.
Further, the Government have decided to include land drainage among the schemes designed to promote the transference of unemployed labour from depressed mining areas. Last December applications were invited not only from the drainage authorities but also from the county councils who possess powers to carry out small drainage schemes under the Land Drainage Act, 1926. As your Lordships know, such schemes, if they involve a loan, have to be passed on to the Unemployment Grants Committee, and, if they are approved, they 901 are subject to conditions laid down by that Grants Committee. The Government grant consists of 75 per cent. of the loan charges during the first period of loan up to fifteen years, and 37½ per cent. of the loan charges for the second half of the period up to fifteen years. If the scheme involves no loan it comes within the Ministry's conditions, which mean a grant of 50 per cent. towards the net cost, the other 50 per cent. being found by the authority concurrently. It is impossible to say as yet what response is likely to follow this new offer, but it will interest the House to know that at the present time applications have been received in respect of schemes costing round about £650,000. Of these, five schemes, costing £262,975, will be dealt with by the Unemployed Grants Committee and two of the schemes will be dealt with by the Ministry.
The Surrey County Council have decided to carry out an unemployment scheme at a cost of approximately £350,000, half of which is intended to be provided by the Unemployment Grants Committee. This scheme will be part of the Committee's programme for the transference of miners. The scheme has been approved by the Ministry, although it has not yet been started. If this scheme is carried out it will probably involve another scheme for the Thames Valley below the outfall of the river Way which is dealt with by the former scheme. If this scheme matures it will mean the expenditure of another £250,000, which will be partly financed by the State under the Grants Committee's conditions, which will mean a further employment of miners from the depressed areas. The House will therefore see that the Government are really doing a very great deal and are doing all they can at the moment for engaging miners on drainage schemes. But they cannot yet be engaged on the scheme set out in the Royal Commission's Report because, as I have already mentioned, legislation cannot be introduced until the preliminary survey has been made.
In conclusion I may say that the Government are fully alive to the importance of land drainage from the point of view of agriculture, and I think the record of the Government in the last four years shows that considerable progress has been made in the drainage of par- 902 ticular areas. The Government are fully in accordance with the desire of the noble Lord who asked the Question and they are doing all that they can, but, of course, as the noble Earl opposite pointed out, there is an economic side to the question and one has to consider, whether in public or in private life, whether it is right to spend money unless there is the probability of an adequate return. I happen to live on the east coast of England where coast erosion has been the subject of inquiry for a great number of years. There it is beyond the capabilities of private persons to fight against the sea and the expense of doing so would never be warranted by the value of the land that would be saved. Therefore, whether dealing with public funds or private funds, one must bear in mind the economic conditions.
I have tried to show, and I hope I have done so, that the Government are fully alive to the very valuable recommendations of the Royal Commission and are only too anxious to carry them out as expeditiously as they can, especially with a view of giving work now to people who live in the depressed areas and who by these new grants can be moved to different districts. The noble Lord asked me before I came into the House with regard to the estimated increase in agricultural production in certain areas. I am sorry that at the moment I cannot answer that question, but if any figures that would be of service to him can be made available I shall be only too glad to show him those returns. As to the land drainage schemes, I have with me a list of some of the schemes already started and I have given to the House the number of those that are in progress. As to the other question of the amount of unemployed labour that will be employed and the proportion of coal miners that would be employed, I can give no answer because the schemes are not yet all in progress. When they are in progress it will be easy to fin d out what the numbers are. I have tried to answer the noble Lord's questions, and I hope I have done so successfully. I assure him that we fully appreciate the very fine work done by the Royal Commission and we are endeavouring to lay the foundation for carrying out the recommendations made by them.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
My Lords, in view of the answer which the noble Earl has just given I do not want to press my Motion for Papers, but I would venture to express the hope that the information I asked for in regard to the actual number of unemployed persons who are going to be employed on these schemes and the proportion of them that are coal miners, will be made available for the purposes of the House in the early future. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say that, while I appreciate very greatly the excellent work that the Ministry and its very well equipped officers are doing in this matter, I should most sincerely like to see greater co-operation on the part of the Ministry with the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a view to a reduction 904 in the "dole" to persons who are doing no work to-day and who, in my judgment, might be most usefully employed on this work, to national advantage.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House, That the Clerk of the Parliaments had laid upon the Table the Certificate from the Examiners that the Standing Orders applicable to the following Bill have not been complied with:
§ Southern Motor Road.
§ The same was ordered to lie on the Table.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past six o'clock