§ LORD CRANWORTH rose to call attention to the present disastrous condition of agriculture; to ask His Majesty's Government what immediate, measures of relief are proposed; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the Resolution which stands in my name I am conscious that it is somewhat presumptuous on my part to bring forward a Resolution on such a wide subject, when others who are so much more fitted to do so are present in your Lordships' House. I have also been told that I am somewhat optimistic in bringing forward a Motion with a view to any result. I should nut mind incurring the charge either of presumption or of undue optimism, if I thought there was one chance in a thousand that my appeal would fall upon ears that were not deaf. It will be unnecessary to tell many of your Lordships of the condition of agriculture to-day, and more especially that of arable agriculture. You know that two years ago it was in a critical condition. Eighteen months ago, during the General Election, the condition of agriculture was brought up by our opponents as being a disgrace. It was in yet worse condition twelve months ago.
§ I will point out the difference between twelve months ago and to-day. There 146 was then a wonderful harvest. On good land the average crop of wheat was nine sacks an acre. To-day it is a bad harvest, or below the average. An average of six sacks would be nearer the mark. The price twelve months ago was in the region of 24s. a sack. To-day it is in the region of 16s.; that is to say, the yield of an acre of corn has fallen from over £10 to under £5. Many of your Lordships are aware that the cost of cultivating an acre of wheat is some little fraction above £10. That is to say, for every acre of wheat produced in the eastern counties there has been a net loss of £5, which is very nearly what that acre is worth to-day in the market. The same thing applies, possibly in a somewhat less degree, to barley and oats. If you turn to the dairy industry you will find that a new agreement has been come to on worse terms, and the dairy farmer is finding the utmost difficulty in getting rid of his surplus milk. Further, in regard to the one sheet anchor, sugar beet, we know we are faced with considerably lower prices.
§ It has been rather the habit among people to say that the fault for our agricultural troubles is largely that of the farmers, and I regret to say that lately higher authorities than were wont to say it before have said that the British farmer is an incompetent man, unable to run his business, and that the National Farmers' Union are to a certain extent a truculent body, with whom it is almost impossible to get on. I dissent from both those statements. With regard to the Farmers' Union, I may admit that I have sometimes thought that they were not so conciliatory or pliable as they might have been, and it might even be that if they had been more conciliatory they might have got more from people who were ready to help them. I wonder, however, if there is any great union which can be called conciliatory and pliable in times of difficulty for the people whom they serve. I do not think that any one would deny the enormous benefits that the Farmers' Union has conferred, not only on its own members, but on every agricultural institution and even upon the Ministry of Agriculture itself. With regard to the farmer of this country, I say, for what my experience is worth, that I do not believe that there is a better class of farmer in any other country in Europe, 147 or even in the world. I remember that some years back I had to go over and attend a congress in America. There were farmers representing forty-seven nationalities assembled, and I came to the conclusion that there was only one point on which our farmers were not at least the equal of other farmers, and that was that the others had their Governments 100 per cent. behind them, whereas we could put ours at a lower figure.
§ There is one peculiar thing, it seems to me, about the industry of agriculture to which I should like to call attention. I think it is unique in this, that it is the only industry, great or small, in this country in which everybody who is not engaged in that industry knows more how to make it profitable than those who are in it. From the highest to the lowest that is recognised. Whether he be Prime Minister or whether he be the man who grows mustard and cress on a damp piece of flannel, they all know how to make farming pay; but the man who has farmed all his life, and his father before him, and his ancestors before that —he unfortunately does not possess the knowledge that they possess. That being a recognised fact, I would nevertheless put this to your Lordships: Supposing a farmer had followed the advice that has been given him during the last year, what would his position now be? Take the man who owns and farms a good arable farm in the Eastern Counties, and is growing wheat. He finds himself "growing behind." as we call it there, because the cost of his production is more than the price he gets for his produce; so he looks for advice from among those who are ready to prompt him, and they say he is "hide-bound in tradition," and "why does he not lay down his land to grass and make a good profit for himself and add to the wealth of the nation?" He follows that advice, lays down his farm to grass—and in my experience about £4 an acre lays down your farm to grass—and be equips his buildings. He has no sooner done that than he finds this country is being allowed to be flooded with tinned skimmed milk by the hundred thousand tons, and he is unable to dispose of his milk at a profit; indeed, much of it he cannot sell at all.
§ So he looks again to the advice of his kind friends, and they say to him: 148 "What the British farmer lacks is a spirit of co-operation. Let him look at the example of our neighbours in Denmark and elsewhere." He takes that advice and invests his money, let us say, in a bacon factory, only to find in a very short time that it fails, not owing to the fact that the factory is not supported, but in nineteen cases out of twenty, as the Pig Council pointed out, because of the unrestricted import into this country of bacon at a price with which he is utterly unable to compete. Then if he has any money left—and his hank account must be getting very thin—he puts a little into fruit farming, as he is advised to do. That is an expensive business, and his last capital goes into it. What does he find? He is offered £17 for black currants which cost him £15 to pick and £4 to send to the market. So he leaves them rotting on the bushes. And can you be surprised that he no longer seeks advice from those sources but lets his land run down to prairie, on which a flock of sheep is looked after by a man and a boy and a couple of dogs?
§ At the General Election there was a good deal of criticism of the policy of the last Government. A good deal of mud was thrown at their record; a good many prophecies were made about the difference there would be if and when the Labour Government came in. I do not pay very much attention to that, because it is the custom of Parties in Opposition to throw more mud on the efforts of their rivals than their rivals think they rightly deserve and to express more optimism about their own future than they probably feel. That is a long-established custom, and even the new Parties which are coming forward see little reason, I gather, to alter that custom. There was one definite thing which was more than the customary harangue of the tub-thumper, because it came from the highest authority. It was the statement that was made that farming "must be made to pay"—a very simple and very telling phrase. I think it was worth many thousands of votes, tens of thousands of votes, because it was a thing that the farmers understood. After all, all they ask is that they may he enabled if they work hard to make a reasonable profit and pay a reasonable wage. The farmer thought: "Well, if farming must be 149 made to pay, that is the Party for which I ought to vote"; and I think I am entitled to ask the noble Earl (Lord De La Warr) what measure of any kind has been put through dulling the eighteen months that they have been in power that is helping to make farming pay. I do not say it is actually succeeding, because I know that it is not. The noble Earl may say, and I think he is entitled to say: "The problem is a very intricate and difficult one; we must have time to go into it, and we are taking time"; and I dare say, if you have only destructive criticism, and no constructive proposals to put forward when you come in it must take some time to formulate those proposals.
§ And so it was that I and thousands of farmers and thousands of farm labourers looked with anxiety to the King's Speech this autumn. With what disappointment, too, we received it! "Farming must be made to pay." And we see included in the Speech three Bills, one for the elimination of the scrub bull. I have always been in favour of that. I have the honour of being the chairman of one of our breed societies, and I know that this would help our breed. I believe it will in the long run be some assistance to agriculture. But you must remember there are a great many farmers who never look on their bull as a means of fertilisation with their cows; they get rid of the cows at once, and these farmers will be faced with greater expenditure by this Bill, which is, in fact, of no value to Clem, although I think on balance it will do good. But no one can suggest that that Bill is going to make a great difference to agriculture. We come to the Marketing Bill. On balance, I believe that is good, but it is of no earthly use unless it is coupled with the control of imports that come in to compete with our products. In that connection I think we might expect some enlightenment from the noble Earl.
§ I have supposed His Majesty's Government are interested in the question of the quota. I have supposed so for several reasons, and not least because I noticed in Punch that they were interested in the quota. I would like to ask the noble Earl if he has any information on that point. We should like to know about that, because it seems to 150 many of us that, although the quota may be useful, the quota without a guaranteed price is of very little use to the farmer to-day. We should like to know whether the guaranteed price is part of the proposal, or whether it is ruled out by the statements that I see so frequently made that there can be no subsidy for the British farmer. I have never been able to understand myself why a subsidy to the British farmer is such a dreadful thing. I recall that during the War the British farmer was subsidising the British nation to a considerable extent, and there was very little dissatisfaction with that.
§ We come to the last Bill, a Bill that I have seen mentioned to-day for the first time, the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill. Much of that Bill is an unemployment Bill, and I do not propose to say anything about it, but the first clause of the Bill is interesting, because to me it is the only thing that has been put forward which contains anything to show how "farming must be made to pay" by showing how farming can be made to pay. I understand the proposal is to take charge of big areas of land, 10,000 acres or so, and show how they can be made to pay. I believe they can be made to pay. They can be made to pay as they are made to pay in Russia, by giving practically no wages. I believe that they might be made to pay over here by cutting down the labour to an absolute minimum and replacing it by cheap foreign machinery. But I do not think that was the spirit in which "farming must be made to pay" was put before the electorate eighteen months ago, and I should like to have more information on that point.
§ Finally, I would appeal to the noble Earl whether he cannot give us something a little more full-blooded than these proposals, in our troubles? I remember some twenty months ago his standing up and saying that we were going out. He was perfectly right, we were. He said that when they came in they proposed to put forward a big import board which would be able to buy foreign products, especially wheat, so cheaply that out of the profits they made they would be able to guarantee the British farmer a price for his corn. I think it was "guarantee," but any way out of the profits they were going to 151 make there would be plenty to enable the farmer to have his share. I do not believe that would have turned out as the noble Earl expected. At all events, that was a constructive full-blooded proposal, a good deal better than these milk-and-water measures that we have before us now. I would appeal to the noble Earl to give us in our industry some measure of hope even at this eleventh hour, and I would venture to remind him that if the sands are running out in the industry of agriculture it may be that they are running out for other things as well.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, you will have listened with great interest to what my noble friend Lord Cranworth has had to tell you respecting the condition of agriculture in East Anglia. He speaks with expert knowledge of the conditions in Suffolk. In the adjoining County of Norfolk I also have interests which, perhaps, entitle me to add a few words. In the County of Norfolk at present the conditions of agriculture are lamentable beyond exaggeration. In almost every case the landowner has already reduced his rent to a figure which leaves him with nothing for himself and nothing out of which he can reasonably maintain his agricultural buildings. Bankruptcies among farmers are of daily occurrence. Notices to surrender farms were given at Michaelmas last wholesale, and in many parts of the County there is but small prospect of those farms being re-let. The labouring class are losing their employment by hundreds to-day and will be losing it by thousands immediately the turn of the year comes along. I will explain why in a moment.
Of those three calamities, the last is, perhaps, the greatest. Your Lordships are familiar with the fact that the agricultural labourer is not eligible for the "dole." You are also aware of the fact that he perhaps more than any other class is fixed to the spot in which he dwells. What is happening now will be happening in greater measure in a few week's time. He is being forced to seek relief and is being taken in hand by the public assistance committee, who, in turn, are placing him in undesirable numbers upon the highway authorities of the County, and he is now in very large numbers wasting his time and the public 152 money in unnecessary work upon the roads. Shortly, I am sure it is no exaggeration to say, there will be more men upon the roads in the County of Norfolk than upon the land and their prospect of returning to the land is very remote. My noble friend has given concrete instances of the fall in both the yield and the price of wheat. Nobody expects a Government to legislate for the weather. It is very unfortunate that this year we happen to have had in East Anglia a harvest as bad as any within memory. It has added greatly to our troubles. Naturally, no Government can legislate for that, and clearly every farmer is prepared to take the rough with the smooth in the matter of weather. But the fall in prices has been so alarming, so continuous and so, apparently, permanent that, combined with the misfortunes of an ill season, it has just about finished the arable industry in the County from which I come.
What is to be done? My noble friend has commented in perfectly friendly fashion upon the measures which the Government have introduced or are about to introduce in regard to agriculture. It is neither necessary nor desirable at this juncture to offer much comment upon those measures. The time will come when we shall have plenty of opportunity for that. But I feel confident that neither the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, nor the Minister of Agriculture would claim that any of these measures can do anything whatever to remedy the instant needs of the industry. That is a claim which, I am confident, they would not put forward. It is an instant remedy which is so urgently needed. I ask again, what is to be done? We know perfectly well that one, perhaps the most potent, of the causes of distress in agriculture is that at one end of the scale a wage is paid compulsorily which is uneconomic and that, at the other end of the account, no assistance is given to agriculture enabling it to pay that uneconomic wage. Many uninstructed persons would obviously jump to the conclusion that the proper way in which to adjust the disabilities of agriculture was to reduce the wage. I say definitely "uninstructed persons" because, quite apart from any sentimental reason, for purely practical reasons it would be folly, from the agricultural standpoint itself, to attempt to 153 remedy our conditions by reducing the agricultural wage. The agricultural skilled labourer is already working for a lower wage and is working for longer hours than the unskilled railwayman (shall we say?) living in the cottage next door to him.
§ LORD HASTINGS
It is necessary that agriculture should remain reasonably attractive to the younger generation. If the agricultural skilled labourer's wage is to compare in future even more ill with the wage of men not so skilled as himself, living in the same village, is it likely that he will remain on the land? It is not likely. He will go to swell still further the congestion of the towns. It is wrong, although it is very human, to try to adjust our agricultural troubles by tackling it at the wages end. If that is impossible, what can be done instantly? I would mention, and stress if I may, the question of sugar beet; and I would like before going on to that to say just one or two words upon a subject, which I think may appeal to your Lordships. You know all of you that processes in agriculture are necessarily slow. Assistance of any kind takes time, a long time, to filter through to the recipients who desire to receive it, but psychology is of vast importance. It is of prime importance. If you are able to give reasonable hope to the agricultural community it means one of several things. It means that a farmer is, so to speak, tempted to carry on longer than he would otherwise feel justified in doing in the hope that something concrete is going to materialise for him. If such hope is given to him it means that you instantly relieve the countryside of the terrible obsession of discharge of labour, wholesale as it is, which is now going on, and that, discharge of labour is being caused as much by the inability of the banks to continue to meet the weekly wages cheque of an already bankrupt farmer as anything else.
But you encourage not only the farmer to carry on; you also encourage the banking institution to enable him to carry on, aid a promise that something will be done, a gesture of friendliness, a sign of hope is really what is wanted more to-day than anything else—something that 154 will give encouragement, raise the agricultural community out of the depths of despair into which it has fallen. What can be done in that direction? It is no use getting up in this House, or anywhere else, and continually offering criticism unless one is prepared to put forward some sort of proposal. It may be turned down, or it may not, but at least it is desirable that some sort of proposal should be put forward.
Before I diverged for a moment I referred to the question of sugar beet. I think my noble friend used the words "sheet anchor" of agriculture. Anybody who does not live in East Anglia cannot realise to what an extent the sugar beet industry is the sheet anchor of arable agriculture in East Anglia. It has grown into tremendous dimensions. It has stood between at least 50 per cent. of East Anglian farmers and bankruptcy for at least four years, if not five. It has paid the rent; it has paid the wages. It is an industry the importance of which cannot he exaggerated. The State has had value for its subsidy ten times, a hundred times over. That industry is in grave danger of coming to an end. The negotiations which are proceeding still in desultory fashion between the parties concerned are not broken off, and, even if I knew anything about the subject, I should not be in a position to say much about it in a public place, but it is no exaggeration to say that the moment has arrived when the Minister of Agriculture should examine most carefully the stage those negotiations have reached, and save the situation before it is too late.
I regard that as a paramount duty, not only to arable agriculture in East Anglia, but to the State as a whole. The State, through its taxpayers, has put up a great many million pounds to establish the sugar beet industry in this country, and it is only right and proper that that money should be saved to the State. If the sugar beet industry is allowed to go the condition of chaos now existing in the Counties of Norfolk and Suffolk and East Anglia as a whole would be magnified a hundredfold. There would be no possibility of recovering in our time. I cannot help thinking the taxpayers of the country as a whole will visit with the extremest wrath any Party in the State which allowed the money that they have spent so liberally to be sacrificed. There 155 is a possibility of that happening. In other words, it would be a thousand pities to allow the ship to be spoilt for the want of a halfpennyworth of tar. If anything could be now said publicly to give to East Anglian farmers the expectation that it will pay them to cultivate their lands to-day for sugar beet crop next year, you would do more than anything else that could be done to continue labour in employment, and to give encouragement to the industry as a whole. I, personally, have grown sugar beet since the first factory was erected in East Anglia; therefore, I know at what time the cultivations have to be commenced, and I can assure your Lordships that unless the land is prepared for sugar beet in the months of November and December the crop will not be satisfactory for the coming summer. What is wanted is a declaration now, at once, without delay, otherwise very large areas of land, which would normally be cultivated in this crop, will not be so cultivated, and consequently the delay in making a commencement will ensure that thousands of labourers who would otherwise be employed next spring and summer will lose their employment for the whole of that time.
There is another matter in which the Government could help, but in that we are bound to touch upon the most debatable subject of tariffs. I would like to draw the attention of the noble Earl to the extreme folly which we as a country are committing by permitting our dairy industry to be, in large measure, ground out by the unrestricted import of a product which is not milk. I would not like again to weary the House with the same subject upon which my noble friend and I addressed you last July, but really the matter is of extreme importance. If it is not possible for an arable farmer to continue growing the crops which he has been expected to grow for generations he naturally turns to dairying. He knows that our market is indefinite. It literally is the greatest market in the world, and he turns to that and finds to his amazement that over-production is given him as a reason for not being able to sell what he has turned his hand to. And why? Merely because we, in our altruistic folly, are permitting our own people to be ruined by the wholesale import of a product 156 which, from the medical standpoint as well as from the industrial, is useless and almost harmful. If something could be said, if some hope could be held out that that outstanding grievance is going to be dealt with, that again would have a psychological effect second to none.
So far as the wheat subsidy or quota is concerned, I can only say that whatever decision His Majesty's Government come to I beg that they will come to it quickly. It is no use deferring consideration of these things. The crisis is not one which is coming next month, or next year. It is here to-day, and we have to deal with it as a crisis of the very first magnitude. I will not detain your Lordships any longer, but I do trust that when the noble Earl answers in this debate he will not say—I feel sure he will not say—that other industries are in as bad a way as agriculture. We admit that. We know that unhappily it is so. My own interests are by no means limited to those of agriculture, and I know only too well how hardly hit other industries are. Looked at from the humanitarian standpoint only, it would not be justifiable to claim for the agricultural labourer what we are not prepared to do for workers in any other trade. Nobody would wish to put forward such a claim. But I do maintain this: that agriculture is absolutely fundamental in every country. I once had the temerity in this House to compare agriculture, and a country with an agriculture which was not prosperous, to a god of brass standing on feet of clay. Now, my Lords, at the risk of repeating myself, I ask could there really be a better simile? Unless this country finds it possible to support a robust and reasonably prosperous agriculture we collapse like a pack of cards. Chaos reigns, and we cease to he the great country and the great Empire that we are. I beg the noble Earl and the Government which he represents in this House to take cognisance of the seriousness of the position and to deal with it with all the energy they possess here and now.
§ LORD ERNLE
My Lords, I should like, if I may, to add a few words to what has been said by the two noble Lords in two admirable speeches. I accept what they have said as a correct, description of the agricultural position. I do not think it is any good my saying 157 over again what they have already said, but I will try to put points which they have perhaps partially omitted. Of course, we all know, since the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House told us, the general reasons why the Government are apathetic in meeting the needs of agriculture. He told us that they can do nothing in a large range of subjects as long as land is in private hands. That is the general reason for their supineness. But may I point out to you a foreign opinion of what is going on in the country at this day? M. Herriot, a French ex-Prime Minister, told an audience in June, 1929, that the world was looking at the death agonies of England because she had neglected her agriculture for her export trade. Now M. Herriot is an orator. He was pointing a moral. He was taking an example by which he could plead with Frenchmen to maintain their agricultural industry, and he perhaps did not take into full consideration the enterprise and tenacity of the English people. But for all that his words have a disconcerting force when we remember certain maxims in which human wisdom is enshrined. Onlookers are uncannily observant of what is going on, and the opinion of contemporary foreigners has again and again been proved to be the verdict of posterity.
I believe myself that we in this country are in a position of most grave danger because our economic structure is not built upon a permanent basis of sound agriculture. On the contrary, we are spinning upon its apex, and unless we keep up our speed the structure, already wobbling, will topple over. Yet I think these facts must be present to the Government. They must know what is going on, and yet they remain, as I say, supine. That is my great complaint against them. They have done nothing to help agriculture at the present moment. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, referred to the very grave question of unemployment. It is quite true that unemployment at the present moment is rife in our rural districts. People do not remember such conditions as exist to-day for the last thirty-five years, and because the Government have not acted n time—or will not act in time—it is going to be a great deal worse in the coming winter. Up to the end of this month there is still time for ploughing. 158 After that we can do nothing to help employment on arable farms until next September. Meanwhile the numbers of the unemployed are growing and I wonder whether the Government have really considered what is going to be the condition of these men in the coming winter. As the noble Lord has reminded you, agricultural labourers get no unemployment benefit.
Have the Government seriously considered that problem, seriously considered it in all its difficulties and complexities? It is all very well to say: "Oh, give them unemployment benefit." At once you casualise the labour of the industry. You casualise it at all seasons of the year when a farmer need not employ his full complement of men, and you probably make matters worse. On the other hand, men are leaving the industry finally because there is no unemployment benefit in it. How are you going to meet the difficulty? I happen to be the president of a federation of rural approved societies which numbers something like 350,000 rural workers spread all over the country. In the summer of this year we conducted inquiries as to the opinion of the agricultural labourers themselves and as to the possible means of meeting this problem. May I ask the noble Earl to tell us whether the Government have instituted similar inquiries, whether they have prepared a practical method of dealing with this point and whether they can produce it now in order that these men may know that something is going to be done?
Then, as to the agricultural legislation that we have been promised, it has been promised, let me remind you, with the addition of some extremely injudicious language by the Minister in charge. Small holdings and large farms. What does that mean hut an attempt to penalise the farmer? You break up farms to get small holdings and you break up other farms to get your large mechanised arable farms. In both cases the farmer is to suffer. It is not, apparently, to keep the skilled experienced men on the soil, to keep the men who are still there on the land, it is for the benefit of the industrial unemployed that these small holdings are to be created. With the same breath you are going to create fresh unemployment be these large arable farms. I presume they have followed the lead of 159 Russia. If I may, I will in a moment give you some information about the great arable farms in Russia. It may, some of it, be news to the British public. It may not be news to the Government. My information comes from a man who is himself busily engaged in carrying out this economic experiment of large farming, and though I am absolutely convinced that the information is entirely trustworthy I cannot, for obvious reasons, give his name.
In 1928 the grain trust was formed in Russia. Up to that time Russian agriculturists had tried to meet the agricultural conditions by co-operation, but in that year, or a few months earlier, the Marxian scientists won a complete victory. Big State enterprises were the only method, according to them, of carrying on industry, and the small individual cultivator was to go to the wall. Under this grain trust huge farms have been created with unexampled speed. Remember the position. An economic dictatorship, wielding the whole national resources, using conscripted labour on nationalised land, necessarily results in these farms being pushed forward at an incredible speed. In 1929 there were 16 of them, and they cultivated an area of something like 1,000,000 acres of arable land. It is the produce of those grain trust farms that has come over to this country and has helped to swamp our own wheat industry. That was in 1929. In this present year, 1930–31, they have farms in operation, cultivating something like 2,500,000 acres of land. The next year they contemplate 123 of these farms, and in 1934 when the end of the five-year plan has come, they are confident that they will have in these grain farms 75,000,000 acres of land under tillage for wheat and grain. That is double the total area of England and Wales.
And bow are these farms cultivated? They have been laid out by American experts and they are cultivated by American machines of the caterpillar type. Any one of these caterpillars will plough 30 acres in a day of 8 hours. But they all work double shifts, and so they plough 60 acres each in a day. The whole of the cultivation is carried out by machinery. Oh one of these big farms, which has about 155,000 160 acres, you may walk for miles and not see a hedge or tree—that is natural enough—and not even a human habitation or any one man working on the land. You will only see the collection of huts for mechanics and sheds for the tractors. On those farms in the spring time—I am giving you an account of this particular farm of 155,000 acres—2,500 workers are brought on to the land, camped for the sowing time and fed from field kitchens. In the autumn, for the ploughing they have 6.000 men, who are kept there for 18 days.
When I said just now that you are going to diminish employment by these big farms, here is an instance in proof of what I have said. On an area of 155,000 acres you get only 2,500 men employed for 9 days and 6,000 men for 18 days. That is all the employment that is given. Do not the Russian Government see that? Of course they do, and as a remedy for the unemployment that these farms are causing they are providing dairy farms with expensive mechanisation of all sorts, with butter and Cheese factories attached, pig farms with bacon and ham factories attached in the style of Chicago, and cattle-breeding stations with refrigerating plants. All this is to be exported to swamp the capitalists of Europe. All of it! All the money that is derived from this export trade in grain, dairy products, pig meat and beef, goes into the mechanisation of new industries, of all those industries with which, at the end of the five-year plan, Russia is going to compete with the industries of the whole capitalist world.
That is the menace. Are the Government prepared for it? Are they expecting this boom in grain exports and the imports into this country of grain, dairy produce, bacon, ham and meat? Are they going to sit down and allow it to come into this country to swamp our industry altogether? What action have they determined upon? Have they taken any action? Of course, all this from the Russian side has almost an heroic air. In order to create this great agricultural and industrial organisation, the people of Russia are, consciously and deliberately on the part of their Government, by compulsion on their own, submitting to starvation rations which 161 are more severe than any that were imposed in any country during the War; and out of this starvation this competition is to be built up. Dons that, I wonder if the Leader of the House would tell us, conic within his definition of dumping—the output of grain farms which are cultivated by conscripted labour with an economic dictatorship and maintained wish the national resources of the country?
I have ventured to speak on the subject of those grain farms, and there is a great deal more that I might tell you about the position of the present holdings, but it would not be germane to the point that I wanted to raise. What are the Government going to do? What are the Government going to do as regards wheat, in the short time that remains to them, to prevent the increase of unemployment? What are hey going to do for the unemployed? What are they going to do with this immense amount of imported foreign produce that is already exciting alarm and that hangs over us as a menace for the future? What are they going to do? It is in the hope that the noble Earl will have something comforting to tell us that I venture to ask him those questions. I un sorry that he is in the position in which he is, for any one harder working and more interested in the prosperity of agriculture than he is I do not know, and it is with some reluctance that I ask my question of him, because I know, I am afraid, that he can give no satisfactory answer.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
My Lords, I ask for your indulgence on this the first occasion on which I have had an opportunity of addressing your Lordships, but the question of agriculture is of such enormous and vital importance to the whole country that I feel emboldened to say a few words. My noble friends Lord Cranworth and Lord Hastings have given you their views of the position of agriculture in the Eastern Counties. The position there is worse, probably, than almost anywhere else in the whole country, partly on account of climatic conditions, because their rainfall is not such as to allow the alternative systems of husbandry which are allowed in other more favoured localities. But although the conditions in the Eastern Counties may be worse, the con- 162 ditions in more favoured localities are very nearly as bad, and from a national point of view just as bad, because the alternative systems of agriculture are undertaken by the farmers with one end in view only, and that is the reduction of their principal item of expenditure—namely, labour costs.
That, from the national point of view, is a most disastrous thing. It is perhaps in agriculture the fact that the co-operation between master and man is greater than in almost any other industry. There are few industries in which the master knows his man's work and how to do his man's work to the extent that the farmer does, and there are few industries in which the man better knows and appreciates the difficulties of the master. This unemployment in agriculture, this turning off of men from the land, is not only causing great distress to the men themselves, and adding to the unemployment figures—which goodness knows are high enough now—but it is also the cause of very great and sincere distress to the farmers who employ those men.
The various measures which have been put forward—I do not propose to discuss them now; they have been dealt with in part by Lord Cranworth—have one thing in common. They do not any of them provide a market for the agricultural produce of this country. It must be realised that the agricultural market is entirely controlled from the outside, with the possible exception of milk, and even then the milk market depends on being able to sell the surplus satisfactorily. As your Lordships have already heard, the manufactured surplus is being controlled from outside by the imports of various tinned milk products. The market which is controlled from outside is not controlled and will not he controlled for the benefit of British agriculture, and without assistance from the Government it cannot be expected that any help will he given in markets to British agriculture. I do hope that the noble Earl on the Government Bench will consider that point very carefully in any measures that he brings forward, because although marketing organisation amongst farmers may not be in every case as good as it might be, measures for re-organisation and organisation of marketing mean the spending of money to get that organisation going, and no industry, whether 163 agricultural or any other industry, can be expected to spend money on organisation when their market is in such a precarious position and so much out of their control, as is the case with agriculture.
The fundamental thing that is required by the farmer is more money for his produce, because at the present time, as explained by Lord Cranworth, the price received not only for wheat but for many other (and most other) agricultural products, is not sufficient to cover the cost of production. The immediate necessity is such that agriculture cannot wait. It is of no use getting up and criticising what has been done in the past, unless something practicable is suggested for the future. Lord Hastings has mentioned sugar beet, and said a good deal about it. Sugar beet is not grown very extensively outside the Eastern Counties. It is grown in other parts, but there are large areas where it is not grown, and is not likely to be grown, and yet we do need to maintain and even extend our existing arable acreage, because it is only through arable acreage that we can look to an increase in the numbers of men employed on the land. I believe that the only possible solution for the moment for the immediate necessities is some form of assistance for wheat growing in this country. It is not too late even now to make some promise, and I hope that the noble Earl will be able to give some promise which will increase the production of wheat in this country.
It has been said that wheat is such a small proportion of our total agricultural production that it is not worth while assisting it, but it must be remembered that for every acre of wheat assisted, under our rotational system probably three other arable acres are also assisted. I therefore beg that the noble Earl will consider that that is an immediate necessity, and one which will give a breathing space to all concerned in it, and will devise a policy which can he acceptable perhaps to all Parties, and which can be of a more permanent nature than any system of tariffs or quotas can possibly be under the existing system. I thank your Lordships for your courtesy and attention.
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
My Lords, it is always with a feeling of gloom that we again and again refer to 164 the topic of agriculture, but the noble Earl who has just sat down has, I think, by his first speech, brought light into the darkness, and cheered us on. I am one of those who believe that it is an advantage to have these debates, even if they have no immediate practical result. I believe that the ventilation of this subject has been doing good, and that in all experience of life it is a mistake to throw up one's hands and to give up all for lost. It is much wiser to continue, and to see whether in the long run some response may come to a constant reiteration of the same complaint. And therefore I have no hesitation in taking up what I may call the dirge from East Anglia, because I have observed, and many of your Lordships will have done the same, that there is coming to be a change in public opinion. I was reading not long ago in one of our leading journals a really pathetic article on the whole subject, speaking of farmers and attempting to encourage them, and praising them for their efforts. That same journal not long ago had nothing to say about the farmers except that they did not understand their business, and that they had better go to Denmark to learn it. I believe we are making an impression, and if a public opinion on the subject grows, and eventually reaches those who live in the towns, our many discussions will not, I consider, be wholly in vain.
And it is not only the agricultural question that is before us, but several noble Lords have pointed out to us that there is a very acute question of unemployment, and the unemployment question is certainly a human question. Any one seated upon this Bench, or on any of the other Benches in this House, must quickly rise in sympathy to any question that has a definitely human background. For a man's work is his life as well as his means of livelihood, and we cannot look on unmoved as we observe the growing discharge of our agricultural labourers to swell the number of the unemployed in the towns. In the end that is a matter that ought, and I trust will, affect the minds of our townsfolk, because if they are thrown out of employment, honourable employment in agriculture, then they must be supported somehow. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has reminded you that they obtain no unemployment relief; but they require some form of relief, and 165 in the end that form of relief has to come out of other people's pockets, including those who live in the towns. And when we think of the importance of our rural stock and of maintaining it in a strong and healthy state for our whole country's welfare, there again I believe there is an argument that, as even the most selfish of townsfolk must see, does in the long run concern themselves. I was making an inquiry the other day, and found that as soon as the present sugar beet crop is dealt with in Norfolk there will be 8,000 men, as things stand, thrown out of employment to swell the ranks of those who are already unemployed. Only last June in another place it was stated that "since 1921 the number of agricultural workers has decreased by 99,000, and during the same period the arable acreage has been reduced by 1,670,000 acres. There are also many other factors operating." We have recently heard a good deal about what has been called a concealed excise in our taxation, and it is said that no one would dream of raising Excise revenue, on spirits for example, without a corresponding Customs revenue. Therefore, it is urged that if our present taxation adds to the price of goods, because taxation must in the end he passed on to the consumer, it would be only just to protect industry at the ports against the competition of foreign goods produced more cheaply under lighter taxation. If there is any truth in this theory, how very strongly must it apply to the farmers, because, as Lord Hastings has already mentioned, they can only sell their produce for what they can get in competition with what arrives dumped from abroad. On the other hand, their wages are already settled over their heads. No one wishes those wages to be reduced, but certainly it does put the farmers between the upper and the nether millstones. Industry cannot pay its way out of an empty till.
Lately I have observed in the public Press a considerable outcry against this dumped produce from Russia of which the noble Lord, Lord Ernie, has been speaking. But if one wishes to be logically consistent, supposing that the one desire is that people in towns should be able to purchase what they eat at the very lowest possible price, and all other 166 considerations are to be blown to the winds, I suppose, on that showing, that it would be an advantage that corn grown in Russia under conditions of slavery should be brought to England, and that, our farmers should in consequence go under, because corn so grown will and. does reduce the price of our food commodities. If we are shocked at the thought that dumped goods from Russia should be brought in, then I think we must be consistent and take a further survey, and consider whether there may not be other considerations to lead us to suppose that the cheapest food is not the one and only consideration that ought to guide our actions.
No one to-night has said anything on a point that always appears to my humble judgment to be one that ought never to be overlooked in any debate on this subject. We must always get our main supplies from abroad—that is quite clear; but I cannot but believe that, just as it has meant to us in the past a very great deal, so it may mean a very great deal to us one day in the future to be able to grow in our country even a fortnight's or a week's supply of food. We are all eager that the clays of war should come to an end but we have not yet reached that goal, and, short of that, a shipping strike and many other things might for a time interrupt the steady flow of seaborne grain into England. If that is the case, if it is even a possibility, it cannot be a mistake for us to encourage the growing of at least as much food in England as would, tide us over for a short time an insistent and perilous crisis.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has already spoken of the prospects of dairy farming, and the noble Earl who has just sat down also emphasised the importance of our taking into consideration the way in which inferior milk is brought over to us at the present time. But the day may come when increased facilities for transport and increased facilities for freezing, cooling and bringing over perishable articles, may make fresh milk brought from abroad a source of anxiety to our farmers. Any consideration of that sort does away with the advice that is being given to them to concentrate entirely upon dairy farming. They may find that, when they have done so, competition from abroad is be- 167 coming as acute as it is in other respects.
There are two other facts that I would like to bring to the notice of your Lordships. I happen to sit upon a Committee of Queen Anne's Bounty that deals with tithes. Tithe, as we see it at the Bounty, probably presents itself in a somewhat different aspect to tithe as it is considered in this House where many of your Lordships are not tithe owners but tithe-payers. We all look forward to the glad day some eighty years hence when we shall find that this unpleasan subject of tithes has come to a natural end through the operations of the recent Act and the administrations of Queen Anne's Bounty, and tithe actually dependent on land will be a thing of the past. The way in which our farming industry is going to the bad and the way in which the clergy will soon come to suffer was brought home to me very vividly there the other day. Your Lordships are aware that, under the revaluation provided by the Finance Act, 1930, a very large number of our farms are certain, not likely, to be assessed at a lower figure, and you are aware that when the assessment comes down to a certain point (I need not trouble yon with the actual details) the tithe-payer is relieved of his obligation to pay the tithe as it stands at present. A proportionate reduction is made. Rather than give your Lordships a number of figures or tire you with computations, I may give just one illustration of what is in my mind. In cases which have already come to the knowledge of Queen Anne's Bounty on recent applications to the district Tax Commissioners, even prior to this general re-valuation now in operation, for reduction of Income Tax assessments, reductions have been made by the Commissioners. In one case, in Suffolk, a farm let for £477 per annum in 1924 was let for £160 in 1927. Queen Anne's Bounty, as tithe owners, appealed, as they are entitled to do in the case of titheable lands, against an assessment of the farm under Schedule B based on an annual value of £160, but failed to secure any increase, and an appreciable amount of tithe had to be remitted. That case, I think, is one of a great many which will quickly follow one another.
168 Then there is another aspect of it. If the land goes out of cultivation, and in many districts there is a very likely prospect of that lamentable state of things occurring, the tithe for the clergy will practically be lost upon it. It is not likely if Queen Anne's Bounty, who are now responsible for collecting the tithe, took over and cultivated the land, they would make a greater success of it than the farmers who have already so far failed as to allow their farms to go out of cultivation. I am afraid that under this new re-valuation the disastrous things that I have mentioned will happen in many directions and I view with regret the prospect that lies in front of the clergy. Although, as I said when I began, I do not expect any thoroughly optimistic and cheering account from the noble Earl, I believe that these discussions do good, I believe that information is spreading and public opinion is improving, and that, as time goes on, we shall find that those who have hitherto been the critics of the farmers will turn out eventually to be their friends.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, I propose to deal very shortly with some of the proposals of the Government for remedying agricultural depression, though to a large extent they seem to me designed to deal more with unemployment. In regard to the Land Valuation Bill, some very valuable criticisms were made outside upon the measure introduced last Session. We understood that that Bill would be re-introduced this Session, but we have been informed that it is going to be modified a great deal. In another place, when a Question was asked as to what the Government were going to do in the matter, they replied that they had it under consideration and could make no statement at the moment. I am not surprised at that, because the criticism of the Land Valuation Bill has been most destructive in many directions.
Take, for instance, the case of the county councils, to whom a circular was issued by the Minister of Agriculture asking them still further to increase their small holdings. The Somerset County Council, of which I am a member, has a rent roll of over £60,000 a year. They are the biggest landowners in the county, and they very naturally wanted to know how this Land Valuation Rill would affect them before they embarked upon the 169 heavy expenditure necessary to increase their small holdings still further. I am one of those who are most anxious to see small holdings further increased, and the County Council of which I am a member have shown their desire in that direction. That County Council have carried them on without loss so far as they have managed them themselves. But when the Government interfered with the management of small holdings in the past—I am not referring to the Labour Government—there was at very heavy loss, which the Government made up. That shows that any attempt to manage estates from Whitehall means difficulty and expense.
The Somerset County Council take objection to subsection (2) of Clause 3 of the Bill, which provides that all these valuations must go before the rating authorities; that is to say, when the Government have made their valuation of every piece of land that valuation must be sent to the local rating authorities. That made us wonder whether the object was to do away with all the advantages of the Derating Act of 1929, because we are well aware that the Government opposed that Bill very strongly in another place and very much objected to the derating of agricultural land. So we put up a question to the Ministry whether that clause in the Bill would affect our small holdings at all, and the Ministry absolutely declined to give any answer to the question. The matter has been found to be so important that the County Councils Association are further approaching the Government on the question. I mention that to show that there may be some advantage in criticising Bills like that which the Government will introduce, no doubt, later on.
The noble Earl knows very well that the Council of Agriculture for England is n body which is representative of the whole of this country. Every county council in England and Wales sends representatives to it, as a rule one landlord and one farmer. On the other hand, it must be remembered there arc a large Dumber of Labour members who have been put upon it by the present Government or the late Government. What did the Council of Agriculture do the other day? They passed this resolution in regard to the Marketing Bill:— 170No amount of combination for marketing or compulsion of minorities for marketing will avail where the home market is undersold by imports of agricultural produce from countries where wages are lower than in this country, or where subsidies or veiled subsidies are paid.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY or AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL DE LA WARR)
The noble Lord will admit that that is only a partial quotation.
§ LORD STRACHIE
I have copied the words exactly from the report of the General Purposes Committee which was submitted to the Council.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
That is quite true, but it was a very long report. The noble Lord will admit that the whole of the first part of the report was approving of the Bill and this was an addendum. I am not disputing the fact that it was there, but I do not think it would be right to give the impression that the Council of Agriculture were opposed to the Bill. They quite definitely were in favour.
§ LORD STRACHIE
I do not understand the reason for the noble Earl's interruption. It would be much better if he would reply to me afterwards as he will be replying on the whole of the debate. I say that those words which I have quoted are the resolution which was passed by the Council of Agriculture for England, and I defy the noble Earl to say that is not the case. What is remarkable is that that resolution was carried nem. con. There were Labour representatives there; in fact there were representatives of all Parties present, and yet no objection was taken to it. I do not think the noble Earl himself took any objection to it while he was sitting there listening to the debate.
As regards the question of wages there is no doubt it is one of enormous difficulty. I do not take the slightest objection to wages boards. They were first introduced in 1917 by the Government of that day, and the Labour Government followed suit in 1923, but the difference between the Labour Government and the War Coalition Government of those days was this. Under the Act of 1917 we had guaranteed prices, but under the Act of the Labour Government there were no guaranteed prices. I approve of high wages for agricultural labourers, but it 171 does seem very hard indeed, where wages are fixed for the men who produce the produce of the soil, that when that produce is sold the farmer has, as stated in the resolution which I have just read, to meet the competition of produce produced with low wages, or with the help of subsidies, or veiled subsidies. That always seems to me a very unfair state of things. Again, I notice under this Bill that prices are fixed for home produce but not for overseas produce. What is the use of fixing prices in this country for our produce when they will have to meet competition from abroad which will, at once, knock down the prices here? I cannot see under the Bill how the prices are to be fixed. There will be oversupplies in one year, and scarcity in another year.
That seems to me to be another difficulty. I notice that in another place the Secretary for Scotland stated that there were two million hundredweights of dried and condensed milk imported in the first eight months of this year. He seemed to me to indicate that they were going to set up, of course with Government money, a new industry to provide new employment—to set up a new business and provide guaranteed prices for agricultural produce. I noticed the other day that the Chairman of the United Dairies Company, at their meeting, made this statement:During the past year several old-established firms in the creamery business have 'become bankrupt.He further went on to say:—The fall of prices of staple dairy product plus the ever increasing imports from the Colonies and Continent makes it impossible for creameries to exist if raw material prices are based on the liquid milk market.As far as I understand from what the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said, the Government are going to have creameries and to manufacture dried milk. If they are going to do that, as the Chairman of the United Dairies Company pointed out, what is the use of it when there will be competition from abroad with this dried milk?
One of the difficulties that we suffer from in this country is this. Imports of dried milk and cream are produced under conditions which, very rightly, would not be allowed in this country. The late 172 Government went rather too far under the Milk and Dairies Orders. I protested against it. On the other hand, undoubtedly in some cases what they did was quite right, but it meant more expense, and increased the difficulties of producing milk in competition with milk from abroad produced under conditions that would not be tolerated m this country. That is a very unfair kind of competition.
I would like to refer to another Bill which is being discussed in another place to-day, and will be discussed again next week. I understand that most strenuous opposition is going to be offered to that Bill. I only hope that the noble Earl will take notice of what will be said in this House. I doubt very much if there will be any opposition to what I am going to say in regard to that Bill. If that is so, it would be desirable for the noble Earl to advise his colleagues in another place to accept some of the reasonable amendments that may be moved by the Opposition. I am referring to the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill. What does that Bill do? It is a very long and a very complicated Bill indeed. One of the objects is to experiment with farming on a large scale. I should have thought that the Ministry were aware that there have been experiments in farming on a large scale under the system of co-operation. We know very well that the farming venture of the Wholesale Co-operative Society, which had plenty of capital, was a complete failure, and had to dispose of its land.
I notice that under Clause 7 of this Bill they are to set up demonstration small holdings. Why on earth should the taxpayer of this country have to pay for the setting up of demonstration small holdings when we have had enough demonstration over the whole of the country by county councils, who have shown most successfully that they are able to set up the small holdings? Why is there to be more demonstration? I suppose it is in accordance with what the Government always want to do—spend more money and appoint more officials. I noticed the other day that in a Report bearing date July 1 of this year, the Government have added another 7,000 permanent Officials to be paid by the taxpayers of this country. Under Clause 8 of this Bill I see that in case of default 173 on the part of a county council to set Hp small holdings the Government are to come in and supersede the county council. I think that if a county council is in default, then the Government ought to take steps to put into force the powers given under the Small Holdings Act which was passed a great many years ago.
There is another attack on county councils under Clause 10. They are going to appoint county councils as agents for the land acquired. Why should county councils act for the Government in this matter? There seems to me no object in that. It is, I suppose, the old idea of farming from Whitehall, and the idea of centralisation instead of decentralisation. We know that the whole object of this Government is to centralise instead of decentralise, and to increase the number of officials and Ministries instead of trying to put them down and reduce expenditure. Under this Bill, as far as I can see, the expenditure that will fall upon the unfortunate taxpayer will be simply colossal, and in some cases the local ratepayers, I fear, may have heavy imposts put upon them. We are told that the Government are going to carry out all these things.
I have already referred to the question of farming from Whitehall. I should like to give one or two concrete instances of what farming from Whitehall has resulted in. There is, in the first case, the Amesbury profit-sharing farm of 2,427 acres. In eleven years that farm showed a deficit of £15,241 instead of an average profit of £496, which was put down in the Government returns. How did they arrive at that supposed profit? It was done simply by ignoring Treasury requirements. But the Treasury interfered and required that interest on capital should be taken into consideration, and that the salary of the director (£750) and a share of headquarters' expenses (£150) should also be taken into account. Any one who farms his own home farm and any practical farmer knows very well that if you make up a balance sheet excluding interest on capital it is very easy to show a profit. If you employ a bailiff you have to show his remuneration in the accounts, or if a man is farming himself he has to put in his accounts some charge for his own services and work. Again, I find from 174 the accounts of five farm settlements that the State balance sheet in 1929–30 shows a loss of £183,866, exclusive of losses on settlements disposed of prior to 1923–30. I should have thought those figures sufficient to show that farming from Whitehall is not a success and that it is very undesirable to pass this Bill of the Government, which will merely mean the spending of money, when one knows from past experience that farming from Whitehall is no advantage at all.
I had meant to say something about the quota, but I shall nut touch on that except to say that it seems to me that it might be very well in theory but I doubt whether it will be of much use in practice. I notice that Mr. Baldwin said in a letter to Lord Beaverbrook that the quota scheme had received the warm approval of the milling trade, which was prepared to work it. Of course, if the trade were willing to work it that would take away one of the objections—that of the expense of working it from London. But the President of the International Association of British and Irish millers repudiated that. Only certain persons had expressed a qualified approval. Therefore it seems to me that the cost would not be borne by the millers and it is very doubtful whether they like it. I do not want to say anything further except that, although I rather thought, at one time, that it might be desirable, when I read the report of a speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, it seemed to me that he thought there would be no advantage in it, that it would cost a very large sum and would necessitate the employment of a very large number of officials. Undoubtedly that would be the case if the Government had to work it instead of the millers working it, and it seems very unlikely that the millers would undertake this work, which would throw a great cost upon them.
My Lords, as I listened to the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down and his running fire of criticism of the Government and the Labour Party, I could not help wondering why he and his Party had behaved in the way they have behaved during the last few months in doing all they could to keep that Government in power instead of putting it out. I suggest to the noble Lord that he 175 might inform his Leader that, so far as agriculture is concerned, he and a great many others who think politically with him would like to see the Labour Party out of power in order that that Party might he replaced by some other Party who would deal with difficult problems in a much more effective and sensible way than that in which they are being dealt with to-day. I have risen to intervene in this debate because this subject is one of the greatest interest to everyone in this country whether they are directly concerned in agriculture or not. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, in the admirable speech in which he moved this Motion, a great deal about the parlous condition in which agriculture finds itself. We heard from him and from other noble Lords of the decreased acreage under cultivation today, of the advancing figures of unemployment amongst agricultural labourers and of the decrease in prices paid for agricultural produce. I do not think it necessary, therefore, to traverse once more the pitiful tale which has already been laid before you.
I would like, however, to join with noble Lords in asking the noble Earl. Lord De La Warr, what the Government propose to do about it. To-day £472,000,000 worth of agricultural produce is introduced into this country by way of importations. I suggest to the noble Earl that if one third of that quantity were produced in this country you would immediately find a very different condition of agriculture. I want further to suggest, and this by the way, that it might be of great assistance to the exchange position in this country. At the present moment in order to pay for this imported produce we are exporting large quantities of gold, for the simple reason that we are paying directly for that produce. If we had a single transaction in this country whereby this produce was produced by our farmers and sold by our farmers directly to consumers in this country, you would immediately obviate the necessity for the exportation of these large quantities or gold and help the gold position very considerably. What does the Government propose to do in order to alleviate these conditions? We have heard this afternoon of land settlement, and we lave heard about the creation of small holdings and the creation of large hold- 176 ings. But is that really a panacea? What is the good of small holdings, of large holdings, of middle-sized holdings if, as some noble Lords have said this afternoon, it does not pay to grow produce on those holdings?
The crux of the whole situation to-day is that you must make your produce pay. It is absolutely necessary that your produce shall be sold at remunerative prices because, if that is not the case, the troubles from which you suffer to-day are never likely to disappear. Noble Lords have suggested various ways in which this problem might be grappled with. I am going to suggest that there are only two certain ways, and a third which includes a number of ways, by which you can tackle this problem effectively and deal with it once and for all. My first suggestion is that you must have protective duties and tariffs. My second suggestion is that you must have anti-dumping measures. The nature of those measures can be left to the occasion, to be dealt with upon the merits of each case, whether by countervailing duties or by prohibition of importation. Having got those two, I suggest that you may then come to your third method—namely, measures for cheap transportation of agricultural produce and manures, and measures, if you like, of land settlement and agricultural and economic co-operation. All those measures come into the third catgeory, but without the first two I suggest that the third will be of very little avail and will provide only palliatives.
I am sure that, if the noble and learned Lord, the Leader of the House, were sitting on that Bench this evening, he would be quivering with indignation at the idea of placing protective duties upon what he is pleased to call the food of the people, but we have come to the parting of the ways and the Government and the country have to make up their mind whether they wish to have an agricultural industry in this country or not, whether they wish agriculture to survive or to die. In my humble judgment, the Government, in all the measures that they have suggested and in everything that they have done since they came into power, have gone the best way about securing the result of blotting it out altogether. Why are they 177 behaving in this fashion? Merely because of an old shibboleth which is called Cobdenite Free Trade. In my opinion, their attitude is absolutely criminal, having regard to the state of things which we all know to exist in the agricultural industry and in the country. That state of affairs has been feelingly expressed this afternoon by the various noble Lords who have spoken.
Up and down the country there are small towns and villages scattered about all of which are dependent upon the prosperity of agriculture in this country. Large towns are also dependent for a considerable portion of their industry upon the same factor, because agriculture is the largest single industry in this country. Noble Lords on the Bench opposite seem to forget that, as also do a great many of the people of this country, and especially those who live in the towns. I suggest to your Lordships that the agricultural and manufacturing industries are absolutely interdependent and interlocked. You cannot separate them to-day. The prosperity of the one depends upon that of the other. This may not have been so in the more prosperous times before the War, but in these days we are living in a different era altogether. Unemployment is springing up by leaps and bounds. There are double the numbers of unemployed in this country that there were when the Labour Government came into power. Everything points to the fact that the agricultural and manufacturing industries are knit together, and for better or worse they will have to march along together and they will have to receive their remedy together.
What is required to-day is a national policy of Safeguarding for all industries, both agricultural and manufacturing, bound together with a bold policy of Imperial economic unity. When discussing the question of Empire economic unity in certain eminent quarters quite recently, the suggestion has been made that we should look after the family first, the family being the equivalent of a unit of the Empire, and that we should afterwards look after the rest of the communities of the Empire. I do not quarrel with or take exception to that policy so long as it is not selfishly applied, and so long as too much self-interest does not obtrude into the application of it. So far as this country 178 and our agricultural industry are concerned, I should like to see that principle applied because, when we have looked after the family, there would be a great deal left for the other communities of the Empire, and a great deal of produce still to be supplied for consumption in this country which could be supplied from other parts of the Empire, and even when that was over there would be some left for the foreign countries for which some gentlemen of the Labour Party especially have such great fondness and sympathy.
What is required to-day is a commonsense policy which will deal with the situation as it exists, and with the present economic problem, in such a way that this country is not left at the mercy of all the other countries. I suggest that the time may come, and I venture to prophecy that it will come, when we in this country shall not be talking of tariffs or no tariffs, but of high tariffs or low tariffs. I venture further to suggest that, when that time comes, the most probable event will be that the Labour Party will be advocating high tariffs while those on these Benches will be advocating low tariffs. I see the noble Earl smiling. Let him go to Australia and the United States of America, where tariffs have become an established principle, and he will see that it is the Labour Party in Australia that put on the highest tariffs, and the Democratic Party in the United States, and then perhaps he may agree that it is not a subject for risibility. With these few words I wish to commend the Motion of my noble friend Lord Cranworth to the Government. If he were going to a Division upon it I would gladly support it. I for one have no longer any belief in an appeal to the Government on these subjects. On a number of occasions I have stood in this place and made appeals to tale Government for remedies for the situation which has been described this afternoon, but our appeals have led to nothing, and the only appeal that I can make to the Government this afternoon is that they should make way for another Government., in order that we may have an opportunity of dealing with these problems in the way they ought to be dealt with.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I understand there are a number of your Lordships who would like to continue this discussion, and that it would be for the convenience of the House if it were continued on Wednesday next. I think, therefore, it might be best for the Government to reserve their reply until the continuance of the debate. I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the Debate be adjourned until Wednesday next.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, before we agree to the adjournment of the debate I would like to make one appeal to the Government which has not yet been made to them, and that is that they should answer some of the speeches which have been made. We know that they are poor in numbers, 180 but they are rich in orators—one has just joined them—and they might at least afford two speakers in a debate. We have had this afternoon speaker after speaker on our side making more or less the same case against the Government. We have asked questions, and have had no answer, and if the Government are merely intending to wait until the end of the next debate it leaves no possibility of real discussion in the House. I therefore make an appeal to the Government that they speak early on Wednesday next.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at half past six o'clock.