§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion made by Lord Cranworth on Thursday last, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the present disastrous condition of agriculture.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL DE LA WARR)
My Lords, I gather that it would be for the convenience of the House if the Government made their reply at the beginning of the discussion this evening on the debate that we had last Thursday. I rather gather that the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, has been feeling somewhat the lack of an Aunt Sally at which to have a shot. I am proposing to offer myself to his skill in a few moments. The general discussion that we had last Thursday centred largely, I think, round the position in the arable counties. While I do not intend to confine my remarks by any means to that particular situation, it might be well if I started by dealing with the position of the Government in regard to the policy in the arable counties. It might be well also if we tried to consider the general ideas that must be in the minds not only of this Government, but of any Government that is in power in this country, in considering this question. There are certain broad, major considerations which none of us can escape. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, who expressed the hope that he would not have thrown back at him the general situation of other industries in the country. I venture to suggest that it is impossible to discuss the situation of any industry 238 without realising, and we have to face it, that the whole economic life of this country is at the present moment in a state of the most acute depression. Furthermore (and this is another general consideration), whether we are Free Traders or Protectionists—personally I belong to a generation that has not been brought up to regard either idea as a religion—we have to face the fact that we are living in a country that is mainly a consuming country, where the majority of voters are consumers. Noble Lords on the other side who are continually urging on their Leaders a more strenuous policy in the direction of adopting tariffs are only too well aware that we are living in a country which is mainly a consuming country and that the vast mass of the voters in this country are consumers of foodstuffs. Moreover, we are an industrial, exporting country, and it is, therefore, of vital interest for us to keep down our costs of production.
I cannot put these points to your Lordships with any view of making an excuse for not putting forward a policy. I am simply laying them before your Lordships as the general considerations from which none of us can escape if we want to look at this problem honestly. There is a further point. We are dealing for the moment mainly with the arable counties, and the two crops that have been chiefly mentioned in the discussion have been wheat and beet sugar. Whether we want to foster the production of wheat or beet in this country or not, we have to face very uncomfortable conclusions. We have to realise that if we set out to encourage the production of those crops we are setting out to encourage crops of which there is already a glut in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Ernle, gave us a most, interesting account of what was going on in Russia at this moment, and he showed how the Russian five-year plan has not yet even begun in its operation, and how every year Russia was going to turn more and more of its acreage into wheat production. Therefore, if we decide to encourage the growing of wheat in this country, we have to do it with our eyes open, realising that whereas the great producing countries at the present moment can undoubtedly—and I am quite convinced of this from all the figures I have seen—produce wheat at about 30s. a quarter, our Farmers' Union 239 say they cannot do it at less than 55s. I do not think any of your Lordships would consider for a moment accepting that figure without further inquiry.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The cost of production in exporting countries is round about 30s. per quarter, including transport charges over here. The lowest price that is mentioned for producing wheat in this country is 45s., and the Farmers' Union price is round about 55s. The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, said "Hear, hear" when I stated that we have to face the facts. We should be letting ourselves in for the raising of the price of wheat in this country by over 50 per cent.—at least 15s. increase in the price of a commodity that we can buy at 30s. Put briefly and roughly, that is the case against doing anything to help the growing of wheat.
On the other hand, we have to balance one consideration against the other. As a Government we have to face the fact that in certain agricultural counties in England at the present moment a great mass of the arable farmers are on the verge of disaster. We have to recognise, however much we contend—and I personally do contend—it will be for the good of the agricultural industry that the cereal growers should transfer their attention to other forms of production, that the change-over must of necessity be slow. We also have to face another fact. At the present moment, if they make that change-over, one of the most likely changes would be to go into an already over-supplied milk market; and further—the last point—whereas wheat is only approximately 4 per cent. of our total agricultural production—a very small figure—it is nevertheless the basis of a system of farming which contributes a good deal more than 4 per cent. to our total agricultural production.
I have tried to lay before your Lordships the sort of considerations we have had to have in mind in forming a policy on this question. Finally, your Lordships will remember that the Chancellor of the Exchequer last August made a definite pledge to Parliament. He said that this matter, affecting as it does the question of wheat, affecting as it does 240 so vitally our great Dominions, would be discussed at the Imperial Conference, and that after the imperial Conference the Government would undertake whatever practicable steps could be devised to put cereal farming on an economic basis. That pledge was a very specific one. So far as I can see there are only four ways of interpreting it at the present moment. One is by having an import board for wheat; the others are a quota, a tariff or a subsidy. The last two are obviously out of the question.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Neither is even proposed by the Conservative Party itself. I do not know whether Mr. Baldwin still represents the Conservative Party, but I understand he does—some of them. It is very hard for us to know on this side of the House who really is Leader of the Conservative Party at the moment. We have been given to understand that there are still important people in the Conservative Party, like Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Churchill and Mr. Guinness, who have all quite definitely pronounced against a tariff. That leaves the proposals of an import board and the quota, both of which have been discussed at the Imperial Conference. I cannot disguise from your Lordships that, personally, I have always felt that the import board system would in the long run offer the most complete machinery for meeting the problem of regulating the imports of wheat into this country. On the other hand, it would appear that others are of opinion that the quota system is the most practicable and immediate step to take if we wish, as we all do, to co-operate with the Dominions. Both systems would enable us to continue the benefit of cheap imports, while at the same time mitigating the situation of producers in this country. I am assuming that attached to either, to make it effective, must be some stabilisation of price at more than the price of wheat at the moment. But, unfortunately, it is not quite so simple as that.
May I ask the noble Earl to speak up. We are very anxious to hear him, but we can only hear about one word in three.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Unfortunately the matter is not so simple as that. The 241 import board system would offer us the opportunity, by controlling the whole grain trade and by being able to control margins right through to the baking trade, to see that an actual decrease in the price of bread took place. At the present moment there are bakers in this country charging 10d. for a quartern loaf, which assumes wheat, according to the millers' margins, at 65s. a quarter. Others are selling at 7½d. and 8d., which assumes wheat at 40s. and 45s. By the control over the whole industry that we would gain by having a great purchasing board, undoubtedly we could control very largely the price of bread itself. But at the present moment we are only a Minority Government and the Leaders of both Opposition Parties have refused to accept the import board idea and have definitely turned it down. The quota system does not offer us the same opportunities for keeping down the price of bread. I have only offered you, my Lords, a general discussion of this question.
The Imperial Conference has only been ended three or four days and the Government must have time to discuss its conclusions. I think your Lordships will agree that we are right in saying that the question of cereal growing in this country should be considered in the light of the conclusions of that Conference. I cannot, at the moment, commit His, Majesty's Government to taking any definite step, but I can say—and it is a great deal more than anybody said on behalf of your Lordships opposite when your Lordships were sitting on this Front Bench—that whatever ultimate decision His Majesty's Government may take on this question there is no intention whatsoever to withdraw from the pledge made in the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The pledge was that after the Imperial Conference His Majesty's Government would undertake whatever practicable steps could be devised to put cereal farming on an economic basis. This is only one side of the agricultural problem, and if your Lordships will allow me to draw your attention to certain figures I think that you will agree with me that it is by no 242 means the most important side of the industry. The wheat crop amounts, as I have already said, in value to 4 per cent. of our total agricultural production. Live stock amounts to 36 per cent., milk and dairy produce amounts to 25 per cent., poultry and eggs amount to 8 per cent. Even poultry and eggs are twice as valuable as the wheat crop. Potatoes amount to 5 per cent., vegetables amount to 5 per cent.—both of these more than the wheat crop—and fruit and glasshouse produce also amounts to 5 per cent. Therefore, whatever the ultimate decision on cereal farming in this country, our intention will be not to stimulate wheat growing but at the very most to mitigate the difficulties at the present moment in districts which have not left off wheat growing, and at the same time to provide means and opportunities for a change over to other forms of farming so far as that may prove practicable.
The proposals which have come from your Lordships opposite deal mainly, as I have said, with wheat and beet, one being 4 per cent, of our total produce and the other only 2 per cent.—a total of 6 per cent. There has been hardly a single word from your Lordships with reference to the other 94 per cent. The main plank in this Government's policy—and I hope it will be the main plank in any Government's policy—is to help the industry to help itself by giving it a greater control of its markets in regard to those commodities that can be produced economically in this country. Quite apart from the merits of the tariff controversy I should like to suggest to your Lordships that no good friend to the farmer to-day would encourage him to continue in his dependence on future protective assistance.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
For the simple reason that there is no single Party in the State prepared to go to the country to attempt to get it.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
There may be a fourth Party arise. We will wait and see how large that Party is. There is not a single official Party now prepared to go to the country with a definite policy of food taxes. Therefore, I submit that no good friend to the farmer to-day, who 243 really wants to help the farmer, would go to him and suggest that he should depend on possible future protective duties.
Our policy is to develop the side of the industry in which the farmer can help himself—that is, the organisation of markets. That marketing policy has really two sides. The first is the standardisation of his product and the second is the organisation of his marketing. Standardisation was really dealt with in the last Government's grading and marking project by the initiation of a National Mark scheme. The essence of that scheme is the voluntary grading and packing of home agricultural products, backed by an official guarantee, a national guarantee, as to its quality and as to the fact that it was produced at home, and this is supported by a system of State inspection. That has already been enacted by the last Government. Results of a very considerable character have already been obtained under that scheme although it has only just begun. In the case of eggs, during last year, in spite of generally falling prices, no less than £1,000,000 extra has been brought into the egg industry; in the case of beef, at the present moment we are grading the larger part of the beef that is sold in London. Having started with only 800 sides at the end of 1929, we are now doing over 5,000 a week, and in spite of considerable opposition at Birmingham, which I am glad to be able to say we have combated most successfully, we are now actually grading in Birmingham more sides of beef than before the boycott started.
We have lately added to the activities under the Marking and Grading Act by putting £50,000 a year aside for advertising National Mark goods, and so efficacious is that advertisement becoming that not only did the Birmingham butchers have to give way as the result of it, but in the ease of other products it has had the most remarkable success in creating a demand. The National Mark is now being applied to canned fruits, and only the other day I heard of a large canner having his products returned to him by a grocer because, as the grocer told him, he could sell only National Mark goods; and that man, from having been one of the opponents of the National Mark scheme, will now, we hope, shortly join our ranks.
244 But standardisation without organisation is really only touching the fringe of the problem. The Agricultural Marketing Bill of the Government will very shortly be introduced. I regret that I cannot at the moment inform your Lordships into which House it will be introduced, but, speaking as a member of your Lordships' House rather than as a member of the Government, I am sure that we should all be very pleased if it could come here first, in order that we might make our comments upon it. That Bill proposes to allow the producers of an agricultural product to which the Bill applies to regulate the marketing of that product by means of boards elected by themselves, and in accordance with schemes submitted by themselves to the Minister. The Bill, whilst allowing internal compulsion amongst the members of the Boards, makes provision for those who have found special markets for themselves to be exempted, and gives to the Minister himself no powers of compulsion whatsoever. It does not pretend to guarantee a market. How can one guarantee a market? But it does offer powers to the farmer to organise for the purpose of capturing and making the best of what is the best market in the world—namely, the British industrial market. Funds are provided for the purpose of financing the boards who administer schemes, and from these funds short-term and long-term loans can be made.
While I am on this point, I really feel that I must just mention a matter that occurred on Thursday. Your Lordships may remember that at a certain point in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, I interrupted him. I did so for this reason. He read a short extract from the report of the Council of Agriculture for England, which must have given your Lordships the impression that the Council—a most important body, and it is for that reason that I refer to the matter now—was opposed to the Bill. In order to make the situation quite clear, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to read extracts from the report which, by the way, was adopted unanimously and voted for by the noble Lord himself They say:—The Bill is a logical development of policy in sequence with the provisions of the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, 1928 …. No one seriously doubts the advisability of producers combining for the purpose of orderly marketing on some 245 such lines as those indicated in the Bill …. The measure is entirely optional en groups of farmers, and the legislation lay be said to provide means, which fanners may adopt or not as they choose, to help them to market their produce efficiently.I have the whole Report here, but I will not inflict it all on your Lordships. I think the House will agree that it is fairly clear that the Council of Agriculture, judging from the excerpts that I have read, were not opposed to the Bill.
§ Loan STRACHIE
May I for one moment interrupt the noble Earl, and ask if he will quote from paragraphs 5 and 6, where they say they approve of it only subject to keeping out foreign goods which compete?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I have the full document here, and I was going on to deal with that point. It is perfectly true that they go on to say that in their view the Bill can reach its full beneficial effect only if there is coupled with it control of imports. That is perfectly true, hut they do not say that the Bill is no use without it. Let me read their concluding sentences. After saying that they would like to see control of imports coupled with it, they add:—At the same time, the Marketing Bill can be made of considerable value to farmers in helping them to organise the marketing of those commodities in which they are not driven out of business.Is it not perfectly clear that the Council of Agriculture were in favour of the Bill, but at the same time thought that it could not reach its full beneficial effect without the control of imports? It is a very different matter to say that they were against the Bill altogether.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Of course it is a completely different matter, and really, considering that the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, voted in favour of all the first clauses of that report, as well as the latter, I think that it would have been only fair if he had quoted to your Lordships the whole of that report. I should like to submit to your Lordships that this Bill, worked in conjunction with the Marking and Grading Act, really does offer a complete revolution in agricul- 246 tural marketing methods in this country. For the first time it puts the farmer in the position of being able to organise his marketing in the same manner as the foreigner against whom he is competing. You may say that they have always been in a position to co-operate in this country, but those of us who have had any experience of co-operation in this country know that, with a few small exceptions, most of those experiences have been of a very sad nature. Why is that so? You may say that voluntary cooperation has succeeded in other countries, such as Denmark. That is perfectly true. It has been voluntary from the point of view of the law, but has it been really voluntary? It was virtually compulsory on the Dane to co-operate, because he had to get his produce through the bottle-neck of the port in order to reach this country; and his produce had to be graded in order to get it away to this market. No such condition exists in this country to-day, and for that reason co-operation on a voluntary basis has never really contributed to the agricultural life of this country as it should have done, and as we should have liked to see it do.
Let me give your Lordships one or two examples of the way in which the Marketing Bill will be of use—immediate practical use—to the farmers in this country. Let us consider for a moment the question of milk. Milk represents 20 per cent. of our agricultural produce, and is, therefore, of immense importance. I think it was Lord Hastings, or perhaps it was Lord Cranworth, who mentioned skimmed milk as being the true source of trouble in the milk industry. With all respect I would submit to the noble Lord that whether the imports of skimmed milk do to a certain extent, as they do, affect the milk market in this country, it is possible to exaggerate immensely the harm which is done. Skimmed milk imports are a comparatively small quantity.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Under 5 per cent. of our milk production, and not all of that is competing with our fluid milk. One of the reasons given against having skimmed and dried milk in this country is that they are different, products from fluid milk, and really it is not true to 247 put down the troubles in the milk industry to this comparatively small 5 per cent. import. The position in the mil industry is that there is a great surplus hanging like a blight over the industry, and that it is not controlled, and under the existing system of organisation is not controllable. While the Farmers' Union are attempting to conduct national negotiations individual farmers are tumbling over one another in an endeavour to get their milk sold at once, and are even in some cases under-cutting each other. Each individual man, under the existing system, has got to live, and individual milk producers, realising the surplus that there is in the trade, are only anxious not to be left out in the cold. At the present moment it is fair to say that national negotiations on the price of milk are a farce. Not only during the last negotiations was it necessary for the National Farmers' Union to accept a lower price for milk, but far worse than that, those of us who are in touch with the industry are able to realise that the great bulk of the milk produced is not sold to-day, and that a very large proportion of it is disposed of at the roadside at pretty well any price that the manufacturers like to give the producers. That situation must continue as it is unless the negotiating body for the farmers is able to negotiate for the whole product, with complete control over that product. They must also have power to deal with the surplus, because I think we have all come to realise that whoever controls the surplus in the milk market virtually controls that market.
That organisation—call it the Farmers Milk Marketing Board—formed under the Marketing Bill, must have power to divert milk from the fluid market to the manufacturing market. They must have power to obtain sufficient financial assistance, in the form possibly of a levy on the producers, in order to compensate those producers who send their milk to the manufacturing side of the industry. Further, it is essential that there should be a central body of the whole industry, in a position to see to it that a national advertising campaign is carried out on behalf of the milk producers. We all know the regrettable fact that at the present moment this country only consumes about one-third per head of the milk consumed by other 248 countries, and at the present moment the only body attempting to deal with the subject is the National Milk Publicity Council, which is struggling on with little support from the farming industry. Further, there must be a body prepared to make a real attack upon the cheese market. At the present moment we import £15,000,000 of cheese, and produce only about half that amount, and the only means of capturing that trade is by adopting the methods of the foreigner, which is by offering to the market a standardised product so that the buyer knows exactly what he is going to get. At the present moment that is not possible.
So much for milk. What about potatoes? They represent 5 per cent. of the industry. Again we hear a great deal of the damage which imports do us. Last year the price of potatoes fell to £2 per ton, and many growers did not sell their potatoes at all. Not a single potato came into this country under £3 10s. per ton. Any price below £3 10s. accepted by the home producers was the result of want of organisation in the industry in this country. It would not have paid the Continental producer to send potatoes in below that price.
The potato industry was entirely knocked out last year by the new potatoes coming in from the South of France.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Really, the noble Lord must forgive me. He knows that that is an entirely different trade, as compared with that with which I am dealing. A lot of those foreign growers buy their seed from us, and if we were unable to supply them they would have to give up. Every penny less than £3 10s. per ton received by our growers at that time was the result of our surplus, and if there had been an all-in scheme among the growers, by which they contributed a small yearly sum to a central fund, they could in two or three years have had a fund which would have enabled them to keep that surplus off the market. But it disorganised the potato trade, and we have calculated that if one-sixth of the potatoes produced last year in this country could have been kept off the ordinary human food market, potato growers by organisation could have got at least£2 a ton more for their product.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
This is not a question of a corner at all; it is purely a question of organisation. There is another market that is open to capture by the home producer if he is prepared to adopt the right methods. At the present moment we produce about£16,000,000 worth of eggs in this country, and we import about£20,000,000 worth of eggs. We are slowly capturing that market. Since the War we have doubled our production of eggs, and imports have not increased£a most encouraging development, I think your Lordships will admit; but there is still£20,000,000 of trade for us to capture. Again, how do you imagine that the foreigner has been able to establish himself in the great industrial markets of this country? He has been able to establish himself there because he delivers the goods to the wholesaler and to the retailer in a form in which they want to deal with them. He grades them and he bulks them. It may or may not be that this Bill will be of use to egg producers in areas where they are close to their market. But there are certain areas in this country, about twenty counties, that are what are called exporting areas in eggs, and somehow or other these men, say in Norfolk or Devon and Cornwall, far away from their markets, have to get their goods to places like Birmingham in a form in which the retailer and wholesaler will want to deal with them.
The National Mark scheme has done a great deal in that direction, but unfortunately packing stations set up under the National Mark scheme have been suffering from a certain amount of competition. No sooner has a packing station started in a district than the egg higglers come round, and afterwards offer a small extra inducement in order to persuade producers not to go to the packing station. The result is that, the overhead charges of the packing station are found to be too high. They then cannot compete, and therefore at a slightly later time they find themselves in difficulties. I submit that the only way in which we can build up an organisation that will capture that trade is by giving the egg producers in a district the right to lay it down that no egg shall leave their district that does not reach a certain standard. Thereby 250 it will become necessary that those eggs shall be graded, and at a later stage they will have to be bulked, as you can only grade on a large scale; and it will then be possible to make a great bid for the home egg market.
Then there is the question of the development of fruit and vegetables in this country. We all know that last year was an unfortunate one for black currants. But there were certain special conditions there, which I do not think there is time to go into at the moment, but which, as far as one can ascertain, are not likely to recur for some time. But at the present moment there are certain forms of fruit in which we cannot satisfy the English market. We cannot satisfy the demand for first grade apples, and for a number of first grade soft fruits. We can grow them. At the Imperial Fruit Show, which has now been running for nine years, this year for the first time we not only took prizes, but we took first, second, and third prizes in apples; which shows that we can grow the commodity. But the difficulty of encouraging this trade is that there are not sufficient growers in the country. One would like to see packing stations and grading stations set up in order to take these apples from the growers and market them. But there are not sufficient in the country to justify the setting up of these packing and grading stations.
That brings me to another point. There is another big development going on at the moment in the industry. During the last two years the output of canned fruit and vegetables has doubled. In the two years before that it doubled, so that whereas four years ago we were doing trade to the value of £250,000 in canned fruit and vegetables, we are now doing over £1,000,000. And that development has taken place during a period of depression. We are still importing £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 worth of canned fruit and vegetables. There is no reason why, with proper organisation, this industry should not be built up so as to make a big contribution to the agricultural industry—but, I say, With proper organisation. Last year, at a time when a considerable number of growers were having difficulty in selling their fruit, the canning factories had to go short by between 3,000 and 4,000 tons of fruit and 251 vegetables for canning. That was a matter for organisation. It is essential that these factories should be guaranteed steady, standard supplies of the product in which they are going to deal. And it would be for the marketing board under the Marketing Bill to lay down the standard and the grade that the growers must produce, and they would be the central negotiating body with the canning factories on behalf of the growers.
One last example is hops. It is a comparatively small crop, but very important to certain areas, and I think it is hardly necessary to repeat to your Lordships the experience of the hop growers under the existing law. No less than 90 per cent. of the hop growers combined in order to control their production and carry out certain marketing operations. Ten percent. of the growers stood out. They benefited for two or three years by the sacrifices of the 90 per cent., and then, as the result of the increase of production and of acreage, they smashed the whole concern. It is only, again, by giving to the producer compulsory powers over minorities—a power which is essential with regard to all the commodities that I have been discussing—that the hop growers will ever again be able to start an organisation for safeguarding their market.
These are just a few examples of what the Marketing Bill can do for the agriculturist. It is perfectly true to say that the Bill includes powers for compulsory grading, for compulsory price-fixing, for controlling the sale of the whole product, and even for limiting the sale, as is necessary in the case of hops. If you visualise an external body coming down upon the industry in a tyrannical manner to exercise all these powers for the benefit, as has been suggested, of the foreign producer, then, of course, the Bill is a useless and pernicious measure. But if you visualise a body of farmers appointed by their fellow farmers to formulate a scheme, which may, according to the needs of their particular branch of the industry, include the taking of some or all of these powers, which are offered to them, in so far as they will assist them to capture the home market, then I venture to suggest to your Lordships, that it should he the most 252 effective weapon that the farming industry has ever possessed in its whole existence.
In mentioning different products which could be affected by the Marketing Bill, I told your Lordships what percentage of the agricultural industry they were. If you add those percentages together, they come to between 40 and 50 per cent. of the whole industry. When we are told that we have done nothing, or it has been suggested that we have done nothing, or that this Marketing Bill will do nothing for the industry, I would ask your Lordships whether any other Government has ever before brought in a Bill giving power to farmers for organising no less than 40 or 50 per cent, of their commodities and getting the best price for them. The Bill was introduced into the House of Commons last Session.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
It has not been withdrawn. In addition to grading and organising the disposal of products off the farm, it recognised that in the disposal of a surplus by organisations of producers, the provision of adequate facilities for processing—that is, for manufacturing the articles—is very important, and it is hoped that a fund can be provided in the Bill to enable efficient processing facilities to be available for organisations of producers. That is, that marketing boards might be in a position, and might desire, to set up a creamery or a cheese factory for dealing with their surplus milk. They might want to undertake their own canning operations or some other operations. It is intended, therefore, to provide a fund out of which those operations can be financed.
We also have in mind the appointment of a Committee to report as soon as possible with regard to facilities for central slaughtering. The meat market is a very large market and one which should be capable of considerable development in this country. Even our small experience under the Marking and Grading Act has encouraged us to feel that there is immense scope for the development of that market. If you ask butchers why it is that they press foreign meat on the consumer, they will tell you that it is 253 because it is so much easier to deal with. Instead, possibly, of having, in extreme cases, to buy their beast and bring it back and either slaughter it themselves or have it slaughtered, if they have no slaughterhouse, and being left, probably, with a great number of cuts that are not suitable for their trade—instead of having to go through all that, all they have to do with regard to foreign meat is to drop a postcard to the wholesaler, or ring him up, and say that they want so many of such and such cuts which are specifically suited to their trade. Therefore it is essential, if we are to increase the consumption of home-grown meat in this country, that we should place that meat on the market in a form which will enable it really to compete with the foreign product.
Not only that, but so efficient are the methods of slaughtering in America that a farmer who is 200 miles front Chicago will find that it pays him to send his beast to Chicago and buy his meat back from Chicago rather than kill the beast himself. It is actually said of Chicago that they sell meat for less than they give for it because they make use of all the offals. Compare that with the situation in this country. I will not go into detail because I have already spoken for longer than I meant to do. We have found by preliminary investigations that by the inefficient means of sending beasts up to London, to take London as an example, the means by which they are dealt with, the small scale methods employed in all our abattoirs, costs on each beast are amazing, going up to something like £3 a beast. That is an almost sensational figure and will require verification. The figure I have given your Lordships is merely the result of preliminary investigations; but your Lordships will see how important it is, if we are to attempt to develop this meat market, that we should have a form of meat in this country which will enable us to compete with the foreigner in the form in which the goods are put on the market and will reduce to a very large extent the entirely unnecessary charge that the farmer and the consumer have to bear on the beasts at the present time.
The noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, mentioned the question of bacon and the imports of bacon. Of course, the imports of bacon must depress the home market, 254 and that must be admitted; but the actual effect of the import of bacon is very much lessened by the fact that the dry-cured English product is almost a totally different article from the tank-cured imported product and, therefore, the competition between them is of a very limited character. With the restriction of imports, of course, bacon factories would very probably have a larger supply of pigs for the time being. But there is no reason to believe that the central trouble in this industry will be dealt with in this manner. There is no reason to believe that they would have a less irregular supply unless some steps were taken in counteract the tendency to fluctuation in the pig population which is universal throughout the world.
In the Minister's view, the organisation of that industry, not the restriction of imports, must be the first condition. Any other question, such as import boards for bacon and so on, can be discussed at a later stage, but without organisation the vicious circle by which our factories are undoubtedly hampered would still continue to operate owing to the unregulated production and marketing of pigs in this country. Until now the factories have never been prepared to encourage regular production by giving contracts to pig producers, nor have they been prepared to encourage nearly sufficiently the production of better quality pigs by paying on grades. I venture to say that no Government, however protectionist it might be, could even consider Protection in the present state of the bacon industry. There is no less than round about £40,000,000 worth of Wiltshire side bacon coming into this country, and as far as we can see there is no economic reason why we should not produce that in this country, even without Protection. I will not, however, go further into that matter, except to assure your Lordships that the Ministry is fully seized of the importance of this subject, and we do not mean to let the matter rest as it is at present.
Will the noble Earl say how many million pounds worth of bacon are imported into this country to-day?
EARL DE LA WARP
There are about £60,000,000 worth or more of pig products imported, and of that £40,000,000 worth 255 is of a particular kind—namely, Wiltshire side bacon—which we could certainly produce in this country. I am afraid I have taken up your Lordships' time at some length, but you asked me a good many questions, and I felt that perhaps the best way of answering them was not so much by taking them separately as by trying to lay before your Lordships our general lines of development. I think you must admit that the Ministry of Agriculture has not been idle during the last few months. The cereal problem has been tackled as far as our Imperial responsibilities will allow, and a definite pledge given to take action in the future. The problem of standardisation, and the organisation and presentation of homegrown goods for the home market in such a way as to obtain the maximum control of that market, has been tackled by pressing forward the National Mark scheme and by the preparation of the Marketing Bill. A review of the possibility of extending such operations as organised central slaughtering on meat works lines is also taking place. Provision has also been made, though there is not time to deal with these matters to-day, for the drainage of land, which is suffering from a lack of proper facilities for drainage, for an increase of rural workers, for increased access to the land, for the suppression of the scrub bull—a most important measure, I venture to suggest to your Lordships, particularly if we are to make an onslaught upon the meat market—and the increase of agricultural research and its re-organisation under a Central Agricultural Research Council, which will be responsible for the co-ordination of all its operations. All these last mentioned subjects are almost worthy of a debate by themselves. I merely mention them as being items in our programme of development.
This programme, full though it is, may be criticised as containing no panacea for the ills of agriculture. The neglect of generations cannot be made up for in a few days. If previous Governments, if even the last Government had done as much in four and a half years of office as we have done in eighteen months, I suggest that to-day the position of agriculture would be a very different one from what it is. Some noble Lords laugh, but I do suggest that we would not be suffering from the same milk situation 256 as that from which we are suffering today, and I also say that producers to-day would not be in the same position if our Marketing Bill had been put on the Statute Book. I maintain that if the last Government had done as much in four and a half years as we have done in one and a half years they would have more reason to be proud than they have any right to be at the present moment. Our programme is a far-reaching one. It may lay the foundation for the development of the agricultural industry on sound economic lines. I therefore would appeal to your Lordships to give us what support you can, and, where you cannot give us your support, give us your helpful criticism in order that we may get on as far as we can. If any of your Lordships feel that we are not going far enough, or fast enough, then I can only say that any suggestions your Lordships make that you feel to be really practicable, and which you would be likely to put into operation if you got into office yourselves, will receive our most sympathetic and grateful consideration.
Our programme embodies a certain number of new principles of a drastic character—the compulsory nature of the Marketing Bill for instance. Why not? Times are changing. There are far too many people going up and down the country at the present moment protesting that something really must be done, and whenever something is suggested they apply all their energies in opposition to it, and refuse even to consider it. For this great industry of agriculture there is a market of between£100,000,000 and £200,000,000 that can be captured by the home producers, and an effort to capture it must be made whether we have Protection or not. I know no other industry in this country which has the same possibility of development, or in regard to which there is so much preliminary common ground on which we can get together for agreeing upon immediate practical action. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will he convinced that this policy of ours is a comprehensive one and is a genuine attempt to make a real contribution to the prosperity of the industry, and that you will to that extent give us your support in carrying it through.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, you will realise that the request I made 257 before the House adjourned last week was a justifiable one. We had had, I think, seven or eight speeches from this side of your Lordships' House asking various questions of the Government, and no single speaker had answered them. We have now had from the noble Earl a speech of very great interest, and containing a good deal of promise, but I confess I was a little startled at the suggestion he made at the end of his speech that his Government had done more in the last eighteen months than we had done in four and a-half years. The noble Earl's claim was based on the fact that he had given us a Marking and Grading Act, and the whole of the rest of his speech dealt with what his Government intended to do when it brings in its Marketing Bill either into this or the other House. It is true the Government brought in a Marketing Bill at the end of July in the other House, but without any intention of proceeding with it. It was brought in, I believe, for the purposes of discussion and discussion has been taking place.
Having lost a certain amount of money myself in arable farming, of which I have had some experience, I agree there are opportunities of very largely improving the marketing of the various products to which the noble Earl has referred. At the same time, the noble Earl left almost entirely out of consideration the whole gravamen of the points which were put-by my noble friends in the debate last, week. The points that were put before the Government were really these. What are you going to do in regard to arable farming? What are you going to do in regard to the numbers of farmers who are going bankrupt? What are you going to do about the numbers of agricultural labourers who are gradually being driven out of employment? Those points have not been touched upon at all.
The noble Earl, in the early part of his speech, said that wheat farming or cereal farming was really at an end, that we could not compete with foreign imports, that Russia could import wheat here at 30s. a quarter while we could not grow it at less than 50s. or 55s. a quarter, and that we might as well, from an arable point of view, throw up the sponge altogether. The noble Earl must know that the preparation of a great number of the products of agriculture depends entirely upon arable farming. 258 A great deal of your beef, a great deal of your bacon, and of various other products of that kind, could not be reared at all if it were not for arable farming, upon which they are founded. Your beef is all grown on your arable land. All your swedes and other products of that kind, which are utilised for beef, your pig food, your sheep food come entirely from arable land. So you must not say that because the actual production of wheat itself is a small proportion of your total products it is negligible. I want the noble Earl to realise, as I am sure your Lordships entirely realise, that this is the basic side of agriculture and that he has not really touched upon it.
He told us at the beginning of his speech that we have to put up with the fact that the bulk of the voters in this country are consumers. I was rather surprised at his hurling that statement at us at the beginning of his speech, because after all if we are going simply to put our case before the voters from the consuming point of view, and to say to them: "It is essential for you that you should have cheap food, never mind whether you ruin the farmer, never mind whether the whole arable farming of this country goes to pieces," then I can only say that I trust there will be noble Lords and members of the House of Commons on our side who will have the courage to go to the mass of voters who are consumers, and tell them that there is someone more important than the consumer, and that is the producer. I am satisfied myself—and I have had a certain amount of experience of speaking on public platforms—that the consumer is not a purely selfish individual, that he is concerned with the interests of the country as a whole, and that if the matter is put before him he must realise that after all the employment market is one and indivisible, that you cannot have prosperity in one form of production with a vast number—thousands and hundreds of thousands—of workmen in another form of production flocking into the labour market.
The noble Earl has asked us to assume, in effect, that nothing further can be done for cereal farming, unless, he suggests, we have either import boards, tariffs, quotas, or subsidies, and in regard to them the noble Earl seems to think that import boards give us most, 259 hope, that subsidies might give some hope, but that they are out of the question because they will never be permitted. He made great play with what he assumed to be dissensions in the Party to winch I have the honour to belong. There is no question whatever in regard to the policy of the Leader of the Conservative Party—none whatever. He has pledged himself quite definitely to a secure price for wheat, quite definitely. If that demands a subsidy—as of course it will demand a subsidy—that subsidy will be forthcoming. The noble Earl knows that. I do not think he can have read Mr. Baldwin's speeches if he has not realised that. The Leader of the Conservative Party has pledged himself also to the quota system. I quite frankly admit that I have not seen on all points eye to eye with him on that, but the noble Earl knows that if necessary we are not going to be frightened—as he appears to be frightened—of the real need in this matter of dealing with the imports of foreign goods. It can be dealt with either by a subsidy, or a quota, or a tax or tariff, one or the other, all of which, I think personally, are better than import boards with all their disturbance of the market, with all their management from Whitehall, with all the inspectors that will be required. All three are open to the Conservative Party on the policy of the free hand, laid down by Mr. Baldwin, and the noble Earl knows that perfectly well.
He seems to think that by his policy of marketing, which we shall have to deal with in one House or the other—we do not know yet whether the Bill will be introduced in this House or the other, but we shall have to deal with it in the very near future—the whole difficulty is going to be overcome. I am not going to deal with it now because the Bill, I believe, is going to be altered in certain details and it is better to deal with it when it comes forward. There may be good in the Bill—I am not going to dispute that—assuming that it is worked to the nth degree by the farmers. Improvements will be made in marketing, but even then the noble Earl is surely not going to tell us that the state of affairs set forth by my noble friends Lord Cranworth and Lord Hastings, last week, is going to be entirely remedied by a proposal of this kind.
260 May I quote to your Lordships on this matter a statement made three years ago by a very experienced noble Lord in this House. He said:—It therefore comes to this, that however you organise the farmer in this country, if you get the whole of his wheat and the whole of his beef in great produce pools, you are still not going to be able to control the price in that way because you are not going to be able to control the importer.I wonder whether the noble Earl recognises that.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
I am quite sure the noble Earl would not deny his speech for one moment. I appreciate the speech he has made this afternoon, but I appreciate much more the speech he made last May. I just want to press the noble Earl a little bit further in regard to his remedies. We have certain facts which were stated in the debate last week and which were admitted in the debate in another place three days ago, to which the noble Earl really did not refer at all. There has been an absolute decrease in the amount of arable land, a decrease of practically a million acres in the last ten years, and a decrease of over 100,000 in the number of agricultural labourers employed on the land. We were told in another place that the Government's policy is to deal with unemployment and to get the labourer back on the land. I want a suggestion this afternoon from the noble Earl as to how that is going to he done. The Prime Minister put it certainly more clearly than the noble Earl. The Prime Minister wants to maintain price conditions which are fair to the farmer. Now, my Lords, if he will do that then, I will not say I will be prepared to vote Socialist, but I shall be prepared to be extraordinarily friendly to the noble Earl. That is really what we want.
I will not say that a marketing scheme is no good, but I do say that it will not do for us what maintenance of price will do. We want prices kept up. The workers are protected by the Wages Act. We want to keep up wages. We want to pay them, because the agricultural labourers are skilled men, even higher wages than the wages which the wage-earners in protected trades are getting to-day, men of far less capacity and far less training than the agricultural 261 labourer. In the old days the wage of an agricultural labourer was the price of a sack of wheat per week. To-day the agricultural labourer's wage is 2½ times the price of a sack of wheat. How can the farmer go on unless you are prepared to do something which will enable him to produce wheat at a price at which he can afford to pay the wages which by law he is bound to pay, and which he wants to pay? You are not really going to touch the heart of this very important question unless you can do that.
The noble Earl took refuge in the proportion of beef and meat that is produced in this country. It was said in the other House, and the noble Earl told us, that about the same amount is imported from abroad. Though it may be that a good deal of land has gone down to grass from arable in the last few years, and there was an increase in the production of our herds and flocks, during the last three years they have begun to go down. The position is not as bad as it is in arable farming, but the noble Earl did not mention that herds were reduced by 429,000 during the last three years, sheep by 743,000, and pigs—which of course, as the noble Earl knows, go up and down very much according to whether they are paying or not—have been reduced by 386,000. If you put together all the figures that he gave us, it comes to something over £300,000,000 of foodstuffs which we are importing from foreign countries, nearly all of which could he grown in the Empire and a great deal, as the noble Earl admitted, in this country. When you have a position of that kind, with £300,000,000 of imports, you are really only playing—I do not want to belittle the noble Earl's Marketing Bill, and when it comes we will deal with it, but to give his Marketing Bill as a panacea for the importation of £300,000,000—
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
I said over £300,000,000, for I am always very anxious not to exaggerate in my figures. I have no doubt that the noble Earl will accept the amended figure suggested by my noble friend of over £470,000,000. You are not going to remedy that by your Marketing Bill. Still more, the noble Earl has not touched the question of the importation of foreign food grown under conditions which we in this coun- 262 try cannot possibly imitate, and do not attempt to imitate. Russia is going to export 7,000,000 quarters of wheat between now and the next harvest. That is the Russian programme. An answer was given in the other place only yesterday to the effect that 3,294,000 cwts. of Russian wheat were imported into this country last month. The noble and learned Lord, the Leader of the House, was good enough a few days ago to minimise very largely this question of the Russian importation. He put the matter rather more firmly than the noble Earl did. The Lord President is an unabashed Free Trader—
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
—and free dumper. Does the noble Lord go as far as that? I am not sure that he does not. I am not sure that he did not do so in this House when he said:—If you take the view that I do, and that always has been taken, that you have to consider the interests of the consumer, then, if there is nothing unfair, it is unjust to him to exclude commodities because they can be produced more cheaply in some other area than our own.I think the noble Lord really is a free dumper. I think he really rather rejoices in the importation of Russian wheat. He is rather glad that the consumer in this country, who can buy English meat (Heaven knows!) cheaply enough to-day, should still have the price kept down by the importation of Russian wheat at a price that we cannot possibly touch, and grown under conditions which we certainly do not want to see in this country.
I had sent to me a couple of months ago a circular from Rotterdam. It is not only wheat that comes in in this way. How are our growers of fruit and vegetables going to compete with things of this kind? Standard trays of finest tomatoes, C grade, layer packed, 27½ lbs. at 2s. 4d. a tray, or 1d. a lb.; cucumbers at 1d. a lb.; carrots in bags of 50 kilos at 1s. 7d. a bag, which works out, I think, at 5 lbs. for 1d.; winter onions at 2s.;3d. for a bag of 50 kilos, which is just over 4 lbs. for 1d. This was sent broadcast into this country, and anybody could have gone and bought these 263 vegetables at those prices. I do not know whether the noble Lord really considers, or will consider, doing anything to deal with that. I doubt very much whether his marketing scheme will deal with it at all.
It is because the Party opposite is so tied up with the Co-operative Party in this country that they will not do anything to touch this Russian grain? France has done it, Rumania has done it, Canada is considering it at the moment. The Russo-British Grain Export Company has as its principal shareholders in this country Arcos, Centro-Soyus and the Co-operative Wholesale Society. That is the body which is importing into this country this slave-grown grain from Russia. The Co-operative Wholesale Society is the biggest shareholder—29 per cent. of capital—and early in September, two months ago, they themselves imported into Leith 7,000 quarters of Russian wheat. Surely the noble Earl and his Party would he doing better work for the country if they would consider what this importation is doing, and what it is going to do between now and the harvest next year. I give them all they ask about the Marketing Bill, but we have lost a million acres of arable land, we have lost over 100,000 splendid agricultural labourers, and we see every possibility of losing very many more in the course of the next year owing to this further import of Russian wheat. Are they going to stop it? Have they any plan in mind for stopping it? Is the noble and learned Lord, the Leader of the House, going to say that it is the consumer whom we must look after if, in the course of looking after the consumer, arable farming in this country is to go to pieces? Is he going to say: "We are very sorry, and we will shed a tear over its tombstone, but we shall get the votes of the consumers"?
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
That is the noble and learned Lord and the noble Earl put together. The noble and learned Lord is a free dumper, and the noble Earl is the one who wants the votes of the consumers at the next Election. I do not want to take up anything like the amount of time that the noble Earl very rightly took in his most interesting and 264 informative speech. I could deal with fruit. In Sussex, where I live, I was offered 100 acres of black currants for nothing if I would only pick them for the good of the trees. They would not pay for the picking. They belonged to a very well-known grower. The President of the Wisbech and District Fruit Growers' Association told us not long ago of the fruit that was left to rot on the trees in Norfolk: 940 tons of gooseberries, 156 tons of raspberries, 35 tons of red currants—I am not speaking now of black currants—and 330 tons of plums, which were left to rot because they would not pay for the picking. At the same time fruit pulp was coming in from Russia by the hundred tons, and getting into our markets to the detriment of English growers.
Again I ask, what are you going to do? France, as I say, is doing something and so are other countries. The Government know, and members of the Government, when they make speeches in public, go on trying to make the public believe that they are worried about this state of affairs.
Mr. Lansbury, who occupies a seat in the Cabinet, said only the other day:—Agriculture, our greatest and most important industry"—to have heard the noble Earl, in the beginning of his speech this afternoon, one would have imagined that agriculture was a very secondary affair—is simply going from bad to worse.The Minister of Agriculture himself said that:—The main cause of the depression of agriculture in this country is that the industry has not been on an economic basis.The reason why it has not been on an economic basis is that it cannot compete, with its fixed rate of wages, with imports from, foreign agriculture which have no such condition. We do not want to do away with the condition, but we want to make it possible, if necessary by means of tariffs, to level up the basis in order that our farmers may be able to produce here in competition with foreign produce.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
If that is the policy of the noble Viscount's Party, will he tell us why the Conservative candidate at Shipley received the support of the Party? He placarded the town with: "No food taxes."
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
I said at the beginning of my speech that the policy of the Leader of my Party was a free hand to deal with the matter by tariffs, quotas or subsidies, and I believe they are the only three conditions by means of one or other of which a remedy is to be found. I do not for one moment believe that a remedy is to be: found in the finicking policy of marketing put forward by the noble Earl. The Minister of Health said the other day that the price of wheat, like the price of coal, was uneconomically low, and that he did not see how they could let these things drift. The friends of the noble Earl have put up the price of coal by Act of Parliament. Will not they let us put up the price of wheat, or by tariffs enable us in this country to compete with slave-grown wheat? I have here one other quotation from the Prime Minister himself. I take it from the Daily Herald:—The immediate problem of agriculture is that our markets, season after season, are being flooded with various kinds of agricultural produce under conditions which deprive our farmers of fairness in competition.Flooding takes place undoubtedly from abroad of foodstuffs produced under longer hours of labour and worse conditions of wages—of course in Russia they are far worse—than those which prevail in this country. Of course, in this country we want to keep up the standard of living. England has done well in the past because it has been not only a great industrial but a great agricultural country, and we want to maintain the condition of prosperous manufacturers, without seeing agriculture going gradually down to the depths, as it is to-day.
The noble Earl has said nothing about the policy of his Party contained in the Bill which is going to enable the Government to start large farms of their own in all parts of the country, and small holdings in other parts. Large farms will, of course, mean reduced labour. Fewer horses will be used, electricity will be used, and, I assume, they will be highly scientifically run, large farms. If they are to be demonstration farms you will have to reduce the labour hill still further. Every large farm in the country run on highly scientific lines employs less labour than if it were cut up into moderate sized farms. What are you going to grow on those large 266 farms? Not tomatoes. You are going to grow wheat. You must grow wheat. If you are going to establish a number of large farms at the public expense, and work them by tractors, they must be largely arable, and yet we are told by the noble Earl, in effect, that the days of arable farming are over.
The Government marketing system will not apply to wheat, and yet that is the type of farming which will be established at the public expense or, I venture to believe, at the public loss. There are already twenty-one demonstration farms in the country. Why do you want more. I am in favour of small holdings. There are reasons why I think it is an admirable thing to give an opportunity to men to take their share, in their awn small way, in farming and growing things in this country; but you must remember that you do not thereby increase employment. You turn out ten farm labourers from every farm you take over and cut up, and if you replace them by ten small holders you do not decrease the problem of unemployment connected with agriculture to-day. The Minister of Agriculture quoted from that new book by Professor Orwin on the future of farming. Professor Orwin makes a very clear and useful pronouncement in his book, which is approved by the Minister of Agriculture in another place. It is as follows:—There is no policy which will put more men on the land except a reduction in the standard of living or an artificial improvement in prices, either of which would increase the margin between costs and returns, and so make it possible once more to cultivate marginal and sub-marginal land.Nobody wants to reduce the standard of living, but I say quite frankly that I do want, by an artificial method, to bring about an improvement in the price of the commodity which the farmer produces.
The noble Earl has said nothing as to that. He has devoted himself in his interesting speech to the principle of the Marketing Bill. He has never told us what he is going to do about sugar beet. Lord Hastings has told us of the consequences in East Anglia if the subsidy is really going to come to an end. Thousands of more men will be thrown out of work. The responsibility will be on the Government. The money spent under our Acts in the last three or four 267 years has come back to the State four or five times over in the form of employment. I take it that you, the Government, are not going to give any subsidy to wheat. That, I suppose, is ruled out by so determined a Free Trader as the Lord President of the Council. I take it the Government are not going to do anything with regard to the dumping of corn from Russia. The noble Earl, in his speech last week on dumping, said we want unfair conditions very carefully ascertained. Are you not satisfied that in Russia, at all events, the conditions are unfair, and that there is no need for further investigation into the conditions under which farms in Russia are being utilised for the growing of wheat, and are still going to be utilised in the next year or two? Unemployment is now a crime in Russia. If you do not go where you are sent, if you do not go and work on these farms, you get six months hard labour, or you may die of starvation, whichever you like. I take it the answer is in the negative there. In regard to dairy produce, in regard to skimmed milk and powdered milk, the noble Earl has told us that he is going to give us no help. The consumer again is the person who is to be thought of to the utmost extent, and the farmer who produces the milk is to be subjected to the conditions of this Bill which has been referred to.
The noble Earl has told us the result of the Imperial Conference. He seemed more pleased with it than I think I am. "Delay," as Mr. Bennett said at the beginning, "is hazardous, the time for action has come, we dare not fail." The delay is still hazardous, the time for action has come and gone, and noble Lords opposite have failed. It is true they have promised another Conference in Ottawa. What are they going to do there for the help of British agriculture? What are they going to do to maintain the prices of agricultural produce in this country? "You cannot let things drift," said the Minister of Health; but they are drifting. If it had only been steel that was dumped here at starvation prices the thing would very soon have been attended to, because there is a strong trade union who are largely supporters of noble Lords opposite, who would have had something to say about steel produced in Russia and dumped here far below cost of production. No, 268 it is only wheat. The agricultural labourer is perhaps not a very important voter for noble Lords opposite.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
He was at one time very important indeed, but, as I have said, 125,000 of them have disappeared since the War, and all we get when we raise this debate is the suggestion from the noble Earl opposite that he will bring in a Marketing Bill, and, if it passes, new forms of compulsion will be applied to the farmer, new forms of levy will be placed upon him.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
Yes, but it is compulsory on the farmer; he is compelled by his colleagues. New levies will be made on the farmer, whether he likes it or not and new swarms of inspectors from Whitehall will have to see how this thing is carried out. My noble friends ask quite definitely for help for agriculture, for the arable farmer in his present desperate condition. We put every suggestion we can to the Government opposite, and we have got a Marketing Bill promised for the future, and a Scrub Bull Bill for to-day—both of them good in their way, but both of them utterly inadequate to bring the men back on to the farm and to bring prosperity to the farmer himself.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I listened very carefully to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and I had hoped to hear some positive remedy for the ills of agriculture. I think he mentioned something about giving fixity of tenure, or, if he did not, it is a subject frequently mentioned by speakers on Labour Party platforms. There is an idea that there is something wrong with the way in which land is held to-day, and that by giving fixity of tenure the ills of agriculture will be cured. You may change tenure as much as you like, but you will never cure the ills of agriculture by tinkering with tenure. One might just as well say that by changing the bed of a sick patient in a hospital you would cure his disease. No amount of shifting the bed of a sick patient would ever cure him of his disease, and no amount of tinkering with tenure will ever cure the present depression in agriculture. There is only one remedy, and that is adequate prices. We 269 must have adequate prices for the produce of the land. And by adequate prices I mean prices which will not only cover the cost of production, but will leave a profit to the farmer, and enable him to pay a decent living wage to his employees.
There is another idea that is frequently mentioned, and that is small holdings. I wish I could think that by the establishment of small holdings we could really bring prosperity to agriculture. Our experience, especially in Scotland, has been that the establishment of small holdings has proved anything but economic, even if the Government got the land for nothing. There is the case of the estate of Borgie in Sutherlandshire. There, I believe, the Government got the estate as a gift from the Duke of Sutherland, and they established ten holders upon it, and what has been their experience? They lost£53,000. £53,000 for establishing ten settlers!—£5,000 a settler! It would have been better to have pensioned them off at £3 a week, the loss would have been less. But that is not the only instance. If you take all the small holdings established in Scotland in the last fifteen years the loss has been £1,874,000. And 53 per cent. of that loss has had to be borne direct by the taxpayers, and the rest by public, authorities. What have we got to show for the loss of all that money? We have established here and there in the country a few small holders in poverty, trying to eke out an existence from the land, face to face with the unlimited competition of foreign goods, dumped here at prices below the cost of production here.
The Prime Minister in another place offered a challenge, asking if there was any Conservative in favour of taxing food. Well, as a humble Conservative Back Bencher, I say I am. Yes, I am in favour of taxing food, if that food is produced under sweated conditions and conditions lower than exist in this country. Does it not strike the noble Earl that if you allow food, or anything else, produced under sweated conditions and low social conditions, to come into this country free and untaxed, you are putting a premium upon sweated goods? Because countries say to themselves: "It is only by maintaining low wages and sweated conditions that we can sell our goods to Great Britain and maintain our 270 hold on their markets." Much better penalise those goods in proportion to the lowness of the wages and of the conditions under which they are manufactured, and then foreign nations will say:—"The more we raise our wages, and the more we raise our standard of living, the lower the tariff in Britain will be." Then the day will come when their conditions are the same as our conditions. When that day comes and foreign nations pay wages as high as we pay and their conditions are as high as ours, give us free trade and fair trade.
The last time I listened to a debate on the subject of free imports, the Lord President of the Council gave us an address on cheapness. He said that no one would be in favour of taxation which would mean dear food. He said he was in favour of cheapness, but he forgot to tell us what he meant by cheapness. Cheapness, it must be remembered, is a relative term. Cheapness by itself means nothing. It is whether you have money-in your pocket or not which makes a thing cheap or dear. Oranges at one shilling a dozen are cheap ii you have a florin in your pocket. Oranges at sixpence a dozen are dear if you have only a half-penny. The thing that is important is not cheapness; it is money. The thing that matters to the working classes is money. They will never get money until they have employment, and employment will never be satisfactory in this country so long as you allow dumped goods to come in below the cost of production here.
There has been mention of a Marketing Bill. In that Marketing Bill there is an idea of creating areas. There is an idea that if, for instance, dairy farmers can show that they are in a majority in an area, they form a pool and can have compulsory powers to compel other farmers to sell their goods through the pool or else join the pool. There is some idea of forming areas, according to the Under-Secretary for Scotland, by which compulsory powers will he given to the pool—in our case a milk pool—to control the milk in the area. That marketing scheme will never he the least possible good unless power is given also to control the sale of milk or any other thing coming into the area from outside. If you give a pool power to control the sale of a thing within an area and also to 271 sell the same thing coming in from an area outside that is protection locally.
EARL DE LA WARE
May I make an explanation to the noble Duke about the Bill? That area can be a national area and certainly would be in the case of milk. I thought he would like to know that as is rather bears upon what he was saying.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
I am repeating what the Under-Secretary for Scotland said about having these areas and the control of the sale of things within them. That will never have any success until power is given to control imports brought in from outside the area. If that should be agreed upon, there will be no difference between that protection which is given locally and that for which we ask nationally. Then there is the question of co-operative societies. In our milk pool, which is the largest concern of the kind in the United Kingdom, there is an association on a co-operative footing of a large number of farmers and an association of producers. You would have thought that this co-operative society of producers would have met with the approval of the great co-operative societies of industrialists. Not a bit of it. The great cooperative societies of industrialists have been the greatest enemies of the milk pool and the cooperation of producers. If the Government are going to favour the co-operation of agricultural producers they must tackle the co-operative societies of industrialists. I understand that the Labour Party draw a great deal of their funds from the co-operative societies of industrialists. They are up against a very stiff hedge there. The question is, are they not going to compel the cooperative societies of industrialists to come to heel and deal with the cooperative societies of producers? I have only one word more and that is on the question of the fixed rent of holdings. I do not see how you are going to get that except by law. I do not think I will deal with it further. I have said enough as it is.
My Lords, I must thank the noble Earl for the great trouble and courtesy with which he replied to my Motion. I think your Lordships' House is accustomed to expect from the noble Earl the courtesy with which he always replies to his political opponents, and I as well as the rest of your Lordships much appreciate it. But if I 272 am more than satisfied with the manner in which the noble Earl replied to me, I am much less than satisfied with the matter of his speech. My noble friends and I asked several questions of the noble Earl. There is the question about wheat, the question about sugar beet, the question about milk. But they all might be summed up in the one question: Have the Government any immediate measures whereby the British agriculturist can get for his produce more than it costs him to produce?
The noble Earl replied to some of those questions specifically, but to the question as a whole his answer, as I understand it, was: "All these things will be remedied by the Marketing Bill which we are about to introduce." All I would say about that is, as we shall have a further opportunity of discussing that remarkable Bill, that it seems a little unfortunate that this wonderful Bill has been received with such faint praise by every one of the great agricultural bodies who have so far considered it. I thought, and there are many like me who thought that this Government had a wonderful opportunity so far as agriculture was concerned when they came in. Because they had, perhaps, some slight advantage in that any measures they produced would be considered on their merits and on their merits alone, and would not be considered with the view to political advantage. I cannot conceal my opinion that they have let this opportunity slide.
I would only say, in conclusion, that I heard from the noble Earl the most remarkable statement that I think I ever heard made—the statement in which he said at the close of his speech that in the brief eighteen months the Government had been in office they had done more for agriculture than had been done in four and a-half years by the previous Government. Then, when I was waiting to hear what they had done, he stopped and I am still completely ignorant of what that record is. What is to come I do not know. But what has passed, I think, frankly ranks as nothing. Nevertheless, I think your Lordships will agree with me that it would be of no real use or value to press my Motion to a Division, and I will ask the leave of your Lordships to withdraw it.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes before seven o'clock.