§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL DE LA WARR)
My Lords, in moving that this Bill be read a second time I fully realise that I am placing before the House a Bill that has excited the greatest controversy. It very often occurs to me that in dealing with matters of very great controversy it is always worth while looking first into the subject in order to see if there is not some common ground—not because it is either possible or desirable to attempt to evade a conflict where if genuinely exists, but because it does then give us an opportunity of seeing that the conflict is about realities, and 2 not merely vague general principles. Principles are all very well in their way, in their right time and right place; but when they prevent us from doing something that is practically necessary, or when they drive us to actions that are not practically desirable, then I suggest that they are merely a form of mental indolence, which this country cannot afford at the present moment. We are all of us agreed that the policy of neglect of agriculture which was pursued during the last century in this country can no longer be tolerated; that the proportion of agriculturists to townsmen in this country of 7 per cent., as compared with 26 per cent. in America, 31 per cent. in Germany and 41 per cent. in France, represents a distribution of the population which none of us can feel to be healthy; and, further, that the continued loss of no fewer than 100,000 men and more to the countryside during the last ten years is really nothing less than a national tragedy.
So far I think we are agreed. The conflict arises when we begin to search for remedies with which to meet the situation. Now, there are really two schools. There are those who say that it is quite useless to settle men artificially on the land, that it is only necessary to create conditions of prosperity for the sale of agricultural produce and that then there will be an automatic drift back to the land without the necessity of public 3 effort. On the other hand, there are those who believe that it is only necessary for all who desire it, to be given what is called access to land, and that then all their troubles will be for ever finished, and that every townsman whom urban industry can no longer support should be cast back upon this hitherto despised countryside. The Government take neither of these extreme views. It is for that reason that I suggest to your Lordships that a great deal of the controversy about this Bill is unreal. It has become what we call a political Bill, which means a Bill around which politicians weave their particular theories and fancies, about which the man-in-the-street cares very little, being simply concerned with what is to be done to help him in time of need.
We recognise as a Government the importance of the market and the price to the producer in any scheme of agricultural development. As our contribution to that side of the problem your Lordships will shortly be asked to consider the Agricultural Marketing Bill. Your Lordships may contend that that Bill will not go far enough. That is a point which can be discussed at a later stage; but it is at least a beginning, and a very important beginning. But to recognise the importance of a market and a price for agricultural produce does not mean that there is nothing else that requires to be done. Nor does the fact that the Government do not accept the old cry of "Three acres and a cow" as a universal panacea mean that we necessarily accept the proposition that nothing can be done immediately with regard to settlement of new blood on the land, either on small holdings or by some other means.
This Bill can be divided into two parts. Clauses 1 to 4 deal with the better utilisation of land; that is Part I. Part II deals with allotments and small holdings. I assume that we need not spend very much time on allotments, as I think there is a fairly general agreement on that particular portion of the Bill. Clause 1 provides for the setting up of a Corporation which shall carry out experiments of a size which neither private enterprise nor the existing research and education establishments are in a position to carry out. There is also this point, which is a point in common with the powers under Clause 2, that it adopts a somewhat new 4 attitude towards research in that it deals rather with the investigation of commercial possibilities than the technical possibilities which are at the present moment dealt with by existing establishments. This Corporation will be composed of the best business and agricultural brains we can obtain; it will be free from Departmental interference, and it will have a million pounds of capital at its back. It has been suggested that this is an extravagant proposal. Some have gone further and have attempted to divorce the discussion of this proposal from its merits by raising the bogey cry of Socialism. The setting up of large-scale State farms was first recommended in 1918 by a Committee presided over by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, of which Lord Ailwyn, Mr. Edward Strutt and Sir Daniel Hall were members. I need not remind your Lordships that the first two that I mentioned were on the Committee as being Conservative representatives of agriculture.
In 1919 Colonel Weigall, now Sir Archibald Weigall, in company with Mr. Castell Wrey, published a pamphlet entitled "A Large State Farm" which suggested a State farm of 10,000 acres. It has been recently suggested again by Mr. Orwin, who is in charge of agricultural economic research at Oxford University. Whatever the merits of the case, I think it can hardly be fairly stated that all these authorities, including two Conservative Ministers of Agriculture, a Conservative Member of Parliament and the late Mr. Edward Strutt, are mere theoretical Socialists. You have only to look at the finance of the scheme to see that it is an experiment. You have only to look at the authorities in favour of the scheme to see that the experiment is well justified. Moreover, if the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, in 1918, was in favour of such an experiment, surely, if we give a moment's thought to the question, we shall see how much more important it is to-day. I know perfectly well that Lord Selborne attached certain conditions to his recommendation at that time; he attached certain conditions as to corn prices. But we do not for a moment expect that this experiment should be limited in its operation simply to arable farming. There are tremendous large-scale developments in other directions. But if it was necessary in 1918 to experiment with new methods of arable farming, how much more necessary is it to-day.
5 What is the position? We are told on all sides that there is a vast area of agricultural England that cannot continue without assistance running into millions of pounds a year. Last year one branch of arable farming received a subsidy from the State which amounted in all to over £6,000,000. This year it may be as much as £3,000,000. I refer to sugar beet farming. We are told by agricultural authorities all over the country, and I am not personally prepared at the moment to dispute the statement, that it may be necessary so go even further and to give some form of assistance at the expense either of the taxpayer or the consumer to cereal growing. It may be desirable that this great expenditure every year should be made to assist arable farming, but that does not say that we are to sit back and accept as a fact that the situation is unalterable. Can any one seriously contend that it is extravagant for the Government to invest £1,000,000 of capital in an effort to discover new and alternative methods, when we are told on all hands that the existing system has broken down and cannot function? I should say that the Government would be shirking its elementary duty and deserving of the gravest censure both from the taxpayer and the consumer if they took no such step. To invest £1,000,000 of capital in an experiment, to save many millions of pounds a year is the duty of any Government, whatever its political complexion and whatever its theories may be as to the relative merits of State or private enterprise.
Let us consider the types of saving that might be made. There are possibilities of saving in overhead charges and costs of management and of a more efficient functioning of management. It has been said that the 100-acre, the 200-acre, and the 300-acre farm is too large for a man to work with his hands, and too small for him to work with his brain, and that a larger unit can provide greater promise for brain and capital and greater direction for brains without capital, thus attracting new blood to the industry and new intelligence—new blood and intelligence for which there is not enough demand to-day. Then there are possibilities of economies in buying and selling, and last, but by no means least, greater opportunities of mechanisation. These are some of the advantages which it has been said can be obtained. The Govern- 6 ment do not commit themselves to the idea—it would not be an experiment if we did—but I repeat it is our bounden duty, in face of the breakdown of the existing system of arable farming, to investigate any and every proposal which promises as much as does this proposal, and is supported by such eminent agricultural authorities. So much for the moment for large-scale farming.
Let us pass to the consideration of Clause 3 of the Bill. Clause 2, I think, with the exception of a point to which I have already referred, really introduces no very new principle. Clause 3 can be divided into two parts—subsection (1) and subsection (2). Subsection (1) deals with land where the execution of reclamation, by drainage or other work, is necessary in order to enable the land to be satisfactorily used for agricultural purposes. It will be observed that the proposals dealt with in subsection (1) with regard to the acquisition of land, depend on voluntary agreement with the owner as to acquisition and as to the basis of acquisition. The power to acquire such land voluntarily, with a view to the execution of the necessary work to enable the land to be let, sold or otherwise disposed of, will apply where the landlord is either unable or unwilling, for various reasons, to invest further capital in his agricultural land. It is not intended under this clause to embark on extravagant or rash schemes such as the reclamation of the Wash, or to attempt to turn heath or marsh into garden, but it is anticipated that there will be a number of cases where, for various reasons, the owner is willing to hand over his land for a reasonable consideration to the State in order that the State, by judicious expenditure, may put it in a condition in which the ordinary occupier has some prospect of cultivating it and gaining a reasonable return.
In addition to the advantage to the tenant, I do not think we should forget the fact that a great deal of this work—drainage, erection and repair of buildings, fencing, etc.—will provide a great deal of employment. That is a point which at the present moment I think your Lordships will agree that we certainly should not overlook. I believe that there are a great number of 7 farmers who should welcome this provision. There is certainly nothing more depressing than trying to carry on a farm whose permanent equipment is neglected and out-of-date. I myself believe that there are a great number of landowners who regret, for a variety of reasons not relevant to this Bill, that they are unable to bring the equipment of their land up to a certain state of efficiency. I cannot think that there are a number of landlords in this country whose love of the land is not sufficient to make them prefer to see it put into a proper state of equipment for the tenants by the State, rather than see it deteriorate in their own hands for reasons over which they may not have control.
Turning to subsection (2) we come to a different class of land altogether—land which has been so grossly neglected that it is not in a fit state to be used for purposes of cultivation at all. The action here proposed is to require the owner to execute the necessary work. If he fails to do so within a reasonable time—and the time laid down in the Bill is six months—and if on appeal to an independent arbitrator it is established that the allegations of the Ministry are well founded, then the Minister is entrusted with powers for the compulsory acquisition of the land in order that the necessary work may be executed, and the land either let or sold to tenants who are prepared to make use of it. There is no proposal here to dragoon the occupier into adopting a particular type of cultivation, or to interfere with the conduct of the business of the occupier, or of the responsibly-minded landlord, but this subsection does give power to the State to take over land that is in a gross state of neglect. Let me give you an example of how necessary this power is. There is an estate at the present moment in Hampshire—
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Your Lordships know it. I am only sorry your Lordships should cheer such a disgraceful example of lack of responsibility. But, seriously, this land is in a condition that no one who supports any system whatsoever of the ownership and control of land could possibly allow to go on. I think I 8 gather from your Lordships applause that you know the case; therefore, doubtless, you are aware that for a number of years the County Council has been attempting to deal with this situation, and has been quite unable to do so. I suggest to your Lordships that this is a state of affairs which no nation can possibly afford to tolerate, and which, I am quite sure, not a single member of your Lordships' House would desire to defend. I suggest that such neglect of its capital resources must bring ruin to any nation, and that it would bring about the destruction of any system that permitted it to continue. If your Lordships feel that this is a very tyrannic power, no doubt we can discuss the matter in Committee, but I shall hope to be able to convince your Lordships that it is impossible to deal with a situation such as this without the powers that we have included in the Bill.
Let us turn for a moment to Part II—the provision of small holdings and allotments. There are two classes of small holdings to be provided. One is for the normal applicant for whom the county council is usually responsible. His case is dealt with in Clause 10 of the Bill. At the present moment there are actually over 5,000 unsatisfied applicants for this kind of holding, of whom 2,000 have been approved as suitable and 3,000 are still waiting. The actual number of potential applicants is probably far greater, because there are undoubtedly a great number who are tired of making application and have gradually drifted off. Let me give your Lordships an example of that. We have actually one county whose returns inform us that there is no proved outstanding demand for small holdings, and fifteen applicants are stated to be waiting interviews. This county has just provided twelve small holdings. There were 125 applicants of whom thirty-five have been approved as suitable and in the other cases they are waiting for further investigation. In considering a situation such as this in the country as a whole, we have to discuss whether we should take the ordinary normal powers of default, which means that we can either dragoon a county into carrying out its responsibilities or else do the work ourselves and charge them, or whether it would be better to take concurrent powers.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
In view of the financial position of many of the counties we felt that the better course was the taking of concurrent powers. The power of default is always unpleasant to operate and is almost impossible to operate without implying the charge of neglect which might in this case be quite unjust, because, no doubt, a great number of counties at the present moment are not in a financial position, however desirable the scheme might be, to carry it out.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I am glad noble Lords approve that because, no doubt, they will approve of the methods we have taken to deal with the position. I hope the counties will appreciate that in taking concurrent powers, which means that while we can carry out a scheme we have no power to charge the county council, we have adopted that course in a spirit of friendliness to the county councils and in recognition of their difficulties. I hope they will also notice Clause 12 of the Bill which gives to the Minister power to make arrangements with local authorities to enter into co-operation with him in running these schemes. The only criticism I have hoard of the taking of concurrent powers by the Ministry is that it may kill initiative in the counties. That criticism, I think, is fairly easily met by informing your Lordships that since this power was first spoken of the number of applications for schemes from the county councils has almost doubled. I can give your Lordships the figures. During the last winter there were twenty-five schemes submitted to us for 115 holdings, whereas during the winter before there were eight schemes for sixty-four holdings. That means that during the period when this Bill was going through the House of Commons, so far from the county councils saying: "Oh well, if the Ministry is going to do the work we will 10 do nothing more," they have actually nearly doubled their schemes. I think, therefore, it shows that we have not done anything to decrease initiative in the counties, but actually the way we are working has increased it.
Then I come to holdings for the unemployed and your Lordships will see that that is dealt with in Clause 6. Clause 7 extends a similar provision to agricultural workers so that agricultural workers would be in the same position as the unemployed. That Amendment was inserted, I think, with the agreement of all Parties in another place. The conditions relating to unemployed men are all set out clearly in Clause 6. I think I am right in saying that this is perhaps the part of the Bill which has most appealed to the public imagination, in that it is an attempt to harness the possibility of the development of our capital resources in land and the enormous consuming capacity of the towns to the ever increasing need for providing work for the unemployed. Our belief is that work is better than maintenance and that those who are willing to work and are willing to attempt a fresh start in life should be given the opportunity to do so. We realise that we have taken on a very hard task, but I do not believe there is a single one of your Lordships who would—I will not use the word "dare," but who would wish to challenge or to contest that.
Therefore we come down simply to the consideration of how far such a policy is practicable. A great deal has been said about placing townspeople on the land when countrymen are failing. But if we consider the matter for a moment we shall remember that there are in the towns at the present moment well over 100,000 men who have only very lately left the land and a great number of whom, probably, being unskilled as urban workers, are out of work. There are many others who live on the fringe of the towns and know the elements (shall we say?) of poultry keeping—and when we deal with the type of holding that is intended to be set up, your Lordships will realise the importance of this—from keeping poultry on a patch of land or possibly even in a backyard. In mining areas which have only lately been opened up we know that the mines draw their labour from the agricultural labourers in the district, and 11 a great number of these at the present moment, according to our information, are out of work.
Then we have Clause 7 dealing with agricultural labourers. Your Lordships will therefore see that there is a tremendous number of men not strange to the countryside—far larger, I suggest, than are likely to be settled for a great number of years. Add to this the fact that the experience of those who have had to do with emigration to and settlement in the Dominions and Colonies is that even townsmen frequently make good if they are given the right chance to be started on the land, and I think it is fair to say that the numbers that are likely to apply will give us full opportunity for most rigorous selection of the most suitable tenants. In that we are hoping to receive assistance from local committees, although, of course, the last word will have to be with the Ministry official or whoever is appointed to be responsible for the actual settlement.
For at least two years after starting a settlement or a group of settlements it will be necessary, I think, to have the closest supervision from possibly a whole-time adviser, and there is power given in Clause 8, if a settlement is large enough to justify it, to provide a demonstration holding in the centre of the settlement. After the first two years I think it will be agreed that they ought to get on with the normal provision, which is very considerable, for advisory work which every county makes at the present time. Clause 6 (2) (b) gives power to make a loan for stock and even power to purchase the stock itself. I think your Lordships will agree that that is a very valuable power to have when the importance of foundation stock is remembered. It is only necessary for a settler at the beginning to be got hold of by a dealer of greater business acumen than honesty for him to be literally committed from the beginning to failure, through starting off with the wrong foundation stock. Your Lordships will also see, in Clause 6, that there is power to make provision for maintenance not exceeding 30s. a week or £50 a year for the first year. A certain amount of criticism has been raised that this provides subsidised competition with existing smallholders. I dare say that there may be something in that point, but I 12 think it can be easily exaggerated when you realise that these men, who have been out of work possibly for years, have absolutely nothing at their back and also, as we all know—
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The noble Lord can make his speech later. We must realise also that it will take a considerable time before they get a return from any agricultural undertaking, and for the first year, therefore, it is, I think, essential that we should give these men a chance of success. If the choice, supervision and assistance of the individual is important, I think that next in importance comes the demand for what is going to be produced. Although the production of eggs in this country has a little more than doubled since the War, we still import more than £20,000,000 worth, at least three-quarters of which should be produced in this country. Another £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 worth may be passed over as being a very much cheaper trade than possibly our producers would care to interest themselves in.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
Will the noble Earl tell me whether they will get the "dole" as well as the £50 a year?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
No, they will not. If the noble Lord had read the Bill he would have seen that. In addition to the demand for eggs and poultry in this country, there is a certain opening, though not nearly so great, for market garden produce in certain areas round industrial towns. I realise that care must be taken not to flood the existing market for market garden produce, but with care I think there is some scope for some development in this direction in certain limited areas.
A very much bigger development of market gardening can take place in relation to canning produce. In the last year there was an actual shortage, amounting to three or four thousand tons, of fruit required for the canning factories. The canning industry is one that is making enormous strides. Four years ago their turnover was £250,000, and now it is £1,000,000, and I am informed that three or four factories are in process of going up in time for next season. Here is a most hopeful develop- 13 ment. It means a steadily growing market for first-grade produce. I should remind your Lordships that, although they have grown from £250,000 to £1,000,000, imports of canned produce to the value of £6,000,000 still come into this country, a great deal of which we should be able to capture and which, I understand, the industry has every confidence of being able to capture. Add to this that over 50 per cent. of the industry is already working under the National Mark, and we have a very strong guarantee against the danger of imported gluts of fruit, since none of these imported gluts are used by canners if they use the National Mark. At the risk of having to delay your Lordships for rather a long time, I mention these points in order to show you that there is no intention of throwing these men into a new industry without prior knowledge of the countryside, without skill of their own or skilled advice from others, and leaving them to sink or swim in general farming.
Let us compare these conditions of selection, expert assistance and direction into the right markets, cost of capital equipment and interest charges with the immediately post-War scheme. Men who returned scarred from the War were frequently chosen (quite naturally then) on grounds of needs and War deserts and left to their own devices, many producing commodities which belonged to large-scale production and having to fare the period of almost the greatest fall in prices that this country has ever known, with the cost of capital equipment far higher than it is at present; and even so the percentage of failures in that scheme was only fifteen. Let us now consider for a moment a scheme that is really more fairly comparable to that which we are discussing. I refer to the pre-War scheme which, at the present moment, is imposing practically no charge, and never has imposed any heavy charge, on the ratepayer or the taxpayer. It has very nearly paid its way. Naturally, as the men were settled with no expert supervision, there were failures, and yet these amounted to barely 5 per cent.
Let us admit the worst. We know perfectly well that we are asking these men to adopt a hard and wearisome life. 14 We recognise this and admit it. Let us go further and admit for the purpose of argument (I do not admit it in fact) that we may even have as high a proportion of failures in this scheme as we had in the post-War scheme. What is the position? Instead of 100 men standing at the street corner, rotting away with nothing to do, you have fifteen, and the other eighty-five are turned into self-supporting and self-respecting citizens. I submit to your Lordships that you have there a saving, not only in economy and in the finance of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, but in the moral fibre of the whole nation. I suggest to your Lordships that this is an investment, not an expenditure, and an investment that will pay us again and again.
Now I will turn for a moment from the subject of smallholdings to the subject of allotments. During the last two or three years work has been going on, run by voluntary agencies, to provide allotments for the unemployed. The work was started by the Society of Friends, and was then supported by the Mansion House Fund. Under this scheme they have been able to provide close on 100,000 allotments for the unemployed. The success of this work was brought to our notice, and it appeared to us that it had been so considerable that it really ought to have further financial support from the Government. Therefore we have taken powers in the Bill to extend this scheme all over the country, working, of course, as far as possible through local agencies. We shall, no doubt, work mainly through the local authorities, chiefly the municipal and borough authorities, and where it is found that it is not possible, to persuade them to work the scheme we have power to use what agencies we like. Of course, one of the agencies that will be used will be the Society of Friends, and others, those societies that have been running voluntary schemes. What is in the Bill is that the Ministry should defray all the expenses of the local authorities who are responsible for the scheme, and it will be the duty of the authorities to provide allotments, make what arrangements they can about rent—it may be even rent free: they have to make out their case to us. They also have powers to provide seeds and tools 15 on a financial basis for the unemployed, in order to give them a start.
I think this is a scheme upon which we can all agree, and I am glad to say that we were able to get the late Lord Mayor to undertake the Chairmanship of the Committee. A member of your Lordships' House, Lord Plymouth, has also graciously consented to serve on this Committee. As it was necessary to get the sowing done at once a supplementary estimate was introduced in the House of Commons, and actually we are getting on with the financing of the existing scheme, although, of course, we cannot deal with the provision of new allotments until the Bill has passed.
Perhaps I might deal with one last general point before sitting down, and that is the question of finance. Great criticism has been made, against this Bill on the ground not only of the size of the finance that is required, but also its general indefiniteness. Let us for a moment analyse that charge. In Part I, Clause 1 sets up a Corporation with certain duties assigned to it, for which it is provided with £1,000,000 of capital. Clause 2 deals with a smaller commercial demonstration fund, and Clause 3 deals with what we generally call reclamation. That expenditure is limited to £5,000,000. The only expenditure that is not limited is the expenditure in connection with small holdings. Surely, that is reasonable. If we believe in a scheme, if we believe that it is a really economic scheme, surely it is right for us, and we claim that right, to say that we are going to push ahead with it as fast as we can.
It is impossible to state at the present moment how fast that will be, or how quickly we can obtain possession of the land, or how quickly we can deal with applicants, or how quickly we will be able to erect all the necessary equipment; but it was made very clear in the Financial Resolutions before the House of Commons, and in the Notes on those Financial Resolutions, what was the contemplated expenditure. We showed that on schemes under the clause which has reference to the normal form of small holdings provided under county councils, we anticipated an expenditure of just over £1,000,000 for a thousand holdings and that on schemes for unemployed, dealing with rather smaller holdings, for poultry 16 and market gardening, we estimated an expenditure of £640,000 or £650,000 for a thousand holdings. We also contemplate a return of 3 per cent. on schemes for the normal class of holdings, and a return of 2½ per cent. on schemes for the unemployed. Your Lordships will, therefore, see that even though we were to establish a number of holdings that would exceed all our wildest hopes, the annual loss on these schemes will virtually only amount to thousands of pounds. Thus a scheme for a thousand normal smallholdings, costing just over £1,000,000, and involving interest amounting to £50,000, would return £30,000 at 3 per cent., leaving a loss on a thousand holdings of approximately £20,000, with a very much smaller sum for the holdings for unemployed, which are established at a less capital cost.
I say to your Lordships then that when schemes of subsidy are supported and suggested from your Lordships' side of the House, lasting only a short time and amounting to many millions of pounds a year, to charge us with extravagance for suggesting a scheme running only into thousands a year for interest charges is a little unfair to the Government. If we consider for a moment what we are going to get out of this scheme, if we consider the economic effect on this country of producing a greater proportion of our foodstuffs, and the moral effect on the men we settle, then your Lordships must admit, as I have contended, that this is the finest investment ever undertaken by a nation which is prepared to spend millions on subsidising other forms of agriculture. For a country which is granting in respect of unemployment insurance £95,000,000 a year to turn down such an investment on the ground of economy would be the greatest folly and hypocrisy we can perpetrate. I recognise that a great many parts of the Bill may be unwelcome to many of us, whose interests and habits of thought may lead us in other directions, but I do believe that the very sense of responsibility and trusteeship which has enabled the landlord system to exist for so long in this country and has been the foundation of the landlord system, and the intense devotion to the land which is in all our hearts, must convince us that this Bill gives to agriculture an opportunity of 17 making its contribution to the national crisis through which we are passing, and makes a real contribution to the health, happiness and prosperity of this nation at the present moment. For that reason I commend the Bill to your Lordships as worthy of a Second Reading in this House.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ LORD TREOWEN had given Notice that on the Motion for the Second Reading he would move, that the Bill be read 2a this day six months. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. I do so in compliance with a request which I received from the executive of the Central Landowners' Association, which, as you know, includes landowners of all classes, not only large landowners who may be in your Lordships' House, but a large number of those owner-occupiers who have risen owing to the breaking up of so many large estates. It is encouraging to me, in rising, to feel that I have the support of every organisation in this country which is directly and closely connected with agriculture—the Central Chamber of Agriculture, the National Farmers' Union, the Farmers' Club, the Council of Agriculture of England. I have here the resolutions of all these bodies which have been sent to me, but I do not propose to read them, since they have all been published. But they all indicate a doubt as to whether the cost of implementing the provisions of this Bill should be undertaken at the present time, even for objects directly of benefit to agriculture, in view of the serious warning that has been given to the whole country by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to our present financial position. The right hon. gentleman, as your Lordships will remember, laid it down that schemes involving heavy expenditure, however desirable in themselves, must await the return of prosperity. I believe that we shall only return to prosperity by the road of economy.
§ In addition to those resolutions which I have received we have seen recently in The Times a joint considered opinion of the three great institutions which have most to do with the land in this country, the Chartered Surveyors' Institution, the Chartered Land Agents' Society, and the 18 Auctioneers' and Land Agents' Institute. Those are all very important bodies in connection with land. It might be said that possibly the passing of this Bill might be of advantage to some of them, and that that might influence their opinion. But what is their opinion? They are, according to a letter sent by the presidents of these institutions, unanimously of opinion that the Bill contains no proposals having for their object the restoration of prosperity to agriculture or the better utilisation of agricultural land, while the financial burden that would be added to that already borne by the taxpayers would not be justified by any practical advantages to the agricultural community. I think one could not have a very much stronger opinion than that. This is no time to indulge in the extravagance which is proposed by this Bill. There we have before us a very formidable array of expert technical opinion against this Bill, opinion which is not influenced by political Parties, or by Party bias, or any such influence. The opinion of all those authorities is practically the same, that the Bill as it stands would do no good to agriculture or the agricultural industry, and that the extravagant demands it will make on the taxpayer should not be incurred at the present time in view of the very serious financial condition of the country.
§ Before passing to a review of the structure and scope of this Bill, I think it might be useful to examine for a moment its genesis. How did it ever come to be drafted? I should be very sorry indeed to ascribe the parenthood of this Bill to the Minister of Agriculture. I think it has upon it the very plain features of a dual parenthood, and I am inclined to believe that it is the outcome of that entente cordiale or tactical arrangement which prevails between sections of the House of Commons. It is for that reason that we have this combination of totally irrelevant questions. Part I deals more directly with agriculture than Part II. Part II is a part of the Bill with which, if the proposals were reasonable, your Lordships would probably feel much sympathy. It is directed to the alleviation of that condition of unemployment which at the present moment is pressing so terribly on the country. The proposals which find a place in these two Parts of the Bill betray that 19 the Party in power, which is faced with differences within its ranks, and which has failed to carry out the pledges in regard to unemployment given at the last General Election, is bound to bring out something to try and show that it is endeavouring to relieve that situation. On the other side we find a re-hash of old, crude ideas that were embodied in what was pompously called the Liberal Land Policy. It was much paraded before the last General Election and at the last General Election, but it failed at that time to induce any support, and has not been heard of since. There we have Part I based on the Liberal Land Policy, defunct; and Part II, a proposal to deal with unemployment.
§ Let us look for a moment at Part I. The noble Earl has given us a sketch of its provisions; but the difficulty about a sketch is, of course, that you may get entirely different aspects by making your sketch from different points of view. I have also tried to make a sketch of the effects that would be produced by putting into force Part I of this Bill. The first thing about it is that the Minister is given great powers and sets himself to work to create a new universe. He begins by setting up an Agricultural Land Corporation. This is to act in conjunction with the Secretary of State for Scotland—I hope Scotland will make itself heard upon this question—and with the concurrence of the Treasury. That, as all your Lordships know, means that the Treasury will provide the moneys necessary for financing this undertaking from the pockets of the taxpayers and, although it may have the concurrence of the Treasury, I doubt whether it will have the concurrence of the taxpayers. The Minister will then appoint not more than nine or less than five directors and will certainly see that they are adequately remunerated. Who will foot the bill? The money for that purpose will likewise be provided by the taxpayers. He will thereafter, and I ask your Lordships to note this, define the particular objects of the Corporation which at present are withdrawn from the purview of Parliament. There will be an Agricultural Land Fund provided with money in the same way and administered and controlled by the directors, who will also have power to borrow money upon security given by the Treasury; that is, on the security of the taxpayers' money. There is an in- 20 teresting provision as to repayment to the Treasury of the surplus profits of this Corporation; but we are left entirely to conjecture what will happen if, as is not impossible, expenditure exceeds income.
§ The Minister will then proceed to acquire land; by agreement if possible, if not, by compulsion. This land will be vested in the Corporation for the purposes, as the noble Earl has told us, of large-scale farming operations and the reconditioning of certain land. He did not tell us much about large-scale farming operations, but he did touch on the question of reconditioning. I must say, with all respect to him, that I regret that he should have allowed himself to be led away into referring to a case which everybody has heard of, which everybody condemns, for which there is no defence whatever and which has been used especially by those who were working up the so-called Liberal Land Policy.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, if the noble Lord objects to my having referred to that, perhaps he will just tell us how he would deal with the situation.
§ LORD TREOWEN
My Lords, if the noble Earl will only wait, he will hear all my opinions very fully, perhaps more fully than he may wish. I say that I regret that he should have brought this up again and so lowered the tone of his otherwise very admirable address to the level of that very inferior form of advertisement which was given, I regret to say, under the name of the Liberal Land Policy. Everyone has heard of it. It has now been so advertised and used so much for political purposes that—what is the effect?—the belief is that it is unique, that it is not merely an exception but a unique case which has been discovered for the benefit of the publication to which I have referred. I know from my own personal inquiries that the case is such as it has been represented to be and that there is no defence for it; but you cannot base general legislation upon an exception, still less on what is now believed to be a unique case. Those who made so much of this case, never took the trouble to go into any of those estates not far off, where they could have seen that in spite of the pressure upon landowners in the last ten years, great strides have been made in improving the 21 condition of the estates, and in bringing them up to date and up to the requirements of legislation which has been passed, very properly, especially with regard to dairies and so forth. I have allowed myself, perhaps, to be carried somewhat away from the subject I was discussing, but I could not refrain from making some answer to something which I very much regret. I think, if the noble Earl will permit me to say so, he hardly did himself justice in bringing it forward.
What is the effect of this Part of the Bill? It means that the control of the Minister, the functions and the importance both of the Minister and the Department, will be widely extended. It will be no longer a Department charged with the general supervision of the interests of the agricultural industry and community, but it will be a Department charged with the administration of a very large estate—an estate combining properties of varied condition and capital. There will be the large farms, which are to be cultivated on the most modern principles. There will also be the demonstration farms, which are to be taken over and controlled, belonging to various institutions at present, such as county councils and Universities. These will all come under the control of the Department. The noble Ear] (Earl De La Warr) shakes his head, but I think I can refer him to the Bill as showing that it is so. I have certainly read it so in the Bill, and if I am mistaken perhaps I shall be corrected, but it undoubtedly gives the Minister control in the sense that the managers of these institutions will be the agent of the Minister. I should certainly have said that meant control. The fact is that this is a vast estate to manage. We know that all estates require money for their management and their development. The Ministry of Agriculture will be turned into a great spending Department. Moreover, a, great step will be taken towards nationalisation, as it is called, of all agricultural land, which is, I believe, the ideal of those political theorists who have no belief in the individual exertions that have made the prosperity of this country in the past.
22 There is another aspect of this matter at which we must look. The Ministry will, in fact, be undertaking technical and commercial control of a great agricultural concern, winch possibly the noble Earl has hopes may in some long distant period produce revenue for the country. But I think it is better, instead of looking to the distant future for revenue from farms which are not yet in existence, that the Government should set its mind to remedying those evils which are preventing at present the possibility almost of making farming pay. The noble Earl asked me a short time ago for my opinion of something. I will give him my opinion straightly on this. I believe it would pay the country much better to bring in measures for the relief of agriculture as it is at present than go to an enormous expenditure for a possible future development, and the remote possibility of a revenue coming into the country from that, expenditure. This Corporation will be, I assume, the largest part of the Ministry of Agriculture. It will be a large and important concern.
That makes me think of the lines of commercial development generally. The question whether large farms or small farms are better, or whether a large farm administered by a corporation is more likely to produce a good balance sheet than a farm of the same kind administered by a capable owner or occupier, is for the moment outside the question. The question is, who is going to pay? I put this test. If this Corporation were a company launched by the noble Earl or any of his friends in the open market as a commercial concern, what would be the probability of the requisite capital being subscribed for its operations, especially in conditions which the public would know would all militate against productive agriculture? He would be a very sanguine speculator who invested any money in the noble Earl's company, and I think, if I may be permitted to say so with all respect, that the company would require a much more astute promoter than the noble Earl to make it palatable to the public.
I pass on to Part II of the Bill, which, as the noble Earl has pointed out, deals with the provision of small holdings and allotments and matters pertaining thereto. From what I have said your Lordships will realise that Part II deals with something different from that which I have 23 been trying to describe to your Lordships. At any rate it has this merit, that there is no speculative business in it, except such speculation as there is in the curious way in which the probable costs are estimated. In this Part of the Bill, again, I think there is a great defect in constituting the Minister the supreme authority. The concentration and centralisation of all power in the Minister is apt to lessen the benefit that might arise from what is attempted in this Part of the Bill. In former measures for dealing with small holdings and allotments wide scope was given to the local authorities, and I believe in using local authorities, especially in these matters. I think it is far better for them to have control, because they are in closer touch with the people who are actually concerned and interested in the locality, than that the final decision should always he made by Whitehall. Under bureaucratic control, unfortunately, many attempts at useful legislation have come to grief.
Great confusion is apt to arise in dealing with the provision of these small holdings such as have been described, owing to the different classes of prospective tenants for the various holdings. There is, first, the man whom we may call the genuine agricultural smallholder, a man who has lived all his life in the country, who knows all about agricultural operations, and is accustomed to the care of animals and so forth. As a matter of fact men of that kind, who are becoming rarer every day, do not find any great difficulty in being suited with a small holding. Where such a man may be out of a small holding I think we have already means of satisfying his demand. At any rate it may be satisfied without having a Bill of these dimensions. Then we have—and here I think I am referring to the same class that the noble Earl very accurately described—those hundreds of thousands of people who have drifted into the towns and now have an idea that they would like to get back to the country. It is often very difficult to place them. The consequence of a long period of town life makes even people who were born in the country lose all touch with it and makes their requirements much more numerous and much more elaborate.
Then there are those who form what I consider the most pathetic element in the 24 population at present and they, I think, require some special mention when we are considering how they may be helped. I refer to the highly skilled mechanic with a family whom the general trade depression has thrown out of work. There are thousands of them in the country. Most of them have always lived in a town or in urban conditions. They have reached the limit of their savings and they are on the "dole." To dump a man of that kind into the middle of the country, even if you give him £50 and a spade, will not do him much good. I have seen such cases and I know that it is very easy for the skilled hand, the intelligent brain, the quick wits of this class of highly skilled man to become sterilised and rapidly to deteriorate in uncongenial surroundings, in surroundings that neither he nor his wife nor his family understand.
I would ask the noble Earl to give his kind consideration to what I am now about to say because I do not wish to appear only destructive. What I think has been a great mistake, as I have said before, is to mix up this Bill with other things which are quite different. I should like to see when this wretched Bill has been rejected, as I hope it will be, another Bill brought in—a Housing Bill, not dealing with schemes with which the present Minister of Agriculture was connected some years ago, but a town and country planning scheme which will make provision for colonies for industrial workers, especially for such as I mentioned just now, sufficiently near to the centre of their occupation so that they can easily get backwards and forwards to that occupation, with such amenities of garden and of further garden allotments as may be necessary, and an extension in the country of villages of a character which would be suitable to agricultural workers and which would help to maintain the amenities of country life for the whole country. I am not speaking of a vague Utopia because it happens that circumstances have led me to attempt these schemes, to initiate and to carry them out., to form these colonies within the reach of the daily work of workers in the Welsh coal mines—village development in the country to attract those people who have not been in the habit of living in the country or have lost touch with the country, and who 25 will there meet the real inhabitants of the country and possibly become assimilated. But that is a matter of time. You cannot rush it through in a sort of omnibus Bill like this which is going to set up a financial Corporation to-morrow and deal with small holdings the day after. It is a matter which has to be done thoughtfully and carefully and, if I may put it so, as an individual duty of the Government.
I fear I have been making a very heavy demand upon your Lordships' attention but I think the financial provisions of this Bill do require a few words from me. I have found it very difficult to arrive at any definite estimate of the expenditure which will be entailed by the provisions of this Bill. I have examined very carefully the Financial Memorandum that was issued with the Bill when it was first published and, after making every calculation, I cannot put the expenditure required for Part I of the Bill at a less figure than £15,000,000 to begin with. That takes no account of the expenditure that will be annually incurred through the fact that, the proposed large farms having been created and unproductive areas having been taken in hand for reconditioning, some years must elapse before any sufficient return can be made to carry on the work that has been begun. Many of your Lordships will remember from your own experience what it means when you take up a farm for reconditioning. You do not get much out of it for a couple of years.
The difficulty of estimating the cost of the Bill is still greater when we get to Part II of the Bill, by reason of the proportional estimates that are given us to consider. Expenditure is calculated for units of 1,000. We have units of 1,000 small holdings, of 1,000 small holdings for unemployed persons, advance of capital per 1,000 persons, maintenance allowance per 1,000 persons, construction of buildings, training centres and so forth on the same basis. I have given some little time and trouble, so far as my intelligence would allow me, in trying to make out what will be the cost of producing any effect on the mass of the unemployed by these means. I find that the total cost of establishing 1,000 men on the lines of this Bill must exceed £2,000,000. The noble Earl shakes his head, as I knew he would, but he seems to have a 26 doubt in his own mind. This must be multiplied by 100 if the army of the unemployed is to be touched on its merest fringe. For 100,000 men you want over £200,000,000. That is a very small return for a very large expenditure. But it does not end there. It is nothing to employ 100,000 men when we have 2,000,000 unemployed to deal with. Are we going to do this thoroughly and go right on to the end of them or not? If we are, we shall get into thousands of millions. Is this the time for undertaking this work on what seems to be a very extravagant basis and one which will not leave much permanent good behind? for the industrial population which is now out of work will infallibly, when good times return, drift back to the towns. You must be prepared for that. I strongly advise the noble Earl to give careful consideration to my suggestions for a different Bill. Let us get rid of this Bill altogether.
I have only one point more with which I wish to deal, and that is to answer one question which, I am sure, must be in the minds of many of your Lordships. Is the Bill capable of amendment? So far as I have been able to judge, I say emphatically that it is not. I say so for this reason. I am not an expert in the drafting of Bills, but in the last twenty years or so I have had to read a good many of them and make the best sense that I could out of them. This Bill seems to me to be drafted in a manner that leaves the legislative parts of it so mixed up and intertwined with the financial provisions that it is almost impossible for your Lordships to deal with it. That is my opinion. I have taken the opinion of others who are better qualified to speak on the knotty point of Commons Privilege, and my belief is that, if you begin to try and amend this Bill, you will not get very far before you find yourselves up against financial provisions, and behind them the Privilege of the House of Commons and the Parliament Act. This Bill has not come to your Lordships certified as a Money Bill. Treat it, as you can, drastically, but do not send it back again, with the very great probability of its returning to you in the form of a Money Bill, when you will have to take it whether you like it or not.
27 I have finished. I have endeavoured to place before your Lordships the views that I take of the proposals of this Bill. I have approached the consideration of it with a perfectly unprejudiced mind. I am absolutely independent of Party ties and I am under no political influence, though I adhere to the principles in which I was brought up. Nothing that concerns agriculture can fail to interest me, and the provision of dwellings for the industrial and rural workers is a question that for many years has enlisted my warm and, I hope, practical sympathy. Whether the persons to be provided for are, in the present disastrous condition of the country, classed as employed or unemployed, I have sufficient confidence in the future of the country to believe that that spectre of unemployment will pass away when recovery comes with better times. Such recovery can be brought about, but it will only be brought about by a system of economy, of sound finance, and a resolution to face the difficulties with which every industry has to contend in this world upheaval. It is because this Bill does nothing to help that recovery that I trust your Lordships will reject it.
Leave out ("now") and at end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Treowen.)
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, you have listened with considerable attention to the weighty speech just delivered by Lord Treowen, and we have also had the advantage of listening to a speech from the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of the Bill. I think your Lordships will desire me to say, if he will allow me to do so, how much we congratulate him upon the clear and able way in which he brought the Bill before the House. He must not, however, con-chide from that that we entirely agree with all the statements which he made. He skated, with considerable delicacy, over a difficult Bill, and although we regret to see that he would be unable physically to accomplish such an effort, at any rate the mental effort was done with grace and considerable power of avoiding obstacles.
There are a great many obstacles in this Bill. In the first place, it contradicts itself even in principle, because in the first clause it displaces a number of 28 men employed on the land, and in the second part it proposes to put more on to it. It places almost uncontrolled power in the hands of the Minister, to whom I believe there are more than a hundred references in the Bill. It enables him to spend vast sums of money subject to no other control than the Estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture. I am one of those who did not have the privilege of sitting in another place, but many of your Lordships have done so and you know, without any reminder from me, that when the Estimates of any Department come before another place a large number of subjects have to be considered, so that there is little opportunity on that one annual occasion of going into the finance of such a vast scheme as this. I should have thought that after the warning given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Government would have gone out of their way on an occasion such as this to see that every penny spent on new schemes was spent with great care, and that the control of the finances of any new scheme would be kept very carefully under control. As it is, it is left to the almost unfettered discretion of the Minister to spend what he likes and how he likes, and the best thing I can say about the present Minister of Agriculture is that at any rate his previous record does not give much cause to think that economy and financial ability are his strongest points.
The noble Earl in speaking of the Bill seemed to take an optimistic view which some of us who are a little older in years fail to maintain. He seemed to take the line that when you have bought a car and paid the bill that is an end to the expenditure. Many of us have discovered that that is only where the expenditure begins. Let us take Clause 1, which provides for a Land Corporation for the purpose of conducting large-scale farming operations. They may be given £1,000,000 of capital. Suppose the operations are unsuccessful and expensive: the taxpayer has to make up the difference. That is by no means a new supposition, because already the Ministry of Agriculture have had farming under their control in the past. There is the example of the Patrington Estate in Yorkshire of 2,300 acres, on which in ten years the Ministry lost over £82,000. There is also the Wantage farm, on which the losses 29 were £36,000. And if you want to go outside the Ministry—and I am not blaming the Ministry because it is inherent in this system of large-scale farming—if you turn to the Co-operative Wholesale Society, in 1930 they had a farm acreage of 20,625 acres, and on that acreage they lost £34,011 in a single year.
What is the advantage of all these experiments? Surely when you do large farming experiments of this kind the idea is that you should use a very large amount of machinery—mechanise your farming. Some of your Lordships will remember the very eloquent speech to which we listened from Lord Ernle, in describing large mechanised farms in Russia, which involved a very large reduction in the number of men employed on farms. That is the whole essence of mechanisation. You use more machinery and fewer men. Is this the time, when our unemployed are running up to the third million, to introduce mechanism or to sanction a scheme for reducing the number of men on the land? The noble Earl quoted to us an opinion of Lord Selborne's Committee. Many of us know that Report, but that Report was issued in 1918. We were in a very different situation in 1918 from that which we are in to-day. We had not then got 2,600,000 unemployed, we were not in great financial difficulties, and the whole situation with regard to expenditure by the State, and of reducing slightly, or I should say largely, the number of men on the land, was a very different question then from what it is to-day. Surely, in regard to these experiments, we all know private individuals who are farming on a large scale, and if the Ministry desire to see experiments they have only to arrange it with these individuals. Possibly, if assisted financially to a much cheaper extent than the cost under this Bill, these persons would be prepared to carry out experiments on behalf of the Ministry.
Let me turn to the demonstration farms, on which the noble Earl said very little. There are already twelve demonstration farms attached to the Universities, and twenty-one farm schools and farm institutes. How many are we going to have? Why go and spend more money on demonstration farms? If you want to show farmers the best way to farm, put them in motor cars or chars-a-bancs and take them round to successful farmers 30 and let them see all that those successful farmers are doing. I am sure that those successful farmers, in most cases, would be only too glad to explain their methods and give their costs. That is better than establishing more demonstration farms.
Then I come to the proposal that the Minister should be empowered to take over land which requires drainage or is seriously neglected, and to spend what he likes to restore that land to prosperity. I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Treowen, said in regard to bringing in legislation in order to deal with one isolated case. But let me go into the question of why an owner does neglect his laud. There are perhaps three causes. The first is the exceptional and perhaps unique case that we know of. The second is where an owner has not sufficient capital to undertake work that requires to be done. The third is that of the owner who has capital, but realises that under present farming conditions it would be uneconomic to spend that capital, because he would have no chance of getting any adequate return from it. The third class is obviously the largest, and what you have really to do is to ensure that fanning shall improve and shall become remunerative. Then you will very rapidly find the owner and the occupier, or more probably the two in combination working together, willing to make that expenditure, because the return would he adequate, and would make the trouble and expense worth while.
As to the second case, that of the owner who has not sufficient capital, if the return is really remunerative he will in most cases find very little difficulty in getting the money from one of the improvement companies which exist. Under the Bill the Minister is authorised to spend money whether there is any return on it or not, and I suggest, if your Lordships intend to proceed to the further stages of this Bill, you will wish that the Minister's powers in this regard should be severely limited, and that he should only be authorised to take over land where the work required to be done can be shown to be economically remunerative. That, I think your Lordships will agree, is an amendment which, in the present situation of the country, is one which is essential.
I pass to Part II. We hear a great deal of nonsense talked about small 31 holdings and allotments. I should like to give your Lordships a few figures which came before my notice the other day. In England and Wales in 1909 there were 197,606 small holdings of from 5 to 50 acres. In 1919 that number had dropped to 191,375; and in 1929 the number had dropped considerably more, to 184,145. That was a reduction in twenty years of 13,461. But that is not the whole of the story. Because, apart from the holdings that were then in existence local authorities purchased land and set up holdings to the number of 27,521. Therefore, adding those new holdings to those previously in existence, your Lordships will find that in the past twenty years there has been a reduction of 40,000 holdings; and, for every three holdings set up by local authorities, four smallholders have gone out of the business.
Why has that happened? It has happened in some cases, of course, because the smallholder has been badly chosen, or is incapable, or something of that kind. But in the large majority of cases it has happened because the smallholder has been unable to sell what he produces at a price which will enable him to gain his living. In 1927 the noble Earl opposite, who was then in a position of less responsibility, stated in this House:—I do not suggest that we should pass Settlement Bills and Small Holdings Bills, such as the Government are responsible for, to force men back to the land artificially.I think he rather repeated that statement to-day; but that is not what the Minister said in another place, because the Minister there said:—The small holding experiment is a modest experiment at present, and I am hoping to see an immense enlargement.Now, what is the policy of the Government? Do they propose to put unemployed men, after very short training, upon the land, when men are failing in all directions who have had very long experience of farming and small holding management? They made a pledge that farming should be made to pay. The farmer has been made to pay, and he is paying heavily out of his pocket to an increasing extent week by week. But that is not the way the pledge was interpreted at the last Election.
How is farming to be made to pay? The noble Earl will no doubt tell us that 32 the Agricultural Marketing Bill will do it. I cannot refrain from again reminding him of the same speech. In 1927 he said this:—It therefore comes to this, that, however you organise the farmer in this country, if you get the whole of his meat and the whole of his wheat into great producing 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 touch the importer.That is an opinion that many of us hold. But where are the proposals of the Government to control the importer and to control the price? What is the policy of His Majesty's Government in this matter? Do the Government propose that these smallholders should make a living with no capital behind them, and with no accumulated savings?
It has been suggested that your Lordships should adjourn this debate until His Majesty's Government have put the whole of their agricultural policy before us, because it is maintained in a good many directions that it is unfair to place men on the land sinless there is a chance of their making a living. It is also maintained that your Lordships are not really in a position to deal with this Bill until you know what chance of success there is. I submit that a proposal of that kind may place this House in some difficulty. It is quite true that we have been waiting for many, many months for the Government to produce their agricultural policy, and I see very little hope that that policy is likely to be produced in the next few weeks, in a time within which your Lordships would wish to postpone further debate on this Part of the Bill. But, supposing that the Government succeeded in producing a policy. How could it be a policy which would deal with farming as a whole? The small holdings will consist of a very large number of different kinds. There will be the poultry farms, there will be the fruit farms, there will be the mixed farms, and so on. And therefore, if the Government are to be asked to produce a policy which will deal with the whole of those farms, I think we may have very long to wait.
Moreover, we might find ourselves in the position of deciding that we must go on with this Bill, and then implying that we are in agreement with all the remainder of the policy which has been 33 put forward. Therefore I think that that would not be a wise thing for your Lordships to do. But I suggest that your Lordships can do a great deal in this Bill to make it more workable and to make it less of a sham than it appears to be at the present moment. A noble Lord opposite who is a recent arrival in this House, speaking last week, stated that there was a great deal of humbug which he had to listen to in this House. I would remark that I do not think that is the fault of your Lordships. It seems to me much more often to be due to the legislation with which your Lordships have to deal.
What is meant by this proposal of putting a large number of men on to the land and of doing the thing, as Mr. Lloyd George said, on the largest possible scale? I think it will surprise your Lordships to find, on examining the Bill, that the Minister has to satisfy himself in regard to various conditions before he can provide a small holding, but the one thing that he has not to satisfy himself about is that the place selected for the small holding is a place where a man has a reasonable chance of earning his livelihood. There is nothing whatever in the Bill as to that, and yet your Lordships know very well that there are many parts of this country where smallholders, even with great experience, and very hard working, steady men, are failing to make both ends meet. On the other hand, there are some places where, as we all agree, the smallholder, perhaps with difficulty, has succeeded in holding his own.
I submit that it is essential that before instituting a new group of small holdings the Minister should satisfy himself, on the best advice obtainable—and that does not mean the advice only of his officers, but local advice as well—that a man should have the best chance of earning his livelihood in the place selected. I can conceive of nothing more cruel than selecting a man from the unemployed queue, giving him his training, placing him upon the land, encouraging him to work very hard indeed, as he will have to work, and then letting him fail. Moreover, the noble Earl will remember that there are many smallholders scattered about the country. When this man comes on the land full of hope and walks to a farm which is just across the road, think- 34 ing that he sees a chance of getting on, he may find a man who has been there for many years, who has accumulated savings and has quite a small amount of capital, but who only succeeds in keeping himself going by dipping steadily into that capital year by year. Your Lordships might call a Bill which enables a man to be placed upon the land in those conditions humbug, but I call it the greatest cruelty that can be designed.
Let us see what happens. You take a man off the "dole" and place him on the land. You grant him a maintenance allowance for thirty-three weeks at thirty shillings a week. Then what happens? You leave him to his own resources, and he has no alternative but to be put on to poor relief. Yet the county councils have no say in this matter. The local authorities are not called in, and are not consulted as to whether a man can make a success of a holding in that part of the world or not. The man may become a charge and remain a charge. Apart from and far worse than that, you break the man's heart. I submit, therefore, that if your Lordships pass the small holdings part of the Bill it is essential that you should insist that the Minister should have to satisfy himself that a man has a reasonable chance of earning his living before he is put on to a small holding and expenditure is incurred in that direction.
I turn now to the question of allotments, and may I say that I am an unrepentant believer in allotments. I was a member of the Departmental Committee set up many years ago by the Ministry of Agriculture to consider the question of allotments. Like most of your Lordships, I am an owner of allotments and I support the London Allotment Society. I admit that allotments are very ugly things on the landscape, and that they are not popular with town planning societies. But in these days of rush and noise, I believe it to be of untold benefit that the man who works in a great city should be able to go and dig on the land. It also provides him with fresh food. Above all, it teaches the man who lives in the town something about what the countryman has to deal with and what the farmer has to face. I think that a very large number of townsmen feel that the only thing an agriculturist has to do is to broadcast 35 the seed with a fine gesture and then sit still and smoke his pipe until nature has done the rest, when he goes out and gathers his crop. The townsman's idea is that the countryman then sells that crop at such a price as is found in the best retail shops. Unfortunately, that is not the way that agriculture is worked.
We all know, particularly in these times, that a man can only get his living out of the land by the sweat of his brow. The more we can teach the man who lives in the town, even if you only give him a small plot of land and let him dig with his spade and fork, that it means hard work, that a late frost may destroy all his efforts, that fly and disease may come and that the profit which appears to be so certain is very problematical, the more support we shall get from the city dweller for the legislation which we may require in order to assist the countryman. To my mind it is a very great benefit, and is largely the cause of the greater interest that is now being taken in farming than used to be taken, that the number of allotments have increased and the city dweller, as a result, has begun to learn something about life in the country and is, therefore, more sympathetic to the farmer than was the case in days gone by.
My noble friend Lord Treowen has moved the rejection of this Bill. We who sit on this Bench hope that your Lordships will not follow the advice he has given. There are some parts of the Bill which most of us will agree are so unnecessary and so extravagant that I think your Lordships will have no hesitation in eliminating them from the Bill. There are other parts of the Bill, however, which I believe many of your Lordships would be sorry to lose. I for one should be extremely sorry to lose the provisions in regard to allotments. I think many of your Lordships will feel that where we can take an unemployed man out of the city, a man with perhaps a flair for farming, and place him satisfactorily on a small holding, we should try to do so. After all, the State has made itself responsible under the Coal Mines Act of last year for leaving men permanently out of employment by closing mines owing to the rationalisation which was part of that Act. Therefore I think your Lordships will feel that if we can successfully put a man upon 36 the land we should endeavour to do so, but that we should assure ourselves that there will be no question whatever of wasting the money of the State and breaking a man's heart by establishing him in a place where he has very little chance of success.
I hope I have made it clear that I suggest that your Lordships should give a Second Reading to this Bill with the object that the House should deal with it as it thinks fit in its later stages. I must point out one further matter that may arise. It has been said, probably with justice, that owing to the way in which this Bill is drafted, certain Amendments may raise the question of Privilege. It is always possible, of course, for the House of Commons to set aside the question of Privilege while retaining to itself the right to argue an Amendment on its merits. If the Government are prepared to say that they will take that line, they will naturally he followed by the majority of their supporters. Therefore, there can be no difficulty in obtaining agreement to a Motion which the Government may accept on this subject.
If your Lordships agree to give this Bill a Second Reading I trust that you will insist that a very substantial interval shall occur before the next stage in order that there shall be plenty of time to draft Amendments. When the Government have seen and considered those Amendments, I feel that we should ask them, in regard of course only to the important Amendments, that the question of Privilege shall be set aside. Failing such an assurance, your Lordships of course will retain full power to reject the Bill on Third Reading if you wish. For the considerations which I have ventured to place before your Lordships, I hope that you will not support the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Treowen for rejection, but that You will agree that the Bill should be given, at any rate, a Second Reading.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, the noble Earl introduced this measure to your Lordships so moderately and so persuasively that it might he possible to believe that the measure itself was not one of outstanding importance. In fact, both in its financial provisions and its agricultural aspects, it must be long 37 since a Bill of such outstanding importance was brought before your Lordships' House. Moreover, it is a Bill that is full of strange inconsistencies. My noble friend Lord Stanhope has pointed out with force that its early parts provide for the removal of persons from the land, and its later parts for increased small cultivations. If I may follow precedent and deal with the measure as briefly as possible as the clauses are printed, I would like to say a word or two that has perhaps not yet been said upon Clause 1. I was impressed by the noble Earl's earnestness in stating that he thought it would be a disgrace to his Government if they did not probe into every new form of agriculture in these days of grave depression, but, in respect of this large-scale farming, I wish to ask him what is it he wants to find out, why does he want to find it out, and when he has got the information, what is he going to do with it? He wants to find out, presumably, if ranch farming in England will pay.
Ranch farming, of course, covers both large-scale grass farming and large-scale arable farming. My noble friend Lord Stanhope has pointed out to him that there are in existence quite a number of these ranch farms in England to-day, at any one of which the owners would be glad to welcome the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture. If he would give me the privilege, I would point out where they exist, and would go with him; and, with very little financial assistance, probably with none, the Government of the day and the country as a whole can be fully informed as to what are the prospects of ranch farming in Great Britain. There is no need to spend the money of the State upon any investigation of that kind. If the money of the State was spent upon any such investigation, it might be found that ranch farming did pay. Many of your Lordships and many agriculturists in the country would admit at once that ranch farming probably could be made to pay by modern machinery, under capable management, by employing a less amount of labour and spending possibly a less amount of money. In all probability by these means ranch farming could be made to pay. Having found that out, the logical consequence is that large additional areas should be converted into ranch farms. Otherwise, there would be no 38 object in finding it out. The thing must have a result, and that would be the result.
Lord Stanhope has suggested, and I fancy it has been said in other quarters of the House, that surely in these times, when our chief endeavour must be to find employment for as many men as possible, it is little short of a scandal that men who are already in employment should be excluded from it. There is no reason why I should speak only from the standpoint of the landowner or farmer. Why should I not stand up and speak for the agricultural labourers of England, and protest vigorously, throw it in the teeth of the Labour Government, that they are endeavouring to exclude men from the occupations they now hold? It is not right that anyone knowing what conditions must follow upon ranch farming should allow themselves to remain in their seats and not protest on behalf of the agricultural labourers of this country. We do not wish ranch farming in England to be a success. If it made more money than any other form of occupation in this country I should still wish it to fail, because if it succeeded, it would remove from the land the labourers who now live upon it, and it would destroy the very foundations of our country. I should press most sincerely, whatever views any one of your Lordships may hold in respect of other parts of the Bill, that Clause 1 be discharged as an unworthy one to have found its place in this or any other measure.
With regard to Clause 2, I have for many years been most keenly engaged in endeavouring to assist in the application of science to agriculture, and in giving opportunities for its demonstration. Grants have always been not too easy to come by, and are always badly wanted in these directions. There is land enough. I have never heard of a case where it was difficult to obtain land for purposes of this kind, and, especially in view of what Lord Stanhope has said, quoting the large number of these demonstration farms that now exist, I should believe it impossible for the noble Earl to convince your Lordships that Clause 2 really adds anything to existing requirements in agriculture.
39 As to Clause 3, it clearly is one of vast importance. The noble Earl has pointed out with perfect truth, that there are parts of England—and large parts—in which agriculture has deteriorated. But there is one remark I would like to make about that, because I see in subsection (3) of this clause, words which, personally, as a landowner, I deeply resent, because they contain the implication that landowners have not taken reasonable steps to reserve or enforce their right for securing the execution on pieces of land of any necessary works of maintenance. For years all Parliamentary Parties have been engaged in restricting the powers of landowners until to-day there is no landowner in this country who can really call his land his own. The tenant is little more nor less than a squatter. I should like to know how, under the existing law, a landowner, without incurring expense and loss which he can ill afford, can conceivably make his tenant perform the works which this subsection in the Bill upbraids him for not having carried into effect. The point is one of small importance, indeed of no importance at all, but when insult is added to injury it rather induces those who have suffered both to say a word in season.
In respect of this taking up of land, the cost of it is limited in this Bill to £5,000,000 at present so long as Parliament shall so decide. But is it seriously supposed that a mere £5,000,000 is going to recondition, reclaim and do all the the things that are necessary to be done to British land in order to bring it into that high condition of farming which economic conditions, if they existed, would bring it to at no cost at all? £5,000,000 is a mere drop in the ocean. £50,000,000, £500,000,000 would not do it; and when it is discovered, as it will be discovered, that the expenditure of £5,000,000 has had a pleasant and even excellent effect, how difficult will it be for Parliament to resist a demand for an additional £5,000,000, £10,000,000, £15,000,000 or £20,000,000. And what will be the result? It will be certainly the gradual, perhaps the rapid nationalisation of the land of Great Britain. There is nothing whatever that stands between the nationalisation of the land in this Bill except the need to get the money 40 to do it with. The principle is given away.
On this subject of nationalisation, I should like to say a word. There can be no doubt that the Government of the day, certainly large numbers of people in the country, probably and even possibly some members of your Lordships' house, would hold to the opinion that landowners as a class object to the nationalisation of land. For over a quarter of a century, since I first had the honour and privilege of a seat in your Lordships' House, there has been a constant and unabated stream of restrictive legislation, promoted in the first instance by the Liberal Party, not checked by the Conservative Party, fomented by the Labour Party, all of it in the aggregate inducing the landowner to take every possible opportunity that can present itself to him to get out of his land.
The market for arable land in East Anglia, whether it is to let or to sell, is nil. This Bill finds a market so badly needed. Is it reasonable to suppose that any landowner approaching the matter solely from that standpoint is going to object to nationalisation when it will do him good? No, my Lords, there can be no objection to nationalisation on the part of the landowners of this country for their own sakes. But as responsible Englishmen and, let us hope, as Englishmen who have a regard for the interests and urgencies of the State transcending their own, we cannot admit, and we cannot descend to admit, that we as landowners should profit at the expense of the State. It is for that reason that we object to nationalisation. The bargain would be too bad, and why should the taxpayer be saddled indefinitely with a bargain so bad as this would be? Part I of this Bill has in it features that can commend themselves to none who have any knowledge of or regard for agriculture. It can commend itself to none who have regard to the proper conservation of the national finances, and whatever may happen to the rest of the Bill I trust that Part I will very shortly be passed into the limbo of forgotten things.
Now, if I may be permitted, I will pass to Part II. In Part II Clause 6 has for me a tremendous interest. It is a subject which requires, I think, to be approached and can be approached from 41 quite a number of different angles. It is, on the face of it—I am not sure that the noble Earl put it in so many words—obviously an endeavour, a perfectly honest effort, to remove as many persons as possible from worklessness and the receipt of the "dole" on to the land where they may have a chance of keeping themselves in physical condition and earning a living. Probably if there was a chance of their earning a, living the transference would not only do good to the men but would also do good to the finances of the State. If that was all there was to be said about it, I fancy large numbers of your Lordships would find it in their hearts to agree with the Government and with the Minister that these proposals had very much to commend them. If Part II of the Bill was not complicated by an added clause I would even now be inclined to agree with them.
I would even now be inclined to agree that the risk would be worth the taking—other, of course, than that exceedingly important human point which was so ably put to your Lordships by my noble friend Earl Stanhope. It is a very grave responsibility for Parliament to take to place upon the land men in thousands, in scores of thousands, knowing full well that those who are already there, who have the experience and who have worked like slaves for years, are now upon the brink of starvation in all parts of England where arable cultivation is in practice. It is a very grave responsibility to take men and place them in that position. And regarded from the financial standpoint it would be gravely disastrous, because the State, having taken responsibility for putting, let us say, 100,000 unemployed on the land, would house them, fit them up, equip them. Could the State allow them then to fail and allow them to starve? No, my Lords, they would be squatters. They would remain in the houses, they would pay no rent, and the State would have to carry them at vast cost, at least to the extent of preventing them from starving. Conceive the attitude of mind that would be taken up by local authorities when by action of the State those men came upon the rates. My noble friend Earl Stanhope indicated that point. Is it one that the Government have taken into consideration?
42 There is, of course, the very serious point that smallholders, especially in those desirable parts of England where they conceivably might make a living, would by their very presence spoil the living of those already there. There are large unconquered markets in England. Canning is one of them, to which I think the noble Earl referred. There you have enormous possibilities which would help under intelligent direction and might quite conceivably solve certain small holding problems in certain parts of England. There is, too, almost unlimited development possible in the egg market, and there are others. But when it comes to fruit growing and market gardening any large influx into those parts of England where that can be conducted would prejudice the living of those already there. That must be avoided.
I have mentioned the feelings and outlook of myself and a very large number of your Lordships with regard to Clause 6. The small holdings part of the Bill has been vitiated by the addition of Clause 7. There was issued with the Bill in the first instance in another place a Memorandum, to which the noble Earl has referred, which gave an indication of the cost which it was suggested and supposed might attach to the implementation of this Bill. But since that Memorandum was issued Clause 7 has been added and has completely destroyed, has completely knocked the bottom out of that Memorandum. No attempt has been made to place before your Lordships or the other House any estimate of what Clause 7 is going to cost the country. Clause 7 admits to conditions of security untold thousands of excellent and worthy men who are now earning a low wage and whose employment is most precarious. What sort of guarantee have you that every agricultural labourer in Eastern England will not instantly apply for a house, for maintenance, for equipment and for land? You have no guarantee. If you have thought that the provision of small holdings for unemployed persons would, in effect, cost you nothing because it would be a mere transference from the "dole" to another Department of the Treasury, bear in mind that the agricultural labourers who will come to you under Clause 7 are not included in the insurance scheme and that every penny you have to find will be new expense. And it is absolutely unlimited. 43 It might so easily be £250,000,000. It might amount to any sum which any of you choose to quote. There is absolutely no limit.
In this House I would no more think of moving the elimination of Clause 7 than I would of doing things much more foolish. I was not responsible for putting it there, and no agricultural Peer would desire so to affront the countryside as to move the elimination of this clause. But it has ruined your Bill. It has made your Bill impossible of passage because your Lordships' House and the country at large must realise that the financial commitments to which this puts you are so unlimited that in the present condition of the country's finances it would be nothing short of criminal to allow the passage of this Bill into law with Clause 7 attached. As Clause 7 cannot be put out, Clause 6 clearly must, because then Clause 7 will follow it.
I have very little more to say, and I shall not delay your Lordships for more than a few minutes. On the subject of allotments, I think a good deal of fuss has been heard about these clauses which they do not deserve. Under the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908, local authorities have ample power, and the duty, to supply all the allotments that are required, but under that Act and succeeding Acts they are not permitted to supply allotments except on an economic basis; that is to say, they are not permitted to charge their ratepayers with any loss that may arise. The whole purpose of Clause 14 is to take out that restriction. There will be found, hidden in brackets, a reference to subsections (1) and (2) of Section 16 of the Allotments Act, 1922. That, of course, unless you choose to look it up or happen to know it, appears on the face of it to be unimportant, but in point of fact the whole purpose of this clause is in those words. They give to the Minister, not so much the power to supply allotments as the power to supply them without counting the cost. That is all it does. Even with that undesirable provision, I should be strongly inclined to agree with my noble friend Lord Stanhope that access to the land in the form of allotments is as desirable as anything in this life, and if there are not sufficient allotments now available for industrial and other populations, by all means let them be placed at their disposal, and the sooner the 44 better. I am quite sure that your Lordships would be inclined to save this Bill if possible, even if it were only for the clauses concerning allotments.
Finally, I come to a point which does not concern the finance of the Bill, which has been blamed on all sides. My noble friend Lord Stanhope raised the question of how we stand in the matter of Privilege with the House of Commons. If this Bill is rejected on Second Reading, very little that appeals to your Lordships on this side of the House will be lost. We shall lose the clauses regarding allotments and cottage holdings, but I have the greatest doubt, in face of the arguments that could be brought to bear against them, if any other clauses of the Bill could possibly be passed through Committee. What is going to happen if, as I suggest, we omit these clauses and this Bill goes to the House of Commons and we are told that we have made only Privilege Amendments, and the Bill is then sent back to us, as Lord Treowen suggested, with the Speaker's Certificate attached to it, which we have to swallow? Something has to be done about that before we part with this Bill, which has so much that is bad and wrong in it. Clause 1 is a wrong clause and, in my humble opinion, it has no business to be included. The last clauses carry with them so immense a charge upon an impoverished country that they, in their turn, cannot and ought not to pass your Lordships' House. Are we to lose our control over those clauses? It is in accordance with the answer that, I have no doubt, will be given to us in the course of this debate that my own action with regard to the future of this Bill will be governed. I thank your Lordships for your kind attention to a speech that has been over-long.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I shall delay your Lordships for only a very few minutes. Last week the Education (School Attendance) Bill was rejected by your Lordships' House. It was said that the expenditure under that Bill, if it became an Act, would amount to from £10,000,000 to £15,000,000 a year. I am not going to argue whether the provisions of this Bill are good, bad or indifferent. I am going to consider its cost, and whether the country can afford it. Mr. Snowden has told us that schemes involving heavy expenditure, however 45 desirable they may be, will have to wait until prosperity returns. He has made a great plea for economy. He has told us that he will have a heavy deficit at the end of this year, that Expenditure has increased and Revenue has declined. What will be the cost of this Bill? No one knows. When one reads the Financial Memorandum which was attached to this Bill when it was introduced into another place, one sees that the Fifth Clause says that it is impossible to foresee with any precision what expenditure it will be necessary for the Ministry to incur. Those are cheery words! Part 1 of the Bill deals with the Agricultural Land Corporation, demonstration farms, and improvement schemes. The expenditure on that Part is small in comparison with the cost of Part II. Part I, we are told, will cost £6,700,000.
I will now deal with Part II and the provision of small holdings. The Financial Memorandum tells us that a small holding varies from one acre to fifty acres, fully equipped with a house and buildings, and that the estimated cost of every 1,000 holdings may be £1,000,000, that is, an average of 1,000 per holding. As has already been pointed out during the Committee stage of the Bill in the House of Commons, agricultural labourers were added to the Bill and have been given a right to apply for small holdings, so that all the financial estimates have been upset, for there are some 900,000 agricultural labourers in Great Britain. How many families are going to be given small holdings? If I turn again to the financial statement, it tells me that it is impossible to state how many holdings it may prove necessary for the Minister to provide.
I have heard it suggested that 100,000 families might be so supplied. With the agricultural labourers included, this sounds a very low estimate. The cost of 100,000 holdings would be £100,000,000. The Government think that they will receive interest at 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. on the capital, but the rate of interest on borrowed money will be far higher than that. The Bill provides, in addition, for further expenses and for training, providing holdings and making capital advances and subsistence allowances, which will cost for every 1,000 men another £1,000,000, so that an expenditure of £200,000,000 may quite easily be made necessary for small holdings alone. 46 We are also told in the Memorandum that the Bill will necessitate an increase in the Minister's administrative and technical staff. It also adds that it is impossible to state any precise figure as to the cost of such additional staff, but that it will clearly be large. Now when a Government Department tells us that expenditure is going to be large, you may be quite sure that it is going to be very large. It is quite clear that many millions of pounds are to be spent, and the Bill would come into operation at once, quite unlike the Education Bill.
Until the Budget is balanced and unemployment is heavily reduced, no more large or new expenditure ought to be incurred. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that an expenditure which might be easy and tolerable in prosperous times becomes intolerable in years of industrial depression. The Prime Minister, not long ago, appealed for a Grand Council of the Nation. Is not this a moment when we should all go to the aid of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, in his courageous statement in the House of Commons, has told us the position and asked for a halt in expenditure. We can follow his advice and prevent him from, having this huge burden of expenditure placed upon his shoulders by refusing to give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I would like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Dynevor upon his very excellent speech and upon his calling the attention of the House to the very serious state of the country's finance at the present moment, and the absolute necessity, however good the case, for not spending more money. My noble friend Earl Stanhope, if he will allow me to congratulate him, dealt with the clauses of the Bill and made, as I thought, one of the most excellent speeches I have ever heard. I thought we should be told, before he sat down, that he hoped that to-morrow Peers on this side of the House would come and vote against the Second Reading. To my horror, after having made an excellent speech against the Bill and shown that every clause in it was bad, he turned round and said: "Oh! give it a Second Reading and do something in Committee." Lord Hastings and Lord Treowen alluded to that. What are we going to do in Committee? 47 There are twenty-six clauses and unless I am very much mistaken twenty-two of them, if not twenty-three, deal with finance, and therefore they ought all to be left out. Then what remains of the Bill? The title, the definition clause, and possibly some small thing which does not matter.
Supposing that we leave out most of the bad clauses—they all deal with finance—what is then going to happen? If the Bill goes back to another place, there is no doubt that Mr. Speaker will say that he has to draw attention to the fact that the Amendments of the Lords infringe upon the Commons Privilege, and he will probably add, though he does not always do so, that it is open to the House of Commons to waive its Privilege. The House of Commons may or may not do so. The Amendments will probably come back to this House, and what are we going to do then? Stick to our Amendments or run away? My experience, though not long in this House, is that we shall probably run away, and if so, let us take our courage in both hands and reject the Bill on Second Reading.
I do not suppose there is any Peer in this House at the present moment, or who has been in the House during the afternoon—except on the Opposition Benches, and I do not count them—who is not certain in his inmost mind that this is a bad Bill and that it is going to cost the country a lot of money which it cannot afford, and who would like it to be rejected. I am inclined to think that among the occupants of these Benches it is probable there is a sort of fear that someone in the country may say something that the Socialists will not be pleased with, and so we must conciliate our enemies. I think we have had enough of conciliation. The first thing we want to do is the right thing, quite irrespective of what anybody is going to say. What is the use of this House if we do not sometimes assert ourselves when we believe we are right? Whatever we do, somebody will say we have done wrong. Whatever we do, we shall never please noble Lords opposite or the misguided people who follow them in the country, and therefore our duty at the present moment is to reject this Bill upon Second Reading.
48 Do not forget this, my Lords, that there is a feeling in the country that the Conservative Party have not shown the strength which their supporters would have liked them to show. I do not know whether that feeling is right or wrong—it does not matter—but it does exist. Let us consider our friends and never mind our opponents. Shall we not encourage our friends if, at the present moment, we reject a Bill which is going to be an abject failure if passed and is going to cost the country enormous sums of money?
I will not go into the calculations made by my noble friend, but I am certain they are right and they are really terrific. Only a few days ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Unemployment Fund was going to cost the country 100,000,000 a year. When I first entered the House of Commons, the total expenditure of the country was only about £90,000,000 a year, and now we are going to spend £100,000,000 on unemployment, and on top of this comes this Bill which is going to cost an enormous sum and do no good whatever. Who is going to spend the money? There is one clause in the Bill in which there is no limit. During the years I was in the House of Commons, whenever there was a Money Resolution, I always moved to put a limit to it, and I am glad to say that on my limiting Amendment I defeated the Liberal Party in a Division on a Home Rule Bill. I always took the same lines on a Money Resolution by my noble friends on this side. There is one clause in the Bill which is without a limit and it relates to small holdings. That is going to be administered by Dr. Addison, the most extravagant man who ever came into any Government or any House of Commons.
What did he do when he was Health Minister? He spent millions of money in providing very few houses. If he had had any business instinct he could have provided double the number of houses for the money he spent. The result was that he brought in an enormous Bill to enable him to spend more money, and your Lordships threw it out. At any rate the then Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, had had enough of him, and he found that it was convenient to leave. But that is the man whom you are going to pick out to give an unlimited power at this moment 49 to spend money. I cannot conceive that any sane man can support this Bill. I am quite certain that my noble friend does not really want to do it.
Let me say one word about what was said by my noble friend Lord Hastings. He said there was something good in the Bill. I have not been able to find it, but I dare say he is right. But if there is something good in the Bill may I suggest to my Front Bench the proper course to pursue? Throw this Bill out on the Second Reading, bring in a new Bill, limited to whatever good there is, which Lord Hastings thinks ought to be preserved. That is a reasonable proposition. We could then discuss something which may or may not be good—as to that we must wait and see. Why pass the Second Reading of a Bill with which you do not agree when, if I have sufficient courage to put down an Amendment or two, as certain as I am standing here I shall be told: "Oh, you agreed to the Second Reacting of the Bill, and, having done that, you cannot do anything which rejects the principle"? I have heard that said over and over again.
What is the financial position of the country at the present moment? I do not agree with Mr. Lloyd George that the City is always wrong. I think that the City is nearly always right. And what does the City say? That we are now going on a course which, if we pursue it, will lead to bankruptcy. What has happened in Australia? We are doing exactly what the Australians did. Some twenty years ago, seeing what Australia was doing, whenever I had to make a trust or anything of that sort I always put in a clause saying that in no circumstances whatever was any money to be invested in Australia, because they were then governed by the Labour Party, who had no knowledge of finance, who were extremely extravagant, and who did not care what they did with other people's money, and the result would be that Australia would become bankrupt. She is very near it now. Now, my Lords, take warning. It is a very unpopular thing to do, to stop spending. Extravagance is always popular. You take money out of my pocket, and give it to somebody else, and the man who gets it likes it. But I do implore you to remember that we cannot go on. Say for a moment that this is an excellent Bill, but 50 supposing it were, if it were going to cost money we ought to reject it, and I hope that we shall.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
My Lords, the noble Lord in the course of his remarks warned your Lordships that any man who was sane could not possibly support this Bill. I regret to say that I must claim the emotions of insanity, because I for my part propose to give full support to the Bill which the noble Earl has introduced this afternoon. The noble Lord who has just sat down waxed eloquent—and nobody knows more about it than he does—upon the importance of economy and the amount of money that has been wasted during the last few years. In dealing with this Bill I should like to remind your Lordships of our agrarian history during the last few years. You will bear in mind that the Corn Production Act was repealed in the year 1921—an Act which was supported by both Parties, and which was repealed with the approval of both Parties. Well, what was the effect? A thousand million pounds, we will say for argument, had been invested in the soil of England during the War, owing to support of the Government to the agrarian community. And when the Bill was repealed the effect was that, since wheat was guaranteed at 68s. a quarter, and oats, if my memory serves me right, at 46s., when these guarantees were removed, the agrarian community were flung on to the open market and the price of their commodities fell 20, 30, and in some cases, 50 per cent.
What was the result? Those who are possessed of an income from other sources equivalent to the amount they lose in their agricultural venture are entitled to reclaim those moneys back from the State. The result was this, that in the passage of several years the collective amount of money demanded by the agrarian community from the State in consequence of their losses—and which the Government was bound to refund—amounted to millions and millions of pounds. What the actual amount was I do not know; the Treasury alone knows. But this I do guarantee to say. The amount that the taxpayers of England had to refund to the unfortunate people who lost their money in consequence of the repeal of the Corn Production Act is greater than the de- 51 mands which the noble Earl has made to-day in the Bill which he has laid before you. Noble Lords on both sides have in the past possibly committed themselves to unfortunate expenditure and loss, and I think it is hard that they should examine too closely into the economic propositions which have been laid before the House by the noble Earl.
What is the position since the Corn Production Act was repealed? Every year 10,000 labourers have left the soil. One million more acres are neglected than there were in 1921. Only 7 per cent. of the population remains on the soil. And the position is getting worse every year. It is true the late Government in the time that they were in office attempted to do a little to help the agrarian community, but it was really very little, and the money that was supposed to go to the agrarian community in consequence of the passing of the De-rating Bill really did not stem or prevent this tide of migration from the land and the neglect of agriculture which resulted from the repeal of the Corn Production Act in 1921.
However, we must look to happier days and to brighter times and I am reinforced in my feelings and hopes for the future of the industry when I bear in mind the remark which the late Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin, made in connection with the agrarian problem, and I commend these words to your Lordships because they are really vital to the matter which we are discussing. He said:—I regard it as vital that the great basic industry of agriculture should not merely be preserved but restored to a more prosperous condition as the central balancing element in the social life of the country."The balancing element!"—that is the important word. Surely, the proposal which has been laid before you this afternoon by the noble Earl is an effort, a genuine effort, a comprehensive effort to place on the soil of England a greater number of its population, and as the result of this measure if it passes into law a better balance of that population would be assured. If that is the case, and if no one denies it, surely this measure, which noble Lords have condemned so drastically this afternoon, especially the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, 52 does help and does carry out the wishes of the Leader of the Tory Party.
It is under those conditions that I approach the consideration of Part I of the Bill which is before your Lordships this afternoon. We have heard a great deal of the valuelessness of Clause 1, how unwise it would be to have a Corporation farm, and how the Government might lose and waste money and so forth. The advantages of it to the general community have been questioned. In my view, the advantages are these. Owing to Death Duties, to the Super-Tax and to all the various taxes which have been imposed upon the landlord, we have no longer the opportunity we used to have of attaching to ourselves great agricultural experts, men like Edward Strutt and Richardson Carr, whom some of your Lordships may remember. Those men exercised an immense influence and their views and ideas carried great weight with and helped the agrarian community. It may be that such men still exist and work in England, but they are unknown. They may not wish to work on the estates of your Lordships, either because they know that the occupancy of the farms will be measured by the life of the occupant, or because they feel that they have not sufficient finances at their disposal to develop their ideas. Whatever the cause may be, if those men exist in England to-day, they are not employed owing to the conditions and circumstances which I have mentioned. Those are the men that I hope the State will look for and associate with the Corporation farm, which may endure, which is not subject to Death Duties and which, in the passage of years, may associate with its operations all the best intellects of the brightest economists and those who are deeply interested in the welfare and extension of agriculture.
It is said: "There are already many of these experimental farms: why have another? What is the use of having farms where you are going to mechanise half the land and reduce the number of occupants of the soil instead of adding to them?" One of your Lordships said that this Bill contradicts itself in principle: that on the one hand it desires to eliminate men from the soil by mechanical processes, while on the other it proposes to put more men on the soil by an uneconomic process. My reply is 53 that this Bill will owe its success in practice to its inconsistencies in principle. It is essential on the one hand that you should have a large tract of land which you can cultivate, on which you can train people, and in regard to which you can have the advantage of the best knowledge and brains of the agrarian community. From that farm such men can be pushed out either on to the farms and estates of your Lordships, or to administer and look after and supervise those in a humbler position who are put on the soil under Part II of the Bill. Even in my own county there is great need and great demand for some sort of experimental farm, which may be controlled by the Government.
I might add in reply to the noble Lord who spoke last but one, that there is no idea at all that this experimental Corporation farm shall be entirely mechanised. The Minister of Agriculture absolutely dissociates himself from the gentleman that he appoints to control this farm. Once he has handed over the administration of it to him, he declines utterly and absolutely to take any further responsibility for its administration. We may assume that an able agriculturist and administrator will not necessarily instal machinery on the whole of this tract of land which may be possessed by the Government. He will show on a portion of it, as an experiment, the value of machinery and the methods by which modern machinery can Le employed. He may utilise other portions for the full production of crops, possibly uneconomically but with the object of showing the general community the valuable possibilities of abundance of crops. Again, he may have portions where food is grown on an economic basis to show the farmer the best methods and manner of handling it. Therefore, noble Lords who argue that this farm is to be a bad and uneconomical one and will not add to the number of people on the soil, will see, I think, on further consideration that they have not really appreciated what is at the back of the mind of the Minister of Agriculture.
In my own county we are deeply in need of a farm of this character. Undergraduates have taken an interest in farming desired to learn the latest methods and systems. They have be- 54 longed to a club called the Plough Club and have been under the administration and supervision of Professor Somerville. That has broken down. It no longer exists and, having spent two years or more in studying the economy of agriculture, those undergraduates have now to leave, and have no longer a permanent place to which they can go to get the best instruction and the finest supervision. Clause 2 of Part I really comes under the same consideration and definition as Clause 1.
I now turn to Clause 3, about which Lord Hastings felt so strongly. He seemed to think that because the Government propose to take over derelict land under Clause 3, it is making an attack upon the administration of your Lordships' land and upon the manner and methods by which that land had been handled. I have made it my business to enquire, and throughout the long debates in another place there was not one word or suggestion from any hon. or right hon. member that the landlords of England had not done their duty to or taken their share in the life of the countryside. But it is felt, and I am bound to add that I agree, that there are vast tracts of land which are improperly cultivated, and that it would be wise, if it was possible, for the Government to step in and take that land over and recondition it. Your Lordships will bear in mind that only 7 per cent. of the population is on the soil, that 10,000 labourers are leaving the soil every year and that 2,000,000 acres of land are water-logged in this country. Those are official figures. I well remember that the same thing existed in my youth, but in those days there was no Income Tax, or it stood at only 8d. in the £. There was no Super-Tax, and no Death Duties. Indeed, the financial obligations of the citizens to the State were very slight. Therefore, the landlords were able, when matters became had, to undertake the reconditioning of their farms.
What happened was this, and it must have happened to a number of noble Lords. The tenant died, but his widow remained. You could not turn out the widow. It was impossible to do so; social conditions would not permit of it. She then married the bailiff, who, of course, in the long run allowed the farm to deteriorate, and in the passage of 55 years the condition of the farm became such that no tenant would take it. In those days noble Lords had to put that right. They had to restore that farm and re-settle it. I am sure it is in the recollection of Lord Hastings that thousands of pounds have been spent by his friends and forbears in putting such farms into a proper condition. To-day we cannot do it. Owing to the taxes, it is no longer possible for a great number of noble Lords to undertake those obligations and duties. It is not their fault; it is the system of taxation. Surely, if that is the case—and it is not denied that these great blocks of land do exist—it is not unreasonable that the State should then step in and collectively carry out that which the individual can no longer perform.
One word on finance before I turn to consideration of Part II. It has been claimed that £1,000,000 should not be spent on Clause 1, that £500,000 on Clause 2 is really more than is necessary, and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said—I think this was the strongest point he made—that £500,000 a year for ten years in reconditioning the soil of England would not be sufficient. I am bound to say I rather agree with him. It was said by noble Lords who were sitting on the Back Benches behind the noble and learned Viscount who leads the Opposition that these sums of money were unnecessary, that we cannot afford to spend them, and that it would be wiser to delete them.
But let us bear in mind this fact, that not 100 years ago the head of the house of Russell, the Duke of Bedford, spent £1,000,000 in reconditioning and reclaiming a lot of the fen land, and placed it in a condition suitable for farms and small holdings. Am I to understand that while that noble Duke could afford to spend £1,000,000 in the nineteenth century, we, in the twentieth century, with the collective strength and the financial resources of the British Empire, are incapable of finding a similar sum to carry out a similar object? I am bound to add that I feel we can well afford £1,000,000. When it comes to the other sums of £500,000 and £5,000,000 in ten years which are to be spent, I think those sums are really insufficient for the work which may have to be performed. I, for my part, consider that money spent 56 by the Exchequer, carefully, prudently and properly, is only following out that which your Lordships have done for years past when you were in a position financially to carry out your duties in a manner that you wished. The Government are only following out your policy and your traditions. That money, if properly, carefully and prudently expended, will have a benefit and a use in maintaining not only the fertility of the soil, but also in retaining the men upon it.
There is only one other point I should like to mention to the House before I pass on to the consideration of Part II of this measure, and it is this. There are many noble Lords in this House, who, no doubt owing to Death Duties and various financial causes, feel that they would be glad to translate some of their land into terms of money. In fact, Lord Hastings suggested that might possibly take place. Your Lordships may have noticed that in the passage of this Bill from the other House to this House, the Auctioneers' and Estate Agents' Institute, the Society of Land Agents, and the Chartered Surveyors' Institution, permitted themselves to write what, in my judgment, was a rather injudicious letter, in which they suggested that it would be wise if your Lordships did not agree to pass the Second Reading of this Bill. All I have to say in regard to that is this, that as these gentlemen, distinguished and able as they are, are our personal advisers, it seems to me that it is very short-sighted policy on their part to recommend noble Lords to destroy a Bill by which alone you might get your prospective purchasers.
I now come to the consideration of Part II of this Bill. It is proposed to place as many as possible of smallholders on the soil. £1,000 is to be spent on each holding, £270 for equipment and £50 for the first year the occupier is in it. The first question I ask myself is this: Is this economically sound? Will these people who are placed on the soil get any trade? Will they be able to maintain themselves by trade? I answer that question by saying that it is well known to those who have studied the figures—and many noble Lords have done so—that there is still fifty per cent. which it is possible for us to win of the home market in eggs and poultry. There is another thirty per cent. which can also be won from the foreign 57 market for the home market in vegetables. The question we have now to ask ourselves is, will the capture of this foreign trade, if kept as the home trade, recompense us for the sums of money which we have to spend as a result of this Bill? The reply is a very difficult one to give.
This is an organism which is to be created, it is not a mechanism. Noble Lords one after another got up, and, possibly with a knowledge of small holdings and also conviction, said that in many cases they did not pay. That is perfectly true. Small holdings were first started thirty or forty years ago, and I have heard it said ever since that small holdings do not pay, but, although many people have always said that the movement is an unsuccessful one, and the finances of it are not sound, the fact remains—and it is one which I hope your Lordships will take notice of—that the small holding movement does increase, the demand for land greatly increases, and—I speak for myself and of my own county—although there are failures, yet on the whole the small holdings movement has been a success. A greater volume of food has been produced in consequence and more people have been put on the soil. I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, who was at pains to prove that the small holding movement was deteriorating, that the number of people on the soil was far less than formerly, and that a great number had given up their holdings in consequence of financial loss. I take those figures with a certain amount of reserve. One can always produce figures, and get institutions who will produce figures but I should doubt very much indeed that the Minister of Agriculture would support the statement made by the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, this evening.
Once again let me allude to the reference of Mr. Baldwin to the balancing effect. Here is an offer on the part of the Government to place, by means of this Bill, these smallholders on the soil. Here is an offer once again to alter and redress the balance. It may be claimed that it is not the right way to do it, that it would have been better to work through the existing organisations and to have utilised them rather than to create an organisation directly responsible to the Ministry of Agricul- 58 ture, which responsibility, if he likes, he can partially band on to the local authorities. It is true that, for a moment, the position of the agrarian community, financially, is not very good. We are faced by a lowering of prices and by competition from abroad which is not at all satisfactory or favourable, but we look to the future.
We know that every political dog has his day, and there is no reason why, in the passage of years, the Tory Party should not be in power once again. And we know from the promises which have been made that the quota may be introduced. The quota is designed to be not only of benefit to the big farmer, but also to the smallholder. The extra growth of wheat, barley and oats, as the result of the quota granted to the farmer will stimulate the production of those commodities and as the farmer will possess a great quantity of tail wheat, barley and oats he will be in a position to sell his surplus to a smallholder who, in turn, will utilise those foods for the production of pigs and chickens and the residue of them will be employed for the production of vegetables. So the prospective policy of noble Lords on the Opposition Bench may help to fortify and strengthen the active policy now pursued by noble Lords on this side.
I fear that at this late hour I have detained your Lordships rather at length. The explanation of it is that I have an intense affection for the land, and I have an intense admiration for the crops that can be produced by the good and useful farmer. I am most anxious at this time when the economic conditions are so serious, when the unemployed numbers are swelling, that we should do everything in our power to increase those crops, to multiply them and make them as effective as possible. I think that the terms of this Bill may do so. I am also most anxious, and always have been anxious, that the pre-eminence and the predominance of your Lordships' House may be sustained. We are growing in strength year by year compared with years ago, and I trust that no step may be taken, that no advice may be given by the noble and learned Lord who leads noble Lords opposite with regard to this Bill which can, in any way, diminish that strength which this House has gained. I can only hope that to-morrow when 59 the Division bell rings and when the Division is taken noble Lords on that side of the House will say to the noble Earl who introduced this measure: "My Lord, we will pass the Second Reading of your measure because in a matter of this sort, in a matter in which the requirements, the needs and the vital necessities of our fellow citizens on the land are essential, we will once again be animated by a well-worn emotion, nobles oblige."
§ LORD STANMORE
My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until three o'clock to-morrow.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.